As AJ Muste, a committed nonviolent peace activist said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” The more we practice peace, the more peace becomes our lives. Just like peace, we can live in gratitude every moment.
Even in the midst of intense conflict, we can be cultivate gratitude.
The best ways to create gratitude in your experience of the world – in your world, your home, your life, your heart – is to practice, invest in, and engage with it. In addition to a host of physical health benefits from stress relief to heart health, recent studies prove that gratitude decreases both depression and loneliness.
Gratitude can also become a path of service that leads to acts that benefit humanity. Grow gratitude, and offer future generations a more beautiful world.
Grow Your Gratitude, in Three Steps:
1: Invoke and Embody Gratitude
Make gratitude real in this moment. Create gratitude in your very core.
Gratitude practice, asking powerful questions, inducing positive states, prayer and meditation are all ways to invoke gratitude. So is looking at your child, or your beloved. So is smelling a flower, or looking at your favorite piece of art. For some of us, listening to music, dancing, or running is an easy way to find the way to the gratitude nested inside of us.
With a little bit of practice, or for some even without, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, we can invoke and embody the presence of gratitude.
Love can be a powerful doorway to gratitude. For now, an easy way to manifest the presence of gratitude is to think of something that makes you feel a love beyond limits, unconditional, eternal. The perfect love.
You may find this love at the heart of deep prayer, in the arms of your beloved, sharing a smile with your child.
Feel it. Breathe it in. And out. Ahhhh. There it is. Now feel it even more. Let your heart, your whole being, glow with this love, and allow it to grow into a full sense of gratitude.
Let each breath expand it, each heartbeat ground it in your being.
2: Grow Your Gratitude!
Gratitude heals the heart. This is true on multiple levels. Of course it makes sense on the metaphorical level – how could becoming grateful NOT heal a broken heart?
When we experience loss, healing comes from realizing that the sum total of the impact of any experience was for the best. When we get this, it becomes easy to be grateful for the experiences we encounter.
In addition to the metaphorical, gratitude also heals the actual physiology of your heart. This is metaphorically wonderful, and scientifically true! Gratitude practice is recommended as part of many heart surgery and heart disease recovery programs.
How does it work? Gratitude is the antidote for stress, anger, anxiety and many other ills. Stress, of course, is a huge contributor to both heart disease and heart attack.
Gratitude offers a rest to our physiological systems. For instance, say you’re standing in line at the grocery store, and the people in front of you are taking forever. You may be late getting to wherever you’re going, but is stressing out about it going to change the fact that you’re stuck in line? Not a chance!
The one thing you CAN change is how you are experiencing the moment. So, instead of obsessing about your situation, thinking of the negative outcomes, or giving in to the stress, take the time as an opportunity to cultivate gratitude.
Even starting small will work. You can be grateful that you have the money to buy food. You can be grateful that you have a chance to read those scintillating headlines on the trashy mags in the rack.
I often get really simple with it, and remember to be grateful that I have a moment to be in stillness and silence. Waiting in line is a perfect opportunity for a moment of standing meditation.
This choice is affecting you, and as a true believer in systems theory, I posit that perhaps, in some subtle way, it affects everything. Your stress is not just your stress.
Your gratitude is the same way. As you choose relaxation and gratitude instead of stress, the effect ripples outward. Your interaction with the cashier is going to be different. His or her interaction with the next person in line may well be different, too.
Even on the purely personal level, the benefits are too many to mention. Gratitude is SO much nicer to hold in our physical systems than the alternative.
Another wonderful bonus is that because our minds sort for, and we notice, that which we expect, when we start practicing gratitude, we start noticing more and more to be grateful for.
Gratitude practice, just like any other practice, becomes easier the more you do it!
3: Make Love a Verb; Gratitude in Action!
Love and gratitude become more powerful by far when put into engaged action. Engagement is the final step of this process. Take your gratitude and DO something with it.
That something might be sitting in prayer, sitting in community, sitting in silence. But think of how much more prayer you’d bring if you were to host group prayer nights at your home. Consider how much more gratitude you’d bring to your community through a shared gathering.
When you find gratitude for the food on your table, let it remind you that you can reduce suffering in the world by offering food to those in need. Make a meal, box it up, and offer it to a local homeless person you’ve seen around.
While you’re at it, have a conversation with this person.
At a Season for Nonviolence gathering I attended in 2007, Dr. Arun Gandhi, the great, great grandson of the Mahatma, pointed out that compassion is very different from pity. I paraphrase the esteemed man here:
“Pity offers the food and hopes the person will walk away with it. Compassion offers the food, asks the person how they ended up on the streets, witnesses the story, and does it’s part to cause an end to the reasons that this person and others end up without.”
In gratitude, I leave you with his words, and hope they echo through your world.