How to practice gratitude?

Gratitude cannot truly be practiced. Gratitude is who we are in our truest essence. The question therefore should be rephrased as ‘How can I discover gratitude in me?’.

Many people list down the things we are grateful for each day. We are told to say thanks in our prayers. These are very important practices are they change the constant ‘glass in half empty’ mindset and put us on a track where we see the brighter side of life. However, this is just the first step. In order to make gratitude as our very essence, we need to go further.

When we give thanks to what we have received, we usually give thanks for the good things in life. We do not say thank you for the bad things that happen in our life. Nobody is grateful for an accident, a death, the loss of a job or the dissolution of a marriage. These are seen as painful things, which we want to avoid. Subtly, we wish for beautiful things to happen to us and desire to avoid painful things. This is human nature. However in order to grow, we need to transcend this duality of good and bad.

True gratitude is when we can say with great honesty ‘I don’t mind what happens’. This must not be mistaken for ‘I don’t care for what happens’. I don’t care signifies a revulsion to and a withdrawal from life. I don’t mind is a completely different state of mind wherein one gracefully accepts both the good and the bad. One makes peace with what happens in one’s life. This state of equanimity is when gratitude can truly come about. No longer do we split our lives into the good experiences and the bad experiences. We simply accept. In fact, we simply are – a witness to our own lives.

In such a stage, there is no need to say thanks to God, Guru or the universe. You connect with that deep acceptance and ‘is-ness’ in yourself. And that it is it’s own reward. The closest we come to this is in deep sleep. In deep sleep, we simply are. We don’t have anyone to thank, we don’t know our gender, we don’t even know if we have our body – and yet we are most peaceful. This naked existence – “isness” – transcends prayer, transcends meditation, transcends all efforts in the physical realm. Attaining this state in the waking state is enlightenment. In fact, it is wrong to use the word “attain” for we already are that. We are alive, vibrant and we exist. Becoming aware of this dimension in us precipitates gratitude in our lives.

But what if we have so much happening that we just don’t see experience this state? What if we are depressed and we cannot fathom how gratitude can exist in us? What if we are filled with deep sadness due to a sudden loss and the world appear dark and sorrowful?

In such cases, do not force gratitude on yourself. We need to start from where we are. And right now, in this very moment, we are sad. Accept this in totality. Resistance to negative emotions magnify them multifold. There is wisdom to the phrase ‘make peace with your suffering’. This is the way of the cross – the essential teaching of Jesus. When we bring total acceptance to the suffering that we are experiencing, we begin to heal. We reach an inner state of ‘it’s okay’ even with the harshest external reality. Give room to grieve. Allow the sadness to fill you up. What is sure, is that it will not kill you. You will be resurrected.

This process takes time. Gradually albeit surely, we begin to heal. We can face the same emotional pain with a distance. Then, and only then, we can see that pain is not something that we need to resist. It can be allowed to exist in our lives, without harming us in any fundamental way.

But we shouldn’t stop here. We need to apply this teaching to even the high points in our lives. Did we unexpectedly get that job? Observe the thrill and the joy that we experience without getting subsumed by it, or without being coy about it. Just allow that to be. Again, we begin to make peace with the good things that happen to us.

By and by, as we practice this, we begin to dwell in our innermost nature – which is equanimity. A deep stability begins to come about, which may even surprise us. This strength is immeasurable yet very gentle. And in this state we are simply ourselves. Okay with what comes and what goes, and yet deeply involved in life. This is the joy of being alive, where we partake in its multifaceted charade, and yet, remain ourselves. This is where gratitude lies.

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