We are in the season of gratitude and giving. We just celebrated Thanksgiving, which has gratitude (or “thanks”) and giving built into its name. These two terms and the ideas behind them are intricately connected to the holiday season, and they’re also entwined with each other.
Gratitude can’t exist in a vacuum. The only way you can express gratitude is by giving it to someone else. We often habitually say “Thank you” for small kindnesses and courtesies, and these are wonderfully affirming moments. It may be as simple as someone holding a door open for you, or letting you go ahead of them in line at a store. However, I encourage you to dig a little deeper. Is your “Thank you” automatic and perfunctory? You’re not alone. We’re trained to say this from an early age.
What happens when you slow down your response and give careful consideration to the act of kindness that someone has extended to you? Take the time to really see the other person, look them in the eyes, and once you’ve made contact, then express your gratitude. I guarantee that your interaction will have more weight and be more memorable for both of you.
Remember, too, that the only way to receive gratitude is to give of yourself. If you don’t give, no one can give back to you. Giving doesn’t necessarily have to mean giving something of tangible value. A kind word costs you nothing but can elevate someone else’s otherwise shitty day. When you see gratitude on someone’s face, how does that resonate with you? It lifts you up, as well. Win-win.
In yoga classes, we end our practice by looking at each other, bringing our palms together in front of our hearts, and saying “Namaste”. It’s an acknowledgement of not only the work we’ve done together, but also the time and energy we’ve put into being together, into being present. And think about that image of the palms coming together. It’s a physical expression of gratitude.
Extend your hands forward, palms facing upward. It’s another common gesture, an offering, an extension of oneself to another person, a symbol of giving. And while the open palm is often interpreted as receiving, when you give something to someone else, you have to hold it in your hand and extend it toward them. They’re free to choose to receive it or not, but your offering it is an expression of giving.
Now bring your hands together, palm to palm, in front of your heart. Those hands that a moment ago were giving to someone else are now joined in a symbol of gratitude. Two images, two sides of the same coin.
Gratitude and giving, inextricably linked together.
And what a privilege it is to experience gratitude. You’ve been enriched by someone else paying attention to you, seeing you, honoring you. You, in turn, give back to them by seeing them, acknowledging their kindness and attention, expressing gratitude to them.
In the days to come, as we experience the various holidays and seasonal celebrations, try to remain present so that you can accept what someone else gives you AND express your gratitude. When you give something to someone else, offer it without expectation of reciprocation. Notice how they react, how they give thanks to you.
Gratitude is an exchange, but you have to be able to receive in order to give. And vice versa.
Lindel Hart teaches yoga online for PerfectFit Wellness. He lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches at Deerfield Academy, a private residential high school, as well as at Community Yoga and Wellness in Greenfield, MA. Visit his website, Hart Yoga.