By Dr. Krishna Bhatta
We are only a few months into the new year and, unfortunately, there is already so much not to be thankful for. The stock market is down, inflation is up, a virus has alienated many of us from friends and peers, and now our minds are accosted by unthinkably violent images of war. It seems as ‘How much more stress can we take?’ is a popular theme of lifestyle magazines and talk shows these days.
There is something surreal about this time. It feels like we are living in a complex, puzzle-guarded escape room—no matter where we look, the door to sunlight never reveals itself. Although, perhaps we are merely looking in the wrong place. Further still, maybe we are looking for the wrong release.
What lessons have we learned that could have prepared us for such a time as the world today? No one teaches us to be stressed out, after all. Being scared is not a lesson but a reaction, and sometimes a useful one.
Indeed, our parents teach us to be grateful as a counterbalance to this fear and as a way to alleviate our stress. Our teachers teach us to be thankful and polite—niceties that exist in the mind. It is good for our health to practice positivity. Training our minds in this way projects calm and keeps us courteous, which helps us to fit into society.
But being thankful is not a complete answer.
True gratitude is not the domain of the mind, but that of the heart. It is not a trained result, but a spontaneous outcome of abundance flowing through our inner self. Existence flows through us. It is a flow of energy. It fills the heart with joy and happiness, no matter whether you achieve these ideal states or not. A person who is calm and confident will radiate gratitude effortlessly. You will feel its warmth when in their presence. You may feel drawn towards it.
In other words, gratitude is something that is ultimately released, not rehearsed. First, however, we must open up space in our inner self in order to let it flow. For this to happen, we need to stop listening and reacting to everything around us — no matter how terrible or urgent — and we must begin listening to ourselves. I call this “silent listening.” Once we master this art through learning how to listen to all the sounds, noise, and music around us without judgement or interpretation, the music arises in our hearts. This is when the flow starts, the flow of abundance and beauty. Gratitude is the manifestation of this flow.
Sadly, there will always be negative emotions inside the body just as there are negative events outside of it. Yet, by focusing, we can put the negative energy that we’ve accumulated into a box, close the lid, and allow ourselves to instead release gratitude.
Yogis often end their meditation with the word “Namaste”, which is interpreted as an acknowledgment of another’s physical presence or their eternal spirit. In other words, it is a “thank you.” Thank you is an expression of gratitude, but as this simple gesture shows, there is a qualitative difference between being grateful in one’s heart and expressing gratitude to others.
It takes time to sink in, but according to a study done by University of California-Berkeley researchers, practicing gratitude has long-lasting benefits on the brain substantial enough to show up on MRI scans. Through the heart, we can reach the mind so that it may relax itself. Let your gratitude flow.