Thanksgiving is the one day when we all pause and think about the things for which we’re grateful. However, gratitude does not have to be a once-a-year event, it can be a daily practice that greatly enhances your life experience. I’m not talking about simply putting a jar next to your bed and placing ten things in a night you’re grateful for like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens (though this is great too and if you’re doing it, bravo). Practicing gratitude means shifting your entire world view from one in which there are good things and bad things in life and it’s all about accumulating good things for happiness and avoiding bad things to the view that it’s all a gift. Everything. Every experience, every happening, every victory, every loss, every reunion, every parting, every sunrise, every power outage, every lost iPhone, every moment with someone we love. The question is, can you detect the gift?
How is all this bull$#!+ I have to deal with a gift?
I’m sure there were a few eye rolls above. “How exactly is losing my iPhone, or suffering from a toothache, or getting stuck in traffic, or all the tedious, horrible things we all have to deal with on a daily basis a gift? And now, if I don’t feel like it’s a gift, do I get to feel guilty about that too?” Stick with me here. It’s not that you can’t still be pissed off if you forget an appointment or you should celebrate the next time your hemorrhoids flare up. Your feelings are valid and no one is taking them away from you. It’s just that if you are able to detect the gifts hidden in a situation, it softens the blow, and little by little, you can almost skip over the disappointment and go straight to focusing on whatever is next.
So what does a gift from a difficult situation look like?
It looks like a lesson or a silver lining. This past Tuesday was my 40th birthday. A pretty big deal as far as birthdays go and I was very much looking forward to getting a sitter and having the first day in God knows how long with my husband sans kids. Well, on Sunday, one kid got sick, by Monday morning two were sick but I was still hanging onto hope. By Monday night, the babysitter’s kid was sick and the baby came down with croup. Admittedly, I had a few moments of feeling grumpy about it, but clearly, there was some other experience I was meant to have. My awareness shifted to the silver lining–how, because she would be out of school, I would get to spend my special day with my oldest daughter. And the lesson–going into the winter cold season, I need to pay more attention to their diet and sickness prevention regimen. Destruction always is clearing the way for creation, so when something is frustrating or falls apart, look for where it is leading you, this is the lesson. This is life nudging you on a path of greater evolution.
How do I detect the gift?
The key to detecting the gift in any situation having your attention on what is actually happening rather than what you were expecting to happen. The key to doing that is (surprise, surprise) meditation. Most non-meditators rarely have their awareness in the present, but rather jump between reviewing the past and rehearsing the future. When we get rigidly attached to an idea of the future and try to forcefully control the outcome, if life takes a different turn, most of us keep clinging to what we imagined would play out instead of seeing what may be right in front of us. When we meditate, however, our awareness is marinating in the field of Being in which there is no time, only existence. We then bring that groundedness in Being into our waking lives, that awareness of the now. It’s not that meditators are telling themselves all the time, “be present, be present,” it’s something that just is without trying. There may be a moment of disappointment, but as soon as the emotion is no longer relavent, it passes, and the experienced meditator is looking around for, “What is here for me? What should I be drawing from this situation? How will this circumstance help me to help others?”
What about when things are going well?
This is where the gratitude jars fit in. It’s easier to be thankful for the “good things,” however most of us don’t take the time to feel appreciation for these either. We’re too busy thinking of the next thing that’s going to make us happy. Taking things for granted is the default for most of us, so actively stopping to recognize all that we’re grateful for is part of a practice of gratitude. Whether you make a jar or not, just going through your day and experiencing little internal thank you’s every time you see a beautiful beam of light come through a window, or you didn’t get a parking ticket even though your meter had expired, or you get two bags of Cheetos out of the vending machine instead of one is a good start. Another way to ramp up your experience of gratitude is to remember that everything is temporary. This is not always a comfortable thought, but it will snap things right back into proper perspective. For example, it’s a thought can barely think, but the idea that there will be a last time I get to see any of my family makes me want to hold them all in my arms and tell them I love them over and over until they think I’ve gone crazy.
In the spirit of this article, I would like to profess my gratitude for you. Whether you are my student, a future student, follow my writing, or may have just happened upon this essay, I am deeply thankful for you taking the time to consider this bit of Vedic teaching and I hope it proves helpful to your life in some way.
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Adrian and I taking it all in.