by Rachel Harris, Ph.D.
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
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
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
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.
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.
For three minutes, close your eyes and again
experience the feelings of gratitude in your heart.
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
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
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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