By Jyoti Paintel
"Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude."
“Winnie the Pooh” - A.A. Milne
Typing these words into my laptop and writing this article on gratitude during the current world chaos was in itself a practice in discipline and focus. The novel coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed our lives in a matter of weeks, leaving many of us with only uncertainty and fear. As I write from the confines of my shelter, practicing the attitude of gratitude at a time like this seems paradoxical. With fear and dread being served up as the daily plat du jour now, it takes real determination and acceptance to be grateful.
Who didn’t feel chills and become emotional when citizens in locked-down countries coordinated shows of gratitude for their health care professionals? More appreciation and displays of solidarity came in the form of music and singing echoing down from balconies and windows and spilling into whole neighborhoods across Italy and Spain. This reverberation of gratitude caused a small amount of joy in suffering hearts and was broadcast and felt all over the world. In Italy and other hard-hit countries where the fight rages on, and in the U.S., which has not yet experienced the full onslaught, this type of giving thanks and morale-boosting will prove to be vital to our survival now more than ever before.
My first act of gratitude as I begin this article is to acknowledge with deep reverence all those who are engaged in fighting this battle. I have gratitude for all who have lost, all who have won and especially to all those who risked their lives so others could live. So, how can we create gratitude during a time of grief?
Gratitude as Meditation
"Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity, a meal into a feast...it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."
-Melody Beattie from the 21 days if Gratitude with Deepak Chopra
Luckily gratitude mediation is considerably easier to master than most traditional forms of silent mediation and clearing thoughts. This might come as good news to people who feel too stuck in their current situation to create an empty space in their heads. One way to make empty space is by creating a diversion. Instead of attempting to clear our minds through quietude, gratitude mediation requires using our minds to develop thoughts that generate good feelings, what is described as ‘anand’- the Sanskrit word for bliss.
For decades now, Dr. Deepak Chopra has been guiding people in the practice of Indian mediation and holistic healing. Outside of an ashram (a place for spiritual retreat) these practices have been traditionally difficult to master but, Dr. Chopra’s work is highly relatable and useful in our practical worlds as busy humans, and I am grateful to recommend his 21 Days of Gratitude Guided Mediations as a guide to understanding this powerful way of centering and opening our hearts.
A Simple Exercise in Grace and Gratitude
"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things." Robert Brault
I have often pondered the word “grace”, as it applies to a spiritual context and have turned to theology to explain the significance of it, and in doing so, I stumbled upon its opposite: karma. Our karma is the physical manifestation of what we deserve or have earned when practicing our dogma (the set of principles that we believe to be true and right for us), often resulting in punishment or reward according to our actions. On the other hand, what we receive and accept into our hearts unconditionally from the Divine (regardless of whether we deserve it or not) is forgiveness, unconditional love, kindness and peace for the restless and troubled soul. This defines the phrase “by the Grace of God”, and it is also the feeling we arrive at when we practice unconditional gratitude.
According to Dr. Chopra, in day 2 of the Gratitude Meditation: “gratitude is an inner conversation with one part being thankfulness and devotion, and the other the response bringing even more to be grateful about.” So, we can begin the inner conversation very easily by asking: What are 3 things for you to be grateful for? They do not have to be large or significant. For example, if you have woken up feeling healthy in your body, and it’s a beautiful day outside, the birds are singing a joyful song, you have breakfast in front of you, then you already have many things to be grateful for! Can you think of 10 more things? How about 50 or 100 more reasons to be grateful for being alive?
If you are thankful for something or someone that isn’t in front of you, then you can visualize it and say out loud, “thank you!” If you feel depressed because you want a specific condition in your life that does not exist just yet, whether it’s financial abundance, good health or a wonderful lover who is devoted to you, then try this exercise: Imagine vividly what it would feel like to have it and take time to see the details of it all. Do you feel your heart gently relaxing? Does it bring a smile to your face? Hang on to this feeling, it is more important than you think. Tell the universe how grateful you are because you know it’s coming your way. I once read it is almost impossible to feel depressed and grateful at the same time.
Gratitude during the Pandemic
There is no better time than now to open our hearts to those who have shown us grace and helped this world to function amidst the crisis. Have you tried the act of unrelenting gratitude yet? This is something that only takes practice, but once you start doing it, it’s hard to stop. Try thanking the person who is working at the grocery store, or the pharmacy cashier standing for you when everyone else is at home trying to avoid people. What about the people working overtime right now, unloading food and supplies for the shelves? Thank the delivery workers for bringing supplies to your family when they are at risk and also have families. Call local hospitals and ask if there is any way the community can support and bring any relief to the stressed staff working overtime. The list goes on, and actually, you will find that it never ends. There is always something to do, or someone to be grateful for every day. God bless us all.