If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. – Meister Eckhardt
As we looked at the Reiki principles the last time, one in particular stood out to me. I have been contemplating it myself; the nature of gratitude. It seems so simple, but believe me when I tell you that it can facilitate some powerful shifts in your consciousness. You will not find any spiritual/motivational leader who does not bear witness to the immense force that is a continuous attitude of thankfulness. So, I want to turn up the volume on the components of gratitude. I will also give you later in this article some tools with which to ‘grasp the nettle’ so to speak and help you connect with your own source of gratitude.
Just about all of us are aware of what gratitude is usually from a very young age. One of the first phrases we teach our children is ‘thank you’, isn’t it? Have you ever considered why this is so important? For the most part, we’re walking around with an idea of a principle which is universal and timeless, yet we may not tap into the deeper implications of practicing this principle. This is where we encounter gratitude as more than a mere obligation, or even an attitude, but we see its potential as a practice.
When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around. – Willie Nelson
Mental health clinicians and positive psychologists agree that gratitude is good for us psychologically. Because we are whole beings, it follows that it is good for our physical health as well. Spiritually, the key component of gratitude can help us to grow by leaps and bounds. Oprah Winfrey has stated that the single most profound practice that she cultivated and that which she believes is responsible for everything she has, is keeping a gratitude journal. Take a moment to consider Oprah’s immense life and, by extension, how powerful this idea is.
How do we practice gratitude? The key is to begin wherever you are. Then, be consistent. Beginning where you are simply means that you indentify whatever you have to be grateful for, and you bring it to the forefront of your consciousness. Your blessings may be plentiful, or they may seem way too small or if you are in a really challenging space, they may not even be apparent. The good news is we all have something to be grateful for, right at this moment, even when we feel deeply unhappy or frustrated. Starting with the most mundane things is good if you find yourself being skeptical. So, right now close your eyes and think about the positive things in your life. Are you immeasurably blessed? Fantastic! Are you working out some kinks, but still in touch with what is working for you? Super. Do you look in the mirror and ask yourself “why me?” Okay, let’s pause for a moment.
Nothing in your life is beyond redemption.- Sting
In negative situations (whatever the nature), it is easy to be consumed. Saying a few “thank yous” may not change your life instantly. But if you need a lifeline, then close your eyes and take a deep breath. Then take another one. Now, think about what it would feel like to not be able to do this. Picture in your mind what NOT BEING ABLE TO BREATH EFFORTLESSLY would do to you in any moment. Are you willing to at least be grateful that you have the ability to perform this most basic of human functions? Then close your eyes again, and take it from there. Go through your mental list of the ongoing physiological processes which you take for granted, but if they were interrupted would command all of your attention. It becomes easier to be in the moment, and gratitude is a natural provision from this mindfulness.
Moving forward, feel free to incorporate anything else you may wish. Always be affirmative. For example, instead of being happy that you are not having an asthma attack right now be thankful that you have breath. Be open: little things, big things…they all count. A nice plant in your office is a totally acceptable starting point. Thirdly, you can be grateful towards other people, places and things or just for a particular state that you enjoy (like always having confidence in yourself or being a quick learner). The options are limitless, just like the universe we live in. As you go through this list mentally, on at least a daily basis, it will grow. Maybe it will grow because your perspective will, or maybe because you will create more and more conditions for which to be grateful, or maybe a little of both. But like attracts like and so suspending our worry, fear or anger to acknowledge the smallest of gifts for even a small moment will have an avalanche effect. Give it time. Take time to write your list down if you really want results.
What if you feel that you have been grateful, and it isn’t working? Something which helped me to put things in perspective is the fact that I learned about the way our brains are wired. We are equipped as human beings to take note of and dwell upon, those things which are a potential threat to us. Historically, it has been a matter of survival. Even when we are no longer in harm’s way, our brains will search out and delineate the negative much more readily because our subconscious need is to protect ourselves. The fear which is inherent in the ego then takes over and amplifies the problem, which then absorbs us. The habit of focusing on the negative is one which we can train our brains to let go of, by acknowledging the fact that there are usually many more positive circumstances than our mind is leading us to believe. Gratitude is the result of this shift. Very simply state to yourself: “I am harping on the problem because I am human, and my brain is fulfilling a function. But because this attitude does not serve me well, I can train my mind differently by taking a broader perspective of my circumstances.”
It is impossible to feel grateful and depressed in the same moment. – Naomi Williams
Being armed with the knowledge of how our brains work will give us a grasp on the fact that our world is a projection of our mind. The paradigm we have constructed thus far can also be deconstructed. It is absolutely within our power to respond to life in a way that propels us forward, fosters positivity and keeps us deeply in touch with some level of peace, whether we are going through a storm or in a beautiful space. This is not a utopian view of reality. The practical application comes when we make ourselves aware of the number of individuals who have brandished this axiom to overcome great difficulty and to the benefit of many, many others.
I already used the example of Oprah Winfrey, and to this list I want to add the names of distinguished persons such as Dr. Ben Carson, Nelson Mandela, motivational speaker Les Brown, Strategic Interventionist Anthony Robbins, and lesser known men and women who are exceptional examples of gratitude in action. Become familiar with their stories and look around at the people you admire and engage them on the topic of gratitude. You will be handed a few gems, I am sure. Gratitude is the bridge between despair and peace, and if we jump right back on when we fall off, we will avoid becoming stuck in a state of depression, anger or panic. We will turn every calamity into an opportunity. This approach is, in itself, a tool but here are a few tangible practices that you may use to increase your gratitude quotient, as I promised:
– Start a gratitude journal of your own. At the end of every day, simply list five things for which you are grateful. As time goes on, review your entries and you will begin to see how you are growing.
– Another very common recommendation of positive psychologists is to write letters of appreciation to people who have helped or inspired you in anyway. In the letter, let them know what they have done and how it has benefitted you.
– Something which is fun and a little quirky is developing an “award” system where you mentally give an award to someone (or something) everyday for something which stands out to you. For example, ”best smile” “funniest story” “kindest gesture”…. You don’t have to be limited and the aim is to crack yourself up privately.
– Share a story of something which you first thought was a disaster but turned out to really be a blessing. You may actually help someone else with this perspective.
– When you pray or meditate, take three deep breaths and bring your awareness into your heart chakra area (same location as your heart), picture a green light emanating from your heart. Next allow yourself to be blanketed by this green light as you repeat this affirmation:
“I am thankful for all things, and in all things, as the blessing within everything is made apparent over time and to the extent of my own understanding.”
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Malaika Durand-Kakudji is a Usui Reiki and Sekhem/Seichim Reiki Practitioner living in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Reiki Master (Level lll) degree in 2008 from The New York Awareness Center in Manhattan and specializes in the area of energy healing for those who have experienced deep disappointment or heartbreak.