THE BLOG
07/23/2015 06:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Gratefulness Leads to Mindfulness


I made God an offer She couldn't refuse.

I would be grateful for everything in my life, all my experiences - no matter how hard, no matter how painful, no matter what. For as long as I lived.

What did I get in return?

Something beyond my wildest dreams.

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When you wake up, what comes to mind first - problems or peace?

Do you feast on the present or pick through leftovers from the past? Do you open your senses to what's around you or open the Pandora's box of anxiety about what may never come to pass?

Many of us start our days as we continue them - wrestling with worries, fears, hurts and difficulties. It's easy to lose our sense of wonder and to forget our power to change our lives by changing how we perceive the world.

Mindfulness is one way to change our focus by re-booting our awareness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindful-Based Stress Reduction program at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, defines the practice this way:

"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally."

Nurtured through regular practice, this kind of awareness helps us build our lives on what "is."

And there is an additional benefit. Jon Kabat-Zinn again:

"When you hear the word mindfulness, it's very important to understand that in all Asian languages the word for mind and the word for heart are the same word. You have to hear heartfulness or you will misunderstand it as simply one more cognitive exercise. And it's not. "

In The Atlantic this month, Prof. David Desteno, of Northeastern University, describes research showing mindfulness training can encourage compassion for others:

"Mindfulness's most profound benefit may not be the one that's most often touted--adapting to a stressful, competitive, even unkind 24/7 world. Instead, meditation might fundamentally alter how we treat those around us."

So truth, attention and compassion come together in the same moment. The result, for me, is like a cool draft of water on a parching-hot summer's day.

There are lots of ways to be mindful -- from mindful yoga to meditation to prayer to being in nature.

My favorite method hinges on daily gratefulness. Here are the steps:

  • As soon as I wake, I confirm the obvious - that my eyes are open.
  • Then I check to confirm something equally self-evident - that I'm still breathing. Inhale, exhale - ah, yes, nice.
  • (While respiration-confirmation might seem redundant, in practice, it offers me a direct path to freshness of experience, to a feeling of calm and energy. Most important, it confirms the blessings of consciousness and gives witness to the miraculous breath-by-breath way that we live.)
  • At this point, I give thanks for being alive.
  • I say grace to feel grace.

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God came through big-time.

Once we sealed the deal, I felt grateful for everything in my life, all my experiences - no matter how hard, no matter how painful, no matter what.

Every breath, every step. Every song, every story. Every hardship, every mistake. Every word, every thought. Every dance, every stumble. Every relationship, every sensation, every dream, every moment. The whole spaghetti squash bolognaise. Nothing and no one excepted.

Then it dawned on me.

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Often we take our lives, our consciousness, for granted. But one day we will die.
Many people experience epiphanies as they near death. They understand how precious - and limited - our days are here on earth, with each other. Why not learn from their earned wisdom?

Try this. Breathe in. Deeply. Fill your lungs. Count silently as you breathe in - 1, 2, 3. Then let the air out slowly, counting silently 1, 2, 3. Now take a bow. In humility, not pride. You are alive. You could be dead. You will stop breathing one day. But now and here, you are living. So give thanks. Take another breathe - same routine. This time, say the words "thank you" outloud, make a joyful noise - a whoop, a woot, a holler or just laugh from joy. You are blessed now. No matter what. And you have just proved it. By breathing.


Yes, it dawned on me.

My pay-out was the same as my pay-in.

That simple.


Can you see the sky with wonder - do you see it at all (even reflected in your cellphone)?
Do you stop to look at the tops of trees? Can you find kinship with another living creature? Do you remember and honor your ancestors?

In honest acceptance, without judgment, as witness and as participant - can you engage with what you experience?

Can you taste the miracle of photosynthesis in your lettuce? The skilled labor of coffee growers, workers, roasters and baristas in your Americano? The baker's alchemy in the mixing and kneading and punching down, the yeast's magic in rising, the oven's transformative heat creating smooth crust from sticky dough - can you taste all these in each bite of your bread?

Try mindful gratefulness. It can change everything.

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I want to live as much of my life as possible in the alive place that gratefulness creates inside and all around me.

But of course, sometimes I wake up, give thanks, and within seconds or minutes or hours, I forget all about it. I become completely absorbed in mental machinations as I attempt to defuse the ticking time-bomb of problems I perceive in my life.

Ah, but gratefulness is a very forgiving master. You see, God included a rider in our agreement that allows me to wake up and smell the gratefulness multiple times - mid-morning, late afternoon, evening, even in the wee hours -- whenever I notice I've taken an off-ramp from the freeway of appreciation and ended up in the junkyard of disappointment and blame.

And as soon as I can wake up, I find gratefulness is there, packing a shot glass of courage and the kind of hands-free, gadget-free GPS only God's wifi can provide.

I just need to say "thank you for everything" to feel my balance start to return.

Such a deal.

Resource: Have a look at http://www.gratefulness.org/, inspired by Brother David Steindl-Rast and offering many practical ideas for grateful awakening.