FEATURE - November 2018
The Spiritual Practice of Gratitude
By Ben Jamison
It is common around this time of year to start thinking again about gratitude. Typically, we feel grateful throughout the year randomly when circumstances line up just right, so that gratitude gets to sneak in. Then Thanksgiving rolls around, and we put a little more attention on gratitude for a short while before falling back into experiencing gratitude once in a while.
Gratitude as a spiritual practice, however, is something that we can consciously engage and experience. A daily practice of gratitude has the power to shift our perspective on life and bring more joy and appreciation to our experience. Gratitude is an activator. As we practice gratitude, we align and open ourselves to the divine flow of abundance. Feeling grateful is, to put it simply, much better than the alternative. But, it can be difficult to experience gratitude when life gets rough. That’s why it’s a practice. The more we practice gratitude, the more natural it will be for us to experience gratitude. Eventually it will become a habit, and we will much more naturally focus on gratitude all the time.
So, how do we practice? There are a great many gratitude practices out there, and I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you. Regardless of the gratitude practice itself, the how of the practice is vitally important. Gratitude should be fun! It should be energizing and uplifting, bring a smile to your face, and goose your energy up a notch. If you notice your gratitude practice feeling like drudgery, something you “have to” do but aren’t inspired by, ditch that gratitude practice and find another! Only gratitude freely and joyfully given and experienced will be beneficial. Gratitude that comes from obligation really isn’t gratitude at all and will have the opposite effect of what we’re seeking.
The Gratitude Storm
I learned this practice from Tony Robbins. Science has shown that a short time of sustained anger can suppress the immune system for hours. Tony theorized that an intentional experience of extreme gratitude might have a similar, but positive impact. To do a Gratitude Storm, start by setting a timer. This will allow you to forget about time and just focus on gratitude. Begin by focusing as close in to yourself as possible and start listing gratitudes. Start simple. “I’m grateful for this breath. I’m grateful for my eyes that allow me to read this article. I’m grateful for my willingness to grow spiritually.”
Intentionally bring the feeling of gratitude into your mind and body and stack gratitude upon gratitude. Move out to bigger and broader things. “I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for the beautiful sky.” Go as quickly and powerfully as you can, storming your mind and body with experiences of gratitude, stacking the feeling of appreciation from each gratitude you list upon those you’ve already noted. Get as big and broad and powerfully grateful as you can before your timer goes off.
At first, this might be difficult to get going. You’ll be starting small, so the feelings of gratitude may be small at first. That’s okay. It might also take you a minute to really get rolling with listing your gratitudes. That is okay too. The more you practice, the easier it will be, the grander your gratitudes will be, and the more of them you’ll discover. This practice can quickly take you from an experience of upset, frustration, or stuck-ness, to one of energy and inspiration. The more boldly you commit to the Storm, the more powerful your experience will be.
The “I’m Grateful For…” Game
This practice is as simple as the name suggests, but incredibly powerful. The purpose of the game is to look around for and list as many things that you are grateful for as you can during an activity. Commutes to work are perfect for this game. As you drive (while ensuring safe driving, of course) look at your surroundings. What do you see that you can find gratitude for? “I’m grateful for a full tank of gas. I’m grateful I made that green light. I’m grateful for the creative genius behind cars.” While the Gratitude Storm is a short, furious listing and feeling of gratitudes, the “I’m Grateful For…” game allows more time to explore and get creative. “I’m grateful for the creative genius behind cars” can expand into “I’m grateful that tires stay inflated, that someone figured out air-conditioning, that creativity exists at all, and I get to benefit from it! I never noticed the artistry behind car design before and the beauty to be found there!”
I’d been taking the same route to work for years when I decided to start playing this game. I soon discovered prolific bougainvillea blooming all along my route that I’d never seen before. Instead of getting frustrated by the radio and other drivers on my way to work, I started feeling gratitude, noticing areas in which I could experience gratitude that I never had before, and experiencing g beauty all around me that I previously had not seen.
“Thank You” Notes
Sending “thank you” notes is a rarity these days. This makes them an even greater gratitude practice! We also typically look at “thank you” notes for something specific someone has just done for us or in reply to a gift. What if you sent a “thank you” note to someone just to share your appreciation, not predicated on anything they have done recently? “Dear Jim, I just wanted to send you a note to let you know I appreciate you and your friendship.” Taking the time to write such a note will fill your heart with gratitude for the richness others bring. Receiving such a note “out of the blue” will make the recipient’s day--if not week.
Gratitude. Appreciation. These energies activate abundance in our lives. They fuel the Law of Attraction. They bring to us an experience of richness far beyond anything the physical world can give. Don’t wait for random life events to align “just so” or a holiday so that gratitude trickles into your experience. Practice it consciously, intentionally, daily. Share it with others. Watch your life change.
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Ben Jamison is a dynamic speaker and author for today's emerging spirituality. In his book, Church-Free Spirituality: How to Craft a Spiritual Practice Beyond the Bounds of Religion, Ben empowers a new generation of seekers to take ownership of their spirituality (with or without organized religion) and create their own personalized spiritual practice. Ben is a licensed spiritual counselor through Centers for Spiritual Living and holds a Masters degree in Spiritual Psychology. www.benjamison.com