Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons
November 18, 2018 | Happy Thanksgiving!
We’re officially heading into the holidays. Are you excited about this? Anxious? Both? I know it can be a complicated time of year.
In my work as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist I teach people how to transform difficult emotions and one of the main tools I use is the practice of awareness.
If holidays cause you stress, try this:
Set a goal to pay attention to what’s real.
Take little mini check-in moments throughout the day. You don’t have to leave the room and no one has to know what you’re doing!
- Notice the movements of your breath.
- Notice the sensations of your body.
- Notice the quality of feelings that are present.
You don’t have to do anything other than notice. Give yourself permission to feel what’s real. Pay attention to the fact that things shift.
Your breath, physical sensations, and feelings won’t remain static throughout the day. But your mental stories might!
Allow these check-in moments to keep you rooted in the present moment rather than lost in your old stories and assumptions. This is a powerful tool! If you use it, let me know how it goes.
This week we’ll hear a lot about gratitude, which is good! But it can sometimes feel stale…
So I wrote a short sermon to help you approach gratitude in some new ways.
Gratitude is a Quality of Being
Prefer to listen to the sermon? Here you go!
And for the readers…
I love tradition and ritual. I love the practice of marking time. So you might assume that I love holidays. But I don’t. Because sadly, many of our holidays have become events of stress and consumerism. Thanksgiving—a holiday with both a charming and troubling origin story—was always my favorite growing up. At its very best, Thanksgiving was about harvest and nourishment. It was a celebratory feast where the entire community could gather and enjoy the fruits of their hard labor. One last hurrah before heading into winter. But most of us—except maybe the farmers among us—don’t have this relationship to food and seasons anymore. Our grocery stores have pretty much the same offerings in January as they do in June. So Thanksgiving isn’t a final feast. It’s just a feast! Rather than celebrating the fruits of our labor, we’re all searching for new and clever ways to make green bean casserole! (and I love me some green bean casserole). And, many of us (did your mom make you do this?) are going around the table and sharing what we’re grateful for.
Gratitude has become a common place practice. I mean, how many times have we all been asked to keep a gratitude journal? If somehow you’ve never tried it you should. They’re useful. But as we prepare to gorge ourselves on stuffing and pie this week, I would love to dig a little deeper into the idea of gratitude.
In his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, poet David Whyte explores gratitude in some compelling ways. He begins by saying that:
“Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.”
There are several important points here. First, he’s saying that gratitude is active not passive. Gratitude is a quality of being. Not a platitude. Gratitude isn’t just sitting back and saying “oh I’m glad I have this.” It’s a way of understanding yourself in relationship with all that is. He continues:
“Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.”
We are part of something. We exist! What a miraculous and strange thing. Existence is certainly not a given. It’s actually somewhat of a mystery. I’ve been wondering about the philosophical question “why is there something rather than nothing?” for years. When I say that gratitude is a quality of being, not a platitude, this is what I mean. Life, even when it’s hard, is an inexplicable gift—or as David Whyte might say, an inexplicable privilege. He continues:
“We sit at the table as part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege.”
In Eastern tradition it is considered a great boon to be born a human being. While I don’t subscribe to a fully human-centered worldview, I understand the privilege of my existence. And I am grateful for my ability to be curious about the world around me and to participate in this life in meaningful ways. David Whyte ends his mediation about gratitude by saying:
“Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention.”
So this Thanksgiving I’ll ask you to do something that really, I ask you to do everyday, pay attention. Cultivate the quality of gratitude by remembering your fundamental privilege of Being. Take a moment to look around the world with awe. There is something. This world exists.
What shall we do with this gift?
- Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? If so, what did you gain from the experience?
- What do you think of the idea that gratitude is an active practice not a passive response?
- Have you ever wondered why there is something rather than nothing?
- How do you feel about the holidays? What emotions arise for you this time of year?
We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. How do you practice gratitude?
We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?
I have a bit of a gratitude ritual – I note 3 things to be grateful when I begin journal writing each day. Sometimes it is a bit mechanical, but most often it brings me to take a regular pause to take stock and appreciate the present moment.
Unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving has not been so emotionally freighted in my life. It’s mostly been a time to sit uncomfortably for hours and try to talk with family I don’t know very well. Trying to “force” family feeling feels exhausting for this big introvert. This year I will be at home with the cats and feeling grateful for that.
You’ve had such a long running and consistent journal practice Donalee! It’s inspiring. Enjoy your quiet holiday (an introvert’s dream!).
I was introduced to a gratitude journal in a time of crisis over 10 years ago. Our eldest daughter was very, very ill and we (she was in hospital in a faraway large city) had to move to the place where she could receive help. It was a long 3 months and she’s brilliantly healthy, vibrant, finished university and loving life. I’m so grateful. At that time, I was in panic mode and filled with “Why Us?”, living in a room in a stranger’s basement in a large city, far from family and friend support while she received help. An elder friend told me to write 1 thing daily that I was grateful for. It ended up being dozens, daily, and became my light in the storm. While riding the bus home one night, a 45 minute ride from the hospital to the rental room, the lovely Muslim driver handed me a $100 grocery gift card. I was stunned. He’d listened to we riders quietly talking and heard my story and wanted to bless us. Oh, the tears. And gratitude. For her restored health, for friends who delivered dinners to our family back home on the farm, for friends who made the long trip to visit us/bring books/loaned me a cellphone (and never let me pay the bill), for a generous bus driver, for life.
Oh my goodness, this story has me in tears. I’m so moved by the generosity of the bus driver. What an example to follow… I’m grateful for your strong community, for your daughter’s vibrant health, and for the wisdom of your elder friend helping you to redirect your attention. Thank you for sharing this with us.
I am deeply grateful that your words have crossed my path. Conscious existence is a profound privilege, and this sermon sparked a feeling of wonder inside me. How amazing to be alive today, sipping clean water, and going about my normal routine. Keeping a gratitude journal brings that active practice alive. It reminded me of a story I heard once. A traveller arrived at the king’s palace and asked for a place to stay for the night. The king put him in a rundown old shack outside of the palace that was cold and uncomfortable. A guard came to check on the traveller and asked him how he was doing. The traveller started complaining that it was uncomfortable and cold and he didn’t have any of the things he wanted or deserved. The king was angry when he heard, and ordered the traveller to be removed. The next day another traveller arrived and was invited to stay in the same shack. When the guard came to check on this traveller, he was very grateful and spoke about everything he had thanks to the king’s generosity. When the king heard this he invited the traveller into the palace and gave him the royal treatment, showering him with even more to be grateful for. Do you think life responds to our gratitude in this way also? It seems the more we practice gratitude, the more we find to be grateful for.
Thank you for the inspiring message!
Yes I do think that’s true! We can’t control life, but we can control where we put our attention. If we choose to direct our attention toward something like gratitude, then we’ll naturally see and experience more gratitude in our life. Same can be said about intentionally focusing our attention toward compassion or love or any other edifying quality. Noticing where we direct our attention (rather than just letting it drift to and fro) is a powerful, transformative practice. Thanks for sharing this story with us!
Welcome to the community Tori! We’re glad to have you.
Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving.
Lovely, as always. It’s a good practice: “gratitude as an active, engaged endeavor.”