If you live in the US, Happy Thanksgiving! No matter where you live, gratitude is joyful to cultivate even without a harvest feast.
Maybe you can make a long list of all that you are grateful for. My list includes my favorite seasonal fruits shown here: easy-to-peel satsuma mandarin oranges and crunchy fuyu persimmons. Delicious! Yet how easy it would be to turn this simple pleasure into suffering. I could long for these fruits the rest of the year and dread when their short season ends. Training my mind to appreciate each fruit in its season didn’t come easily. I had to notice my impatience, my craving and my sadness when the season passed. Obviously I’m not just talking about persimmons and tangerines. This practice applies to all life.
Maybe finding things to be grateful for isn’t easy for you right now. Maybe it feels like a chicken scratching in the dust, and nothing’s coming up. Stop scratching! You won’t find anything nourishing. Instead, try this:
CULTIVATING GRATITUDE FOR THIS MOMENT
Pause to rest in the spaciousness of this moment just as it is.
You will probably find some tension in the body. To release the tension, tighten everything up first:
Inhale and tighten your muscles, squenching up your face, tightening your jaw. Bring your shoulders up toward your ears. Tighten your arms to your sides. Clench your fist, your belly, your buttocks, your thighs, your calves and your feet — tight, tight, tight — and then when you can’t hold it anymore, release. Release your breath, release your muscles, let everything go. Ahhhhhh.
Let yourself rest in this more relaxed state. Just discovering how much tension you may have been holding and how easily it is released is cause for at least some gratitude, right? But wait, there’s more:
Notice sounds — whether you find them pleasant or unpleasant, just let them be sound, the unique symphony of now, never to be repeated in just this way. A symphony just for you and all you have to do is be present to listen. Whether the symphony is subtle or noisy, sense into whatever you notice: the rhythms, the volume, the tones, the pitch, the pulsing, the beat, the variety, the layering.
Open your eyes and let them rest on whatever is here, without naming the objects or judging what you see. Just notice light and shadow, color, texture, distance, shapes and the molecular interaction of all of these including the molecules of the air that surrounds the solid objects.
Now close your eyes and sense in to the pressure where body meets whatever is supporting it. Feel the texture of whatever clothing or furniture comes in contact with skin. Feel free to trace the fabric with your fingers to activate more awareness of texture.
Feel the temperature of the air, and the stillness or movement of it. Feel whatever is going on in the body — pain, tension, energy, pleasant sensations and numbness. Wiggle the toes to activate awareness in the furthest reaches of the body. Taste the inside of the mouth.
Breath in softly and smell the air. Notice the breath, rising and falling.
Do this for as long as you like.
When we are able to release fully into this moment, savoring each sensation with fresh attention, we can notice how the very moment we thought was so ordinary, is in fact extraordinary because we are alive to notice it.
And what we notice may surprise us. We might discover a deep sense of gratitude. This isn’t a gratitude conditioned on whether what we find is the way we wanted it to be. No little sensory exercise is going to change the facts of a situation. If we have suffered a loss, we still grieve. This life does not come without pain. But when we pay close attention, we can see the ways we exacerbate the pain, and conversely the way we can hold all that is arising in our experience in a more compassionate way. We have access to a less critical noticing.
We may feel gratitude for simply being alive in this moment, understanding that this moment is the only one that is real. All other moments are just memory thoughts, planning thoughts and worry thoughts. When we find ourselves dwelling in them to the point that it blinds us to the beauty of this moment, we suffer unnecessarily.
This moment, fully relaxed, filled with compassion for ourselves and all beings, is the gateway to sensing the infinite interconnection of life. We discover we don’t need a list of reasons to be grateful. Gratitude is ingrained in the sense of being fully alive in this moment just as it is.
New to the practice?
If you are new to the practice and this access to the moment sounds like a pipe dream, be with the pipe dream, see it for what it is. Let it inform your experience of this moment. Keep practicing being present with whatever is. Stay focused on the senses, noticing. Notice everything. Notice the judgments, notice the emotions, notice the thoughts. Just notice. Maybe it feels like a big tangle, a tight knot, inaccessible. Be with that! Notice and notice again.
Meditation is like any new skill. At first paying attention to the present moment feels like trying to balance on the head of a pin. The moment we realize we’re on it, we fall off. But with patience, intention, compassion and consistent practice, we begin to notice the head of the pin getting larger until we feel present for longer and longer periods, and it becomes the foundation of our lives.
There’s no hurry. There’s just the practice. Wanting to get ‘there’ only seals the door and locks us out of the possibility of accessing awareness. For there is no ‘there,’ only ‘here.’ Just this experience. Can you feel gratitude for the rise and fall of your breath? Can you feel gratitude for the moment you discover your mind has wandered into thoughts (as minds often do!!) and you are able to refocus on the senses? Can you let go of any need to ‘put on a happy face’ or ‘look on the bright side’? This is not about becoming a new improved you. This is simply becoming present, acknowledging that there are kinder ways to be with our experience that are more honest and true.
When we relax into simple awareness of this moment, we fully inhabit our bodies and minds in a way that enables us to live an authentic, heartfelt generous and meaningful life. Accessing the infinite wisdom of simple presence, simple awareness, brings clarity and gratitude.
Appreciate this straightforward reminder on this day.
Thank you Stef! Definitely a reminder why I’m feeling unable to catch up. I’ve lost the ability to focus well on my work, so it seems more like getting caught in a raging river.
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I really appreciate cultivating gratitude in the moment. The how to is very helpful. Thank you 🙏
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