by Jonathan Robinson: In the New Testament (Colossians 3:12), Paul instructs people that “… whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all…giving thanks to God the Father…”
Hidden in these words is a truly remarkable way to feel closer to God during one’s daily activities. To make use of this method, it is not necessary that you be a Christian, although it is helpful to have some belief or relationship with God. In my book The Experience of God, I asked each of the forty well-known spiritual leaders I interviewed about their favorite method of feeling closer to their Creator. While the range of responses was surprising, the answer I heard more than any other was that of focusing on feeling grateful to God throughout the day. As Ram Dass put it, “Gratitude opens your heart, and opening your heart is a wonderful and easy way for God to slip in.”
In Western culture, we often think of prayer as asking God for something. Yet, in many spiritual traditions, prayer is primarily considered a way of thanking God for the blessings in one’s life. Many years ago, I received an important lesson about “thankfulness prayer” from a Native American medicine man named Bear. As a condition of being interviewed about his life, Bear requested we meet at a location sacred to his tribe. Once there, he suggested that both of us begin by offering up a prayer to the Great Spirit. My simple prayer was that our time together be well spent, and that it would serve our becoming closer to God. Bear began his prayer in his native tongue, as I listened patiently. After ten minutes of listening to the sounds of his tribal language, I began getting impatient. After thirty minutes of listening to his prayer, I was secretly irritated. While I grew restless, Bear looked like he was soaring as high as the eagles that flew overhead. Finally, after fifty minutes, Bear finished speaking his words of prayer.
Trying to hide my sense of irritation, I began my interview by asking Bear, “What did you pray for?” Bear’s calm reply was, “In my tribe, we don’t pray for anything. We give thanks for all that the Great Spirit has given us. In my prayers, I simply thanked Spirit for everything I can see around me. I gave thanks to each and every tree I can see from here, each rock, each squirrel, the sun, the clouds, my legs, my arms, each bird that flew by, each breath I took, until I was finally in full alignment with the Great Spirit.” It was clear to me that this man really knew how to pray.
From Bear’s inspiration and the wisdom of many others I’ve interviewed, I began trying this new method of prayer. To make this form of prayer practical in my daily life, I began by simply saying, “Thank you God for (whatever is in my awareness).” Sometimes I would “prime the pump” by first thanking God for things that are easy for me to feel grateful for. For example, I might say, “Thank you for my health. Thank you for such a beautiful day. Thank you for Helena (my partner).” Then, once I truly felt a sense of gratitude in my heart, I would use “thank you” as a “mantra” for whatever I was currently aware of. For instance, if I was driving somewhere I might say, “Thank you for my car, thank you for my tape player, thank you for this beautiful music, thank you for this nicely paved road, thank you for the man that just cut me off, thank you for the anger that he stirred up in me, thank you for the opportunity to practice forgiveness.”
The secret of this technique is to see all things as gifts given to us by God to enjoy or learn from. Normally, we take virtually everything for granted, and rarely stop to appreciate the wonderful things we are given. It can be eye opening to realize that even middle class folks of today live better than Kings lived just 100 years ago. Yet, without the “thank you technique,” all the amenities of modern day life can go unappreciated. Once you have used this method for awhile, you can even use it to begin to value things that are unpleasant. In the example above, getting cut off by an aggressive driver was not my idea of a good time. Yet, if I’m doing my “thank you” mantra, I’m more likely to see how such an event can serve me. From a higher state of mind, I can see that this driver is helping me learn patience, compassion, and forgiveness—three things I’m not very good at. Fortunately, there are many drivers and people who are willing to help me learn this lesson! Thank you God for all that help.
Like any mantra or phrase that a person repeats, repeatedly saying “thank you” can build up a momentum of its own as you use it throughout the day. However, it’s important that it not become a mechanical mental exercise. With each thank you that is thought, it’s essential to feel a sense of appreciation in your heart for the gift you’ve been given. Besides helping a person tune into an ecstatic feeling of gratitude, this method can also help a person become more aware and present in the eternal now. Normally, we spend a lot of our time needlessly worrying about abstract problems. By giving thanks for what’s right in front of us, our worries can disappear and be replaced with an expanded awareness of what is currently occurring.
Once you’ve used the thank you method for awhile, it’s possible to experience an “advanced” form of this technique. Instead of thinking the words “thank you for…,” you can simply notice whatever you’re experiencing in the moment and silently feel your gratitude to God for this being in your life. To do this, it helps to be very focussed in the present moment, and feel connected to your Source. Even just after a couple minutes of feeling the gratitude for each step you take and each breath you breathe, you may feel an inner ecstasy welling up from within. That feeling is God telling you that your prayer has been both received and answered.
Jonathan has written several bestseller books including, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Awakening Your Spirituality;” “The Experience of God,” “The Little Book of Big Questions;” and “Communication Miracles for Couples.” His latest book is called, “More Love, Less Conflict.” Jonathan also co-hosts the podcast “Awareness Explorers” with author Brian Tom O’Connor. This podcast focuses on revealing the easiest and most powerful practices for directly awakening to one’s true nature.
Through TV, live lectures and radio, Mr. Robinson has reached over 100 million people around the world. He is known for providing his audiences with immediately useful information presented in a fun and entertaining manner.