How Our Special Places Connect Us to Gratitude

This past July, I decided to leave the San Francisco summer fog, and head across the Golden Gate Bridge to a retreat center in warm Marin county. The Santa Sabina Retreat Center, tucked away in a corner of the Dominican College campus, feels likes a large home, with 40 single bedrooms surrounding a lovely courtyard with a center fountain.

I was first introduced to the Center over a decade ago when I was coordinating retreats for tenured public-school teachers here in San Francisco, and for half a decade, I held six week-long retreats a year there until the funding ended. Throughout those years, the Center began to feel like a second home to me and was a place that comforted me as I journeyed through a time of deep loss in my life—facing infertility, grieving the loss of my older sister from breast cancer, and my husband closing his small business.

…feeling the solitude and silence this place held, I was overcome with gentle tears of gratitude.

I hadn’t been on a retreat there in several years, and as I settled into my room, arranging my clothes in the closet, laying out my yoga mat on the carpet, and feeling the solitude and silence this place held, I was overcome with gentle tears of gratitude.

I wasn’t expecting such a deep sense of gratitude to wash over me like that. Yet, as it did, in the spaciousness of the retreat atmosphere, I let myself connect with what my body was feeling. I was filled with gratitude for the gift of this special place, which had held and supported me through such a tough time in my life.

In that moment, I realized even more deeply how certain places can evoke a profound experience of gratitude for us. Have you ever noticed how your favorite bakery, or neighborhood park, or familiar church, or your own living room, can bring you profound gratitude that you feel in your body?

As a school librarian, I can see that the library is a special place for many of our students—it’s a refuge, a place of free choice, and a space for curiosity and exploration. Just the other day, I found a drawing that some fifth-grade girls had made for me at the end of last year. It was an 8 ½” by 14” picture of the library, with shelves filled with books and the words, “I love the library,” and “Thank you, Ms. Lafia!” written down the middle.

The drawing made by fifth-grade girls expressing their love for their library and librarian.

Lately, I’ve noticed how grateful my husband and I feel when we come through our front door after a long day at work. I often spontaneously  say, “I’m so grateful to be home.” And my husband usually echoes the thought with, “Me, too.” And on the weekends, when we have time to clean, weed, and water our small urban garden, my husband will always let out a big exhale and exclaim, “I am so grateful!”

Place connects us to gratitude, and gratitude connects us to place. And this gratitude also finds its place in our bodies. As we find gratitude in a sense of place like a retreat center, our home, a park, a library or bookstore, we also find gratitude in a sense of place within our hearts and bodies.

Our bodies are speaking to us all the time—and if we pay attention, we hear the gratitude they hold.

Our bodies are speaking to us all the time—and if we pay attention, we hear the gratitude they hold. The expression, “I feel it in my bones,” isn’t a metaphor. Our bodies feel and express gratitude through our tears, laughter, trembling, surprise, relaxation, tenderness, amazement, comfort, love, and more.

Pause for a moment and ask yourself—what place evokes gratitude for me and how do I feel it in my body?  

  • What place evokes a sense of gratitude for you—a church, a park, the beach, the library, your house?
  • Take a moment to deeply connect with the gratitude you feel in your body for this place. Take a few deep breaths and see where you feel this gratitude in your body—in your heart, your belly, your face?
  • If you can physically go to this place, then spend some time there. Take in the colors, smells, and feeling you have when you’re there. Invite yourself to feel gratitude through your senses—what you hear, smell, taste, touch and see.
  • Notice if you find yourself crying, or laughing, or being quietly at peace. If you experience spontaneous tears of gratitude, allow yourself to be present to the sweetness of the moment.

Find your “place” of gratitude in the world, and in your body, and receive the gift of gratefulness it’s offering you. I invite you to become a vessel of gratitude—to receive it in your bones, and your heart and, like a child, be curious, excited, and joyful when it arrives.

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