A Gratitude Meditation

Gratitude is surprisingly good for you. Robert Emmons, who's a professor of psychology, has identified a wide range of physical and psychological benefits including:

  • a stronger immune system;
  • better sleep;
  • more optimism and happiness;
  • feeling less lonely and isolated.

Keeping a gratitude journal is often recommended for depression and is worth doing for anyone, but this short meditation offers a more embodied approach. While most meditations are done sitting with closed eyes, this one is more in the style of walking meditation or mindful yoga; you have your eyes open and you're moving. The basic principle of meditation remains: You're focusing all your attention on one thing for a period of time.

In this movement meditation we consider the different aspects of our lives in terms of the four symbolic Elements: Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Air is all about communication and ideas. Inspiration commonly means having a creative idea, but it literally means taking air into your lungs. Fire is pure energy and a fiery person can be thought of as full of drive, courageous and passionate. Water relates to love, compassion, beauty and flowing with what is. Earth represents concrete reality, the physical world, material possessions and your body. Don't worry about what's represented by which Element; just go with what feels right for you. The meditation is quite flexible: I describe practising it indoors, but it works equally well in out in nature.

Before you start, stand in the centre of your room and decide which direction best represents Air for you. Is there window in one wall, your computer or maybe a bookcase? If those things are in different directions, try to sense which of them best symbolizes Air for you. Air is our starting Element. A quarter turn to the right will be the direction of Fire, another quarter turn will bring us to face Water and then another turn brings us to Earth. I describe the meditation with Air, Fire and Water and Earth in that order, turning to whichever Element comes next around your room at each change.

embodied balance

You can read the full text of the Gratitude Meditation below or listen to this 10 minute recording.

I hope you enjoy this meditation. If you have any questions or comments, do get in touch.

Full text of the Gratitude Meditation

Stand in the center of your room facing in any direction and take a long slow breath. Feel your feet on the floor and take a moment to sense into your body. Turn clockwise on the spot, looking slowly round the room and notice anything that you're grateful for. Bring your whole home to mind. What do you love about it? Feel grateful for that. Now think about the area you live in. Are there neighbors that you appreciate? What friends or family live close by? Perhaps there's a wider local community that nourishes you. Are there local shops that you like? Bring to mind any nearby natural spaces that you love and recall any local sport or culture that you enjoy. Take a moment to enjoy any good feelings that come to you and feel grateful for these gifts.

When you're ready, turn to the direction you've chosen to symbolize Air. (If you started facing Air, do a 360 degree turn). Take a deep breath and feel the air fill your lungs. Imagine feeling a gentle breeze on your skin or listening to leaves rustling in the trees. Bring to mind anything related to Air that you appreciate; new ideas, books, music, your computer, good conversation, clear communication. Consider your creative talents and skills. We all have them! How does that feel in your body? Take a moment to give thanks. You can make a short bow or bring your hands to your heart for a moment if that feels right.

Now turn to the direction that symbolizes Fire and imagine the sun on your skin or a glowing warm fire. Now bring to mind whatever you're grateful for that's associated with Fire. It can be something literal like having hot water or as symbolic as passion for your football team! Fire is moving and active and can be expressed in anything from a gentle walk to running a marathon. What excites you? What are you passionate about? Just as before, feel gratitude in your body and give thanks.

When you feel ready, turn to the direction of Water. Bring to mind any people or pets whose love you're grateful for. Whose smiling face gives you pleasure? Your body is nearly 70% water: Sense the blood flowing through your veins, feel your heart beating, pumping life round your body. Feel the power of Water in your life; beauty, love, compassion, sensitivity. Bring something beautiful to mind. Feel gratitude for the gifts that Water represents for you. Express your gratitude in whatever way feel right for you.

Next turn to the Earth direction. Sense the weight of your body and feel your feet firm on the ground. Become aware of how Earth sustains you. Your body, food, and the physical space of your home are all Earth. How does Earth nourish you? What do you own that you are grateful for? A favourite ornament or piece of clothing perhaps. Give thanks for how Earth sustains you and provides material blessings.

Turn to face the Air direction again to end the meditation. You take a moment to connect with the wider universe, becoming aware of your place on this planet. First, all that's above you: Take a deep breath in, raise your arms above your head and sense the vastness of star filled space. As you slowly breath out, bring your hands down to touch the ground and become aware of your connection with the planet that support us all. Slowly breath in and sense into your whole body, giving thanks for all that you are, as you raise your hands to touch your forehead.

Finally, cup your hands just below your navel (the hara) and honour Spirit, the unifying force behind everything. You might understand that as God, the Tao or simply as the energy of the Big Bang. Say a big generous 'Thank-you' with your whole heart and perhaps give a gentle bow.

My description may sound a little complicated, but the whole meditation usually takes no more than about 5 minutes and can feel wonderful! Try it a couple of times as I've set it out above and then feel free to adapt it to suit your own style: Treat it like dance, not a formula. Ideally, do this meditation every morning. Once you have the gist, it's quick, easy and fun. There are many ways to deepen your practise, but for now just play with the core meditation set out here.

This meditation can help remind you that you are one with all that is. Words cannot teach you this reality. It can only be experienced.