Gratitude: The Ultimate Holiday Gift
Gratitude is one of the most transformational powers in the universe, and practicing it can start a “cascade effect” of spiritual growth. As Cicero told us, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
This busy season is the perfect opportunity to give yourself and everyone on your gift list the ultimate gift: gratitude. You may have little or no control over of the storm of parties, shopping, and guests the season brings, but you can quiet the chaos, and refresh your spirit, by beginning or renewing your commitment to a fundamental, age-old, time-honored spiritual practice.
Gratitude is actually a physical energy. Modern science has proved what all the great religions and cultures have taught us for centuries: gratitude is a powerful, physical, palpable energy that can be measured and documented. Studies have shown an openness of the heart improves physical and mental well-being, demonstrating what William Blake observed centuries ago: “Gratitude is Heaven itself.”
Stop for a moment, center yourself on your heart, and be grateful for something in your life right now. Breathe slowly and deeply. Be truly grateful. Notice the immediate transformation of your mind, body, and soul. You have entered a state of grace: a life-giving, healing energy stream that is available at any moment.
Wisdom from the Masters
If you look closely at the lives of great spiritual leaders, you will see they practice the simple but profound energy of gratitude every day. Nobel Peace Prize winners build their phenomenal lives on the solid foundation of a daily practice of gratitude, and as a result, they become gifts to our world. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, President Jimmy Carter and Mother Teresa all drew inner strength in the face of great challenges and grew to see that these events taught them forgiveness and gratitude.
Here are some easy ways for you to bring gratitude into your day-to-day life:
- Give thanks for your breath. Your breath is your source of life, the pivotal connection between your body and soul. At your birth, you moved from the water of your mother’s womb to your first breath, and your breath will be the last experience you have when you leave the earth. Just as you take food and water into your body to nourish your body and soul, your breath is an essential ingredient for life. Each breath feeds every cell in your body and every vital organ. When you don’t breathe deeply and fully, you starve your body of oxygen. The way you breathe and the amount of oxygen you take in is crucial to the health of your brain and body.
Three deep abdominal breaths will leave you feeling focused, cleansed and reenergized, especially when you experience this practice with reverence and gratitude for the gift of your source of life, your breath.
- Appreciate your physical body. Most of us go to work, eat, sleep and live our entire lives without thanking our body for the miraculous work it does. Recent research has proven the critical nature of the mind-body connection, demonstrating that each cell of your body has an intelligence that is in constant communication with the master intelligence in the brain. Stop for a moment, take an inner tour of your body, and express how grateful you are for all the support.
Your brain stem and your heart were the first organs formed in your mother’s body. Your heart and your brain have been working since your conception, day and night, year after year. Thank your organs in your body for the gift of life, especially when your body has been assaulted by drugs, alcohol, food, sleep deprivation, diets, depression, stress, anxiety and the environment. Begin with the top of your head and move down organ by organ. Continue this process, acknowledging and showing gratitude for every organ and system of your body.
- Honor the past. Many cultures, especially the Asian and Native American traditions, are grounded in reverence for their ancestors. These cultures are keenly aware that it is only through the sacrifice, choices, and experiences of thousands of years of ancestors that we sit here today. We are the highest expression of our gene pool because we have survived. All of the dominant genes of our past are expressed in our presence, thanks to the ancestors who came before us.
Sadly, our fragmented nation has become disconnected from a deep awareness of the part our ancestors play in our culture. Being “self-made” in our culture is hallowed, but in fact, none of us are truly “self-made,” and would not be here without the lives of our ancestors. Take time to give thanks to grandmothers and grandfathers and those before them for giving you life. You may want to make a special display of old family photographs and mementos to keep your ancestors close to your heart.
It is important not only to silently practice gratitude for your family, friends, and community, but also to thank them verbally for the blessings they bestow on your life. By this simple act of acknowledgment, you will create a deeper communion with others. And gratitude is contagious!
- Make every day a holiday. In every culture, holiday celebrations revolve around food and celebration of the bountiful gifts of the earth. Bring this awareness to your daily life and make blessing your food a regular practice. We often rush through meals without a thought to the amazing abundance and web of support that brought the food to our table. This year give thanks for the food you eat, not only on holiday occasions, but with every meal.
- Give thanks during hard times. Be grateful for the kaleidoscope of experiences in your life. It may seem difficult to be grateful for loss and grief, but all sacred texts and spiritual teachers tell us there is a purpose for everything. Again, if you look to great spiritual leaders, you see they have transformed their grief into a state of grace through gratitude.
If you can see every experience—even the ones you feel anything but grateful for–as a divine plan for your spiritual journey in this life and a path for you to fulfill your true purpose, you can live a more meaningful and peaceful life.
This holiday season, enrich your life and the lives of those you love with the ultimate gift: the gift of gratitude.