Cultivating Connection: Growing Gratitude & Generosity

Welcome to the seventh week of the Engaged Mindfulness Meditation talk series. This week begins the two week focus on the theme of cultivating connection with this talk and two meditations exploring the practices of gratitude and generosity.

The previous six weeks has been a journey of building and strengthening both our mindfulness practice and our compassionate hearts. I called this meditation group Engaged Mindfulness because as we engage with our inner lives, we then engage the world with more understanding, empathy, kindness, love, and courage to act on behalf of the well-being and humanity of others.

We are social beings with a deep need to belong and connect. We impact each other whether we are aware of it or not. Moreover, growing our awareness of our interconnectedness supports our well-being.

Mindfulness practice aims to bring that which is is out of our field of awareness (but still affecting our thoughts, feelings and behavior) into awareness. You may recall from session 2 my reference to the circle with the line through it. As we bring more into our field of awareness we gain more agency or choice in how we relate and respond to our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and our environment, including the social context in which we live.

The following meditations explore our interconnectedness, how we influence and are influenced by others, supporting a moving from a me to a we. The first meditation focuses on remembering our goodness by reflecting on our gifts we offer the world. The second meditation explores growing gratitude and generosity.

Tara Brach describes how gratitude and generosity reveal our interconnectedness – “Gratitude is like breathing in – letting ourselves be touched by the goodness in others and in our world. Generosity is like breathing out – sensing our mutual belonging and offering our care.”

Opening Meditation – Reflecting On Our Gifts

This meditation begins with a guided body scan, a settling of the mind and body, and a guided reflection on something you have done or said recently that was kind, generous or caring. You also are invited to to turn your attention to a quality you like about yourself, an ability or strength within yourself. You are invited to explore what arises within your body as you reflect on these invitations. The meditation ends with the following quote and dedication.

“To feel gratitude we have to be attuned to the good in our lives, and this gives rise to joy, which is pure and simple delight.” ~ Dr. Robert Emmons, gratitude scientist

Dedication: May all beings delight in the goodness of their lives. May all beings experience joy. May all beings know they matter and belong.

Talk

Over the past few years, I have dug deeper into both the practice and the science of gratitude. I have learned from Dr. Robert Emmons that there are two stages of processing gratitude: affirmation and recognition.

First, we affirm the good or “gift” offered and recognize that it came from outside of ourselves. We become the receiver of this “gift” freely given to us, not owed to us. When we feel grateful or thankful, we are acknowledging that we have received something of value from another and we appreciate the intention of the giver, even if it is small like holding the door open.

When the Covid-19 lockdown began my fourth grade son’s teacher asked her students to write a daily gratitude. I decided to participate in this as I wanted to model this exercise along with benefiting from it. I have recorded a daily gratitude for weeks at a time before and was amazed by the outcome. So my son and I each recorded a gratitude on a sticky note and posted them to my office door every day through June. I have saved them all. To the right is a picture taken in early April.

One of my son’s posts “I am grateful for my mom for cleaning my room.” This follows Dr. Emmons stages with the cleaning of room being freely given and not owed to him:) One that I wrote was, “I am grateful for the generosity and kindness of my friend, Bibi. She wrote me a beautiful card and brought me flowers.”

My friend’s generosity filled me with such joy when life seemed so dire as the pandemic surged in our area of New York. My appreciation for her deep kindness and thoughtfulness led me to offer my help to her Tulip Happiness Project. This project provided a bouquet of fresh tulips and a supportive note to many healthcare workers in our area. I lent my truck and time to help her pick up the tulips. We each put on a mask and gloves and drove 3 hours round trip. This was how I could pay forward her generosity to me.

Dr. Emmons explains that “gratitude is not simply a strategy or tactic for feeling better or for increasing happiness. It does something much more than that. Gratitude enables a person to feel good and also do good.” Gratitude inspires generosity. Generosity inspires gratitude.

As we practice both gratitude and generosity, we experience joy, happiness, awe, resilience to stress, etc.. There are many mental and physical health benefits to these practices (click here for a brief article on such benefits). Gratitude and generosity are also antidotes to greed and discontentment, pushing back on our transactional culture. They are also antidotes to loneliness, feelings of unworthiness or not “enoughness,” to shame, to feeling insignificant, etc.. One of the most beautiful benefits, in my opinion, of these practices or habits, is that they fill the cracks in our relationships, uplifting our interconnectedness.

“Giving connects two people, the giver and the receiver,” shares Deepak Chopra, “and this connection gives birth to a new sense of belonging.” This new sense of belonging comes out of us moving from me (as a separate self) to we (as interconnected beings).

Growing Gratitude & Generosity Meditation

Informal Practice

“Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources.”
~ Dr. Robert Emmons.

  • Gratitude Sticky Notes or Journal: Pause for a moment each day and identify someone for whom you are grateful and write down that person’s action, how they supported you. Here’s a brief article with very short videos of Dr. Emmons taking about gratitude.  
  • Pause throughout the day recognizing the simple everyday/ordinary joys, and let this fill you with warmth and appreciation.

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