Dharma Tuesday: Developing a practice of Gratitude

Dharma Tuesday: Developing a practice of Gratitude July 23, 2008

Today was “one of those days” for me; for some reason I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, grumpily trudged off to work, and found myself continuously irritated with simple tasks and obstacles.

That is, until about 5:30. That’s when I got to go home for dinner and to prepare this little piece on gratitude.

Now, my first thought is (and yours may be similar), “if you’re such a good meditator, Buddhist, spiritual guy, you shouldn’t have days like this.” Well, guess what, it happens.

That’s often the first step we need to take in developing gratitude: acceptance. “Shit happens,” as the great Forrest Gump once said. Where ever you are emotionally: mad, sad, tired, uptight, exhausted, and so on – it’s the perfect place to begin moving forward, toward healing, toward wholeness. Accept your grumpy days, accept your difficult moments, accept the big things in your life that cause you pain. It’s a practice though, don’t expect to be able to do it all at once.

Having said all that, what’s left? Gratitude. You know, one of the most important words in Buddhism is Samma (Pali) or Samyak (Sanskrit). It is often translated as “right” or “correct” but it really means “balanced” or “together in harmony.” The Buddha recognized that life is filled with dukkha, suffering, but he knew quite well that it was also filled with sukkha, or joy.

For spiritual progress in our lives, we need to find balance between these, balance between the tough stuff that simply must be accepted, and the joys with which we can practice gratitude.

Gratitude, like acceptance, is a practice. It takes time and effort to make into a regular part of one’s life. And like acceptance, there is no right or wrong place to begin. We can think big: I am grateful for life itself, for my family, for this peaceful city, for my friends, and so on; or we can think more in the moment: I am grateful for this breath, this comfortable seat, for the soothing sounds, for my health, etcetera. Take a moment and just think about things you are grateful for, large and small, near and far. Pay attention to your heart as your mind recollects these things; pay attention to the softening, the opening…

That’s all there is to it. I recommend though making a regular practice of this. Write it out weekly, or – better – daily. I’m doing my weekly now, but think I might switch to daily to see if it doesn’t help alleviate “days like this” in the future!

With gratitude, let us meditate.

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