Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, a day of giving thanks and expressing gratitude for all of the gifts in each of our lives. Thanksgiving as a cultural holiday is all about turkeys and stuffing, pumpkin pies, laughing with family, watching football, playing board games…so many different ways for families to come together and share their joy with one another. For many families it also involves saying Grace at the dinner table.
I remember as a kid being very uncomfortable with this concept. I didn’t come from a particularly religious family, so for me saying Grace was synonymous with praying. It was something that religious families did, something that for me involved that awkward and elusive word “God.” It was simply something that was not part of my vocabulary and it was definitely something that felt a bit too ritualistic for my taste.
I have now realized that while saying Grace is a practice performed by many different religions and spiritual traditions all over the world, at its core the concept really has nothing to do with the institution of religion itself. Grace is simply about the attitude of being grateful, expressing joy for all of the beautiful things in your life. It is not about wishing for more, but instead it is about being grateful for exactly what you have, whatever or however little that is. And I have also realized that it is far more than just a mere ritual of words. The act of saying Grace, the proactive and conscious practice of gratitude has much, much more power than one might possibly imagine.
Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, has spent his whole adult life centered in and sharing the practice of gratitude and gratefulness. He explains gratitude as having two inter-related branches: one is gratefulness and the other is thanksgiving. He describes gratefulness using the image of a bowl, as a representation of life. As one has the experience of feeling so appreciative, so full of gratitude, their bowl gets filled to the brim, just to the point where it is almost overflowing. You’ve all felt this sensation at some point in your lives: When you are so grateful for something that has occurred to you, perhaps the news that you landed the dream job, perhaps a dear friend or family member giving birth to a healthy baby. Whatever the situation may be, you are so elated and bubbling over with joy that you feel the sensation of the bowl filling up with happiness and gratefulness.
As you focus on these jubilant life situations and wonderful emotions, as you feel the overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation, the bowl gets so full that it begins to overflow into the second branch of gratitude: thanksgiving. As a result of feeling the ecstasy of the absolute fullness of life, you now begin to attract beautiful things back into your life. As your own gratefulness overflows, thanksgiving brings ever more bounty into your life. And as you begin to become aware of and consciously focus on your feelings of gratitude, you notice that as they get more powerful and more a regular part of your life, so too does the flow of abundance into your life.
This awesome power of gratitude has become ever more evident to me as I’ve studied more and more about the power of the mind, the power of our thoughts to impact our surroundings and our experiences, the power of our emotions to attract beauty into our lives. As I wrote about recently in my post “The REAL Secret,” our thoughts do have power, both for good and bad. And if we can allow ourselves to live with conscious awareness of what we are thinking and feeling, and if we can harness our thoughts to focus on the beauty, to feel absolute joy and gratitude for any and all of the positive elements in our lives (regardless of what other negative elements may exist), magic will happen. By focusing on that for which we are grateful, by practicing gratitude every single day, by seeking out the beauty and the positivity in every waking moment, we can create our very own cornucopia of abundance.
Looking back on my awkward childhood relationship with the concept of saying Grace, I now look back and nod with understanding. I now get it. I understand why people say Grace and I fully appreciate how powerful a practice it actually is. And while I am still not a religious person and probably will not be holding hands around the Thanksgiving dinner table to say Grace, I realize that I don’t have to. I hold gratitude in my own heart, in my own way, every moment of every day. And my cup (or bowl) runneth over…