Consciousness is infinite and unbounded at its source. Let’s apply this idea to gratitude, because for many of us, gratitude isn’t unbounded. It comes and goes. You feel thankful for this or that experience, for one person but not another, and for various things that feel like a gift. However, you may take the things you value—your families, friends, a beautiful day, the glories of the natural world—for granted when you aren’t in a grateful mood.
What Is Gratitude?
Everyone knows that gratitude is a good thing but getting there isn’t always easy. How can this be changed? Trying to be grateful doesn’t work, because gratitude is a spontaneous expression. You may say “Thank you” simply as a polite gesture without much feeling behind it, and you know what it’s like to thank someone while feeling very different inside. Spontaneous gratitude comes from the true self, which you contact in meditation. When you feel an impulse of sheer, open-hearted gratitude, you are expressing your true self, which means that you are closer to your source.
Gratitude needs to be nurtured, however. The true self is blocked from view by old conditioning and beliefs, ego-based impulses, and its opposite—resentment. You cannot feel grateful toward someone you resent, no matter how lavishly or generously they give something.
In this regard, gratitude, like grace, isn’t earned; it isn’t a payback because someone has done something you value and want. Paybacks are calculated by the ego-self, which sees everything as a transaction, a give-and-take where the object is to take more than you give. That’s how the ego promises to make you important, by accumulating more money, possessions, friends, and status.
In reality, gratitude is naturally innocent. Infants as young as six months spontaneously want to help their mothers, and in a child’s love, there is gratitude that doesn’t need to be put into words. Once you start putting “thank you” into words, there is inner separation. You begin to judge who deserves thanks and who doesn’t.
Therefore, if gratitude is part of the true self, it goes even beyond a mother-child bond. It is offered without judgment. Feeling gratitude simply for being here is true gratitude. There is sympathy for the human condition, not just for the humans who are on your side. The true self isn’t separate from you at this very moment, so how do you begin to notice it and give it value?
Here are four ways in which you can experience a deeper, truer sense of gratitude.
1. Show Gratitude Toward Yourself
This isn’t done by saying “thank you.” Instead, try the following exercise:
- Sit or lie quietly with your eyes closed. A good time is during your rest period after meditation or at night before falling asleep.
- Feel and see a warm light in the area of your heart.
- Breathe into this light and see it expand. Be easy; don’t force.
- As the glowing warmth expands, sense its blissful quality. Rest easily in the sensation. This is the warmth of the true self.
- Think and feel, “This is the real me.” At that moment, you are experiencing yourself with gratitude.
2. Cherish Your Warm Experiences
When you have just had a warm experience with another person, don’t let it escape immediately. Instead, try the following:
- Take a moment alone, close your eyes, and feel the lingering warmth of the experience.
- You can say “thank you” or not—it isn’t really necessary. Simply recognize that this warmth of the heart is the essence of gratitude.
3. Nurture Gratitude for Any Beautiful Experience in the Same Way
Whether you are listening to music you love or watching a burnished summer sunset, take a moment to close your eyes, breathe fully, and notice the inner feeling you are having. This is the essence of gratitude that is available all the time, and you can notice it several times a day.
4. Access a Deeper Sense of Gratitude through Meditation
A deeper sense of gratitude can be accessed that isn’t associated with any particular object or outside source of pleasure. A good time for this is just after meditation. Try it:
- Put your attention on the quiet, restful, content sensation that meditation brings.
- Now easily let your attention flow through inner space, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.
- This space feels open, light, quiet, undisturbed. You are perceiving your own being. There is no need for external or internal triggers of pleasure. You are finding yourself here and now. This is the source of gratitude. There are no words to describe it, but the experience is real.
- Once you notice it, being here is enough. Love, gratitude, bliss, and fulfillment rest within each other and merge into pure consciousness.
By experiencing deeper and deeper levels of gratitude, you learn what true gratitude feels like. It feels like yourself, being, and transcendence rolled into one.