Recently I found a simple gratitude practice so good it’s worth sharing. It’s something Austin Kleon calls a “paper prayer”, and he touches on it in his book, Keep Going. Austin says he uses it when he doesn’t know what to write in his diary. I’ve used it every morning since I first read about it.
How does it work?
The paper prayer is as simple as it gets.
You get a fresh piece of paper and mark two columns. One column has the heading “Thank you for” and the other “Help me.” Then fill out each column. Write to God or the Universe or an invisible friend — whoever you usually talk to about such personal things. Write to the end of your page, and that’s it — you’ve got yourself a paper prayer.
If you keep your sheets, over time, you’ll end up with a thick stack of prayers.
What’s so good about the paper prayer?
I think what works about this practice is it creates a ritual and produces something tangible — you end up with a prayer in your hands. I also find to complete the columns you have to contemplate the headings and see what stirs for you. It’s almost like a guided mediation.
Another side-effect I’ve found is that over time, the things you write down tend to stick in your consciousness a little better. I wonder if by committing something to paper, you also commit to it within yourself. I’m more likely to hear the echo of “help me be patient and calm” in the height of kid-chaos if I’ve written this earnest thought down each day for two weeks. Sometimes a fleeting recollection is all it takes to shift your trajectory.
The other neat part of doing this as a written exercise is you end up with a record — your stack of prayers. These sheets of paper can tell you things about yourself. They can reveal what’s deeply important to you, what you fear and what you need to work on. It’s potent stuff.
If this sounds like your kind of practice, give it a go for a few months. When you’re ready, bring your paper prayers out and see if there’s something to discover. I’ll wager you’ll find something intriguing or unexpected.