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Brother David and Me: The Ring of Gratitude

Mar 2, 2024

by: Ann-Marie McKelvey, LPCC, MCC
Founder and HeadLearner at MCS

The very first thing I noticed about Brother David Steindahl-Rast was his hands.  Upon entering the Zendo 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.

Brother David is an 97 year old Benedictine monk, Zen practitioner and global social activist. For decades his primary spiritual practice has been gratitude.

“Brother David,” I asked one evening, “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 the Dalai Lama had worn it the week before.  In exchange he had given Brother David his 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 growth.”

“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.”

In the process of self-actualizing, 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.

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 simple ways to seed your Field of Gratitude Practice.

  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. 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.
  5. Write a Gratitude Letter expressing to someone in your past something they did that made a difference in your life.
  6. Go to your favorite spot in the forest, mountains, or shores. Sit down with your pen and paper and write what you see. Let yourself be surprised at what you discover.
  7. Let go of expectations. You will find the simplest things will fill you with joy and gratitude.
  8. Slow down into the moment…Feel into it. Feeeeel yourself. Appreciate everything you notice.

 

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