“Gratitude makes sense of your past,
brings peace for today,
and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
~ Melody Beattie
If you’re new to this 10 part series on Core Values, welcome! I’d like to invite you to experience each of the posts in this series by clicking here.
Gratitude, Thankfulness, Appreciation, Gratefulness, Grace, Recognition
Gratitude has received a lot of airtime over the last several years, ranging from Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday to the cover of a plethora of magazines. Media attention has popularized positive psychology and increased the sales of craftily marketed Gratitude Journals. But before your eyes glaze over and you skip this post because you think you know gratitude all too well, stick with me and let’s explore gratitude not simply as a daily practice but as a fundamental Core Value.
Gratitude is a medicinal emotion. It’s an attitude of “have” versus “want.”
Pause for a moment. How does it feel when you say to yourself, “have” versus “want?” I don’t know about you, but when my inner voice says, “have,” my breath expands, my heart softens, and I feel open and receptive. When my inner voice says, “want,” my chest contracts, my breath becomes shallow, and I feel the corners of my eyes constrict. What is it like for you?
Sadly our cultural narrative is permeated by lack. We scroll through social media and rather than feeling an increase in connection, we perceive an unreal scarcity in our lives.
Now let me take a moment before we continue and acknowledge that there are people and populations throughout our country and across the world who experience very real scarcity and lack every single day. People who have limited to no access to the most basic needs ranging from food to educational opportunities. In this post I am not talking to the populations facing daily, unrelenting scarcity. I am talking to you – the person who has a roof over their head, clothes in their closet, food in their pantry, and access to the technology needed to read this. Generally speaking, we are a privileged part of the population just by the mere fact that we have our basic needs met. So, with this in mind, let’s continue…
Sanchita Pandey said, “Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have.” This is important: it’s ok to want things! It’s ok to want GREAT things for yourself, your family, and your community. For example, I want to own a home. I want this for so many reasons. And I want it SO badly! But, my burning desire to own a home never overtakes the appreciation I have for my current living situation. I take time each day to appreciate our home, the beauty of our patio, my favorite reading chair, and the safety and comfort I feel when I walk through the door.
If your happiness is contingent on something to be attained in the future, something outside of yourself, then it isn’t happiness at all. When our wants drive us to despair, we have lost our way. When your beautifully created vision board becomes a board full of “things I don’t have and am miserable without,” it’s no longer useful. Ask, “is my happiness conditional?” Rather than a daily exercise in list writing, consciously cultivating gratitude as a fundamental Core Value can be transformational.
I think about the practice of gratitude a lot when it comes to death. Watching my father die was not easy. Was I “grateful” that he was dying? Absolutely not. Was I “grateful” that he was in pain and suffering physically and emotionally? Categorically no. But I was grateful every single day for the time we spent together, even on the days when it was hard as hell. I am so grateful for everything we shared in those months even as the veil between this life and the next became increasingly thin and palpable.
Not surprisingly, gratitude has a notable impact on your overall well-being. People who practice gratitude experience fewer aches and pains, sleep better, have higher rates of resiliency, experience increased self-esteem, experience increased immunity and happiness, increased energy, optimism, and empathy.
But, did you know that in order for gratitude to be truly impactful you must expand on WHY you are so grateful? Expanding on why helps to bolster the positive experiences in your life and invites those memories to stick around longer. In turn this increases your feeling of connectedness and can help reenforce your generous behavior. The next time you feel gratitude for a person or experience in your life, dig into why. What about this are you so grateful? What was particularly special about the moment or memory? For example, “I’m grateful for nature” has a very different impact than “I’m grateful I went on a hike today. It reminded me how good I feel when I spend time outdoors and how much I love nature. The sky was blue, the air was clear, and people on the trail were so nice!” Dr. Rick Hanson, meditation teacher and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, & Wisdom, often shares the reminder that soaking in the good moments of life helps the brain to absorb them like a sponge and gives our positive experiences more meaning and priority in the databank of our lives.
In the eight limbs of yoga there is a practice that I love, Santosha. It means contentment. I love this word so much that my husband and I had a pet fish named Santosha. We were in India the day our fish finally died. As I read the email informing me of Santosha’s passing, we were checking out of a hotel. The man assisting us was named Santosh. It was a synchronistic reminder that even in the face of loss, (because yes, even though it was a fish we were sad) contentment was possible. We talked about all the things Santosha represented to us – the fish and the concept. Contentment has an element of gratitude to it. We can choose to shift our perception, even in challenging moments, and turn toward appreciation and recognition.
The definition of Vipassana or Insight Meditation, my foundational practice, is translated to mean, “to see things as they really are.” What practice continues to teach me is that when I accept the present moment as it is, rather than fighting against reality or wishing that things were somehow different, then and only then, am I able to rest in contentment and gratitude. From that place I am able to listen deeply, love fully, and be wholeheartedly present. Robert Holden said, “the real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.”
Gratitude can help you suffer less, appreciate more, and revel in the incredible beauty of the moment right in front of you. If you’re sick and tired of feeling like you don’t have enough or that you aren’t enough, gratitude will help. If you’re ready to stop comparing and complaining, ready to put to bed that unreal sense of lack, gratitude will help. The question is, when pain, grief, resentment, or challenge inevitably arise in your life, can you be courageous enough to act with gratitude? It will feel vulnerable and foreign. It will require that you show up in your life in an entirely new way. It will mean when people call you to bitch, compare, and complain you must be strong enough to say, “I no longer engage in conversations that pull at my mind and heart that way.” Behavior change isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. That much I know. Your life will be a testament to it.
I’ll leave you with this poem, written by my father:
Next time you touch a star or love another
remember what it felt like.
Then go and tell the others
to watch what beauty you have found
and have them pass it on to the next
who might need to know
how much love there is to give and receive
for in this way
perhaps in the uncertain future
all people everywhere will love
and do beautiful things
~ James Eckstrom
When gratitude resides in your life as a leading Core Value, it gives you the power to rest in any situation with grace, dignity, and hope.
You can follow the outlined practice below or visit Inner Dimension Media and enjoy Day #9 of my program Journey to Yoga for a video of this practice.
Read this invocation as you begin. An invocation sets the tone for your practice and establishes intentionality.
Begin in a supported backbend with one block, at the lowest height, under your shoulder blades and a block at the medium height under your head…Allow your chest to open and begin to draw your breath into the very center of your heart. With your awareness anchored in your heart, begin to call in your deepest gratitude and thanks for the many blessings in your life…Honor the medicinal quality of gratitude. Set the intention to shift your focus from what you want to what you have. Invite yourself to experience a new way of being as you perceive challenging situations with new perspective – practice viewing the challenges that arise on your mat as opportunities rather than setbacks. Use gratitude throughout your practice to move away from the mindset of scarcity and shift to a mindset of abundance. By adjusting what you focus on you begin to change the way you see yourself and the way you see the world…
Heart Opener supported on 2 blocks
Cow/Cat (several rounds)
Plank (hold for 5 breaths)
Fingertip Cobra (3 times)
Downdog (hold for 8-10 breaths)
Wave forward to Plank (4 times)
Forward Fold, top of the mat
Rag Doll Roll to Stand (3 times)
Sun Salutation A Variation: Each time your hands connect at prayer, inhale, and open the arms wide, making a cactus shape with the arms as you expand the chest. As you exhale, bring the hands back to prayer. (3 full rounds)
Sun Salutation B: Warrior I with Humble Warrior, Eagle Arms as you fold (3 full rounds)
Sunbird (hold 5 breaths)
Half Bow (hold 5 breaths)
Warrior I: Elbows to Ribs w/Lion’s Breath and Circle to Sky (3 times)
Parsvottonasana with the hands in Reverse Prayer (hold 5 breaths)
Warrior III with the hands still in Reverse Prayer (hold 5 breaths)
Twisting Half Moon (hold 5 breaths)
Twisting Chapasana Variation (hold 5 breaths)
Return to Twisting Half Moon
Standing Splits (hold 5 breaths)
Side Plank (hold 5 breaths)
Repeat on the 2nd side
Flowing Camel (several rounds)
Child’s Pose (hold 8 – 10 breaths)
Forward Fold (hold 8 – 10 breaths)
Savasana: Rest both hands on your heart
You can read through the meditation instructions below or download my FREE audio meditation course, 7 Days of Meditation, and listen to the Day 6 meditation for a guided version.
Begin by closing your eyes or softening your gaze toward the floor. Take a few slow, long, deep breaths. Bring your awareness to your heart, the center of your chest. Maybe you feel your breath rising and falling in this place, maybe you sense the beating of your heart.
From the awareness of your heart, the place from which your love and gratitude flow, begin to call to mind the place you currently call home. See the place you currently lay your head to rest at night. In your mind, see the memories that hang on the walls or the photos that decorate your shelves. As you call your home to mind, feel the gratitude you have for all the aspects of this place you currently call home. Feel your gratitude for the food in your cabinets which nourish you. Feel your gratitude for the clothes in your closet which protect and warm your body. When your mind wanders, simply return to the next thing you feel grateful for about the current place you call home.
Begin to call to mind the many people you feel grateful for in your life: your parents or grandparents. See their faces clearly and send them your deepest gratitude and thanks for the love, support, joy, and connection they have brought to your life. See your family and greatest friends, your mentors or teachers. See the people who have passed or are no longer with you. For all of their kindness, for all of their compassion, send them your gratitude. See each person clearly in your mind and send them your deepest thanks.
As you call people to mind, begin to recall the many experiences of your life: the education you were lucky enough to receive, the first job you had, or the places you’ve traveled. As these memories fill your heart, touch into the felt sense of gratitude you have for these beautiful opportunities. See the colors, hear the sounds, sense the memory fully, and send out your greatest thanks for these experiences in your life.
And, at times, you might even call to mind the challenges you’ve faced. Sense how the challenges have often been pathways that led you to where you are today. As if you could say to yourself, “Thank you for the challenges which have helped me to grow and transform, which have helped me to become the person I am today: thank you, thank you.”
Over time, allow the images to fade. Return your awareness to your heart. What does gratitude feel like in your body? How does it feel to live with a grateful heart?
Know that with gratitude in your heart you can transform any moment. It’s a life-changing core value that will stay with you forever.
As you bring your practice to a close, draw your hands to your heart and bow gently. Set the intention to begin and end each day by reflecting on all you feel grateful for in your life. From this place, with gratitude in your life and in your heart, return to your day.