Gratitude is the sweetest of all the practices for living the dharma in daily life and the most easily cultivated, requiring the least sacrifice for what is gained in return. It is a very powerful form of mindfulness practice, that allows us to rejoice amidst all life’s suffering. 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. Cultivating thankfulness elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that encourages spiritual development.
The practice of gratitude is not in any way a denial of life’s difficulties. We live in troubling times, and no doubt you’ve experienced many challenges, uncertainties, & disappointments in your own life. The understanding you gain from practicing gratitude frees you from being lost or identified with either the negative or positive aspects of life, letting you meet life in each moment as it rises.
An important step in practicing gratitude is to actively notice things you are grateful for throughout your regular day, situations and interactions that are irritating or frustrating. There is a level of well-being and universal cooperation that is supporting you even in the midst of a so-called bad day. You do so not to get out of a bad mood or to be a nicer person, but with the intention of clearly seeing the true situation of your life. The particulars may remain the same, but the inner experience of how your life is unfolding begins to shift. Slowly you become clearer about what really matters to you, and there is more ease in your daily experience.
When you are in a deep state of gratitude, you will often spontaneously feel the presence of grace. The grace in receiving a human life is that it grants you the capacity to experience that which is beyond the mind and body – call it god, Allah, emptiness, spirit, or the Ground of Absolute. Reflect on this: You, with all your flaws, have been chosen for this opportunity to consciously taste life, to know it for what it is, and to make of it what you are able.
This gift of a conscious life is grace, even when your life is filled with great difficulty and it may not feel like a gift at the time. The grace of a conscious life, and having a mind that can know”this moment is like this” is the root of all wonder, from which gratitude flows. The wonder, the mystery, is that you, like everyone else, are given this short, precious time of conscious embodiment in which you can directly know yourself. However you find life to be – cruel or kind, sorrowful or joyous, bland or stimulating, indifferent or filled with love – you get the privilege of knowing it firsthand. Your sense of well-being is no longer contingent on external circumstances and you are able to rejoice that amidst all life’s suffering there exists joy. You realize that pain and joy are part of a mysterious whole. When this state of gratitude starts to blossom, your mind becomes more spacious, quieter, and your heart receives its first taste of the long-sought release from fear and wanting. This is grace.
by Philip Moffit/ Dharma Yoga Columnist for the Yoga Journal