Giving Thanks


In a busy world where our days are filled with work or school obligations, we often forget to stop to smell the roses. In the Valley, these “roses” can include the beautiful butterflies and cacti that decorate the border region. And these figurative roses are simply taking notice of your surroundings, taking a breath, and giving appreciation for the present moment.

For Luis Zepeda, a licensed massage therapist, gratitude is “being thankful for what you have.” His conscious practice includes verbalizing his gratitude. “Things become more powerful when you vocalize them,” he said. He begins his morning with thanks and gratitude for life, which he says sets the tone for the day. In his own experience, he has learned that the positive power of thought can help in difficult times and is valuable as an everyday practice.

Zepeda encourages people to start their day with 10 minutes of meditation. “It’s a big game changer,” he said. “How you wake up is how the rest of the day is going to follow.” He practices Shamatha meditation, explaining that it’s a very accessible form of meditation that people shouldn’t be intimidated by. Shamatha comes with a core set of specific instructions:

  1. Posture — how you hold yourself
  2. Breath — object to initially focus on
  3. Thoughts — regarded as distractions.

Luis says that while there are “so many floating concepts about what meditation is, to me, there has to be those three things involved.”

Meditation is often a component of yoga, which also factors into practicing gratitude.

“Gratitude is how I live my life day to day, everyday,” said Matthew Morales of Quiet Mind Yoga. “I practice being grateful for everything that happens in my life.” Through his work as a yoga instructor he creates “a space for you to come and utilize yoga for what you need. I don’t try to tell people what yoga is or should be to you.”

Morales encourages people to practice yoga as a tool to live more from the heart, and suggests that more people give back to the community through volunteering or being more mindful of other people’s needs.

“Yoga is a physically amazing way to stretch and strengthen the body,” he said. “Yoga is a great way to level or balance the body out.”

And with the physical strengthening comes the mental strengthening.

Hope Family Health Center is a nonprofit organization that provides medical, counseling, and case management services in the Rio Grande Valley. Gratitude is something that factors in to some treatments, said Nabi De Angulo, LMSW.

“Overall, gratitude is being able to be thankful for the experience that you’re having, and allow it to influence you the way that it should,” she said.

Much of the time, we are grateful for the good things in our lives, but there are still meaningful lessons to be learned from the bad. When De Angulo was a child, she experienced the lesson of the cycle of life — and her place within it — when some of her family’s chicks died. Having a positive outlook even when seemingly negative things happen is key, she says.

For clients with depression, De Angulo recommends a gratitude journal as a means to heal. Writing down things that we are grateful for can help the brain recognize patterns of good things happening and focus on the positive rather than things that cannot be changed, she says.

In her therapy sessions, she also uses the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

She invites clients to keep the prayer in their wallet or on their refrigerator as a daily reminder. “When clients bring up something that causes them trouble, they read the Serenity Prayer to work though what they need to change and how to cope with what’s going on,” De Angulo said.

As part of the center’s holistic approach, there is a garden for its clients — with plenty of “roses” to stop and smell.

“We have everything we need to know how to live peacefully and joyfully and with harmony in person and with nature,” De Angulo said. “We worry about insurance, and work, and jobs, and bills that are distractions, but there is something about nature that has everything in synchronicity with each other — a continuous cycle. That is a beautiful lesson from nature that teaches us about the cycle, and how we are part of the cycle. … Nature forces you to be present.”