I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude, lately. Gratitude is a magical state of being in which, we not only recognize our blessings, but we feel them and honor them through every action we take and interaction we have. Gratitude is the fountain through which we quench our thirst for insatiable desire and avarice. It is the very essence of abundance, for through gratitude we are eternally connected and filled with all that is. Gratitude begets gratitude. It’s a state of being from which love, creativity, possibility and joy flow endlessly and unrestrictedly. We tend to focus our gratitude on the big occurrences in our lives, but seldom do we practice gratitude for the seemingly ordinary things. Most of our lives are made up of a million little things! It is there where we need to find the extraordinary and magic. I started by paying attention, observing. Then, I started falling in love with the little things. I began to see them as gifts, and before I knew it, they became extraordinary. A snail resting on a Bird of Paradise, a hummingbird perched on my tomato cage, my husband’s laughter, a hug from a student, a hike with my daughter, a smile from a stranger, and a million other things!
Some people have a very limited perspective of what extraordinary is. Therein, very few times in their lives are they able to truly experience a feeling of euphoria and deep gratitude. Mostly, they spend their lives chasing the next extraordinary thing to top the last one. But when you begin to recognize that extraordinary is all around you, you begin to live in a constant state of bliss and gratitude. We must not take the extraordinary for granted. We mustn’t minimize the experiences, the people and the life that surrounds us. In every instance, we are being offered a gift – the gift of life, love, connectedness, song and medicine. You can’t make someone love you, so when someone does, it is extraordinary. You can’t force creation, so when you see life as it is expressed all around you, you must honor it. We are constantly surrounded by more than we could ever fathom to take credit for, by gifts unconditionally offered to us, and that is what makes all of it so extraordinary.
As a teacher, I teach and facilitate learning for the students using materials and lessons that are relevant to them, but inevitably, as an authentic teacher should do, I also teach through the lens of what I am passionate about and the aspects of life I am exploring. Every morning, I have my students answer this question in their journals: What are your grateful for? At first they wrote about their phones and shoes and friends. But then I started to challenge them to think more profoundly about the impactful people and experiences in their lives and to ponder what life would be like without them.
As a result, they began to express more profound and sincere emotions of gratitude. As we begin to truly feel and express gratitude, we begin to see the true gift of what we are receiving in our lives. And these gifts become part of the magic we open ourselves to when we enter a state of of appreciation and celebration for all we have. The more we practice and feel gratitude, the more goodness we invite in our lives. As Rabindranath Tagore said, “Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.”
After my students reflect on what they are grateful for, I have them set an intention for the day and I ask them: What kind of day do you want to have? What kind of person do you want to be? In a state of gratitude, they look for the goodness in themselves as they set their intentions. They express that they want to be more caring, more helpful, more kind, more happy. I tell them those are their gifts to the world and who ever receives their goodness will in turn also experience gratitude.
First thing in the morning, I wake up and express a prayer of gratitude. It prepares my heart for the gifts I will receive that day, so I may recognize them and be humble in their presence. “Let me receive today. Let me receive the love of others, their expressions of life and their offerings. Let me never grow too weary or busy to be blessed by these gifts.” But also, “Let me be grounded and balanced enough to receive and hold space for the pain, hopelessness, and misery that I may encounter.” My wish is that my students’ hearts are vulnerable and humble enough to receive the abundance that surrounds them. The poet Rumi wrote, “If you wish for light, you must be ready to receive light.” When we are thankful for what comes into our lives, we fully receive the blessings. Gratitude initiates the receiving process. The moments in my life when I have been graced with the most gratitude have been when I have received someone’s pain and transgression with compassion and kindness.
Gratitude multiplies the good things in our lives, instantly. What you focus on grows. One way to deepen our sense of gratitude is to reflect on and appreciate the value of what each person, being, experience and material possession brings to our lives. Gratitude isn’t simply being thankful; it is honoring and recognizing how we are supported, uplifted and transformed by whom and what we are thankful for. As we move into deeper states of gratitude, we are also called to evaluate more critically what people, experiences and material possessions align with our soul and purpose, and whether or not to open ourselves up to them. In this way, we begin to remove the toxic and unhealthy relationships that don’t serve our higher self, and we make more room for the good things to flow more abundantly into our live and back out into the world. If what we bring into our lives isn’t special or significant enough for us to consciously be grateful for, then it’s not worth having.
“Comparable to a thanksgiving prayer that implores grace upon the food set before us, receptivity requires mindful acceptance of whatever is to come.” Everything that is encountered—positive or negative, triumph or tragedy—is a gift to move us closer to healing, closer to the truth of who we are. Therefore, even in and through the most painful lessons, we must sit in the presence of gratitude, for we are being watered to grow and thrive.
Happiness isn’t the absence of pain, conflict or problems. Happiness is the presence of gratitude, serenity and hope. It is the ability to see the magic, beauty and possibilities in life despite so much of the misery and hate that exists. It is the ability to recognize and feel there is more abundance than scarcity, more compassion than indifference, and more community than isolation. Gratitude is the practice of searching for the good, or finding the magic in the seemingly ordinary, and of being thankful for the gifts we have already received. We are held and guided with so many blessings, already. Gratitude is prayer and celebration – let us bask in it, rather than drown in regret and complaints.