Grateful Heart, Joyful Heart

From Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness

by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander

Be grateful for your life, every detail of it,
and your face will come to shine like a sun, and
everyone who sees it will be made glad and peaceful. Persist in gratitude, and you will slowly become one
with the Sun of Love, and Love will shine
through you its all-healing joy.

~ Paraphrase of Jalal al-Din Rumi
from Andrew Harvey’s Light Upon Light

Book cover of Awakening JoyAs James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander say in the introduction to their book, “Joy and happiness are more than just good ideas. They can be the baseline on which we live our lives. The purpose of this book (and Baraz's Awakening Joy course) - is to show how to access that switch inside and live life with greater joy.” Baraz and Alexander have created a guide with ten steps that anyone can follow to develop a practice of Joy. One of the steps is cultivating gratefulness, and this series will focus on that chapter, Grateful Heart, Joyful Heart.

Part 1:  Introduction

A student once complained to Nisargadatta, a great 20th Century spiritual teacher from India, that daily life seemed so tedious to him. “You’ve done the most amazing thing,” the sage replied. “You’ve made life boring!” In this culture of 30-second sound bites and blockbuster action movies, we can easily get into the habit of looking for a never-ending diet of peak experiences. When only highly stimulating events and fantastically wonderful things are worthy of our appreciation, we easily end up disappointed and feeling that life is mostly dull and uninteresting. In the midst of abundance, we find life lacking.

There are two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.
- Albert Einstein

The founder of Gestalt psychology, Fritz Perls, used to say, “Boredom is simply lack of attention.” As we’ve seen with mindfulness, when we pay attention, anything can be interesting. My friend Joe Kupfer discovered this in college, and it set his life in a new direction. Joe and I attended the same rigorous high school in New York City, and we came out with an almost identical grade point average—decent but not stellar. Neither of us had been that interested in going for top academic honors. Four years later we both graduated from Queens College, and while I had continued my casual scholastic attitude, Joe had achieved Magna Cum Laude and went on to become a professor of philosophy. What was his secret? (Unfortunately for me, I didn’t ask him until my senior year!)

When he started college, Joe told me, he’d made the decision to excel. I remember him saying he figured that the more interested he was in the course material, the easier it would be for him to learn the subject. So he devised a game: At the start of each semester, no matter how boring a class might appear to be, he would ask himself: “Why has the professor devoted his whole life to specializing in this subject? Why does he find it so interesting?” In searching for the answer, he invariably found something valuable and even fascinating in the material. Joe had interrupted a pattern of not appreciating what was before him and supplanted it with an eager openness that enabled him to shine.

I’m allowing myself more time to appreciate what I see, be it the clouds in the sky, a fallen leaf, the trees changing, or my friends and loved ones. As I do this, I find myself
loving life more and feeling the joy that’s inside me. 

- A course participant

As Joe discovered, you don’t have to wait for appreciation and gratitude to spontaneously arise. You can consciously cultivate this powerful ally to a joyful heart. Each day of your life you have many opportunities to develop a grateful heart by paying attention to the blessings, big and small, that are all around you. Even if things are uncomfortable or not as you might wish, it is still possible to find something you can be grateful for.

You can miss those blessings when your mind is contracted with stress or filled with negativity. There’s no room for them to enter. But the moment you pause and let yourself notice something to be grateful for, even in the midst of a challenge, it is virtually impossible to continue being lost in worry about the future, or regret about the past. Negative states like anger, bitterness and resentment dissolve in the presence of gratitude.

red poppies opened up to the blue skyOne Tibetan lama says gratitude is like a satellite dish. When we feel grateful, our receptors are wide open to receive the abundance available to us. The very act of appreciating someone or something instantly calls forth joy. You can try it right now for yourself. Think of someone or something you feel grateful for, and notice what happens. It is impossible to feel genuinely grateful and not have a little rise of joy.

"I’ve been thrilled to watch my daughter flourish
and feel free when I allow myself to relax and feel
the love and openness that gratitude rewards me with.
It’s almost like watching myself in a mirror.
– A Course Participant

What does gratitude feel like, in your body and mind? Course participants offered these reflections:

• I breathe more deeply.
• I feel a glow in my chest, a tingling in my fingers, and half-smile appears on my face.
• It feel like a blanket of goodness descending upon me.
• It brings me energy and peace at the same time.
• It makes me feel loved by God.
• I like myself and my muscles relax.
• I feel like my body is resting on the perfect pillow created to hold all of me.

As you notice all you have to be grateful for, pay close attention to the many different ways the experience of gratitude manifests inside you. Developing gratitude is for some people a turning point in their practice of Awakening Joy. It becomes immediately apparent how available joy really is. With practice, the grateful heart increasingly sees the goodness and wonder around us. As you explore this new step, notice the effect cultivating gratitude has on your life and the lives of those around you.

Feeling Gratitude

Take a few minutes to think of some of the people and things you feel gratitude for in your life. You might begin with being grateful that you can read these words. As each person or quality or thing comes up in your imagination, say silently to yourself, “I am grateful to...or for….” Pause with each to feel the experience of gratitude that arises in your body and mind.

Before you finish with this exercise, stop and take in the fullness of the feeling of gratitude itself. Breathe it in deeply, and let it pervade your body and mind.

Next in the series: 
Part 2: The Glass Half Empty
Part 3: Gratitude Squelchers
Part 4:  Right Under Our Noses

Part 5: "Grace Described as Obstacles"
Part 6: Glass Half Full
Part 7: The Benefits of Gratitude

Part 8: Strengthening Your Gratitude Muscle
Part 9: The Gratitude Perspective
Part 10: Deepen Your Happiness Groove
Part 11: Scattering Gratitude Like Joy

Part 12: But I Can't Be Grateful to Them!
Part 13: It Would Have Been Enough...

James Baraz has been teaching meditation since 1978 and the Awakening Joy course since 2003. He leads retreats, workshops and classes in the U.S. and abroad and is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California.

James is co-author with Shoshana Alexander of Awakening Joy, a new book based on the course. In addition, James is on the International Advisory Board of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He lives with his wife in the Bay Area, has two sons and three grandchildren.

Visit his Awakening Joy website.

Shoshana Tembeck Alexander is the author of In Praise of Single Parents, Women's Ventures/Women's Visions, and, with the Findhorn Community, The Findhorn Garden. She has studied Buddhism since 1970 and has guided various works of several prominent Buddhist authors, including Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg, and Wes Nisker. She lives in Ashland, Oregon and teaches fiction and non-fiction writing.

Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness, Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA,© 2012.

The above excerpt is posted with the authors' kind permission.