The Gratitude Visit

Practice of the Week
The Gratitude Visit:
How to Open Your Heart

Category: Worth a Try (These can be an occasional or one-time enhancement for your spiritual life -- or could become a regular practice for your deepening and enriching.)

A story:
Once upon a time, there was a very depressed teenage boy named Roy. Roy hardly spoke to anyone. He spent his days at school feeling overwhelmed and depressed. He even seriously thought of ways of committing suicide. Luckily, Roy had an English teacher named Mr. Downing. Mr. Downing had a big heart, and he could see that Roy was in trouble. One day Mr. Downing asked Roy to stay after class and join him for lunch. Hesitantly, Roy accepted. During the lunch, Mr. Downing asked Roy a lot of questions, like what was troubling him, and how he might be of help. He told Roy that he thought he was a very smart and special kid, and gave him a lot of encouragement. Because of his talke with Mr. Downing, Roy put off his plans to kill himself. Eventually Roy graduated from Jr. High and never thanked Mr. Downing -- for twenty-five years. By then, Roy had become a successful and happy person, and he wrote Mr. Downing a detailed letter reminding him of what he did for Roy as a teenager, and how his act of kindness changed, and even saved, Roy's life. Roy tracked down Mr. Downing's phone number, called him up and asked if he could visit. Roy went to Mr. Downing's home, shared some more about who he was, and read aloud the letter he had written. As Roy finished the letter, both men were teary eyed. Mr. Downing Roy that the letter was one of the best gifts he'd ever received. For several days, the encounter left Roy with a warm glow.
What is called "Positive Psychology" represents psychology's shift from focus on the ill to helping normal people live more fulfilled and happy lives. Dr. Marty Seligman has tested various techniques to see if they can increase a person's level of happiness over a long period of time. He's found some techniques that work, and some that don't. For example, he's shown that, unless one is quite poor, more money has almost no effect on one's level of happiness. Beauty, youth, and intelligence also fail to lead to happiness. Seligman also found some things that do work, and one of the of the most powerful is the Gratitude Visit. It's a way of thanking someone who has affected your life in a positive way.
"The Gratitude Visit involves three basic steps: First, think of someone who has done something important and wonderful for you, yet who has not been properly thanked. Next, reflect on the benefits you received from this person, and write a letter expressing your gratitude for all he or she did for you. Finally, arrange to deliver the letter personally, and spend some time with this person talking about what you wrote." (Mary Seligman)
No one knows why the Gratitude Visit has such a dramatic effect in lifting the spirit. Research shows that it not only lifts your level of happiness that day, but its effect lasts a full month with no negative side effects. That's powerful medicine. If only anti-depressants were that effective!

To whom would you want to write a letter? What would you want to tell this person? Even just contemplating such a letter and/or visit may be of help. First think of anyone who you'd like to thank for affecting your life in a positive way -- a coach, a minister, a parent, a friend, or even an employer. It's best if the person you choose is someone you could potentially meet face to face sometime in the next month.

Second, when you begin your letter, simply say why you're writing and what she or he did for which you are grateful. Give details about his her or his kindness or help has affected your life in various ways. Then, if possible, do whatever it takes to arrange a face-to-face meeting. That may not be easy, but it's a hundred times better than a phone call -- and please don't even think about email.

When contacting the person to whom you've written, it's best if you can be a bit vague about why you're wanting to get together. The Gratitude Visit is even more fun when it's a surprise to the person receiving it. When you're face to face with your recipient, say that you have an important letter to read to them. Make sure they're not distracted with other things, and when the time is right, read the letter slowly and with feeling. Savor the experience for awhile, and if it feels right, then feel free to talk about what you wrote. I don't know if this experience sounds like much to you, but the reality of it can be very heart opening and powerful.

The Gratitude Visit is a dramatic way to show someone you care, but you're also welcome to express gratitude to people in smaller ways. For instance, you can write a not to a waitress saying you appreciate her great service. You can send an email to a friend briefly stating how he or she has positively affected your life. You can write a little love not to your mate expressing your gratitude for something nice that was done for you. All these little notes of gratitude help to bring the spirit of appreciation and thankfulness into your daily life, and that always feels good.

At the beginning, you may feel some resistance to doing something like this. My bet is that if you start this letter of gratitude, you'll soon find yourself enjoying the process. Then, if you can, arrange to meet with this person sometime in the next month or so, and read your letter directly to them. You'll be glad you did, Take not if this exercise givesyou a bit of a lift in life. If you're like most people, you'll be surprised to find that it does indeed have a noticeable effect.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"


Whatever You Meet Is the Path

Practice of the Week
Whatever You Meet is the Path

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)

Whatever happens, good or bad, make it part of your spiritual practice. This practice sums up such earlier practices as "Live in Patience," "Turn All Mishaps Into the Path," "Stop Blaming," "Be Grateful to Everyone," "Put It In (the Ultimate) Context," and "Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help." If you're following those practices, then you're seeing that whatever you meet is the path.

In spiritual practice, which is our life, there are no breaks and no mistakes. We human beings are always doing spiritual practice, whether we know it or not. You may think that you lost the thread of your practice, that you had been going along quite well and then life got busy and complicated and you lost track of what you were doing. You may have been embarrassed about this, felt bad about it, and that feeling fed on itself, and it became harder and harder to get back on track. And you think you are very far from your best intentions.

But this is just what you think. It's not what's going on. Once you begin practice -- or even just begin thinking about your practice -- you always keep going, because everything is practice, even the days or the weeks or the months or decades or entire lifetimes when you forgot to meditate, forgot to pay attention to your spiritual thoughts and exercises. Even then you're still practicing, because it's impossible to be lost. You are constantly being found whether you know it or not.

To practice the slogan, "Whatever You Meet is the Path," to memorize it, to repeat it to yourself again and again, to bring it up in meditation, to post it on your refrigerator, to keep it in mind, is to know that no matter what is going on, no matter how distracted you think you are, no matter how much you feel like a terribly lazy individual who has completely lost track of her good intentions and is now hopelessly astray -- even then you are on the path and you have the responsibility and the ability to take all of that negative chatter and turn it into the the path.

For Journaling

#1. Describe something in the last 24 hours that you didn't like -- about yourself or about someone else or about something that happened to you. Then write about how this was part of your path.

#2. Describe something in the last 24 hours that you really appreciated -- about yourself or about someone else or about something that happened to you. Then write about how this was part of your path.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"



Practice of the Week

Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self." --Bhagavad Gita
Adapted from Eva S. Hochgraf, "Yoga," in Everyday Spiritual Practice

No matter how busy I am, every day I do yoga. I just don't feel right if I don't. Yoga helps me start out my day feeling calm and centered. It is a living, moving meditation. The series of poses settles my mind, and I reach a point of clarity and focus that carries through my day.

My first yoga class was part of Sunday school experiment when I was a child. I learned about slow, deep breathing, and I wowed the grown-ups in the class with my flexibility -- imagine being better at something than grown ups! Through the years, yoga has not only kept me flexible, but taught me a basic respect for my body, which kept me aware of the deep relationship between the body and the mind. Somewhere along the way, I began to notice how much of a calming effect yoga had on me -- an effect that lasted even when I went home to a trying two-year old. As my body stretched out and my muscles had a chance to quit being so tense, my mind followed.

My Practice

Every morning, before I get up, I like to start my day with a few deep breaths. It wakes me up, and reminds me to start the day in a deliberately calm way. I do a few simple poses in bed to help get my blood flowing. It's easy to bring your leg over to the other side of your body as you lie on your back and allow your spine to feel a gentle twist. Some mornings I start with a gentle rocking of the hips to wiggle out the kinks. It doesn't have to be very big or dramatic; it can be whatever comes to mind. What is most important is to enter the day with a body awareness.

I like to do my regular routine before breakfast; yoga's not fun on a full stomach! My routine has possibilities for leisurely expansion or hasty contraction, because some mornings are hectic while others afford more time. Like most of my life, yoga is most satisfying at the comfortable balance of adaptability and habit.

A yoga series, like the Sun salutation or the Moon salutation would be my bare-bones minimum. We do these series frequently in class, so I don't have to think about what comes next. I also know how to play with them: add poses or refine moves when I have time. These series work particularly well when they are repeated, once on the busy days, a few more times when I'm in the mood. Even if I do them just once, though, I feel the difference as I head out the door, my head held high and my steps light and limber.

Getting Started

While some people begin to learn yoga from a book or video. I recommend beginning with a yoga class. It’s much easier to copy a person that a picture, and it’s very helpful to have someone answer your questions. Going to a regular class also helps keep your momentum going. But if you can’t find a class that’s convenient, don’t give up. You can still learn a lot and experience the benefits of yoga through books and videos.

These days, the opposite problem is more common: you may find so many different classes that you don’t know where to begin. Look first for a teacher who has some training and experience and a class that is offered at a good time and place for you. Keep in mind also that there are many different kinds of yoga – some are very exercise oriented (e.g., Hatha), others more energy focused (e.g., Kundalini), and still others very precise and helpful in realigning your posture and balance (e.g., Iyengar).

Some yoga classes include individual poses, often increasing in difficulty throughout the class time. Others will run through a specific series of poses every time. Some yoga uses a lot of props (straps, blocks, etc.), while others need nothing more than a mat. Some will do poses to music; some are aerobic. Most will offer a time of relaxation at the end. Experiment until you find the class that is right for you. Ask to try a beginning class for one time before committing to a course. If you’d like to expand your horizons beyond the particular class you’re in, take yoga workshops or go to yoga retreats. Your teacher will be able to make referrals.

As you become a yoga practitioner, you will learn that yoga is much more than an odd kind of exercise. It is much more spiritual and metaphysical than limber limbs. Its Indian roots are infused with a deep philosophical understanding. What the Western world calls “yoga” is really just the more athletic branch of the total system of yogic training and study as it is classically understood in India. Yoga is grounded in a detailed philosophy of nonviolence, selfless service, vegetarianism, breath and energy pathways, meditation, chanting, prayer, self-inquiry, and more. Yoga is a total life approach that offers rich rewards at whatever level you encounter it.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week"