Thanksgiving: At time for practicing your gratitude
Vail, CO, Colorado
VAIL, COLORADO ” The word namaste is an expression of deep gratitude and recognition. As yogis, we express namaste at the end of every class as we press our palms together in front of the heart center bowing to ourselves and each other.
The mindful cultivation of gratitude is something that should be done daily as an important part of our overall well-being. A study by the Mayo Clinic cites these health benefits of positive thinking:
n Decreased negative stress.
n Greater resistance to catching the common cold.
n A sense of well-being and improved health.
n Reduced risk of coronary artery disease.
n Easier breathing with certain lung diseases such as emphysema.
n Improved coping ability for women with high-risk pregnancies.
n Better coping skills during hardships.
Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding.
There is an old Sufi story that my teacher tells about a man whose son captured a strong, beautiful, wild horse. All the neighbors told the man how fortunate he was. The man patiently replied, “We shall see.” One day the horse ran away and the neighbors told the man how unfortunate he was. The man said again, “We shall see.” Not long afterwards, the horse came back to the ranch with hundreds of other wild horses. And of course the neighbors told him how lucky he was. He replied, “We shall see.” Following, the man’s son began to try to break the wild horses and one of the horses threw the son and he broke his leg, and all the neighbors told the man how cursed he was that the horses came back. Again the man answered, “We shall see.” Soon after the son broke his leg, soldiers came to the village and took away all the able-bodied young men, but the son was spared. When the man’s friends told him how lucky the broken leg was, the man would only say, “We shall see.” Gratitude for participating in the mystery of life is like this.
Begin by closing your eyes. Take a deep breath in. Hold it to the count of three. And, let go. Re-open your eyes and pay attention to the natural breath as you continue reading.
Find something in your life that can allow you to feel grateful or thankful because it’s impossible to feel stressed, frustrated or fearful when you are feeling a sense of gratitude. Have gratitude for being alive, for the organs of your body which keep you alive, for the heart that beats without you having to think about it. Be grateful for the power of your brain, the most powerful computer ever built, capable of answering any question you pose it, capable of bringing you whatever it is you want at the deepest levels of your life. Be grateful for how your cells replenish themselves ” just feel a sense of love for your body that has kept you alive in the past, is keeping you alive now, and will continue to keep you alive in the future. Begin to repeat to yourself: “thank you,” “thank you,” “thank you.” Or, if you prefer, you can just repeat whatever it is that feels appropriate to you. Or simple pay attention to the feeling of gratitude. For just a moment, pause.
And now I’d like you to think about all the people in your life you really care about ” your friends, perhaps your partner, your children, family members and close friends and get a sense of what makes them special and, how you’ve been blessed with their presence in your life. And, if you don’t yet have those kinds of relationships you can just focus on the desire ” the worthy desire to be with people and to experience loving relationships, knowing that desire is something to be grateful for.
And as you think about the people you care about in your life or just the desire to have those relationships you can feel that sense of gratitude ” and you may begin to repeat: “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” Or you may go back to feeling gratitude for your body. Or just simply paying attention to the feeling of gratitude, your health, or other areas where you’ve been blessed. Pause.
Now I’d like you think about some of the ways in which you are blessed and you can be grateful. For example, the basics like a safe place to sleep, clean air and water, food and medicine. Perhaps some of the little luxuries you enjoy like being able to have a cup of coffee on Sunday morning. Or being surrounded by this amazing natural, mountainous playground to hike, bike, walk and play in. Or, for having a car to take you place to place. What about for Earth itself, blue skies, a child’s laughter, a warm touch, the smell of winter or the tang of salt? Or, for just having some time to yourself. Again you can repeat “thank you” or just enjoy the feeling of gratitude.
You and I have an opportunity to consciously taste life, to know it for what it is, and to make of it what we are able. Even when our lives are filled with great difficulty, this is a gift. Our concerns slowly but surely shift from being mostly about ourselves to being about all living beings. As this occurs, we need less and less in the way of good fortune. It becomes enough that there are those who are happy, who are receiving love, who are safe, and who have a promising future. It is not that we would not prefer good things for ourselves, but our sense of well-being is no longer contingent on external circumstances. We are able to celebrate that amidst all life’s suffering, there exists joy. We realize that pain and joy are part of a mysterious whole. When this state of selfless gratitude blossoms, our minds become more spacious, quieter, and our hearts receive the first taste of the long-sought release from fear and wanting.
This is grace.
Kelly Major Heath is the director of Mountain Lotus yoga in the Vail Athletic Club. She writes a monthly yoga column for the Vail Daily. Send comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.