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Gratitude Arises from Paying Attention

It’s easy to feel grateful when the world around you is magnificently beautiful

Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, it is possible that we are having one of the most beautiful autumns in memory. It is also possible that I am just paying more attention. What is sure is that I have spent an inordinate amount of time in the past few weeks gratefully stunned by the beauty around me.

The trees are so bright right now that driving on some streets feels like passing through a golden tunnel. As I walk the dogs the leaves on the bright green grass beneath the trees look like they’ve been arranged by an artist. Over the weekend, my husband and I rounded a bend in the road and nearly had to pull over to absorb the landscape awash in the low angled light we only get this time of year. We agreed that if anyone painted what we saw – deep blue sky, pink and purple clouds, gold, orange, and red leaves, and vibrant green grass it would look like science fiction.

Simply moving and breathing in this beautiful autumn world have left me awash in gratitude day after day. “Gratitude,” in the words of poet David Whyte in his book Consolations, “arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.

When you’re really paying attention, everything around you causes wonder

Wonder-induced gratitude is not the exclusive realm of the spectacular or the seasonal. It is when I am paying attention to my cat – the way the white fur on her belly is so much softer than the tabby stripes on her back, the sound of the rumble of her purrs, the way she trots alongside me as I water the plants – that she fills my heart with love and joy.

It is when I’m watching my friend’s familiar face as she talks, listening to her words and the meanings beneath them, and noticing how happy I feel in her presence that I know in my gut how much better my life is because she is in it.

I can bring this same level of focus to my home as I clean it, the ingredients in a meal as I prepare it, even each article of clothing fresh and warm from the drier as I fold them. When I am present to my life the way I have learned to be present to my breath and my body on my yoga mat, I understand how truly gifted I am.

Paying attention requires practice

Presence is a skill. It is also a little counter-cultural in our time when multitasking is the norm and when our pockets and palms vibrate endlessly with information and entertainment that distracts us from who we’re with and what we’re doing.

Distractions do not only come from the world around us. The greatest distraction of all is our wonderful, magnificent minds. It is said that the average person thinks 60,000 thoughts per day. In addition, we assess many of those thoughts to determine our responses. Left untended, it is therefore unsurprising that my mind is capable of looping endlessly in great sweeping swirls of thought and imagination.

B.K.S. Iynegar, in his excellent book The Tree of Yoga, invites us to use our minds as we would use our limbs. Just as we would not want our arm to flail around wildly for fear that we could hit someone or knock something over, we do not want our mind to flail around heedlessly. We want to develop the capability to choose what our minds are doing at any given moment – thinking, listening, planning, creating, and so forth. We want to pay attention or be present to what is going on in our own head.

There are many ways to practice presence

There are many ways to practicing presence. I hear rock climbing and distance running both draw you into a singular focus on what you’re doing. As long as that focus also involves noticing and corralling your meandering mind you are on the right track. I find the mindful, breath-focused movement of yoga to be highly effective.

Daily time spent in meditation takes presence to a whole new level as we learn to manage our minds without the tether of a physical technique, body alignment, or even breathing exercise. We simply notice when we’ve drifted off with a thought and come back to the moment at hand.

Presence or paying attention begets gratitude – and vice versa

No matter how you choose to practice presence, with persistence and patience you will notice that almost everything you do all day is infused with a new richness and depth. Your whole life will take on a glow of gratitude as you recognize and absorb the wonder of your everyday life.

Presence, like gratitude, will not be contained. They both splash abundantly into every corner of your existence – each enhancing the other as they do.­­­­­

It’s not too late to join our FREE weekly gathering as we share and support one another in our practices of gratitude. We will meet two more times – Tuesdays 11/23 and 11/30 at 6:00 ET. Here is the Zoom link.