10 Steps to Gratitude

a hanging heart ornament with stamped words I am grateful.

 

10 steps to gratitudeI’ve been conducting in my life lately.  I’ve been conducting an experiment with my life lately. The moment I come to awareness in the morning from my night of sleep, I make a choice:  Gratitude? or Not Gratitude?

On those days I choose gratitude, I wake up and before I open my eyes, I say “thank you for…..” and make a list. Sometimes it is short and sweet, sometimes long. “Thank you for…..my best friend and husband, Jordan, for my Bodhi-girl dog, for this bed, for my body just as it is, for this day ahead of me, for my work, for tea, for my clients, for my students, for World Yoga, for my sweet friends, for yoga, for hiking, for…. From here I usually want to snuggle with my husband and slow down to savor the sound of his breathing, the warmth of his body near me and the feel of the sheets on my skin. When it feels right timing, I easily leave that warm womb of my bedroom and move slowly through an early morning ritual of tea, reading, meditation and journaling before I move forward with the rest of my day. Nothing feels urgent or impossible. Everything feels “just right”, no matter the tasks for the day. The day takes the same tone, all day long.

On those days when I skip the gratitude process, I leap out of bed, ready to face my day. I make my tea, feed the dog and jump on the computer. I have lots to do and am far behind in my work, so I want to make the best of my time. My list begins: Ok, I have GOT to lose weight so I am gonna go hike at lunchtime and do yoga this evening. I NEED to finish that newsletter that I’ve been working on or else! Gotta order those clothes, pay the bills, do some accounting…yada yada yada. I can be extremely productive when I set my mind to it, so I work without a break and then by lunchtime I am ready to call it a day. I’m exhausted, cranky, and there is NO WAY I’m gonna go do that hike or yoga – just too tired. I’ll do it tomorrow when I have more time. And good grief, my todo list is even longer now than before. The day takes the same tone, all day long.

It really does go just like that. Really! Try the same thing and see what happens.  To be human is to struggle. We go naturally to that place of “this is not enough” instead of “this is all just right.” The Buddha said, “You have no cause for anything but gratitude or joy.”  The Course in Miracles says “You have a choice: Fear or Love.” I don’t know about you, but the choice seems very clear.  The challenge is how to cultivate gratitude.  Here are 10 tangible ways to bring more gratitude into your life:

1. Make a gratitude list in your head before getting out of bed.

2. Create a gratitude journal and write in it first thing in the morning, and/or the last thing you do at night.

3. Make an altar to gratitude. Find an empty surface in your home, office or even your car dashboard, lay out a beautiful cloth, and on that cloth place photos, knickknacks, sacred statues, quotes, flowers, candles, rocks, coins…. anything that reminds you of the blessings of your life.

4. When you suffer a loss, feel the grief completely and as you move through it you can eventually ask “What am I to be grateful for in this?” Yes, gratitude even for loss and for pain. I remember when my father died, I sank into a place of gratitude in my grief, remembering all his gifts to me throughout our lives together. This gratitude sustained me during the darkest times of feeling pain for the loss of what we would no longer share. “I thank God for my handicaps for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.” If Helen Keller, deaf and blind can go there, I sure can as well.

5. Read books on gratitude. Some of my favorites are: Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Gratitude: A Way of Life by Louise Hay. The ecstatic poems in Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks.  Prayers of Honoring by Pixie Lighthorse.  Anything and everything by Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Mark Nepo or John O’Donohue.

6. Express gratitude daily to people in your life and yourself in every interaction, no matter how big or small.  Send thank you notes and emails to those that cross your path.  Leave random phone messages for loved ones, just because.  Thank your colleagues.  Thank the gas attendant, the grocery clerk, the bus driver… make someone’s day.

7. Use your yoga practice to practice gratitude. I love how Sharon Gannon and David Life of New York’s Jivamukti encourage their students to use their practice as a prayer. Move through your sun salutes with silent mantras of gratitude. Bow to your practice at the end of class and incorporate a silent gratitude list in your final pose.  Before you leave your mat, place your hand on your heart and hand on the ground to thank Mother Earth for her blessings.

8.  Play music that makes you grateful for life. There are a number of musical pieces that crack my heat wide open and I’m sure there are at least a few for you.  For me, the joyful music of Mozart, playful Baroque Guitar, or some of the heartfelt poetic songs of some pop artists can bring me to a place of gratitude within seconds.

9.  Spend time in nature as often as you can.  Nature is the greatest gift for remembering gratitude.

10. Join Kindness.org which is a ray of light in this world.  Spreading kindness is a supreme act of gratitude.

Along with these 10 steps to gratitude, I’ll leave you with the words from a song that Jordan sent to cheer me up on one of those days when I chose the “Not Gratitude” path for the day:

“Life is Sweet” by Natalie Merchant

It’s a pity. It’s a crying shame. Who pulled you down again? How painful it must be to bruise so easily inside.
It’s a pity. It’s a downright crime. But it happens all the time. You wanna stay little daddy’s girl. Wanna hide from the vicious world outside
But don’t cry. Know the tears’ll do no good. So dry your eyes.
Your daddy he’s the iron man. A battleship wrecked on dry land. Your mama she’s a bitter bride. She’ll never be satisfied, And you know that’s not right
But don’t cry. Know the tears’ll do no good so dry your eyes
They told you life is hard. It’s misery from the start. It’s dull and slow and painful.
I tell you life is sweet in spite of the misery. There’s so much more. Be grateful.
Who do you believe? Who will you listen to? Who will it be? It’s high time that you decide in your own mind.
Tried to comfort you. Tried to tell you to be patient. They are blind. They can’t see.
Fortune gonna come some day. All gonna fade away.
Your daddy the war machine and your mama the long and suffering prisoner of what she cannot see.
They told you life is hard. It’s misery from the start. It’s dull and slow and painful.
I tell you life is sweet. In spite of the misery. There’s so much more. Be grateful.
Who do you believe? Who will you listen to. Who will it be? It’s high time you decide. It’s time you make up your own sweet little mind
They told you life is long. Be thankful when it’s done. Don’t ask for more. You should be grateful.
But I tell you life is short. Be thankful because before you know it will be over
Cause life is sweet, and life is also very short. Your life is sweet.

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