We can uncover the wisdom of gratitude by noticing small things to be grateful for, then opening our awareness to the truth that everything and everyone—no matter how small—is interconnected.
We often find ourselves focusing primarily on what we want but don’t have, which cultivates a negative state of mind, striving for something else. What would it be like to let go of needing anything to be any different in this moment, and to open up to what’s actually here that may bring joy?
One aspect of wisdom is understanding the complexity of a situation—appreciating how every event arises interdependently with every other event, how a whole sequence of causes and conditions have gone into creating this moment. When we practice gratitude, we’re acknowledging the many factors, large and small, that contribute to this moment. Part of the joy that arises when we practice gratitude is that we feel freedom from the illusion of separateness, a sense of the common humanity that we share but often forget.
Might it be possible to follow the words of the poet Mark Nepo, when he said, “One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased”? We can engage this joy with the following practice from the Mindful Self-Compassion Program, developed by Chris Germer and Kristin Neff.
A 12-Minute Meditation to Cultivate Gratitude for Small Things
- First, take some time to make a list, perhaps writing it down, or a mental list, whatever allows you to make some space to consider what you are grateful for and perhaps often overlook, wherever you happen to be. Focus on the small and seemingly insignificant things. Maybe you notice the smell of coffee in the morning. A particular view that you are fond of. The texture of a blanket, a genuine smile from your beloved. Buttons.
- Let yourself savor each item on your list. Let it land, noticing what it can be like to simply acknowledge your gratitude, becoming “easily pleased.” I find myself feeling gratitude for fresh water that flows out of the tap and into the drain in a heartbeat, but brings joy, brings satisfaction, allows me to wash my hands or to have a drink of water. In a moment, it’s gone.
- Consider the infinite sources of those little things you feel grateful for. Water is beautiful, but what of that water, where did it come from? It fell from the sky and gathered in creeks and streams, then rivers and lakes, and perhaps evaporated and rained again, and gathered somewhere, and entered into pipes that came to my house and let the water out of the tap and into the drain, and was gone. All of the people, all of the causes and conditions, the construction, the gathering, the forces of nature that converged for this one moment: What are you grateful for? To whom are you grateful, perhaps acknowledging the people known and unknown that contributed to this experience, to this particular cup of tea? To this comfortable chair?
- Ask yourself: How do you feel? What do you notice is present for you right now? This is a practice you can do any time, on a regular basis. For now, Do you notice any joy, any comfort? Savor that.
- Notice if anything unpleasant arises. Perhaps you’re feeling badly because you’re not feeling enough gratitude, or the feeling doesn’t bring you as much joy as you would like—could you let go of that? Could you acknowledge your intentions to simply open up to things in your environment that you’re grateful for? Let go of needing to have a certain feeling. As we close this practice, pat yourself on the back for having intentionally let go of striving for at least a little while, and know that this practice can build on itself with time. One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased. We allow ourselves to be easily pleased, and let gratitude land. Let it make its mark on our hearts, in our awareness. Could it soften and warm our hearts, our experience? Our way of encountering the world?
Life is rarely, if ever, constant. And it can be difficult to remain balanced in the midst of change. Susan Bauer-Wu shares a guided meditation to ground us in the present moment and cultivate equanimity.