by Lee (Upma Kaur) Harrington
Recently, a group of kirtan/yogi friends and I were sharing a lively discussion about the concept of English-language mantras. The heart of our discussion centered around the question of: does the English language–or will it ever–carry the same kind of vibration as the more ancient and arguable more sacred languages of Sanskrit, Gurmukh or Tibetan? Well, I’m not here to answer that question or even explore it. (We can save that for another day.) What I want to share today–on this day of Thanksgiving–is that my kirtan/yogi friends and I all agreed that the most powerful mantra one can utter in the English language is: “Thank you.”
Thank you. We are so fortunate to live in a time in which teachings on gratitude are basically part of the daily lexicon. A quick search on Amazon reveals hundreds of books on gratitude. Websites such as Gratefulness.org will deliver daily gratitude quotes to our inboxes; Spirit Voyage itself recently offered 40-Day “Heart of Gratitude” Global Sadhana with Mirabai Ceiba.
And of course we had Snatam Kaur’s popular “Gratitude Monday” series back in 2011.
So we should be grateful for all this gratitude swirling around in the cosmos. Just the other day I received a stunning quote from Regina Sara Ryan, author of Praying Dangerously: Radical Reliance on God (Hohn Press: 2011):
“Gratitude is so close to the bone of life, pure and true, that it instantly stops the rational mind, and all its planning and plotting.”
I love this statement because–to paraphrase the author–it really cuts to the bone. Nothing stops the negative mind so well–and so irrefutably–as gratitude. This time of year my negative mind seems to become particular active. Part of the reason is the weather; part of the reason is the waning sunlight; and part of it is–I must confess–the holiday season itself, and the fact that another year is coming to an end. I guess I dislike endings. A lot. So at this time of year, my negative mind suddenly seems to feel that it has a lot of “legitimate” things to complain about. I have even give this aspect of myself a name–I call her Hulga. (A semi-affectionate, semi-sarcastic name inspired by a character in a Flannery O’Connor story). Sometimes I can feel Hulga churning all day long, just waiting for me to grow tired or unaware or unconscious. The second my mind strays, I can almost sense her taking a deep breath, puffing out her chest, and preparing to go on long tirade of complaints.
And what stops it? (Besides the mantras and meditations listed below?) Gratitude. Saying “Thank you.” If I find myself caught in a spiral of negative-thinking, all I have to do is, for example, pour myself a glass a water and say, out loud: “I am so grateful to have fresh drinking water available to me at all times a day. I am so grateful for water, period. For this beautiful, clean, pure, source of life. Thank you, water. Thank you.” The negative mind has absolutely no response to that one. None. Nyet. If, later in the day, my consciousness slips again and Hulga finds an opportunity to sneak in a few complaints, I simply take another sip of water. And say, “Thank You.” And recite another gratitude quote.
The Magic of a Simple Quote
I actually view inspirational quotes as mantras in and of themselves. Again, it’s a way to re-align the rational mind and stop the negative mind in its tracks. Quotes, to me, are like koans without the work. Visit my house, and you’ll find framed, printed or hand-written quotes in virtually every room. There’s a quote from Rumi on a magnet on my refrigerator; there’s a statement from Machig Labdron–a great female Bodhisattva–hanging on my bathroom wall. But most of my favorite quotes come from the quote-master himself, Yogi Bhajan. Here are some of the my favorite Yogi Bhajan quotes on gratitude:
“The attitude of gratitude is the highest way of living, and is the biggest truth, the highest truth. If you are grateful for what you have, then Mother Nature will give you more…. If you do not acknowledge what you have, in gratitude, you will never have more….So be in gratitude. Make an attitude to be in gratitude, you will find the whole Universe will come to you.”
Or this quote:
“What is a prayer? Why don’t we praise in gratitude? Gratitude is a prayer and praise put together, because God is in all. We must pray and praise all the time and then you can see God in all, otherwise you cannot see God at all. You do prayer when you are in difficulty. Pray when you are not in difficulty! That is the attitude of gratitude.”
You will find some of these quotations–and many more–on the annual Yogi Bhajan daily inspirational calendar. (Which is, in my opinion, one of the best holiday presents you can give yourself. Or others). I guarantee that reading just one of these quotes per day will help silence all those Hulgas lurking at the back of your mind.
What else can we do to cultivate gratitude and increase our ability to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving year ’round?
Meditation for Guru Prasad
This is a very simple meditation that cultivates gratitude. Known also as the “Gift of God” meditation, it helps one tap into the flow of giving and receiving. Thus, this meditation is excellent for those of us who have trouble receiving. It helps us to remember that everything is a gift from the divine.
Posture: Sit in easy pose a straight spine. Cup the hands together with the palms facing up, and hold this mudra at the center of the heart. Your upper arms and elbows should be pressed comfortably against your ribcage (thus stimulating meridian points that will lead to relaxation).
Gaze: Begin with the eyes one-tenths open, but allow them to close during the meditation.
Breath: Breathe naturally, but with intention. Allow yourself to experience the abundant flow of the universe. Imagine yourself being showered with limitless blessings. Believe in the power of gratitude and begin to feel the palpable energy that is contained within your hands. There, in your hands–and in your breath and in your spirit–lies the divine universal power of giving and receiving.
Time: 3 – 11 minutes. Do this meditation whenever you sense that your negative mind is becoming ungrateful.
Sometimes I like to listen to gratitude-enhancing mantras as I practice this meditation.
The mantra “Ardas Bhaee” brings about a vibration in which all our prayers can be answered.
This version by Singh Kaur is heavenly.
Another of my favorite versions of this mantra is by Snatam Kaur with GuruGanesha Singh on Liberation’s Door.
The mantra Ang Sang Wahe Guru helps the individual consciousness merge with universal consciousness. Thus, it serves as a wonderful antidote to thoughts of ingratitude and poverty mentality.
Here are beautiful versions by Sat Kartar and Mirabai Ceiba:
And finally, we come back to our English mantra: Thank you.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving Day than to listen to this rousing version of “I Love You/I Thank You” by Aykanna.