Gratitude is such a wonderful word.
There is a lot of “stuff” that happens during a given day. Our consciousness is designed to focus on the highlights of the day, the important stuff that demands our attention. When we start meditating regularly we become very aware of the vast amount of thoughts, feelings, memories and emotions that bubble up from our unconscious all day long. One of the freedoms of a meditation practice is deciding which of those thoughts we will let go and which we’ll cultivate.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Vietnamese Zen Buddhist, talks about this idea of cultivation as watering seeds. “The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water. If you plant tomato seeds in your gardens, tomatoes will grow. Just so, if you water a seed of peace in your mind, peace will grow. When the seeds of happiness in you are watered, you will become happy. When the seed of anger in you is watered, you will become angry.”
One of the best tools that I have for cultivating happy and positive thoughts, and thus a happy and positive life, is a gratitude list. The simple act of writing down some of the things I’m grateful for has a powerful effect on changing my outlook.
Why is this important? If we read the teachings of the Buddha very closely, he does not profess that his enlightenment entailed the discovery of previously hidden truths, rather, his enlightenment was a shift of perspective that helped him see the world in a new way.
A gratitude list helps me shift my perspective on the world. The reality doesn’t change, the way I feel about it changes!
Example: I have chronic back issues and I spent a lot of time in the car this weekend, aggravating my back pain. “I am grateful for ice packs and stretching exercises. It is a relief to have a solution for my back pain that doesn’t require constant medication.” Same back pain, new outlook.
This might sound like wishful thinking, but there is a powerful reframing that happens when we actively look for the positives in a seemingly negative situation. This is an exercise best experienced, rather than thought about.
Try it! I’d love to hear what you are grateful for today.
I’ll get us started:
1. I am grateful that my father is alive. So many of my friends were reminded of the loss they feel for their departed fathers this weekend.
2. I am grateful for my new job which affords me the freedom to travel and see my family and friends.
3. I am grateful for kindness my coworker showed me this morning while I walked into work with my arms full. It feels good to be recognized and helped when it would have been easy for her to be walking into work on a Monday morning with blinders on.
May your practice be strong!
Anthony A. Cernera
"I am thankful for small mercies. I compared notes with one of my friends who expects everything of the universe, and is disappointed when anything is less than the best, and I found that I begin at the other extreme, expecting nothing, and am always full of thanks for moderate goods. If we will take the good we find, asking no questions, we shall have heaping measures." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson