A few years ago, our British guests were touched and in awe at our Thanksgiving dinner tradition of telling each other why we are grateful. My 3-year-old grandson's "I'm happy for the movie, 'Cars'" gave everyone a laugh. Some comments are funny, some sentimental and others thought-provoking. They certainly enrich the experience of dining together.
For me, getting in touch with gratitude is more than a cognitive exercise. It changes my mental and emotional state. Try thinking about something you deeply appreciate. Breathe into the sensation that results, helping it expand. Doesn't it feel great? I notice that my body relaxes, too.
Meditate on What Is Working in Your Life
When I do this meditation I begin by remembering the people in my life who have supported and loved me. Then I move on to my health, acknowledging all the parts that are functioning, even if I'm sick or injured. I continue by recognizing all the different facets of my life that are working.
In your meditation posture, use the above exercise for a simple and effective way to relax your mind and body and lift your spirits. I find that I can also shift how I'm feeling at any time of the day by repeating this process. Especially if my spirits are low, I redirect my attention to recognizing the small details that I appreciate: the hot water in the shower, the book I'm reading, the lovely colors in my yard brought out by that day's lighting. The smaller the detail, the more I slow down. Sometimes the details are so small they seem ridiculous. This makes me laugh. Then my spirits soar even more.
Thank Yourself: A Guided Meditation
From my perspective as a Midwestern native, having worked with clients all over the U.S., one of the deficits I have found in our culture is lack of gratitude for ourselves. Our bodies and minds are with us constantly. They are the instruments at hand to serve our needs and the needs of others. Why not spend time being grateful for ourselves? In this guided meditation we thank the many parts of us that contribute to who we are.
Start in your meditation posture with your eyes open. Take a couple of deep breaths and watch your chest rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation. Take a moment to appreciate the automatic functioning of your lungs. Thank your lungs.
Next, close your eyes and become aware of your thoughts -- without judgment. Your mind might be evaluating this experience, or associating it with something pleasant or perhaps unpleasant. Whatever they are, thank your thoughts for the great job they do in keeping you aware and aligned with what is important to you.
Now scan your body and take time to thank the parts that you're particularly grateful for -- perhaps your feet for taking you where you want to go, perhaps for your hands for their strength. Whichever part you feel drawn to, thank it briefly and move on to another. Continue until you feel the gratitude surging.
Finally, connect with all the effort you give in creating your life. With the energy you put forth for taking care of yourself, taking care of others, contributing to our world. Feel the immensity of this energy in your heart. Breathe deeply into your heart center and allow your chest muscles to relax in the awareness of your good effort.
If your mind wanders to negative characteristics within yourself, gently return to the feeling of gratitude in your heart -- for all that you have, all that you give, all that you are. Meditate on this wonderful feeling of gratitude.
When you finish with the meditation, you may want to jot down what was helpful. Perhaps write out a gratitude statement you'd like to share with others either at Thanksgiving or on another occasion. As we get in touch with our gratitude and share it with others, our appreciation grows.
For more than 20 years, Susan Morales, M.S.W. has explored human behavior through her work as a psychotherapist, and as a student/practitioner of meditation. In addition to using meditation as a device to help clients with issues of anxiety and depression, she offers classes and retreats to women in substance abuse recovery. She developed Be Who You Love Meditation as a method to teach people how to find greater depth of satisfaction in their lives. She blogs on meditation for annarbor.com and Red Room, and was on the editorial board for "The Voice of Social Workers: Poets and Writers," a journal recently published by the Michigan chapter of NASW. Visit her on Red Room, where you can buy her books.