The Art of Gratitude


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

A Lesson in Self-Control


I’ve spent most of my life believing that only lucky people were born with the ability to control themselves. But we all have this ability, innately. We don’t drive our cars off of the road, usually, no matter how bad we may desire to. 

Somewhere along the line, growing up, we stopped developing our ability to control our actions, and rather, replaced the lack of control with words like, sweet tooth or shoe collector. These euphemisms somehow make our inability to say “no” seem sweeter and less detrimental to ourselves. We blame it on our personality, our genetics.

I grew up with the nickname “Pokey”, because I took forever to actually get any task finished. Because of this, I have always had an excuse. It’s just how I am!

I love hearing and learning about breathing exercises but never actually doing them. It seemed so simple, so powerful, yet somehow, too much for me to pursue. Ask me to browse eBay for thirty minutes and it’s done. Meditate for five? Impossible.

Before I lose you, I will first admit that I am also new to this. The ideas that I plan to spread are being practiced in my daily life, in order to achieve a greater state of awareness and a more enjoyable state of mind. At first thought, they may sound a little strange. Buddhist or not, it is possible to find Nirvana in this dystopian world, and the journey is half the fun.

We go about our days on a sort of program that has been set for us long ago. We open packages and eat their contents without paying any mind to what’s inside. We drive cars, never stopping to notice their intricate inner workings. The things we do and the way we perceive our surroundings are based largely on how we were conditioned.

How do we un-condition ourselves? Is it possible?

Growing up, I ate McDonalds often. My favorite meal was chicken nuggets and fries. Nobody said anything negative about McDonalds back then, so I had no reason to feel guilty. In college, I would even venture out in the snow for a delicious McChicken many nights a week. I’d started to hear some bothersome facts about what goes into these foods, but I brushed them off, in denial. Not McDonalds!

My sincere love for McDonalds was created long ago, when I was but an innocent child. Nobody knew any better, and I certainly didn’t care. But now I do care. So what next?

         All right, then. No more McDonalds for me.

Unfortunately, the knowledge that this food is unhealthy, is not enough for someone like me. I’m prone to defending myself. We do this all the time. I’ve been smoking this long and it hasn’t hurt me. I’ve already had six muffins today, what’s one more?

Here’s where a breathing exercise comes in.

When a negative thought comes to your mind, immerse yourself in it for a moment, and then send it away with your breath.

When the thought pops into my head that I would really enjoy a chicken sandwich, I breathe in. I take in a slow, heavy chest full of air.


          Meanwhile, I am absolutely showering my mind with thoughts of a chicken sandwich, and what it feels like to eat one. It would be hot and juicy. The bread would be warm and soaked with mayonnaise, and as I chew, the taste would fill my body with joy and intense pleasure. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. Either way, I make the experience feel as real and as joyful as possible.

As I breathe out, I clear myself of the desire.


It floats away, gone forever. The moment I spent dreaming of the thing I will not have has left me feeling content somehow, and can certainly be just as enjoyable as the actual experience.

Before the thought of chicken sandwiches ever entered my mind, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to eat one. This is where we set intention for our lives. This is how we build self-control.

Self-control comes about when you create circumstances in your own life that you can take control of, whether it be avoiding fast food, or quitting smoking. Set your intent, and stick to it. Meanwhile, allow yourself to fully feel intense desires and needs.

Intend to try this exercise today, even if only once. When a negative thought enters, breathe in. Experience it. Then breathe out, and continue on. You’ll be surprised at how clearly your perception can change with a simple breath.