Gratitude is a word that has become something of a cliche. It can seem pious in the face of some of the many tragedies happening on a daily basis or the difficulties we face in life. Yet, the practice of this one word has incredible power to reframe and even overcome difficulties.
Brother David Steindl-Rast is a monk known for his teachings and writings on the subject. In this On Being podcast episode, he speaks of gratitude as a choice, an action that we can take in every moment. We don’t need to be grateful for everything. That doesn’t make sense and is impossible. However, we can still practice in every moment. And, it starts with beholding.
It arises from attention.
Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, it arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. ~ David Whyte, Consolations
David Steindl-Rast uses the phrase “Stop. Look. Go.”
This is similar to my advice to pause, focus, and connect in photography.
First, we stop. Then, we look. We behold. We pay attention. What’s happening? It’s at this point that we discern the opportunity in the moment. How can we respond to the moment, rather than react to the circumstance? It’s at this point that we go – act on the opportunity. If the experience is a difficult one, the opportunity lies in what we have to learn, or how we can grow, or whether we need to take a stand.
We feel grateful when we feel we belong.
Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously, part of something, rather than nothing. ~ David Whyte, Consolations
Anxiety and judgments stifle gratitude.
Difficult circumstances make us feel anxious and we often get stuck in negative thoughts. However, if we recognize and feel the anxiety, knowing that this feeling means we are on the cusp of something new, and that we have choices in how we respond, then gratefulness will follow.
Judgments about our circumstances – this is good, this is bad – also stifles gratitude. In this thought-provoking article, David of Raptitude offers a practice of radical acceptance to try when you find yourself judging your experience.
Gratefulness leads to joy, not the other way around.
Steindl-Rast says that being grateful as a conscious choice almost always sparks joy.
It is not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful. ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast
Consciously embody this thankfulness and then feel the joy that comes up. Remember that feeling and you’ll experience it more often.
I encourage you to listen to this entire podcast. And then, practice by stopping, looking, and going, as a conscious choice. Stay with the joy. How does it feel?
Dotti on Focusing on Gratitude through Photography
12 Exercises to Master Gratitude via Louis Schwartzberg