Updated: Feb 23
'Thank you' is the best prayer that anyone could say.
“Gratitude is the best attitude” is absolutely true. But how do we cultivate gratitude in a society that tells us we deserve only the best and the finest? Many of my friends keep daily gratitude journals to remind themselves—especially during challenging time—of the many gifts that bless their lives.
The last time I tried this technique it was the Christmas season. Weighted down with a mild depression, I took pen in hand, lifted a small hand-sewn book of blank paper from my night stand and listed whatever came to mind that seemed like something I ought to be grateful for: my children, my yoga students, the house I was living in, my car. All were truly blessings.
The thing is though—I didn’t feel any more grateful or uplifted after I wrote the list than I did before I had taken pen to paper.
Words, when voiced with power, unlock countries. They tunnel deeply into the subconscious unearthing memories. They project our minds towards the distant universe, expanding possibilities. The words on my gratitude list evoked nothing for me--—no images, no emotions, no memories, no promises. They merely fulfilled a dutiful attempt to explore a technique others had found useful.
When, after 2 weeks, the words I wrote conjured up little more than “ho-hum,” I stopped writing.
A few months later, after much self reflection, a renewed mindfulness practice, and a change of residence that left me feeling a bit anxious, I discovered 2 words that did what all the gratitude journals I’d ever tried couldn’t do. These words--said in the morning when I open my eyes, in the evening before I close them again, and many times in between--soften my heart, give me space to appreciate both the cool things that happen and the things I wish would not occur. They bring my heart into alignment with a force more powerful than I could ever be. They engender self-compassion, patience and acceptance.
The words are “Thank you.”
“Thank you” brings me up short when my inner 2-year old is ready to throw a tantrum because my neighbor’s cigarette smoke is blowing into my window or because my bank account doesn’t support an unexpected expense or when my best friend does that 1 thing that always drives me crazy. “Thank you” is a constant reminder that life is a gift—ALL OF IT—not just the parts that are comfortable or exciting. “Thank you” is about welcoming even that which elicits a stomachache or a bit of nervousness. “Thank you” stops me up short, jarring me into recognition of my displeasures so that I’m able to disengage from them.
“Thank you” addresses each thing---the birch tree outside my window, the sometimes-low attendance in my drop-in yoga classes, my stiff left knee, the clouds and blue sky—personally. With “Thank you” I enter into direct and vital relationship with whatever or whoever confronts me. “Thank you” helps me let go, and in the letting go, to accept the circumstances of my life—both wanted and unwanted. “Thank you” creates space in which I’m able to appreciate the depth of a multi-faceted existence.
“Thank you” also keeps me humble in that it creates within me the recognition that I am NOT the big cheese my ego wants me to believe I am. Friends, family, the universal energy field--all contribute to my well being in various ways. From hugs to help with navigating the latest upgrade to my phone to sharing meals, “Thank you” says “I cannot go it alone. I don’t have to. I’m always cared for.”
Most importantly, “Thank you” disintegrates the wall of judgment that I’m ever ready to project onto my surroundings. Like the walls of Jericho crumbling under the sounds of the shofar, “It’s not good enough” turns to dust at the vibrations of “Thank you.” The world beyond that judgmental wall is a promised land that shines beautifully in the light.
For me, “Thank you” is powerful because it’s spontaneous. Unlike my nightly gratitude journal, which listed people, places, things and events that had come into my life in the recent and distant past, “Thank you” recognizes all gifts in real time. As such, it creates the space and the soil for love to bloom.