This post begins while sitting on a plane from Budapest to Munich. After one hour of sleep and 9 hrs in the Budapest airport, with multiple flight cancellations and delays (who knew that Hungarian Airlines shut down for good this week?), after finding out I likely wouldn’t make my flight to San Francisco from Munich and therefore will miss the course I’m supposed to teach tonight (might as well have gone to the Szechenyi baths today!), after arguing needlessly with the airline attendant about my luggage fitting into the compartment (it did, just fine), I was feeling totally exhausted and on the verge of tears (having already cried at the Air France counter once today). But finally in a seat, on a plane, going somewhere, I closed my eyes to rest.
And suddenly, in this moment of surrender, I felt a shot of warmth across my neck. After a grey week in Budapest, it was the sun, blazing through the clouds so close by. A heliophile, or sun worshipper, someone once called me. As that beloved friend touched my neck ever so gently, I was flooded with a rush of gratitude. And these words and reflections came forward..
Gratitude is a constant prayer. Whenever I drop into gratitude, my body relaxes, my mind stills, my heart opens wide, and my spirit remembers its connection with all things. I enter into the present and into the realm of awe, wonder, and possibility.
Gratitude can be seen as the simple act of offering thanks. However, in my experience it is more profound than just saying thank you or “thanks” in the ways that we commonly throw these words around in our culture. It is thankfulness combined with deep reverence. It is taking a moment to pause and look inwards, to find what it is that we authentically feel thankful for in that very moment. It is an act of connection, of reaching both in and out to interact with the world. It is experiencing that thankfulness in our very hearts, spirits, and bones. It is both extremely simple and deeply profound all at once.
Gratitude practice can be linked directly back to the First Peoples of this land, and what is known as the Thanksgiving Address. That beautiful Haudenosaunee address offers thanks to every aspect of creation- the birds, the trees, the water, the animals, and on. It is a reminder to see and be thankful for our relationships to all of the beauty of creation that surrounds us, at all times.
Gratitude is learning to appreciate each and every situation, even when it is challenging or not what we had hoped. It is finding the good in things, in the world, and in people. It is reframing. It is approaching the world with a “beginner’s mind” and an attitude of appreciation and learning. For example, I am really grateful that I got so sick last year, because it gave me an opportunity to rest and reflect that I might not have taken otherwise. I am really grateful for missing my flights this morning, because without that experience this outpouring of reflections on gratitude might not have come forward and this post would not have been written.
Gratitude has saved my life. There have been days when it was all I could do to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. Days in which I felt mired in hopelessness and a deep depression. But gratitude was the fuel that kept me going. As I trudged through the snow toward work, cold winds freezing the tears running down my face, wanting to do nothing more than to just lay down and give up, I would dig deep and remember- I am grateful for my legs, my powerful, healthy, strong legs. Legs that are moving me toward where I need to go, even as the rest of me is filled with grief. I am grateful for the great blessing of being able to walk on these two legs- a blessing that is not available for so many people in this world- for children of polio, the victims of land mines, the paralyzed, the ill. I am so grateful for my strong, healthy legs.
This mantra, and other similar repeated mantras (for my eyes that can see, my arms that can hold my beautiful children, my feet which hold me up, and so on) guided me like a beacon through those stormy days. Sometimes it was not easy to connect to that gratitude, when all felt dark. But there was always something to be grateful for, even if it is was as simple as my breath.
And now as things have become more easeful, I am still reminded time and time again to continually offer up my gratitude. Everywhere I go, everything I do, every small flower that I pass offers an opportunity to experience profound gratitude.
The thing about gratitude is that the more you offer it, the more you find to be grateful for. You begin noticing things you are grateful for everywhere. From gratitude for the laughter of a child to a helpful person on the street to the sun and the moon and the stars, it begins to flow like a river that cannot be stopped. And that is when you really enter the Mystery- into a state of “wonder and amazement” that is fully present to the miracle of this great Creation.
Gratitude is revolutionary. It is evolutionary. It is a complete reframing of the world. It’s like putting on a whole new set of glasses. It is seeing the world through the eyes of beauty, wonder and appreciation. It is an act of radical relationship- of giving love and appreciation and the energy of creation BACK to the world. It’s our very best way of saying THANK YOU to one another, the earth, and to GOD.
Anyone can practice gratitude. I have introduced gratitude circles in academic halls where rationality is the highest value and within minutes I have experienced those same academics drop into radiant joy as they connect with their own hearts and with one another. I practice it with my children who are 3 and 6, and we go round and round and round sometimes for half an hour naming all of the things we are each thankful for. I use it in my friendships, my relationships, my work, and my prayers.
Yes, gratitude is a prayer, and the more I remember to practice it, the happier I am and the more grateful I feel to be alive.
One final thing about gratitude…it is possible to offer your gratitude not only for the things you might currently see and have and experience in the world, but ALSO for the things yet to come that you long for in your heart.The key to this practice is to offer gratitude for those things as if they really already ARE. To believe and have faith, that yes they are done. Now, this does not mean that you are attached to the outcome- because, after all, if something different comes to pass, surely you’ll find gratitude for that too. But just by offering the gratitude for the longings you hold in your heart, it acts like a prayer- you attract those things and create stronger possibilities for their manifestation.
Back to the present moment. “I am so grateful that the plane is waiting for me and that I will make my flight home,” I repeated over and over and over again, while running through the Munich airport just now, burdened down by luggage, hot and sweaty, my body screaming at me with exhaustion. I am so grateful I will make that flight. This one phase kept me going, as I wanted to crumple into a ball on the floor and give up for the day.
20 minutes and an endurance run later, here I sit, on beautiful Lufthansa airlines, cool, calm, and ready to depart. San Francisco, here I come. I am so very grateful.