By five o clock it was already dark. Snow was gently falling. I couldn’t tell if it was settling or not. I looked out at the night, through my own reflection, and wondered if everyone would make the class I was teaching that evening.
They all turned up, and we spent an hour together. We practiced some breathing meditation, and I talked about the power of rooting our practice in gratitude. A couple of weeks earlier I’d been doing some walking meditation and my mind was all over the place. When I brought my focus back to my feet contacting the ground, a great swell of gratitude appeared: this carpet was a gift, these floorboards were laid two hundred years ago, I am already supported. Two words came to mind, over and over again: just this, just this, just this.
Last night was the second session. Having told that story last week I began by leading some walking practice. We gave our attention to the floor, and our surroundings, and rooted ourselves in a sense of being supported.
I wanted to make this experience even more explicit. I invited people to pair up and share things that they had received in the last twenty four hours, each person naming one and then the other. I encouraged people to go beyond what they already knew. How many hands and natural processes created the meal you ate earlier? What allows you to be here in this moment? When we really investigate what supports us the list is endless.
A few years ago there was a university study on the effects of making gratitude lists, (I can’t remember the exact study I’m afraid) as expected those making lists reported a better sense of wellbeing. They also discovered that it was better to write for a longer amount of time once a week, than for a short amount of time each day. I guess this is because the longer time encourages us to go beyond what we know – connecting us with the deep web of causes and conditions that support us.
If our practice is grounded in gratitude, it is easier to weather the ups and downs of life, and easier to pay attention – without judgment – to more difficult things. They are held in a greater context.
When I think of practicing with gratitude, I often think of the poem Love by Milosz:
Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills—
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.