LET’S TALK … About gratitude

Obon festivals in Japanese American communities across the country signal the heart of summer and the gathering of families and friends for Bon Odori, festive lanterns, taiko drums, and our favorite local food booths. In the Buddhist tradition, Obon is a time that marks the return of deceased ancestors to Earth with special consideration of loved ones who passed away in the past year.

Through these festivals and ceremony, we are given the opportunity to express gratitude for those who have gone before us.

Obon is a reminder of the amazing power of “gratitude,” something we can experience at any moment in time, actually. It’s a particular kind of experience that brings thoughts, sensations, and emotions together leading to a positive state of being. As a therapist I have seen people literally transformed by the practice of gratitude. It’s not necessarily a cure-all, but without doubt it is the basis of good mental health. For every loss, for every tragedy suffered, grief woven with moments of gratitude can bring healing and resolution from the pain.

So how do we find this good medicine of gratitude? All humans and many animals have great capacity for gratitude, but it’s easy to let the words of gratitude be confused with the experience of gratitude. The good medicine takes a little more effort. It must start with a sincere desire to experience the experience of gratitude. The healing power of gratitude comes from a place deeper than words, a place sometimes difficult to find inside ourselves.

I’ve often asked clients to make a 50-item gratitude list. Then I ask them to distill the list to five. It requires the person to get closer to the heart of their gratitude. Then we distill it down to three. By this time, more than simple intellectual thoughts about “being grateful” shift to body sensations of deeper breaths, quiet voice, and calm. Once the thoughts have invited these sensations into the body, it’s not unusual for deep emotions to rise up from some untapped well. Tears may surface. Smiles and laughter could erupt. Experiencing true gratitude in this way releases endorphins into your nervous system, stimulating feelings of well-being.

The meaning of Obon may be different for each of us, but if we imagine lighting the candles for paper lanterns to guide the spirits or memories of loved ones home, take a moment, breathe deeply and let your gratitude for the gifts you’ve received, bring you peace.

Seven times down, Eight times up!

Satsuki Ina, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in intergenerational trauma. She can be reached at satsukina44@gmail.com. She is also a filmmaker (“Children of the Camps” — www.children-of-the-camps.org and “From a Silk Cocoon: A Japanese American Renunciation Story” — www.fromasilkcocoon.com). Views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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