The Expression of Gratitude – Part 2
With gratitude, life becomes more whimsical, less personal, calmer, more richly detailed, and more richly connected as an energy to experience for yourself and to extend to other hearts. In this way, gratitude is a lot more than thankfulness. Gratitude is an awareness of connection and appreciation to something larger than just yourself.
More often than not, gratitude releases us from the perils of our homemade agendas and it initiates us to surrender our scripts to more attractive possibilities as we let go. Marvellously, gratitude is that component of our fullest conscientious response—– and gratitude is also about our most conscious action.
Gratitude is its own prayer, too. Done appreciatively and welcomingly, it does become a beautiful spiritual and rewardingly personal practice. After all, creating gratitude guideposts of your own extends your awareness to points of faith and knowing your specialness of being here on earth no matter what comes your way. In a hugely needing world, it also expands the frequency of positivity and kindness.
The obvious antonym to gratitude is censure, criticism, condemnation, thanklessness, ungratefulness. This is a frequency that closes in. Conversely, gratitude opens up worlds. The practice of gratitude also neutralizes anxiety and reduces stress. To enter into this space, science now shows, is to calm the nervous system and to especially comfort the limbic system, or that area of the cortex which governs instinct, (and so the basic emotions of fear, pleasure, anger), drives (hunger, sex, dominance, care of offspring), and mood. Every religious practice also knows how the practice and form of expressing and incorporating gratitude into one’s life is important both historically and practically for one’s well-being.
Thank you. They are beautiful words when evoked artfully. What can you heighten of gratitude in your own day to inspire yourself away from common routinization?
When I eat, I often recollect what a rabbi shared with me when he blesses an apple. From sunshine to rainwater to soil to the many labourers along the way, a miraculous ingenuity brings this apple to the garden or to our neighbourhood grocery store and to our table and to our mouths. In that one apple alone how many countless blessings are contained within!
And what of the creative and thoughtful giving efforts of the wonderful cook who helps to prepare what you and I eat? And so whatever I eat, however simple or complex the meal, I understand now that it is wise to give thanks within my heart before I begin and when I finish. I also thank that I am not made to be hungry in a given moment and I send love to those who are not as readily fortunate. To do this reminds me not to take things in life for granted, that there are forces beyond me, and that I am loved at every instance and never truly disconnected or alone.
Another gratitude tool I rely on is to journal three to five things I am grateful for as soon as I wake up and just before bed. It is often hard to just choose three or five from the multitude that comes quickly into shape within my being. This starlit truth expands my appreciativeness for the hidden miracles in my world and it has me know how deeply I am held. In writing, we also reconnect the muscle in our hand, a reflexive pulse joined to imagination from our brain, to the muscles of compassion and empathy in our heart.
A levitator that works especially well for me, a visual learner, relies on my connecting to a special favourite “peace” bowl and some fresh tap water every morning upon rising and every evening just before bed. Serving tea, especially in the Buddhist tea ceremony tradition, can be a complex art in mindful simplicity: tea is served slowly, the bowl filled, the bowl washed once emptied, the bowl gently turned over to dry on its own, the bowl ready to repeat for the next point of day.
Each morning, and on an adaptation of this ancient ceremony, I walk to my “peace” bowl. I open the tap gently and I fill the water bowl very, very, slowly while watching it collect, slowly fill. Like a surprise waterfall or a clean babbling brook, I let the sweet sound fill my heart as I ask myself what intention I would like to fill my day. I declare what I look forward to and in what ways I am committed to be happy to receive and to give.
I often ask to be humble, calm, broad-minded, and diligent through things. I ask for the wisdom to follow through on my intention and to know the difference when I do not. I then walk that almost filled to the brim water bowl very but very carefully – the better to not spill any or lose any of my intention — to a very special sacred space in my home, and place it where I know it won’t be tipped or interrupted. I smile to the water reflection, and I go on my way.
During the day, and at points when I am anxious, I often can quickly reconnect to the action of my filling that bowl earlier as a reminder for calm. I can resurrect my intention and how I filled it up. I am then also more quickly attuned of what I do not want to mix or dirty into or have pollute the peacefulness of what I now understand is truly a sacred bowl.
From here, I usually smile, because I recognize that everything of the day of which I do have control is in the power of my choice. I feel empowered over drowned or downed to the day in such awareness. I am that water. I am the container. I am thankfully a sacred being— and like water that flows and guides, I can change the course of my thought and revise my subsequent action.
Water in a bowl, after all, fills lightly, without resistance, and like a stream, it lets go. I can be that pebble rolling with the stream all the more, too. I can breathe deeply and appreciatively and make my thoughts more easily glide, like water.
Come evening, and just before I am ready for bed, I return to my “peace” bowl and I empty the water into the sink very, very slowly, the all of me a calm heart-body very, very peacefully to it. I thank that sound to my own day’s sacredness. I count all the blessings, little ones and big, that I touched, that I apprised, or that heart-touched me. I notice how peacefully I am filled and how filled with awe to the many blessings for growth, inspiration, and connection that came my way, many of which I otherwise would not have noted. I am filled with gratitude to know my power to succeed, my humility to fail, to do better where I can, and to look forward to another day. The bowl now emptied, the water gone, (sometimes it feeds a plant), I turn the “peace” bowl over as I head off to bed.
Such simple practices of ritual to begin and to conclude a day help me take things day by day and not fast forward or back pedal. The exercise as strongly helps me to more clearly see that each day is a series of many little growing steps and myriad hidden miracles no matter that life challenges often feel like a mountain. My “peace” bowl and my gratitude journal have become my friend. And so come evening, I will thank the scenario that got to me and where I momentarily drowned. And when I am in the face of those especially profound life challenges, the kind that arrive quite suddenly, that can unusually numb or overwhelm, and when life can only be one hour or a few hours at a time to get through each day, the “peace” bowl ritual is a great comforter of simple ritual to me to effectively help frame the day.
Some days, admittedly, are truly difficult and I can forget the imagery of the bowl midstream. But as soon as I recall it, I go back to it. Some days I err and I become distracted or lazily impulsive and I don’t even make “peaceful” time for it. I understand what I lose when I am not disciplined in that way. I understand how especially vital it is to keep to helpful things even when we don’t feel inclined.
Some days, I am caught by the ocean and I let a raw emotion get to me and the water bowl’s gentleness and the journal of gratitude is not what or who I am. However, it is easier to identify misstep right away when a muscle is more practiced and like water that effortlessly gives, effortlessly heals, effortlessly replenishes and runs, I can detachedly ask myself what I can do better. Some moments of the day, I am sad or overwhelmed and water in the bowl and something as simple as a gratitude journal has me understand it is okay that I cry sometimes or sometimes can feel whirled, frightened, despairing and overwhelmed. I acknowledge the sensation, I see myself as water breathing, and then I feel clearer to follow my heart more compassionately and gently again. I will ask for help where the water flow is still pushed and stagnant in my heart, and I usually find a better answer and direction when I awake the next day. Like gentle water, and from one who is truly hard on herself, I have learned through a container of water imagery that begins and ends on gratitude how to forgive the error of my human ways.
These three little examples of ritual connect me to the truth that I am a sacred being. Thank that I have been made human. Thank that I have been given a clean canvas every day, if I so want it. I understand things can only improve for the better with my gratitude and my compassion.
In most instances, I can’t wait to get up to meet and greet my “peace” bowl anew. Or my gratitude journal.
Water and sunlight feeds plants and flowers. By being mindful to our spirits, we can be more mindful to the spirit of others. As for Theo, he feels good and is glad and thankful in his soul every day no matter what it is. A bird now sings. A butterfly came to say hello to a flower. Bless our many teachers.
Photography by Marina Mashaal