Before I begin I would like to I dedicate this post to Swami Tadatmananda (Swami T hereafter), who taught me about meditation in addition to many other practices. I offer a meditation, below, that is a variation of what he taught me.
One of the most memorable classes with Swami T fell on Saturday mornings after Thanksgiving every year. In this special Thanksgiving class, we learned how to cultivate gratitude for the myriad of gifts in our lives. I remember Swami T always joked that many people must have come from previous days of feasting and Black Friday shopping. And now here we were – ready to delve into ourselves – or were we, I wondered?
When we are just busy eating and feeding ourselves followed by intense shopping to fulfill our wish list desires, what are we actually doing? Well… there are lots of things, but I would not say self-regulating falls high on many of our lists as we feast and run out for Black Friday shopping. We are over-stimulated by tastes of sweets, dinner, music, lots of conversations, and lots of people. Then, as if we hadn’t fed ourselves enough, we dash out as stores open, to consume (thus the word consumer) more and feed our closets and homes, which we consider extensions of ourselves, with Black Friday sale items. The mind’s attention is constantly shifting, from one flashing sale sign to the next, store to store, bumping into dozens of people, surrounded by noise. And, as the mind is stimulated by all these things, the mind is set on constantly looking for things to satisfy ourselves from the external world.
There is also another side to Thanksgiving or any other holiday. The holiday could trigger emotions – good or bad – for many people as they may not be around family (or being around families could also trigger emotions). Perhaps food or streaming of movies or games to fill time is just an attempt to fill emotionally empty parts of our innerselves. Regardless of how the holiday is processed, we are just trying to fill ourselves in one way or another. We feel more satisfied just for a day or so… until we feel empty and in need of more.
Swami T’s main point as he introduces the gratitude exercise for the class (and the discussions of course change from year to year) is that in the midst of looking for more and more so that we fill in missing pieces to ourselves with the outside world, why not take a few moments to also turn inwards and see that all the contentment we are constantly running after lies right within ourselves? Our happiness and contentment does not lie in external items, circumstances, and the mere number of people around us (you may have heard the idea that it’s better to have one true friend than be friendly with a hundred people).
We may run after the newest toys (if we are kids), newer cars (as adults), the latest cell phones (all ages!), and the coolest shoes because we feel as though we are more complete having them when, in fact, bigger and better possessions don’t equate to a sense of fullness inside. If we have a bike, we want a car; if we have a car, then we desire an SUV; if we have an SUV, perhaps we want a truck; if we have a truck, then the next piece is a boat… You get the point! (Some of you may have heard this example from one of Georg Feuerstein’s interviews.)
But if we just stopped for 5 minutes to practice being grateful for what we already have, perhaps we may be quick to experience greater contentment in this very moment. All of a sudden, we may not feel such an urgent need to run around to each and every sale during Black Friday and we may not continue to eat more sweets when our stomach is telling us it’s time to stop!
What is gratitude? Gratitude is a character trait (or a quality) that helps the mind to acknowledge and be thankful for what we have. Gratitude exists in the mind, not in the new cellphone in our hands or the new shoes we bought. Therefore, the way to cultivate gratitude is to turn inwards and reflect.
When Swami T held gratitude meditations, he guided the class through their entire lives, stopping at each junction noting the important people and experiences in our lives that we are grateful for. It brought tears to the eyes of many students as we walked through every segment of our life thus far – we recalled that a grandmother or guardian figure held our hand so we could learn to walk and remembered faces of those who truly cared for us and stepped in during times of crisis. We recalled people that protect and help nourish our society (i.e., a nation’s military, firefighters, social workers, lawyers, teachers, nurses, doctors, custodial staff, and EVERY SINGLE job that contributes to order and safety and progress).
In my variant of this meditation, below, I focus on only one day – today – from morning to the present moment. It is important to find a quiet place and a comfortable position so that you can focus with minimal disruption. Join me below :)!