The Greek philosopher Epictetus (AD 55 – AD 135) said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has”. And Gilbert Chesterton (1874-1936), an English writer and poet, similarly stated, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder”.
I often begin kirtan sessions by pausing to feel grateful. I invoke feelings of gratitude by reflecting upon my spiritual guides and mentors who have inspired me on my spiritual journey, and nurtured me in my spiritual practice. I feel myself blessed and thankful for their much love. This helps me to become present, to derive the full benefits of kirtan; it sets my intention. Thus, it enhances my kirtan experience in a powerful way. It is also my way of maintaining the ancient kirtan tradition of beginning a kirtan session with prayers to spiritual teachers and mentors – taking blessings, and invoking divine presence in a sacred space.
I also try to lead my audience (fellow kirtan participants) in experiencing gratitude when I lead public kirtan sessions. I ask participants to reflect and consider: “Who are the special people (mentors, friends, teachers, parents, God) who have been instrumental in inspiring you on your spiritual path? How have these people helped bring you to this moment?” This reflection on kindness and inspiration instantly awakens within the audience the “great-attitude” of a “maha-atma”.
In leading my audience through this simple gratitude practice, I am consciously guiding them through a two-stage process of acknowledgement and recognition. Acknowledgement involves willing acceptance of the goodness in the gifts bestowed by other’s efforts. Recognition involves understanding that other people, nature, or God, are the source of received goodness. Thus, I lead my audience engaging both their heads and their hearts. Their heads are engaged in thoughtful acknowledgement of a specific benefit and thoughtfully recognising their outer sources of those benefits. Their hearts are engaged in expressing feelings of appreciation towards bestower of those benefits. This coming together of head and heart completes the expression of gratitude.
The outcomes of an attitude of gratitude according to positive psychology research include happiness, wellbeing, optimism, vitality, hope, kindness, empathy, and spirituality. Add that to the most profound blissful and heart awakening experience of kirtan – and nothing can be better!