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"Heartfelt Gratitude" Retreat
by Rachel Harris, Ph.D.

Heartfelt Thanks

Children move easily from feelings of gratefulness to love, to celebration with great enthusiasm.  At the moment we see a child's heart overflowing with these feelings, we can receive a spiritual lesson in gratefulness.

If you were lucky enough to have a wonderful teacher in your early school grades, first through third, I'm sure you can remember something from her classroom--her name, the desks, the new boxes of crayons, the decorations, her smile.  Can you also remember how you and all the other kids adored her, and how you were so grateful to have a year with her?

Ms. Bidler was just such a beloved first grade teacher.  She taught for twenty-five years and was retiring at the end of the school year, so her class had to say good-bye to her not only for the summer but forever.  As part of their good-bye ritual, the children made thank-you cards, not on the computer but small works of art, printed by hand.

The drawings on these cards were a child's version of the "Heartfelt Gratitude" retreat in which you do an emotional drawing of what being grateful feels like in your heart.  The kids did this spontaneously; they didn't need the structure of retreats as we grown-ups do.  As my client, Ms. Bidler brought the children's cards into my office to share them with me during psychotherapy session.  It was exciting to see the love expressed so directly and to see how deeply Ms. Bidler was touched by them.  The children's cards were all quite different, yet they shared an intensity and openness of expression.  They were pure in their expression of loving gratitude.

This is the quality of the the emotional drawings called for in the "Heartfelt Gratitude retreat.  This pure expression of gratefulness, even when it's a bittersweet situation like saying good-bye, is incredibly healing.  Heartfelt gratitude means you feel it in your heart, you literally feel the flow of positive energy radiating out from your chest.  Oh, if only we adults could open up to these feelings as freely and easily as the children in that classroom!  By practicing this "Heartfelt Gratitude" retreat we can reconnect with that youthful impulse once again.

"Heartfelt Gratitude" Retreat

The feeling of gratitude opens the heart more than any other emotion except, perhaps, love.  As we practice feeling gratitude, we expand our heart's capacity to experience and express love and joy.  This opening of the heart is part of the subtle process in Sufism, the mystic path of Islam, and it inspires the purpose of this retreat.

Step 1: Entering into Retreat
Have your paper and oil pastels available, and sit however suits you best for drawing.  For the first five minutes of this retreat, close your eyes and consciously decide to feel gratitude.  Think of all the things for which you can be thankful.  Pay careful attention to how you experience these feelings in your heart.

Step 2:
Make an emotional drawing* of this feeling in your heart.  Remember, this is not a drawing of people or a scene.  It's a free-form expression of feelings.  You have a full ten minutes here.  Some of you may spend all the time on one drawing, while others will do more than one drawing.

Step 3:
For three minutes, close your eyes and again experience the feelings of gratitude in your heart.

Step 4: Returning to the World:
In the final two minutes, look again at your drawing(s).  Plan a time, just a minute during your busy day, when you will remember this drawing and the feelings in your heart.

*The instructions that I give for emotional drawing are: Make a nonrepresentational drawing that illustrates your feelings, dream, poem, situation, or anything from within your psyche that needs to be called out into the world.  Please don't try to draw people or real scenes.  Just play with colors, shapes, movement, and the intensity of your hand across the paper.  Trust what feels right or looks right to you.  Your choice of color, speed, intensity of movement, symbolic shape, and use of space will reflect your feelings.  The creative expression of an inner psychic state into the outer world is enormously clarifying, healing, and empowering.  Using the drawings as objects of meditation intensifies this therapeutic process of healing.

Copyright © 2000 Rachel Harris, Ph.D. and The Philip Lief Group.  All Rights Reserved.  Excerpted from "20 Minute Retreats: Revive Your Spirits in Just Minutes a Day with Simple Self-Led Exercises," Henry Holt and Company, LLC.  Not to be used without permission. 

Rachel Harris, Ph.D. is a psychologist who has led a private practice in Princeton, New Jersey, and has led national and international workshops for thirty years.  She is author of "20 Minute Retreats: Revive Your Spirits in Just Minutes a Day with Simple Self-Led Exercises" and the co-author of the best-selling "Children Learn What They Live."


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