“Every morning we have twenty-four brand new hours to live. What a precious gift!” -Thich Nhat Hahn
What would it be like to awaken each morning in gratitude, aware of the precious gift that the new day has to offer us?
I am particularly aware of the potency of this quote by the beloved Vietnamese Zen master and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn, as he himself is facing the threshold between life and death. As he is in the hospital in France, I feel deep gratitude welling up for his life, for all of the teachings he has brought to millions around the world, for his humility and modeling of what it really means to walk in gratitude and mindfulness each and every moment. I am grateful for my friend Tobias who first introduced Thich Nhat Hahn to me in college, and for the awareness I’ve held since that day to “wash the dishes” when I am washing the dishes – for otherwise, how can I really be present for anything else in my life? I am grateful for my friend Melina who served as a nun at Plum Village, and who helped me remember when, as a new mom of two I was feeling angst about not being able to sit in the morning without a toddler climbing on top of me, that practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to mean having a 30 minute sit every morning – it can be as simple as taking a breath with each “mindfulness bell” throughout the day -the cry of the baby, the ring of the phone, the change of the diaper, the traffic light. It’s all an opportunity to practice.
Breathing in, I am grateful. Breathing out – I am grateful.
I am also reminded at this time of the precious opportunity I had to walk with Thay (as his devotees call him), just over a year ago in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in which thousands of us wound slowly through the redwoods, following his careful footsteps. Peace emanating throughout the forest with every step.
Thich Nhat Hahn invites us to “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” I brought this teaching into the hike we took at the Gratitude Retreat I led last year at this time, at Avalon Hot Springs, in the Mayacama Mountains. Fifteen of us practiced walking in Thay’s tradition – letting our feet kiss the earth. With each step we said “Thank you.” Right foot, “Thank.” Left foot, “You.” Right foot, “Thank.” Left foot, “You.” Over and over.
As I walked, I felt my relationship with the earth deepening with each step. I felt the truth of my words amplifying each time I spoke them. With each mindful step, my love for the land underneath my toes grew – the words felt truer and truer. Yes. THANK YOU. Thank you earth. Thank you for holding me up every day. Thank you for all that you do. I love you. Thank you.
In my experience, this is the magic, alchemical power of gratitude. By giving voice to, and being in the practice of noticing what we are grateful for, our gratitude and feelings of joy and appreciation grow. In other words, “What you appreciate appreciates.” Or as illuminated by Thay, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” We can CHOOSE to create more joy, love and happiness in our lives simply by choosing to notice what it is that we are grateful for around us.
So here’s an invitation, to consider remembering Thay’s words each morning – to awaken in gratitude, aware of the precious gift of having 24 new hours to live.
It’s an invitation to consider, how would our lives be different if, rather than rolling over to turn off the alarm and immediately getting pulled into iPhonelandia (as I so often do), we instead always began with thanks? What would it be like o start the day with gratitude for my children that have run in to wake me up (sometimes earlier than I might like!), for my beloved who is laying beside me in bed (or often already up making me coffee =)), for the sun, for the rain, for our bodies, for the shelter over our heads, for food in the refrigerator, for all of the sacred work that is awaiting me in the day, for a whole new day to be alive and in practice, in which I get to experience the precious gift of life. Indeed, what a gift.
And it’s a way to honor the life of this beloved teacher, as he is on the threshold. May we all live our lives in such a state of humble grace and gratitude.