Opening the Heart – Gratitude as Sadhana
Find something each day for which to give thanks, and thus form the habit of gratitude for all the good gifts the Father has bestowed upon us. (Yogananda)
Being asked if I would like to write a blog on gratitude – my response was ‘what an absolute delight’! It’s one of my favourite subjects, and for good reason!
It is said that the highest prayer is simply ‘thank you’ – and I have to say, it sounds good to me. We always have so much to be thankful for, much of which we take for granted, even in difficult times. Running water from a tap, food in the fridge, sunshine, shoes to wear – everyday things for us (well, maybe not the sunshine, especially in England!), but these aren’t everyday things for everyone.
It’s easy to have gratitude when something monumentally good occurs! But how would our life change if we made a commitment to say ‘thank you’ every time we opened the tap, sat down to eat, or felt the warmth of the sun on our face? Or every time a friend comes into our mind. When we turn the key in the ignition? It’s an experiment worth trying! When we focus on what we do have rather than what we don’t, our hearts begin to truly open.
I know from my own experience, that when I’m feeling stressed, unhappy, or thinking I must have something I don’t already have, I reach for my gratitude journal and get writing! The effect of this usually puts a smile back on my face, and opens my heart again. Having a sense of gratitude for nature and all her gifts brings a feeling of peacefulness into my being too. It really is the simple things in life that make life so beautiful. ‘Simple living, high thinking’ indeed. As Master, says, why look down the sewer when there is beauty all around. I felt such joy today just being outside in the air, feeling part of nature and simply enjoying the freshness of the Autumn chill in the air! Add a cup of English tea to that and it’s pretty much bliss!
When I was a teacher in the Living Wisdom School at Ananda Assisi, I had the kids make their own gratitude journals, and it was a practice to write down three things daily for which they were grateful. They got really into it and I know that, however they were feeling, encouraging gratitude always upped the energy in the classroom. And it can up the energy in your own life too. I try to start my day the same, it sets me up with a good attitude to take with me into the day.
I’m not scientifically minded, but I do know that it’s scientifically proven that gratitude opens up positive pathways in the brain. It can bow our heads with reverence too.
But gratitude isn’t saved just for the obvious things in life, it’s a necessary attitude to have towards our trials too. It’s usually in the toughest trials that we draw ever closer to the Divine, and as Master says, our tests do not come to crush us, but to help draw out of us our incredible potential for life and healing. Having gratitude when tests hit us may seem like a long reach, but we absolutely know as devotees, that these are necessary for our growth and are reason for gratitude. Quoting my favourite words of Sister Gyanamata ‘the things that happen to us do not matter; what we become through them does’.
In the midst of our most challenging times, and during grief and loss, we can still find moments of gratitude to sit alongside our sadness. Nothing is by chance; we are on a path that takes us where we need to go, both physically and metaphorically. It’s worth getting into the habit of gratitude when things are going well, and making it a habit. It stands us in good stead for when the going gets tough and somehow enters into the very core of our being. An attitude of gratitude is a gift in itself.
Lockdown opened up deep gratitude within me, for its enormous gift of pushing me into the present moment which as we know, is the heart of the spiritual path. (And for a much-needed period of rest and renewal). Gratitude opens up a doorway for Grace to enter. There’s never any doubt even in times of greatest trials, that we are loved and protected.
Gratitude awakens the spontaneous joy of the heart – it’s a worthy part of our sadhana.
I want to finish with some words of Yoganandaji from Autobiography of a Yogi where he refers to his own Guru’s training.
“Whether Master or I were surrounded by his students or by strangers, or were alone together, he always spoke plainly and upbraided sharply. This flattening treatment was hard to endure, but my resolve was to allow Sri Yukteswar to iron out each of my psychological kinks. As he laboured at this titanic transformation, I shook many times under the weight of his disliplinary hammer.
For every humbling blow he dealt my vanity, for every tooth in my metaphorical jaw he knocked loose with stunning aim, I am grateful beyond any faculty of expression”
I rest my case! Thank you Master, Swami and all my Gurubais, for Ananda, for the path.
Blessings Nalini x