By Ann-Marie McKelvey, MCS Founder & Director
Upaya Zen Center, May, 2008 —
The very first thing I noticed about Brother David Steindl-Rast was his hands. Upon entering Upaya House he bowed, reverently greeting each of us with palms together and fingers pointed upwards. This fundamental mudra is known as gassho. For me it is a reminder to open to the strong abiding presence of deep gratitude and respect within each other and our environment.
At that time Brother David was a young 83 year old. Today at 93 he continues his activities as a Benedictine monk, Zen practitioner and global social activist. For decades his primary spiritual practice has been gratitude.
“Brother David,” I asked one early evening during a walk with him, “What is the most important ingredient in cultivating gratitude?”
“Surprise!” he answered with an enthusiastic gesture and grin. It was then I noticed and brought his attention to an unusual ring he was wearing made out of mala beads from India.
Brother David said he personally had made the ring and His Holiness the Dalai Lama had worn it the week before. In exchange he had given Brother David his mala of prayer beads to use. Later the two traded back. With a twinkle in his eyes he took the mala ring off his finger and put it on mine. He said, “This is a ring that has had good company. I want you
to have it.”
There it was; the element of surprise. Was I grateful? Indeed!
“Is it possible to always be grateful?” I asked.
“Yes,” Brother David responded, “We can be grateful for the opportunity that each event gives us. If we are in gratitude training to avail ourselves of the opportunities to enjoy whatever is presented to us, we can purposely look for the gifts.
“Ask, ‘What is this opportunity for?’ The answer will cause you to
grow. In retrospect, all our life experiences are wonderful opportunities for
“We tend to think joyful people are grateful for having so much joy. But it’s actually more simple than that. Grateful people are joyous because they are grateful.”
I often become somewhat narrow, perhaps even selfish, with my energy as I forget to nourish myself to counterbalance the work I do in the world. It is during these times I remind myself (when I come out of the trance) to seed and water the Field of Gratitude.
Are you looking for ways to practice gratitude?
One simple and profound gratitude practice is feeling and following the beat-beat-beat of your heart. I do this each morning prior to sitting on my cushion to meditate. I invite you to embrace the wonderment and gratitude of your aliveness by finding your pulse and feeling your blood pulsate through your precious human body.
Below are additional simple processes to evoke your Field of Gratitude.
1. Create a Gratitude Journal. Each morning write down five different aspects in your life that you are grateful for.
2. Practice looking at people and the world with eyes that say, “Surprise me!”. Notice what arises.
3. What makes you come alive? What do you want to dedicate your fullness to? For one day contribute the answer you receive to the world.
4. How shall you seed and water your Field of Gratitude?
5. Self-connect by asking if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely and/or Tired. If you are experiencing any one of these four characteristics HALT. Nourish yourself and then consciously move back into the Field of Gratitude by writing in your Gratitude Journal.
6. Write a Gratitude Letter expressing to someone in your past something they did that made a difference in your life.
7. Go to your favorite spot in the forest, mountains, or shores. Sit down with your pen and paper and write about what you see. Let yourself be surprised.
8. Make your vessel of expectations smaller so that it will overflow with gratitude. So that it will overflow with Spirit.
9. Read spiritual writings s-l-o-w-l-y. Let the words send you back into the silence from where they came.