Many years ago, before I became an atheist, an agnostic, and then finally, a Buddhist, my mother taught me to pray.
It was simple.
We kneeled beside the bed, crossed our hands and prayed. This ritual lasted about sixty seconds, and during which, we thought of all the things we were thankful for. Usually these things were people. I felt blessed to have my grandmother, long before I could fathom the loss of her. I considered my parents, my other grandparents, my sister and my dogs. I decided that I was very thankful to have each of them. Their existence here seemed a given; it was all I had ever known. But despite this, my mother was slowly teaching me the importance of deep gratitude.
I no longer pray beside my bed. In fact, there’s a crib in the way. But I make a point to get the job done, and not long after beginning, I started noticing some changes going on inside my head.
I remember being in my early twenties, not long ago at all. I had a quaint little apartment in Los Angeles, where I worked at a gift shop and burger window in Santa Monica. On any given day, you could find me wallowing somewhere. Complaining. I wanted more. More. I wanted a job in the film industry, rather than catering to tourists, like myself. I wanted a man, someone to share my Eno hammock with, on the side of a mountain. I wanted to live in a house, wanted to plant a garden, wanted to have a family.
In retrospect, I see this former version of myself and want to laugh. There I was, the perfect example of a person who is not grateful. Rather than enjoying the wonderful life I had, I spent it feeling mostly miserable. In my hurried state of being, I never took the time to notice the many things I had to be thankful for.
My life is somewhat different these days. I live in a modest house on the North side of Indianapolis with my husband and son, who I feed and clean up after. My life is not especially challenging, and therefor, any type of reward is few and far between. But since exploring the art of gratitude, I have found that my life has become somewhat of a paradise.
When we practice gratitude, seeing everything around us as something to be thankful for rather than something to complain about, we can better enjoy each moment. Life becomes more comfortable, more relaxing and everything feels brighter. We begin to smile when we’re all alone and learn what it means to feel completely peaceful and full of joy. We can feel ecstatic in any moment.
As sentient beings in a world where we are constantly bombarded with images of greater things, we tend to spend our time chasing them. We say, “if only” and “maybe someday”. We allow the ego to decide whether we are deserving of happiness in any given moment.
The next time you find yourself lost in thoughts, driving home from work, laying in bed before falling asleep, practice gratitude. Think of what you have to be grateful for.
Start with family, friends, your pets. Move on to your beautiful home, your apartment, the trees in your yard, the shade they offer. Feel grateful for your job, whatever it is, and if you’re looking for one, feel grateful for the opportunities that await you. Feel grateful for every meal you receive, whether it was made by your own hands, or cooked in a microwave. Feel grateful for the people responsible for the things you have, your awful boss, the men who built the house you live in. The list of things we have to be grateful for is endless.
Commit to a daily practice of gratitude. When we do, we find that we can begin to mold the way we see our lives, and every day becomes more beautiful and vibrant than the one before. The details of our lives that serve only to hold us back somehow become more apparent, and easier to let go of. We start to notice that our minds are malleable and the idea of painting our own reality begins to take on a whole new meaning.
This all sounds surreal and magical, but please don’t take my word for it. Experience it yourself.
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus