The Urban Retreat, Day 7: The practice of gratitude
One quality that’s closely related to metta is appreciation. We often take things for granted when they’re going right, and then focus on what’s not going the way we want it to. And that makes us unhappy and makes our relationships with others less warm and appreciative.
At our worst we’ll say things like “Nothing ever goes right in my life.” And in the moment we’re saying those words we’ll ignore that we have air to breathe, we’re alive, we’re probably healthy, we’re living in a fairly civilized society (it’s far from being Mogadishu), we’re sheltered from the elements, we have water, electricity, the internet, friends, family, etc. The specifics of what we have change from person to person and day to day, but we always have a lot more going for us than we choose to appreciate.
So one thing I do in my practice sometimes (and this is something I explore in the video below) is to consciously appreciate what’s going right, and to say “thank you.”
I’ll take a trip around the body, basically doing a body scan meditation, and say “thank you” to each part of the body in turn. I’ll thank my feet, legs, hips, abdomen and lower back, chest and upper back, throat, head. I’ll thank my heart and lungs and other organs. I’ll thank my senses. If some part of the body isn’t functioning well, then rather than give it less thanks, I feel especially grateful; the body shows up for you every day. It tries its best to serve you even if it’s not well or damaged. It’s always trying to heal and repair itself. That’s the best kind of friend you can have — one who turns up to help you even when they’re sick.
And I appreciate and thank everything around me, from the furniture I’m sitting on (think of all the people involved in making it possible for you to do something as simple as sit on a chair!), to the building I’m in and all the utilities in it, to the society around me with its roads and sidewalks and sewers.
You can thank the air for being breathable. You can thank the sun for shining. Really, there’s no limit to the things we can express gratitude towards.
And as you do this practice (I assume you will) notice how you feel. There may be some initial resistance (it may seem silly to say thank you or you may not want to acknowledge your dependance upon others) but when you get into the practice of saying thank you you may start to notice a sense of warmth, or softness around the heart, or even joy.
If the video isn’t displaying (which can sometimes happen on mobile devices) then you can go straight to Youtube.