By Steven M. Cohen
I set an intention for my daily morning meditation to contemplate the meaning of Thanksgiving. I started with a pretty blank slate. An old-fashioned scale arose in my mind, with two sides that go up and down based on how much weight is on each side. I then saw the word THANKS settling in one side in all capitalized letters, which weighted down that side, and the word GIVING settling in on the other side, with the weight of the scales becoming balanced. I observed that the words THANKS and GIVING each have six letters. Hmmm.
My approach to my morning meditations is to observe with full attention in the present moment and without judgment. I try not to “think” with my day-to-day consciousness, but to calm that thought pattern and witness what fills the void. I try to remember that there is time for interpretation later.
This time, I did want to come back to my THANKS GIVING observation. Initially, I was confused. I always thought of Thanksgiving as a time of giving thanks. In fact, I had been working on writing gratitude cards for each person who works in our office in recognition for their individual contributions to our successful working group.
I have noticed that most effective leaders make it a habit to say “thank you” and find ways to express appreciation to their employees and to others who provide value to their organization. Sometimes, this appreciation is in the form of a personal thank you, while at other times the appreciation is publicly expressed, such as during a meeting or in a group email. Expressing gratitude is a simple concept and requires little time and effort, yet too often it’s forgotten in the chaos of the day. It is important to remain attentive to situations that warrant gratitude, and to become comfortable expressing it. The bottom line is this: we all respond to praise and appreciation; when we receive it, we are highly motivated to do our best. The simplicity of gratitude belies its power to both the person expressing the gratitude and the one receiving it.
While frequent expressions of gratitude are important, sincerity of each expression is critical. The key is to share gratitude often, but only when it is sincere. For that reason, each of the 50 cards that I am writing is different and personal to that recipient. A month or so ago, we put gratitude cards out at the front desk, and I know that I appreciated that three people took the time, unprompted, to write one for me. Gratitude as part of organizational culture builds community and organizational loyalty and motivates more of the positive behavior that gave rise to the expression of gratitude.
On the other side of my meditation scale is giving. This can include giving of time, giving of material things such as money or donations of goods to those in need, or simple acts of loving kindness to others. Giving can be deciding to spend time with someone or just taking the time to listen. Giving can be fun and doesn’t always have to involve sacrifice. There is nothing more satisfying than helping someone else and knowing that you have made a positive difference in the life of another.
Effective management includes a component of giving – putting in place the opportunities, tools and guidance to facilitate the success of those you are managing. At our annual partner meeting this year, the rising partners were invited to invite a mentor who assisted them in their success. The pride of the success of others on our team can be a source of professional satisfaction.
Some people seem to be wired so that giving just comes naturally. My wife is like that. But the more natural perspective for many of us is focusing on our own self-interest – what might be called “taking.” Ironically, balancing giving with taking can lead to more success than either just giving or just taking.
As I continue to ponder the balance between being thankful for what I have received and expressions of giving, I realize that with better balance, I can actually receive more (and as a result have the ability to give more), staying in balance with greater regularity. It is a circular balance with expressions of gratitude elevating the level of balanced future receipt and giving.
Consider your own What Does Thanksgiving Mean to Me meditation. Find a quiet spot and sit, either straight up in a chair with your feet firmly on the ground or comfortably cross legged on the ground. Start by focusing on your breath for a few minutes. Inhale, Pause, Exhale, Pause. Just observe your breath with full attention in the present moment and without judgment. When you are ready, bring the concept of Thanksgiving into your consciousness – however that might appear.
I would love to hear about what you observe in a comment to this post.
Happy Thanksgiving (whatever that means to you).
Steven Cohen is author of Leading from Within: A Guide To Maximizing Your Effectiveness Through Meditation, which links 13 key leadership traits derived from 13 well-known business thought leaders with meditations he associates with those traits. These traits, grouped into the four foundational pillars of Awareness, Connection, Perspective and Potential, can be built and reinforced through meditation. He is also co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Meditation4Leadership, whose mission is to build leadership skills and enhance wellness by teaching meditation practices reinforcing each of the foundational pillars to business, nonprofit and community leaders, resulting in improved individual and organizational performance.