By Aparna Sharma
An attitude of gratitude affects miraculous healing in the mind and body, nourishes the heart and adds new depths to relationships says Aparna Sharma
I recently happened to witness a guidance session between the physician-turned-energy healer Dr Rashmi Menon and Meera, a young newlywed in her 20s. A distressed Meera lamented that she was but a few months into marriage and already her husband had turned so distant and irritable that he wouldn’t even respond to the words “I love you”. Menon lovingly held her hand and said “Be thankful. At least you have someone to say that to.”
The guidance sank deep into my heart. Struggling with numerous fears and insecurities caused and compounded by a rapidly changing life scenario, I had been feeling the sands slipping under my feet. All the foundations of one’s life – home, career, family, relationships – had crumbled around me. And amid this impermanence and insecurity, the words ‘at least you have someone to say that to’ touched me at the very core of my heart. I realised that even in the worst tragedies of our lives, there is a glimmer of light. No matter how acute the suffering is, deep within us we still have a self that is happy and grateful to be alive. That is what I call Fate knocking at the door, which is also what Beethoven named his Fifth Symphony. In deepest darkness, light!
In a powerful meditation called, Power of Purity, the spiritual Master Mohanji asks us to thank the smallest things in our life: “…every object that helped you to live on earth including the food you consumed so far,
|‘Give thanks for the clothes that you wore, houses that sheltered you, the money that passed through your hands, your bed and all other materials that you have used.’ |
-Mohanji, spiritual teacher
clothes that you wore, houses that sheltered you, the money that passed through your hands, your bed and all other materials that you used. All people who served you till now and will serve you in future. Even if you cannot remember them, please express your gratitude to all of them and be deeply aware that without these objects and people, life on earth would not have been possible for you.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner, a well-known Jewish priest and writer, asks, “Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted – a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life is suddenly filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”
In my Buddhist group, members used to share their positive experiences brought about by prayer. A young girl, Neha, once shared that she had had more than a thousand positive experiences in her life. Then she told me how: “In the morning I make an intention to have at least five positive experiences today. I might get a rickshaw right outside my door. Or my boss may say something nice to me. Sometimes, the co-workers pool in and get samosas and we have a mini-party at office. All in all, at the end of the day, I do get my five experiences, come what may.” It filled me with wonder to see how she appreciated and thanked the Universe for the smallest bounties of life.
GK Chesterton says: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
Gratitude in religion
I am yet to come across a religion, philosophy, therapy or a healing technique which doesn’t, in some way, talk about gratitude. All our religions and traditions are so profusely filled with expressions of gratitude; it is tough not to find it.
Indigenous Americans chant the Iroquois prayer, thanking Mother Earth and all the elements of nature on it along with the Great Spirit in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of His children.
The Arabic word shukr (gratitude) is one of the most fundamental attitudes in Islam. A Muslim recognises that the Creator of the Universe is one and is responsible for everything he has in this life, including his consciousness, his health, his family, his sanity and his wealth. Therefore he is obliged to express gratitude to his Lord. Interestingly, shukr is also the opposite of kufr (disbelief). Hence, one finds the Arabic phrase Alhamdulillah (Praise to God) meaning ‘thank God’ interspersed through much of Muslim speech.
A number of Hindu festivals and fasts give a ritualised context to the expression of gratitude. There are special days to express gratitude to gurus, sages, ancestors, parents, children, gods, goddesses, Mother Earth and even the elements of nature. Guru Purnima (felicitating the guru), Raksha Bandhan (celebrating the brother-sister bond), Ahoii, Karvachauth (a celebration of the husband-wife bond), and Shraadh (offering gratitude to ancestors) are a few examples of such festivals.
Naikan, the Japanese method of self-reflection developed by the Jodo Shinsho Buddhist Yoshimoto Ishin is based on three questions:
• What have I received from (person x)?
• What have I given to (person x)?
• What troubles and difficulties have I caused to (person x)?
A related fourth question ‘What troubles and difficulties has (person x) caused me?’ is purposely ignored in Naikan.
|Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted – a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on fi nding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life is suddenly fi lled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”. |
- Rabbi Harold Kushner, Jewish priest and writer
Naikan presupposes that we’re all naturally good at seeing answers to this fourth question, and that excessive focus on this question is responsible for much of one’s misery in day-to-day life.
The idea is to consciously give thanks for the abundance that exists in our life and even for the challenges we face, for they bring out the grit, the spirit and the potential we didn’t even know existed within us.
The German theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart says, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you’ that would suffice.”
So what makes gratitude such a potent practice? Why is it recommended so prominently in all wisdom traditions?
Gratitude is a powerful leveler of the ego. The overweening ego which is always focused on aggrandising its own achievements, qualities and personality is forced to look outside itself and acknowledge the role of others in its life. Gratitude helps us recognise that we are not the be-all and end-all of our lives. Countless forces have contributed to our existence without who we would have perished. The more we practice gratitude therefore, the more humble and open we become.
Gratitude particularly compels us to acknowledge the role of the Creator in our lives and in that respect we become more and more connected with Source.
Gratitude as medicine
Books like The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude point toward new research that highlights the power of gratitude to heal. In fact, modern healing modalities like reiki, pranic healing, and Ci Plus (founded by Maa Gyan Suveera), angel therapy, theta healing and serenity through surrender cultivate an attitude of gratitude or thankfulness at the very beginning of the therapy. ‘Just for today, be grateful’ is one of the five reiki principles Dr Usui asks us to practice each day. According to Grand Master Choa Kok Sui, the founder of pranic healing ‘That which you focus your attention on will tend to appear’. Gratitude, in other words, is the cornerstone of any intention or prayer.
It helps to maintain a gratitude journal, which lists the positives in our life on a daily basis. From the biggest to the smallest events, thoughts and acts that generate a feeling of appreciation in you even for a moment.
Sarah Ban Breathnach, the author of Simple Abundance, says that on some days her list is filled with amazing things. Most days, just simple joys: “Mikey got lost in a fierce storm, but I found him shivering, wet but unharmed. I listened to Puccini while cleaning and remembered how much I love opera. Other days – rough ones – I might think that I don’t have five things to be grateful for, so I’ll write down my basics: my health, my husband and daughter, their health, my animals, my home, my friends, and the comfortable bed that I’m about to get into, as well as the fact that the day’s over.”
Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California at Davis, discovered that keeping a gratitude journal changes people’s lives. “Ten years ago I tried to acclaim gratitude as scientific research,” says Emmons. His research consisted of randomly assigned, placebo and controlled experimental trials, with 1,000 participants ranging in age from eight to 80. During the experiment, Emmons split up the subjects into three groups and had one group count five blessings per day, one group count five burdens per day and one group just write about neutral events. The research discovered that the group that kept the gratitude journal were more optimistic about the future, reported fewer health problems, had more physical energy, exercised an-hour-and-a-half more a week, slept more, were less lonely, more enthused and felt better overall.
Natural News.com lists the power of gratitude among the many innovative methods that help protect people from threats to their health while activating the inner healing potential they already possess. Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, explains, “This isn’t some etheric, touchy-feely self-help exercise, by the way: there is a very real healing effect that is initiated in your body when you express gratitude towards people or things outside of yourself. Some of this effect can be measured biochemically, while other aspects of it are currently beyond scientific measurement. But the bottom line is irrefutable: Expressing gratitude initiates a powerful healing effect in your own mind and body.”
War and peace
Sumitra and Hitesh used to be a perpetually warring couple whom I have known for five years. They had the usual couple issues: not saying I love you, not taking care of the child, not respecting parents, not wearing the right clothes, not being clean, not listening, too much nagging, the tone of voice and so on and so forth. Last year, things came to such a pass that they came close to divorcing. “It started affecting my son’s performance in school,” says Sumitra.
|Thank you Mother Earth and all the elements of nature. Thank you Great Spirit in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his children. |
- Native American Iroquois prayer
“We needed to take concrete steps to save our marriage or we were likely to end up with a broken home. My mentor became our marriage counselor. He had lengthy discussions with us and asked us both to do an exercise at home every night. Before sleeping, both of us were to make a list of 10 things that annoyed us about each other in that one day, on a piece of paper.” Not going to the past, not going to the future. Just in that single day. “After this, we were to fold this list and tear it to pieces. Then in a notebook or diary, we had to note down 10 or more things, simple silly things that we love or liked about each other that day.” Again, there was to be no going to the past, or future. They were to do it individually and asked not to share notes.
By the next session, they were bickering about fewer things and by the end of the month, things were back on track. Sumitra says, “Now even when things do go wrong, we refer back to our gratitude books and derive strength to bring love back to our relationship.”
Self-help author Melody Beattie says: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.’
How gratitude heals
So, how does such a small word ‘Thank you’ hold so much power? Here again, Mike, the Health Ranger, elucidates, “Every type of energy that you express to someone else is reflected in your own inner experience. So if you express hatred toward another person or thing, you also subject yourself to the reflection of that hate. At the same time, to love something else – or to express thankfulness towards it – causes a reflection of that positive energy to be felt inside you, as well. So the mere act of expressing gratitude is a form of self-healing.”
Ratna, a 36-year-old single mother, was diagnosed with osteomalecia, which is a condition where the bone densitometry shows a deficiency of calcium. The normal procedure in such cases is to prescribe calcium and vitamin D supplements. “I had been on the supplements for close to a year, with no improvement in the calcium levels or in the hip joint pain,” Ratna disclosed. “So, a friend asked me to go in for alternative medicine. I was amazed when the therapist told me that I was afraid of the sun at a subconscious level. This is actually true. Once, while coming back from school, I had fainted in the hot afternoon sun. After that, I don’t remember walking in the sun even while shopping. I never go to these markets where one has to walk; and if we go to the beach, I stay in the car, while my kids go and play.”
The therapist did an ‘inner child healing’ for Ratna and even though the calcium levels improved the hip pain persisted for the next few weeks. She said, “That is when I was suggested that whenever I need to go out in the sun, I should look at the sun through my sunglasses and say, ‘The sun is my friend. Thank you for providing warmth, comfort and vitamin D. Without you, life would not have existed on earth, I thank you from the bottom of my heart’. Since she can see the rising sun from her bedroom window, she repeats this gratitude prayer every morning and has also started doing a low-impact ‘surya namaskar’. This has completely solved the problem, Ratna smiles, “I am now completely off the supplements and have excellent calcium scores.”
Secret of abundance
Furthermore, as gratitude becomes more entrenched in our being, we generate more and more of all the things we give thanks for, be they love, energy, health, relationships, success, prosperity or the ordinary blessings of everyday life, such as exchanging a smile with a baby, enjoying a delicious gulab jamun or being gifted with a perfect sunset. Gratitude is the source of abundance in our lives and can help us gravitate towards happiness and harmony.
Dr Laura De Giorgio, a clinical hypnotherapist and NLP Master Practitioner, who has been experimenting with mind power, says gratitude fulfils the law of multiplication. Whatever you genuinely feel grateful for, you multiply in your life.
“Think about it,” she says, “When you give a gift to someone and that person shows deep genuine gratitude for the gift, you feel so good that you want to share another gift, perhaps, just to see that glow in his eyes. The universe or life in general, works exactly the same way. As you feel a deep sense of gratitude, you begin to release that wonderful vibration that draws countless blessings into your life.”
Every type of energy we express, whether in words, thoughts or deeds is reflected in our own inner experience. In my own experience, I have witnessed my own growth and healing by the way of energy I deal with. I have been a poet for the most part of my life, experimenting with and reading many styles of poetry. I realised that the more I read poets like Gulzar, Ghalib and Shiv Kumar Batalvi, the more my poetry acquired a spirit of tragedy and pathos. Though ornate in language, the spirit of the poems was quite morose and depressive.
As I delved into spirituality, my life began healing. I read more and more of the Sufi poets and other mystics. By and by my inner spirit soared and it reflected beautifully in the poems. Over the years, I have observed the ups and downs in my language depending on the level at which I am operating: gross physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. It’s all about the energy we nurture within us.
I feel, that at a deeper level, gratitude is the fruit of a deep, inherent kindness we experience or express. It is only a gentle heart that can pour out in thankfulness. It depends on how much of life we see as a blessing and appreciate. In his book, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, John O’Donohue writes: “Despite all the darkness, human hope is based on the instinct that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway. This is the heart of blessing. To believe in blessing is to believe that our being here, our very presence in the world, is itself the first gift, the primal blessing. As Rilke says: “Hier zu sein ist so viel” — to be here is immense. Nowhere, does the silence of the infinite lean so intensely as around the form of a newly born infant.
|On days I might think that I don’t have fi ve things to be grateful for, I’ll write down my basics: my health, my husband and daughter, their health, my animals, my home, my friends. – Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance|
Once we arrive, we enter into the inheritance of everything that has preceded us; we become heirs to the world. To be born is to be chosen. To be created and come to birth is to be blessed. Some primal kindness chose us and brought us through the forest of dreaming until we could emerge into the clearance of individuality, with a path of life opening before us through the world.”
I haven’t found a gentler, softer reminder to be thankful: ‘To be born is to be chosen. To be created …is to be blessed!’
Gratitude cannot coexist with anger and fear. A lot of our destructive tendencies stem from anger – selfishness, callousness, and harshness. At the root, they all lack the element of gratitude. But you can learn to replace anger (or other negative emotions) with gratitude.
This is probably because gratitude helps us focus on what works and not on what does not. Yes, we may not have the perfect job or the partner; our health may by in disarray or our self-esteem in tatters, but we can still give thanks.
The Bible narrates the story of Job, a staunch devotee of God, who does not flinch from his faith even when God rains a blitz of calamities on him including the death of his family and livestock, and sores all over his body. The pious Job’s constant reiteration was: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In another case, I saw how gratitude can be tough love!
Prabhjot, a sprightly, bubbly ex-classmate of mine, was married to a well-settled businessman in Chandigarh. She had the best husband that one could have imagined, a big luxurious house, healthy obedient kids, and was leading a comfortable life. Still, she constantly felt uneasy, restless, as though something was missing in her life. Two years back she was inexplicably diagnosed with depression.
Her initial trials with healing sessions didn’t help much. “My therapist said that there was a huge resistance to face the core issue from my side. She asked me to do a gratitude exercise towards my husband, appreciating his presence in my life.”
Within a week, Prabhjot revisited her therapist, overwhelmed and grateful and said she no longer wanted any therapy. She actually had tears of gratitude when she described how much she had begun appreciating her marriage and her husband.
This is when the shift happened. That very week, her husband got posted to another town and started becoming non-responsive and cold towards the family. Eventually, he filed for a divorce. Now, in depression, the lady came back for healing. And that is when she confronted the underlying cause for the original uneasiness.
It was revealed that Prabhjot was essentially a people’s person, a counselor herself, having touched many lives before marriage. But after marriage, she had caged herself in her small world, closing herself to all who came seeking her help. She was actually meant for the world, but marriage had confined her and suppressed her individuality. The moment she felt gratitude for the cage, the cage opened up by itself.
Prabhjot says, “I still suffered a lot of turmoil before accepting the new reality of my life but by and by I reached a state where I actually felt gratitude for my ex-husband. I am grateful to him for having taken this step, which I myself couldn’t have taken. He has, in essence, broken the gilded cage for me.”
Prabhjot now works with an NGO, reaching out to people, doing what she has always loved to. She is happy with the simple pleasures of life, delighting in the company of her children, who, as time goes by, are growing up into responsible preteens with wisdom much beyond their years.
Dr Laura enumerates the following steps to manifest gratitude in our attitude.
STEP 1: Take some time to think about the things, people and circumstances that are truly beneficial to you, those that are enriching your life now or have enriched your life in the past and feel a sense of deep gratitude for those blessings.
STEP 2: Express gratitude for things, people and circumstances that have been beneficial to you, but you took them for granted. These may include the ‘small mercies’ or things that largely go unnoticed: The air that you breathe and the bed on which you sleep. Think about the living spirit that animates your body or the wonderful mind you have.
We can consciously feel grateful to have people who love us and those we have loved.
STEP 3: Express gratitude for all those people, things and circumstances that have made your life challenging. When we are faced with challenges, we access resources we didn’t even know we had, we develop new skills, we become stronger, we grow in many ways. We are as strong as the opponent we fight. So every time life throws a bigger challenge your way, be sure that you are stronger than before. As you think of things, people and situations in your life you didn’t like – consider how those situations helped you to become wiser, stronger, and more resourceful. Express gratitude for what you have become, what you have learned, and how you have grown because of them.
STEP 4: Express gratitude for all those people, things and circumstances you’d like to be, do or have in your life, as if they were already yours. Feel how you would feel having that car, that house, that relationship – right now? Wouldn’t you be filled with wonder and gratitude. I remember that for weeks after I met my wonderful partner, all I said to him was ‘thank you’ every time we spoke. Gratitude is the fastest way to draw those experiences into your life. When you feel gratitude for something, you acknowledge that you have already received it. And when you acknowledge it as yours in your heart – you programme it into your subconscious and begin drawing it toward you. Through gratitude, you open yourself to receive it and what you experience may be nothing short of miracles.
Getting to gratitude isn’t easy. Being able to genuinely express gratitude, to shift your focus away from the things that are negative and towards the beauties of life, comes with immense patience and practice. But the rewards are well worth it. We start to see the kindness that dwells deep down in things, ever-present even in places we least expect. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of this gentleness. Something instinctive in us expects it. Once we sense it, we are able to trust and open ourselves, pouring out in gratitude. We begin to get to the source of beauty, wonder, connection, bounty, and transformation in our lives, and our life opens.
|Aparrna Sharma is a writer, amateur |
photographer, and above all, a seeker.
An educational consultant by profession,
she is based in Chandigarh, India.
As Hafiz writes:
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
It felt the encouragement of light
We all remain
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