A Simple Prayer: Cultivating Gratitude and the Wonder of Life
If the only prayer you said was, “Thank you,” that would be enough.
Deriving from gratia, the Latin word for “grace,” gratitude is a recognition of grace, the capacity to see the Divine Will silently at work underneath the seemingly chaotic movement of everyday existence.
Gratitude is a natural corollary of the premise, intellectually unprovable but undeniable when felt within the heart, that God loves you and, therefore, everything that happens is for your benefit. All are uniquely engineered to guide you to your highest fulfillment. Even the smallest, most trivial events, and even the most painful, are indispensable helpers for your evolution.
There is a good reason why one name for God is Vishnu, the sustainer, the all-pervading.
The food you eat, the air you breathe, the ground under your feet, the body that allows you to experience life—all come directly from Him. The light in your eyes is His light. There is nowhere you can go to escape His mercy, nothing you can do that would cause you to be cut off from His love.
Freedom from Material Desire
Gratitude is the remedy to the feeling of lack—the fear that there won’t be enough for me—that drives so much of humanity’s conflict.
Why do the people with the most, materially speaking, seem so desperate to amass more? It is the disease of the modern world and perhaps a fatal one, as those in power burn the rainforests and starve impoverished nations only to add a few more zeros to the end of their bank balance.
Happy, fulfilled people living in their true humanity would not make those decisions.
All we need to survive is a breath of fresh air, warm sun, simple food, and clean water. More than this does not add much to your enjoyment of life; either you run yourself into the ground trying to fulfill an ever-expanding web of desires, or turn around and search for the real source of happiness.
When we are grateful for what we have received (and this includes gratitude for all the trials, tribulations, and absence of things we have wanted), we are free from the thrall of worldly desire, free from the double crucifix of wanting to have and wanting to avoid, and free to pursue the one true desire that lives as the flame of truth within the heart—the desire for union with God.
St. Teresa of Ávila wrote, “Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone is enough.”
When your heart is open, just the slightest contact with Truth, like a brush of the Beloved’s fingertips, soft as lotus petals, is more precious than all the money or fame in the world. One touch is enough to break your heart with a paradoxical blend of gratitude and unresolved longing. All the pleasures of the senses pale in comparison.
The Spontaneous Expression of Gratitude
At times of greater transparency, gratitude becomes a spontaneous state of being.
Our constant striving and grasping, born from dissatisfaction, is normal but not natural. When unconcealed by mental processes, the soul’s native expression is wonder and delight at the abundance of creation.
Sometimes during silent retreats or other periods of intense practice, you might come to an inner space where all you can say is, “Thank you.”
Thank you for this rain, for the trees, for the beauty of the sunset. Thank you for this meditation. Thank you for the ache in my heart. Thank you for helping me to see clearly.
Once, after three weeks alone in the desert, things in my retreat cabin started breaking. The door, the fridge, the shower. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I prayed every time something failed. Thank you for taking away what I didn’t need.
When your eyes are open, everything that happens is a blessing because, in it, you can see the hand of the Beloved.
From Disconnection to Recognizing Grace
The opposite is also true. When you are in a state of disconnection, the first sign is that you are no longer grateful for the unending stream of mercy that flows over you at all times. You are not aware of it.
Instead, you notice everything wrong in the world around you or lacking in your life.
Recently, I went through a bit of a spiritual dry spell. This happens (I believe) to everyone every so often. It might be a one-off day, or you’re down and out for months.
You just have to keep on trucking through times like this, when you lose the spark, and your daily sadhana starts feeling more like a chore. (You could also give up and do something else with your life, but if your heart was touched even once, eventually the itch will start up again and draw you back.)
It can be difficult to lift yourself out of this rut simply because you lack the motivation. Without sufficient “reward” from your practice, your attention drifts elsewhere. One thousand other projects and life paths seem more appealing.
One way to rekindle your inspiration is to practice gratitude. It is simple, easy, and instantly rewarding, as it breaks the train of dissatisfaction to which ordinary thought is prone.
You can start small, just an inner “thank you” for one sweet thing in your life. Then another, and another…
Once the practice catches on, you might even start to feel grateful even for the suffering and failures in your life, not out of some masochistic self-punishment but the realization that these experiences all made you who you are, bringing you to this very moment where you are exactly where you need to be.
Cultivating gratitude shifts you into a different mode of being, an openness to life and to change. Gratitude leads to deep contentment and excitement for whatever surprises lie around the corner, based on trust that it is all for your benefit.
Naveen Radha Dasi is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.