I recently attended a Spiritual Leaders retreat at Kirpalu Center nestled in the mountains of Western Massachusetts. This three day gathering was designed for folks in a variety forms of spiritual leadership- pastors, rabbis, religion professors, hospital chaplains. We gathered from across the United States to ask deep questions about mental, spiritual, and physical health.
Now I have an uncle who would describe Kirpalu as “wuwu.” Kirpalu was in it’s first existence as a retreat center for Catholic brothers, but in the 70’s, when the brothers sold the land, it was bought by Swami Kirpalu who came to bring a new wave of thinking during a time when American minds were being opened to Eastern wisdom. The ashram he created had a beautiful life, but eventually it was unsustainable. Kirpalu, as it is known today, was born as a place of thought, movement, and reflection. Speakers come from all over the world to lecture at Kirpalu. There is a specific type of yoga practice Swarmi Kirpalu developed that is still taught, and the space is created for the soul to take a breath.
If I am honest, I went because a dear friend from divinity school asked if I was interested, and she mentioned there would be yoga. There are few things I love more than getting to be with people I love- in a beautiful place- having meaningful conversations. So I boarded a plane to Logan Airport where she met me- as all good friend do- with a hug and a burrito.
As our sessions began there were times I could hear my uncles voice and feel his reflective eye roll. The “healing arts,” he would say about the massage, facials, and reiki being offered, “it’s a glorified spa!” Or when during a session one of our instructors talked about how for 30 days she lifted up gratitude for the material objects that make up her life. “As I would hear the hum of our dishwasher I would lift up a prayer of gratitude. As I turned on the shower and felt the hot water I would give thanks for our water heater.” She went on naming some of the objects for which she was grateful. She also talked about how over the month she began to give the objects names because in her gratitude she felt a relationship or at least her own dependency on these objects.
While initially I smiled at the silliness of this exercise these days I find myself practicing this wisdom and not finding it “wu-wu” at all. Today, when the sun came out from behind the clouds I lifted up a prayer of gratitude and noticed the ways my heart-state is tied to its rays. As I laid some mulch on our flower beds I gave thanks for the trees that made the mulch. I gave thanks for the spring flowers beginning to show their little green heads after the long cold. I gave thanks for my body that allowed me to be outside and move. In our lectionary reading today from Philippians we hear Paul utilizing this practice- this attitude of gratitude.
I thank God every time I remember you- Philipians 1:3
Maybe you aren’t ready to be naming your dishwasher or water heater quite yet (though as this shelter in places progresses you might be whistling a different tune). But in whatever ways you are comfortable (and maybe in some ways that aren’t) I challenge you to have gratitude be a prayer freely flowing from your lips and notice in what ways that might transform your heart- like it is transforming mine. A practice our teacher gave us was this gratitude flower. She invited us for a day, a week, a month to print one off (or draw your own) and fill its petals out with all that you are grateful. Maybe this is what I need for the next thirty day, and who knows from this what will bloom.