Tonight I’ll expand upon the theme of gratitude as we continue with excerpts from James Baraz’s Awakening Joy course.
Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, taught:
If you look to others for fulfillment,
You will never feel fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
You will never be happy with yourself.
Be content with what you have;
Rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
The whole world belongs to you.
Gratitude practice is profound because when we are grateful, we feel nourished. Then from a sense of abundance, we can share our happiness with the world around us.
David Niven wrote a book called A Hundred Simple Secrets of Happy People. He says that people who have the most are not happier than those who have the least. Happiness depends on being satisfied with whatever you have.
Usually we don’t appreciate how the body knows how to heal itself. The immune system is continually working to protect us from harmful germs, and it’s usually successful. If you aren’t sick now, you can give thanks for all that your body is doing to maintain your health.
Researchers are discovering that a grateful heart not only nourishes the spirit but also benefits the body. In one study, subjects who concentrated on feelings of appreciation for just 5 minutes showed significant positive changes in heart rate, blood pressure, brain waves, hormones, and mood.
Besides appreciating how our body works, we can give thanks for what we’re doing in the world.
Typically we have a mental list of all that we should be accomplishing each day, and at the day’s end, we grade ourselves according to what we’ve left UNDONE.
This habit leaves us feeling inadequate and as if we’re falling behind.
It would be better at the end of the day to review what we HAVE done and to allow ourselves to feel satisfied.
In this way life doesn’t seem like a chore that always demands more from us, but it becomes a series of events that we can enjoy without so much pressure.
There are many ways that we’d like to change the world, but to transform it, we must love it enough to feel motivated in our efforts.
A Mexican friend named Mirna Molina is a psychologist and author of a book titled Sí a la Vida Tal Como Es (Yes to Life Just as it Is). She created a video about the essential loving nature of all human beings, regardless of their neurosis or their life trajectory. The silent film portrays people of different ages, cultures and walks of life: happy young lovers, hardened prostitutes, innocent children, ravaged drug addicts, impoverished elders, wealthy jetsetters, serene monks, and irate politicians. Floating over each person’s heart is an image of a glowing, golden light to indicate both the capacity to love and the longing to be loved that is innately human. Watching the video, I felt grateful for being part of humanity’s diverse community.
If we start to look for blessings in life, we’ll find them all around us.
In her book, Attitudes of Gratitude, M.J. Ryan writes, “Gratitude is like a light that illuminates what is already there. You don’t necessarily have anything more or different, but suddenly you really see what there is. And because you see it clearly, you don’t take it for granted.”
While I was walking with our dog Marisol last week, I looked up at the night sky and stopped to appreciate the silent grandeur of a huge, luminous full moon.
By the time an impatient tug on the leash reminded me of terrestrial tasks, I felt enriched by consciously seeing this lunar display—far more satisfying than learning that I had witnessed what astronomers call a Super Moon, when its orbit comes closest to the earth.
Blessings come in many colors, flavors and sounds.
How would life be without music, without books, without pure water?
How can we not feel grateful for the pure, pearly whiteness of a freshly blooming magnolia blossom with its subtle lemony scent?
A grateful attitude is an essential part of a spiritual path.
At the heart of every religion there is praise and wonder and gratitude for the miracle of life.
Worry, judgment, criticism, desire, aversion, and obsessive thinking can block this basic appreciation for the abundance of creation.
Through regular practice, we can move beyond these mental habits and wake up to appreciate the wonder of existence.
When people asked the Buddha, “Who are you? Are you a man or a God?” he would respond, “I’m awake.”
His answer shows how highly he valued being alert and aware of the mysterious workings of human consciousness and the universe.
Patricia Ellsberg has created a guided meditation to awaken feelings of gratitude for being alive as a human being.
Let’s do the meditation together now.
If difficult emotions arise during the process, try to accept them with compassion, acknowledging these feelings as a kind of purification.
Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
Sense your breath slowing down and deepening. Relax your facial muscles, your eyes, and your tongue, sensing the relaxation spreading down throughout your whole body. With each breath be aware of more relaxation.
Imagine your breath moving in and out of your heart.
Sense gratitude for the breath that gives you life and sustains you for so many years, whether or not you pay attention.
Reflect on any one thing that inspires gratitude—something as large as the gift of life or as small as a hot cup of coffee in the morning.
Let grateful feelings fill your heart, your whole body and all of your awareness.
Notice if you sense warmth or other sensations in your heart and body.
Is there a color, shape or texture associated with your sensations?
For a moment stay with sensations connected with gratitude….
Now visualize other aspects of your life that you appreciate.
In a cascade of images, visualize the faces of beloved people, favorite places, rewarding experiences, and significant gifts….
Take a moment to connect with gratitude for your senses—for seeing or imagining colors, the marvels of nature, and works of art; for hearing the sounds of music, different languages, and voices of loved ones; for touching warm sand, cool ocean water, a puppy’s soft fur, and a dear person’s face; for tasting a ripe peach and bittersweet chocolate; for smelling a fragrant rose and freshly baked bread….
Now tune into gratitude for your body, for the skin that protects you and enables you to sense the world around you, for your arms and legs that allow you to reach out, to receive and to move, for the hundreds of millions of cells that are coordinating to sustain you, for the vast consciousness that your mind can access….
Let yourself feel grateful for the people you love, for this meditation sangha, for the beauty and abundance of the earth, for the universe, which has evolved over billions of years…
Open your heart to the miracle of being alive and awake in the middle of this wonderful mystery.
Imagine a symbol that might represent this feeling of awe and gratitude.
It could be an image, a sound, a word or a gesture that helps you anchor this grateful feeling in your consciousness so that you can return to this experience whenever you wish…..
As the meditation ends, sense the rhythm of your breathing, slowly move your toes and feet, stretch your legs, wiggle your fingers, stretch your arms, and gradually open your eyes.
Take a moment to notice any reflections or insights about the meditation…..
As important as it is to connect inside with feelings of gratitude, when we express gratitude to someone, there is an even more profound effect because we’re transforming a positive thought into words and actions.
At the same time that the other person is receiving the benefit of our appreciation, we are strengthening the “gratitude channel” in the brain.
James Baraz suggests the following gratitude exercise as a daily practice:
1. Close your eyes and reflect on what in your life inspires gratitude.
2. Visualize someone who has been kind to you. As you feel gratitude for this person’s presence, sense if your body’s energy shifts.
3. Silently send the person appreciation: “Thank you for _______.”
4. End with an intention to express your gratitude directly if possible.
Now I’d like to express gratitude for your kind attention.