Gladdening the heart
The word gratitude seems to be thrown around so much in our everyday vernacular, it’s easy to think that there’s something inherently wrong with us if we don’t jump up out of bed with a big smile. We’re faced with a insurmountable number of self-improvement books and yoga classes where the teacher invites us to be grateful for everything we have, especially when you’re 10 breaths into a chair pose Thanks, Susan.
There was a time when I used to think that other people thought ‘gratitude’ was like a coffee from your local cafe — something that can be purchased on whim, familiar and always pleasurable.
But the truth about gratitude is that it’s often difficult to cultivate. And when we do practice being grateful for things in our lives it can feel forced, fake or inauthentic. And many of us have such a deeply ingrained negativity bias that is so strong that the last thing we can think of in this moment is what we’re good. So it’s fair to ask the universe why you should be grateful when your neck deep in parking fines, your girlfriend has broken up with you for your best friend and there’s so much suffering in the world.
So here’s another meditation teacher telling you why you should practice gratitude — because it can literally change your day to day experience of life.
Research shows us that gratitude not only improves our mental health and wellbeing but also assists with chronic pain, sleep problems and elevates our mood. Then there was a gentleman by the name of Buddha who espoused the virtues of ‘gladdening’ ones heart, some 2500 years ago.
Being grateful is not revolutionary, we have a natural tendency to do it in moments of joy with loved ones or colleagues or achieving some great task. But research and practice tell us it’s the way we practice gratitude that has the power to transform our life. It can be easy to warm our heart towards our lovers, friends and and career for what it’s given us in our life. It’s a little harder to gladden the heart to the fresh water many of us drink every day, the fact many of us are reading this from the comfort of a home or office and not a warzone. Or the sobering realisation we are alive and that’s something pretty to be grateful for.
When we practice being grateful the aim is to move the practice of recollecting things we’re grateful for from a conceptual, cognitive thought to a feeling.
Here’s how you can practice gratitude meditation eyes open or closed.
Settle the body and drop into a feeling of connection — to your chair or cushion, then feeling to the sounds that come in and out and eventually to the feeling of your body breathing.
Then bring to mind someone you love — see them, picture them and feel their presence. How does your heart feel when you simply bring them to mind. It’s important here that you not only bring this person to mind, but also bring to mind why you love them. See the many ways.
After sometime bring to mind something in your life you’re grateful for. This coud be material, a car, a bike or it could be something you don’t alsways acknowledge — your warm bed, a nice house or the coffee you had in the morning.
Finally bring to mind something about yourself you’re grateful for. This can be hard as we often don’t see that much to be grateful for within us. But see if you can find one thing. It could be the way you’ve overcome something or how much you care about your friends. It may even be how passionately you support a football team. See if you can tap into the feeling of this. What does gratitude feel like in the body?
Take a deep breath in and then let it go.
The real benefit of gratitude practice is in the recollecting throughout the day. And as neuroplasticicy tells us, whatever we practice regularly, we get better at. So the more times you’re grateful for things, the more things there are to be grateful for.
I’m grateful for you, for reading this and practicing opening the heart. If you liked this article — click the little green heart and check out my other articles.