My dance with gratitude (Part 1)

Purpose: To share my personal dance with gratitude and maybe inspire you to begin yours.

Given that this is a piece on gratitude, I’d firstly like to thank my parents for teaching me the importance of counting my blessings!

My personal dance with gratitude began when I learnt to thank God in daily prayer. Church played a big role in my Filipino diaspora upbringing. I come from a family of devout Methodist Christians on my mother’s side and Catholics on my father’s side. My spiritual practice developed through the power of music, prayer, teachings and meditation. When I was around 5 years old, my lola (grandmother) used to pray with me every night and taught me to count the things that I was thankful for. I’m no longer affiliated with a religious denomination but my family’s practice of gratitude and spirituality lives on within me.

Religion is a specific set of organised beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group. Spirituality is more of an individual practice and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose. It also relates to the process of developing beliefs around the meaning of life and connection with others.

ReachOut.com

When I was 12, I remember visiting villages in the Philippines where my relatives lived. At my aunty’s house, I recall sitting on the toilet where there was no toilet seat or door separating the bathroom from the kitchen. At the time, I struggled with the shift of lifestyle – it was nothing like I’d ever experienced before – but later I’d realise it’d teach me to be thankful for my privileges. It’s been many years since then and I’ve gone back to visit so that my family can teach me about the countless blessings in a simple life.

My practice of gratitude deepened greatly through my journey into Eastern philosophy – namely Buddhism and Yoga. I first experienced Wat Pah Nanachat, a beautiful international forest monastery, through the wonderful Angelica Casado who took us to visit during the Australian-Thai Youth Ambassadors Program in 2017. Two years later, I got to stay there as a layperson. This meant that us laypeople lived as the monks did:

  • 3am: Wake up
  • 3:30am: Chanting and meditation
  • ~4:30-7am: Sweep the floors then prepare food in the kitchen
  • 8am: The meal (and only meal throughout the day)

Then, most of the day was reserved for meditation and personal practice. No tech, no music, no exercise. The idea was to allow us to be solely and completely with ourselves.

I had so much time to meditate and think. I believe that gratitude for the beautiful place, for the time, for the disciplined practice, presence of my beautiful friend Michelle, and the quietude kept me going through my time there. After a while, it was liberating to completely disconnect with the world and attempt to connect with my true nature.

Michelle and Maejoy at Wat Pah Nanachat (Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, 2019)

Since then, I’ve developed a habit of pulling out my journal each morning to write down 3-5 things that I’m grateful for. Of course, I miss some days (or even weeks) but the most important part is that I always come back to this practice. This can be helpful on emotionally down days, however, it’s even more important on happier days. Why? Because building these habits across all moments will help us when it’s especially difficult to think of things to be grateful for.

This has trickled into other aspects of my life. For example, I am more appreciative of my loved ones, I am thankful at work which can at times be difficult, and it helped me to beautifully dance through my experience of grief and loss.

I plan to write more on gratitude in the next few weeks:

  1. The science of gratitude
  2. Gratitude through difficult times
  3. How can I start my gratitude practice today?

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. Here are some links to relevant things:

  • Learn more about the importance of respecting spiritual and cultural identities (Australian context): Emerging Minds
  • Spirituality is commonly misunderstood. Read more here: ReachOut fact sheet
  • Wat Pah Nanachat: Website
  • Tara Brach on gratitude: Website

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