Have a Better Holiday

Practice of the Week
Have a Better Holiday

Category: WORTH A TRY, or OCCASIONAL, or MIGHT BE YOUR THING: These practices are "worth a try" at least once, or, say, for one week. Beyond that, different people will relate in different ways to the practices in this category. Some of these practices you will find great for "every once in a while" -- either because they are responses to a particular need that may arise or because they are simply enriching occasional enhancements to the spiritual life. Among these practices you may find the one particular practice that becomes your main and central spiritual practice -- or a Key Supporting Practice.

“Pray without ceasing,” instructs the apostle Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians (5:17). The Greek word adialeiptos, translated as “without ceasing,” doesn’t mean nonstop, but constantly recurring.

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.

If “God” tends not to be in your vocabulary, then think of Paul as urging gratitude 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 I interviewed forty spiritual leaders and asked each about their favorite method of feeling closer to their Creator, the answer I heard more than any other was that of 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, I received an important lesson about "thankfulness prayer" from a Native American medicine man named Bear. We meet at a location sacred to his tribe, and he suggested that both of us begin by offering up a prayer to the Great Spirit. My simple prayer was that our time together be well spent, and that it would serve our becoming closer to reality. Bear began his prayer in his native tongue. It went on for fifty minutes, during which I grew increasingly restless.

Trying to hide my sense of irritation, I began my 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 me that this man really knew how to pray.

Inspired by Bear, and many others I interviewed, I began practicing gratitude prayer. I begin by saying, “Thank you reality for (whatever is in my awareness)." Sometimes I would “prime the pump" by first thanking reality for things that are easy for me to feel grateful for. I might say, "Thank you for my health. Thank you for such a beautiful day. Thank you for Helena, my partner.”

Then, as gratitude swelled in my heart, I would say "thank you” for whatever I was aware of. If I was driving somewhere I 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 was not my idea of a good time. Yet, if I'm practicing "thank you," I'm more likely to see how such an event can serve me. From a higher state of mind, I can see that this driver is helping me learn patience, compassion, and forgiveness-—three things I'm often short on. Fortunately, there are many drivers and people who are willing to help me learn this lesson! Thank you, reality, for all 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 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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