When I was a little girl, my brother received a plastic toy as a gift, while I received a penny.
I felt hurt and disappointed, and then guilty for feeling this way. My favourite babysitter took me aside and shared a life lesson that is still with me today.
She first tried to convince me that my penny wasn’t just any old penny, but a new shiny one. I looked down at the palm of my hand, but all I could see was a penny.
She asked me to close my eyes as she took my tiny six-year-old hand, penny and all, and placed it over my heart. The warmth of her palm completely covered my hand, and she reminded me of the love and fondness that we mutually shared. Through the wall of my hurt, of not feeling special enough, not loved enough, tears formed and my heart softened just enough to let her in—to receive her gift.
She gently whispered that the true worth of any gift is always in the eye of the beholder. Nothing has more value than we choose to give it.
A penny could be worth a million dollars, and a million-dollar toy worth no more than a penny. It all depends on how we choose to perceive it. The intention behind every gift we receive is worth gold and the gold in our intention is behind every gift we offer.
It was from that day that I began counting my blessings, penny after penny. Gratitude began to replace those hidden feelings of hurt and cut through the thick protective wall of my heart. I started slow by learning to honor myself first.
Below are the steps I took to help me want what I have and have what I want:
This first step, the white belt if you will, of cultivating an attitude of gratitude is recalling those significant events that marked our lives. Those unforgettable moments that left a permanent imprint on the fibre of who we are and still evoke joy. When we recall those moments, we should breathe in joy and breathe out gratitude. Breathe in gratitude and breathe out expansive happiness.
The second step is recognising those things we take for granted, like having enough to eat, hearing the whisper of our breath and most of all, being alive. No matter who you are and what you are experiencing, if you are reading this you are alive and being alive is worth giving thanks. Breathe in life and breathe out gratitude. Breathe in gratitude and breathe out wonder.
The third step is to observe in a day’s span, the ordinary, unnoticeable moments of kindness that grace us. The more I witness these moments, the more I am surprised at their frequency. Here are two I experienced just today: an unsolicited smile from a stranger and the bank teller who looked me in the eyes while saying hello. These random acts of kindness fill my heart with happiness. When practising, breathe in kindness and breathe out gratitude. Breathe in gratitude and breathe out benevolence.
The practice of gratitude becomes a challenge when we find ourselves tossed about in the turbulent waters of life that ignite powerful emotions. The fourth step is learning to see the silver lining in those challenges. Maybe these hardships freed us from situations that were limiting and opened our hearts to new possibilities. Ultimately we can trust that it was there and perhaps, necessary for our transformation and growth, and who and where we are today is a consequence of it. So inhale perspective and exhale silver lining. Inhale silver lining and exhale transformation.
The fifth step is the black belt—embracing that life and its experiences are happening for you and not to you. Humbly, we can extend gratitude while in the midst of chaos or caught in the jaws of discomfort. Whether it be a painful emotion or on-the-edge-transition of hitting rock bottom, ever so softly we can breathe in the experience and allow our inhale to hold the pain in the core of our heart. In turn, our heart swells with so much emotion that as we inhale our chest expands even more with compassion and love. This is where we begin to strengthen our heart and start to feel what it is to be truly alive.
From this place of softness, we are reminded of our humanness and that of others. It is from this place we connect. This is our haven of vulnerability and paradoxically, the source of our strength. This technique is the way of the Boddhisatva, the path to a heartfelt life. As we breathe in pain, we exhale compassion. As we breathe in compassion, we exhale gratitude.
The final step is reserved for the masters of the heart and yet available to each and every one of us. Ironically enough, the most challenging level of cultivating an attitude of gratitude is cultivating one for yourself, just the way you are. This step is the return to the white belt because it is an ongoing practice and demands a beginner’s mind. Being grateful for yourself is the act of fully embracing who you are, recognising and appreciating your wholeness and the characteristics that are the sum total of your uniqueness. Create an on-going appreciation list of the features that make you you, and watch your self-love blossom. Inhale your golden qualities and exhale gratitude. Inhale gratitude and exhale self-love.
Being grateful never goes unnoticed and leads to abundance. The more you recognise what you have and are thankful for it, the more you are showered with the gift of happiness.
Take a moment every night before you drift off into a deep slumber to allow your heart and soul to be filled with gratitude for the gifts of today. For those who want to jump-start the process and magnify it, devote a few minutes each day to sitting and being present with the essence of your life and your soul.
You will quickly notice an infinite well of joy that lies within a grateful heart. Today and every day, take a breath of gratitude and watch your life transform.
Author: Jessica Magnin
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Nicole Cameron