In counting our daily blessings, we find that even uneventful or difficult days possess precious gifts. Consider all the contributions that make it possible for family members to gather for the holidays–the workers that helped construct and keep up the vehicles that brought us here, the house where we come together and the trees that light the fireplace. Consider the food that nourishes us, thanks to the Sun’s energy, Earth’s minerals and rain and the labor of the farmers, processors, truckers, retailers and cooks. Whether or not the holidays fulfill our expectations, we have much for which to be grateful.
As the Buddhist monk THich Nhat Hanh points out, every blessing is the gift of the universe. When we stop and really look, we see that we are supported continuously in countless ways.
Author Roger L’Estrange noted in the 17th century how humans tended to “mistake the gratuitous blessings of heaven for the fruits of our own industry.” We awaken when the alarm goes off due to the skill of the technology’s engineers, designers, assembly workers, distributors and salespeople. We can turn on the light because power company workers are supplying the electricity. Our morning spiritual practice is the gift of generations of teachers and writers that observed the truth and shared what they learned. It feels good to be bowled over by each moment of grace and the simplest act of kindness.
Such gratitude flows when we break out of a petty point of view–with its self-centered expectations and demands–to appreciate that through the labors, intentions and existence of an inconceivably large number of other people, life forms and elements, we have been given the miracle of life, with all its present goodness. This heightened awareness of our connection spontaneously fills us with a joy and gratitude that transforms our experience. Thankfully, gratitude can be cultivated. It simply takes practice in being present to what is being given.
It helps to stay aware of some of the most pernicious obstacles to thankfulness, and one of the most obvious is the failure to notice what we have, including a roof over our head and someone to love. As Joni Mitchell sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” So the first step is to start paying attention to gifts that have always been there, but until now went unnoticed and unappreciated.
We are rich in what counts and never truly alone, because we are always supported by the universe. The 13th-century mystic Meister Eckhart counseled, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.”
Frank Jude Boccio is the author of Mindfulness Yoga (MindfulnessYoga.net).