Gratitude is one of those words that everyone seems to be using lately. We throw it around sometimes without stopping to think about its roots or what we really mean when we say “I am grateful.”
The word gratitude stems from the Latin word gratus, which means pleasing. The same root word is the basis of grace. Grace, which means beauty and ease of movement. Gratitude, therefore, is not simply being thankful. Gratitude is a way of moving through the world. It is a way of saying yes, to the full spectrum of life experience, with an open heart.
There will be times when expressing gratitude feels easier – a friend pays for your coffee, a stranger holds a door open, or a day of sunshine arrives in the middle of a rainy week. Life is filled with moments of effortless exchange.
There will also be times when gratitude feels harder to grasp. In these times, closing our heart and the door to our experience – or even slamming it shut – feels like the safest option. Anger, fear and jealousy constrict our hearts and pull a veil over our eyes, making it harder to see the imperfectly beautiful gifts around us and within us.
I was unhappy with my previous job for several years. I created a sense of feeling stuck and became overrun by bitterness. I asked myself for years why was I still there? What lesson was I supposed to be learning? But I remained bitter as I asked these questions. Eventually, I realized how fortunate I was. Fortunate to have steady employment for so many years. Fortunate that I was able to provide for my family. Fortunate that I had learned so many wonderful skills. And I realized that I was grateful. From that moment on, I was able to see clearly and I made the decision to leap into the unknown and quit. Gratitude opened the door, and meditation opened the experience of gratitude.
The practice of mindfulness helps us build a foundation from which we can open to gratitude amidst all of life’s ups and downs. Meditation trains us to get in touch with the present moment, where we can discover what is already here that is good and really soak it in. Research shows that staying with the experience of something we’re grateful for – for 20 or more seconds – helps us weave it into the fabric of our brains. The longer something is held in our awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more our neurons fire and wire together, which creates a stronger trace in our implicit memory. Meditation helps us learn how to stay with our pleasant experiences, and in turn, amplify the good.
Meditation also helps us learn how to let go of our resistance to difficult experiences and accept them for what they are. This takes a tremendous amount of courage, but it’s a prerequisite for finding the silver linings in our struggles. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up hope. On the contrary, acceptance holds the mirror up for us, so that we can see the lesson we need to learn in order to transform hope into action.
“We learn that what truly heals is gratitude and tenderness.” ~ Pema Chödrön
One way to uplift our hearts is by sharing our gratitude with others. We cannot give away what we don’t already possess, but gratitude is a funny thing. The more we share, the more we seem to invite, and the more we invite, the more compelled we feel to share. It’s one of life’s most beautiful phenomena.
In this time of giving thanks, explore feeling thankful for everything as it is. Not just the obvious, good, comfortable stuff. All of it. Extend thanks to your suffering. Extend your heart to those that have hurt you. Extend forgiveness and love to yourself. Be thankful for your mistakes and shortcomings as well as your triumphs and the miracle that is this life.
This is the practice.
Try this simple meditation to invite an open heart.
Find a comfortable, quiet seat.
Close your eyes.
Focus your attention on anahata, the heart chakra, noticing any sensations present.
There is no right or wrong way to feel.
Inhale and allow anahata’s green light to slowly fill your body from head to toe.
Exhale, sharing the light, allowing it to expand beyond your body.
Keep breathing in this way for 10 breaths, filling your body and spirit with light and spreading the green light of the heart chakra into the cosmos.
Visualize this light coming from within and gracing everyone and everything it touches with warmth, acceptance and gratitude.
Take your time and observe without judgement.
Close by bringing your palms together, sealing in the love and goodness you have shared with yourself and with the world.
Try pausing for a few moments and allow yourself to become quiet and centered. Consider the following exploratory questions for opening and uplifting your heart.
When does gratitude flow most easily for me?
What doors have I closed, or allowed to close, in my life?
What lesson/s might be behind the door/s?
If I were to shift to a feeling of gratitude, how might that open the door/s?
How does my heart feel as I consider sharing gratitude with another?
Simple ideas to uplift your heart.
Offer support to someone you know. It can be as simple as sending a message saying, “How can I support you this week?”
Share a sincere and kind observation with a stranger. Sometimes just letting someone know you noticed beauty in a gesture, gentle words or how they move through the world can brighten the day.
Make more eye contact. It’s easy to get caught up in our thoughts and problems as we go about the day. Looking others in the eyes – or even smiling with our eyes – offers connection and acknowledgement of others in your sphere.
Forgive yourself. This one is maybe not so simple. Start with something small that you’re still hanging on to. Breathe. Remind yourself that you were doing your best with the knowledge you had at the time. Put your suffering on a cloud and with a gentle exhale, watch it float away.
Nicole Rush is Pause's Community Manager and an Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor. Meditation is like digestion for the mind, guiding us to a place where we are able to let go of what no longer serves us, we can recognize the true self within, always there to guide us.
Our days are filled with activities that sometimes feel less than extraordinary, such as cooking dinner, doing the laundry or walking the dog. But, if we pay attention, we will recognize the richness and abundance in the seemingly mundane. We don’t have to wait for a special day to find joy and happiness — it’s available now.
In 2018, Nicole traveled to the mountains of Kathmandu to complete her yoga and meditation teacher training. She also holds a Yoga Nidra certification and a Bachelor of Fine Art from Marylhurst University. Outside of wellness practices, Nicole finds joy in poetry, knitting, long walks, French films and her ever-vibrant family.