Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Having centered ourselves, and taken the time to enter this time of prayer we now arrive at the first of the four medium-sized beads and the first of the four primary types of prayer: Naming.

In Simply Pray I described this as a combination of the types of prayers generally called Invocation, Praise, and Thanksgiving -- saying that this bead was for naming the sacred and holy in whatever way(s) made most sense to you. Since then, however, I have come to focus nearly exclusively on the practice of thanksgiving.

With this bead I engage a prayer of gratitude. Sometimes I make an explicit list of every single thing I can think of for which I am grateful at that moment. I'll often begin with my wife and kids, and then move on to my extended family, and then my friends, my job, various experiences I've had, etc., taking each one in turn, calling it to mind as vividly as possible and trying to feel my true gratitude for it.

Here's something I've learned since I wrote about this practice back in 2004, it can be hard to remain grateful. When thinking about my wife or my kids, for instance, I may begin to think about something that they've said or done recently about which I am particularly not grateful right now. Or when thinking about my job, there may be something going on that's causing me anxiety. I've come to appreciate that a part of the discipline of this practice is that while I'm here at this Naming bead my focus is to remain on the things for which I am grateful. If my mind starts to wander, I am to return it to the "attitude of gratitude" which is the tone of this bead. Sometimes, then, I'll even include in my list people or things about which I am not feeling especially grateful for at the moment but for which I know I am grateful -- this prayer can help me reconnect to this deeper reality.

Sometimes I don't have a "list." In much the same way the Course in Miracles material includes several exercises in which you let your attention simply land wherever it lands with no attachment or judgement, sometimes I use this bead as a way to cultivate a more grateful heart. While fingering the bead I simply allow my eyes to wander and to land on whatever they land on -- the sky, a tree, the person next to me, the ground, my own hand, the chair -- and wherever my attention lands I say to myself "I am grateful for . . ." Or I'll do the same thing with my thoughts and feelings, allowing whatever thoughts come to rise up on their own and be greeted only by a non-attached "I am grateful for . . ." (It's important not to get caught up in then thinking about these things -- just notice the thought or feeling, say "thank you" for it, and then let it go.)

You can also, if you prefer, just use this bead as a time to "feel grateful" with no object to which you direct your gratitude. Can you remember a time when you felt particularly thankful? Get back in touch with that feeling. Recall it as fully and completely as you can. This is actually an ancient prayer practice, recollecting one's spiritual experience as a form of spiritual experience, so recreating in your imagination -- or your memory -- a feeling of gratitude that you once had is a way of getting in touch with your gratitude now.

The Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh has said that we are all like television sets with hundreds of channels. When we're feeling sad to say, "I am sad," is like a TV set saying, "I am channel 5." The truth is that the sad channel is simply what's on at the moment, but all of the other channels are also there -- including the gratitude channel. This bead, this prayer, is a way of setting the gratitude channel as a favorite, preset channel on your remote so that you can return to it more easily when you want to or need to throughout your day.

And I always say how grateful I am for this prayer bead practice.

In Gassho,

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