Practice of the Week
Thank Without Ceasing
Thank Without Ceasing
Category: SLOGANS TO LIVE BY: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.
adapted from Jonathan Robinson, Find Happiness Now
Two of the central functions of prayer are to articulate to ourselves our heart’s hopes (which can devolve into the merely “asking for things” concept of prayer), and to express gratitude. For this practice, we focus on the gratitude.
Paul's full phrase is "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances" (Thes 5:16-18). For Paul, thanks is given to God. If “God” tends not to be in your vocabulary, then think of being grateful to reality, to the world, to all things that are not in your control, that you cannot earn or deserve. Such gratitude offers a remarkable path to feel closer to reality (or God) during one's daily activities.
When forty spiritual leaders were asked about their favorite method of feeling closer to their Creator, the most common answer was focusing on feeling grateful to God (or reality) throughout the day.
As Ram Dass put it,
“Gratitude opens your heart, and opening your heart is a wonderful and easy way for God to slip in."Letting reality slip in means becoming more able to set aside the ego-defenses and delusions that separate us from reality.
Many spiritual traditions emphasize prayer that expresses thanks for the blessings in one's life. Many years ago, Jonathan Robinson arranged to interview a Native American medicine man named Bear. They met at a location sacred to Bear's tribe, and Bear suggested that they begin by offering a prayer to the Great Spirit. Robinson's simple prayer was that the time together be well spent, and that it would serve for becoming closer to reality. Then Bear took his turn. He prayed in his native tongue, and he kept praying, as Robinson grew increasingly restless, for fifty minutes.
Trying to hide his irritation, Robinson began the interview by asking Bear, “What did you pray for?” Bear's calm reply was, “In my tribe, we don't pray for anything. We give thanks for all that the Great Spirit has given us. In my prayers, I thanked Spirit for everything I can see around me. I gave thanks to each and every tree I can see from here, each rock, each squirrel, the sun, the clouds, my legs, my arms, each bird that flew by, each breath I took, until I was finally in full alignment with the Great Spirit.” It was clear to Robinson that this man really knew how to pray.
Begin by saying, “Thank you reality for [whatever is in your awareness]." You may want to “prime the pump" by thanking reality for things that are easy to feel grateful for. You might say, "Thank you for my health. Thank you for such a beautiful day. Thank you for [name of your partner].”
Then, as gratitude swells in your heart, say "thank you” for whatever you are aware of. If you are driving somewhere you might say, “Thank you for my car, thank you for my iPhone, thank you for this beautiful music, thank you for this nicely paved road, thank you for the man that just cut me off, thank you for the anger that he stirred up in me, thank you for the opportunity to practice forgiveness."
All things are gifts given to us to enjoy or learn from. Normally, we take virtually everything for granted, and rarely stop to appreciate the wonderful things we are given. It can be eye opening to realize that even middle-class folks of today live better than kings lived just a hundred years ago. Yet, without the “thank you” habit, the amenities of modern life go unappreciated.
Once you have used this practice for a while, you will even begin to value things that are unpleasant. Getting cut off by an aggressive driver is no one's idea a good time, yet Thessalonians says, "Give thanks in all circumstances." From a grateful state of mind, you can see that the experience is an opportunity to practice and strengthen your patience, compassion, and forgiveness. Thank you, reality, for that help!
Like any repeated mantra or phrase, "thank you" can build up a momentum of its own as you use it throughout the day. It can, however, become mechanical and rote if attention is not given to appreciating in your heart the gift you've been given.
There is an ecstasy that arises out of gratitude. The “thank you” practice also helps us become more aware and present in the eternal now. By giving thanks for what's right in front of us, worries recede, replaced by an expanded awareness of what is currently occurring.
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