Out of the Box Coaching and
Breakthroughs with the Enneagram, Mary R. Bast, Ph.D. 
Copyright 1999. All rights reserved. Revised: August 27, 2014
  

 

 

 

 

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Selfless Gratitude
(excerpted from Phillip Moffitt's article, "Selfless Gratitude," August 2002 Yoga Journal, pp. 61-66)

The understanding you gain from practicing gratitude frees you from being lost or identified with either the negative or the positive aspects of life, letting you simply meet life in each moment as it rises...

"...Gratitude is the sweetest of all the practices for living the dharma in daily life and the most easily cultivated, requiring the least sacrifice for what is gained in return. It is a very powerful form of mindfulness practice, particularly for students who have depressive or self-defeating feelings, those who have access to wonder as an ecstatic state, and those with a reactive personality who habitually notice everything that's wrong in a situation... Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding.

Let me be clear: The practice of gratitude is not in any way a denial of life's difficulties. We live in troubling times and no doubt you've experienced many challenges, uncertainties, and disappointments in your own life... gratitude practice is useful because it turns the mind in such a way that it enables you to live into life or, more accurately, to die into life... The understanding you gain from practicing gratitude frees you from being lost or identified with either the negative or the positive aspects of life, letting you simply meet life in each moment as it rises...

There are numerous ways to use mindfulness to cultivate gratitude. Of course you acknowledge your appreciation when things are going well. But even more helpful is to notice those things for which you are grateful when you are contracted physically or emotionally. I often instruct students to respond to a difficult situation by acknowledging it as such, then saying to themselves, 'Yes, this is terrible, and I am grateful for...' An example would be, 'I am angry at this moment, and I am grateful I have a mind which knows this is so and can deal with it.'

If you were asked to make a list of things for which you are grateful, how long would this list be 20 items, 100, 500? ...The making of such a list is not meant to make you feel indebted but is intended to clarify your understanding of how life really is. It is a reflective meditation that uses mindfulness to carry you beyond the superficial to a deeper experience of your life unfolding moment by moment. You learn to throw off the blinders of habitual assumptions that prevent you from perceiving the miracle of life.

The next step in gratitude practice is to actively notice things you are grateful for throughout your regular day. For instance, when you're stuck in traffic and it's making you late and irritated, you notice you can be thankful you have transportation and that other drivers are abiding by the agreed-upon driving rules, which prevent chaos and unsafe conditions.  ...And you do this not just once or twice, but a hundred times each day. You do so not to get out of a bad mood or to be a nicer person, but with the intention of clearly seeing the true situation of your life.

Without instruction, reflecting on gratitude can seem boring or sentimental, evoking memories of your mother admonishing you to eat all the food on your plate. Part of the confusion is that many people have come to equate gratitude with obligation. But real gratitude begins as appreciation for that which has come into your life.

There is a shadow side to gratitude, in which reality gets distorted in yet another way. It manifests as a hopeless or helpless attitude disguised as gratitude, and it expresses itself in a self-defeating, passive voice "Yes, these things are wrong and unfair, but I should be grateful for what I have," or "At least we have this"... Gratitude is not an excuse for being passive in the face of personal or societal need or injustice... it is a call to action to be a caring human being while acknowledging the folly of basing your happiness on the outcome of your actions.

Sometimes you shortchange gratitude because your mind is stuck in problem-solving mode; it only notices what isn't working and sets about trying to resolve it... there will always be things wrong in your life... Do you really want to delay your sense of being alive while you await a future, perfect moment that is unlikely to arrive?

A second reason you might shortchange gratitude is related to the first: The mind tends to take for granted whatever is both desirable and present... You can see this for yourself around eating a favorite food: Notice how the first few bites taste so delicious, then how quickly the mind ceases to register the pleasant sensations.

The phenomenon of comparing mind is another hindrance to practicing gratitude. It is the aspect of your mind that notices, 'She has a nicer car than I do,' 'He is stronger than I am,' or 'She is a better yogini than I am.' Understand that there is a difference between discernment, the factor of mind that sees things clearly, and comparing mind, which exercises judgment and hides a belief system that says, 'If only I have more of the right things, I will be happy.'

Unrecognized arrogance arising from a hidden sense of entitlement can also be an obstacle to practicing gratitude. When you have a strong sense of entitlement, you don't notice what is going well, but rather what is not right. It can stem from a sense of either having suffered unfairly or having been deprived. It can also arise from feeling special.

The words 'gratitude' and 'grace' share a common origin: the Latin word gratus, meaning 'pleasing' or 'thankful.' When you are in a deep state of gratitude, you will often spontaneously feel the presence of grace... Reflect on this: You, with all your flaws, have been chosen for this opportunity to consciously taste life, to know it for what it is, and to make of it what you are able... However you find life to be cruel or kind, sorrowful or joyous, bland or stimulating, indifferent or filled with love you get the privilege of knowing it firsthand."