The recent Thanksgiving holiday made me contemplate gratitude.
Spiritual practices and rituals are largely designed to cultivate gratitude. To me, the exact ritual or practice itself isn’t important, what’s important is simply having the discipline to incorporate some form of daily action that includes the intention of gratitude, presence of mind, and peace.
Every morning, at a minimum, I meditate for 10 minutes. When I have more time, I read a passage from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, write in my journal, or practice yoga as well.
Beginning each day with these practices reminds me to prioritize the thing that is most important to me: connection. I am talking about connection to self, connection to the present moment and connection to the universe and powers that are much larger than myself. Taking that time to connect in the morning leads to a feeling of gratitude that often permeates the day.
But I realized that is not enough.
As Thanksgiving approached, I thought about our family ritual of holding hands and expressing our gratitude before the meal. I realized how empty Thanksgiving would feel without this practice. The more I thought about our family practice, the more I thought about the fact that I have not been taking time before each meal to feel grateful and express my feelings to whoever I am eating with, notably my partner.
So I tried it, a few days before Thanksgiving. As my partner and I sat down to eat dinner I asked if we could take a moment to give thanks. The act wasn’t about the words that we said; it was simply about the fact that we said them, out loud, holding the intention of presence and awareness and gratitude. The entire meal changed.
This is essentially the same realization I have mulled over in previous blogs: love isn’t about a feeling; it’s about the practice of love. It’s treating love as a verb. Love follows loving words and behaviors, the same way that gratitude follows thankful words and behaviors.
It’s important to keep a gratitude practice going beyond Thanksgiving and to remember the practice itself generates feelings of gratitude. What you do with that gratitude is key; a feeling of gratitude isn’t enough. Keeping those feelings of gratitude to yourself doesn’t do a whole lot of good.
This holiday season made me realize that I don’t outwardly express my love and gratitude nearly enough. It’s not enough for me to think it or meditate on a feeling of gratitude. I have to tell those I love that I am grateful to them and what specifically about them I appreciate. I need to actually thank the food that nourishes me. I need to thank the forces at play that give me this life that I sometimes take for granted.
I thought of a couple we interviewed for Global Glue Project, Torsten and Elisabeth from Copenhagen, Denmark. They reminded me of the importance of not only feeling the feeling, but also saying the words, out loud, every day. The words are up to you, simply “I am grateful” or “I love you” can be enough.