SnowFlower Sun December 2020

Awakening Joy through the Practice of Gratitude

from a talk by Mary Michal in January of 2015

I used to think that joy was a feeling that I would either experience or not, and the same with gratitude. I now see them more as practices, an intentional inclining of the heart and mind. Not that I can make myself happy, but that I can, by being intentional, allow in joy and gratitude.

We come to sangha with all of our own joys and our own sorrows. The practice is not meant to take us away for what is, but indeed to bring us closer to ourselves in each moment. So that whatever happens moment to moment is understood as precious and meaningful.

The four deeply satisfying inner states known as the Four Brahma Viharas are loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Cultivating these with intention is highly important, and by no means self-indulgent. It is what Thay refers to as watering positive seeds.

“Many small things can bring us tremendous joy, such as the awareness that we have eyes in good condition. We just have to open our eyes and we can see blue sky, violet flowers, children, trees…Dwelling in mindfulness, we can touch these wondrous and refreshing things, and our mind of joy arises naturally.”

In James Baraz’s book Awakening Joy, gratitude is one of the ten steps towards that awakening. Suggestions follow from the chapter “Grateful Heart, Joyful Heart”.

Feel gratitude in your body. Take a few minutes to quietly reflect on the people and parts of our lives that we feel gratitude for in this moment. As each person, quality, or thing comes into our consciousness, stop and say silently, “I am so grateful to…” or “I am so grateful for…” Pause with each to feel the experience of gratitude that arises in our bodies and minds. Really allow the feeling of gratitude to be present. Make the effort to breathe it in deeply so that it fills our bodies and minds.

Learn to recognize and transform ‘gratitude squelchers’ such as getting caught in regret or perfectionism.

Switch from ‘have to’ to ‘get to’, as in mowing the lawn, hanging the clothes, washing the dishes. Add the phrase ‘and my life is really very blessed’ to those situations that might be seen as challenging, or simply overlooked as routine.

Write down each day what we are grateful for. Have a gratitude buddy with whom we may share a daily email practice.

All these simple but intentional actions support the awakening of joy through the practice of gratitude.

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