For many years, the practice of gratitude has been a regular part of my spiritual practice. I have consciously incorporated this attitude into my life during periodic meditation times, by forming the general intention to be grateful throughout the day, and by looking for specific things to be grateful for.
Over the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with a different angle on gratitude: I've been paying more attention to what the experience of gratitude actually feels like. I'm finding the experiment to be very interesting. By shifting my focus a bit more onto my feelings, I'm discovering that my habitual way of practicing gratitude has been primarily (but not exclusively) to focus on my thought-intention, without paying too much attention to the feeling.
I'm discovering quite a few things:
- For me, gratitude has a distinct physical feel to it, and it takes on some kind of a shape.
- If gratitude has a shape, for me it's like a somewhat flattened U-shape, or a broad smile; and if it's three-dimensional (even better!), it's more like a wide cup.
- When I start to feel gratitude, I experience a shift in my head and body, as if the sides of my brain and body are lifting upwards while my middle rests downwards.
- I find this shape to be symbolic of receptivity, like a cup that needs to exist before it can be filled; and as soon as it exists it IS filled, and therefore I have something to be grateful for, deep inside of myself.
- Focusing on the intention/goal (in this case, gratitude) as a thought just isn't enough - because feeling my goal - feeling gratitude - being gratitude - is actually part of my goal. If I am over-focused on the thought-intention, I can still feel the result (I've always been able to feel gratitude), but I'm missing so much of the goodness of the feeling if I'm not also really letting myself feel it - and enjoy it.
- Even though mind-body unity isn't a new concept for me, somehow unity of thought-feeling is.
- Gratitude is not my default mode. I can tell because when I stop thinking/feeling gratitude in this way, the 'up'-'cup' droops and flattens down again instantly.
- I need to practice this thought-feeling of gratitude much more often!
- Thankfully, practicing gratitude is MUCH easier this way, and it makes me want to do more and more of this kind of practicing, because it feels great!
- Think of what gratitude means to you, and start to wonder what gratitude might feel like.
- Pay attention to your head and the rest of your body, either one at a time or both together.
- Allow yourself to feel any changes as you get in touch with a true sense of gratitude.
- Now let go of this feeling of gratitude, and go back to your "normal" state of being.
- Try it a few times, and maybe increase the intensity and/or duration of the gratitude state.
- As you switch back and forth between gratitude and non-gratitude, do you notice any shifts in your head? body? mood?