You may have heard that it’s important to cultivate gratitude as part of your spiritual practice. What’s so important about gratitude?
The answer lies in a deeper understanding of what gratitude actually is. Most people would describe gratitude as an expression of ‘thank you’ after receiving something good, a sort of trade, a give and a get. But gratitude is not actually a reciprocal response that arises after receiving something. Rather it’s an active gesture of the nervous system that precedes any receiving. It’s an a-priori state of being that you can cultivate and maintain all the time.
So what is this state and how do you cultivate it?
For most of my life I focused obsessively on the gap between where I was, and where I wanted to be in the future. I put all my awareness on that gap, and the steps I needed to take to close it. Maybe you can relate. There is nothing wrong with this - it shows you know what perfection looks and feels like and you want to bring that into the world. It’s a good motivator. But spending all your time focusing on the gap trains your nervous system to feel like something of a failure, like you’re not good enough, like you’re not where you want to be. Hint: you will never be where you want to be. The miracle of your life is that there is always more to be created and experienced. So you need to balance your focus on that gap with a focus on how far you’ve already come.
This is the beginning step in practicing gratitude. If you need a suggestion on how to start doing this, I recommend journaling. Don’t make a big deal of it, it can be very fast and simple. For example before bed each night just write down a few things you are grateful for.
As you practice putting your awareness on things you are grateful for, things you already have in your life or past experiences, you will begin to notice something else start to happen. It might feel like unclogging of a blocked pipe. When this starts to happen, but your attention on thein your body and forget about the thoughts that sparked the initial feeling of gratitude. It’s a good idea to practice with your eyes closed and with minimal distractions, like in meditation, so you can put all your focus on the sensations in your body.
If you’re sensitive you might start to feel something like an empty tube that extends vertically up and down the center of your body. A tube that when you put your attention on it, seems to widen. You’ll often feel some kind of blockages in that tube, where it feels somehow constricted. These often occur in the solar plexus, throat, center of your chest, pelvis, or in your brain. Notice these constrictions with curiosity and equanimity, and in the same way you would relax a tense muscle, just relax those energetic constrictions. Allow the tube to open up, widen. Often this will be accompanied by a rush of some type of sensation or emotion. Again, just notice these sensations with curiosity and allow them to pass. Make sure you don’t clamp down again with tension to make them stop.
With practice this empty tube will widen so much that it envelops your whole body. The felt sense of your body shape can start to disappear. And as you keep your attention on this empty tube you’ll notice something else. It stops feeling like emptiness and starts to feel more like fullness. Like an infinite potential energy that is ready to create anything you can imagine. This might sound weird, but it starts to feel like the potential energy is made up of pure love. And in this field of love is every single thing that exists, all that you have experienced and all that you will experience.
The only way you’ll understand what I mean here is by practicing it yourself. It’s not something you can understand with your mind alone. And don’t take my word for it, prove it to yourself. If you haven’t yet experienced these sensations then they are simply not part of your reality yet and not true for you.
Gratitude is the full bandwidth experiencing of what is. Without any tension, resistance or blockages. It’s a gesture of opening the nervous system, opening the central channel, opening your very being. Opening so wide that your self dissolves and you become the experience itself. This gesture of opening allows you to fully experience the gift that is being given - the gift of this moment.
When you find this state reactivate your mind and take an inventory of your life. The gift of my wife, the gift of my child, the gift of my dogs, the gift of my beautiful home, the gift of my health, the gift of teachers and wisdom… feel the sparkle of each one as it shines brightly as a miracle. To experience those things fully with no blockage or resistance is to respect and honor the sacred divine nature of those gifts, and of all things, and of existence itself. Allow any emotional release that needs to happen. Let go. Surrender.
Gratitude is an open receiving with no holding back, a fully surrendered experiencing, a dissolution of the experiencer into the moment. When you touch that - when you touch the utter pristine perfection - you can let go of all suffering, all dissatisfaction. None of those exist, other than as self-generated tensions and resistance to the open bodied, open-hearted, open soul experience of reality and of the moment.