Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being Gratitude

We have a holiday in the USA for giving thanks.  So let's learn more about why giving thanks or being grateful can be a beneficial practice and how to practice more often than once a year.

When we open our hearts and minds to gratitude, we open a whole lot more than just feelings of thankfulness.  We create a connection to the positive - "Wow, look at all this wonder and joy in my life!"  Rather than the thought patterns we are so good at, "Wow, this job sucks, my co-worker is annoying, my house is a mess, I never have enough time......"  There's some neuro-science behind our negativity.  A mind that can focus on the negative (think evolutionarily in terms of poisonous plants, deadly predators, signs of natural disaster) is a mind that survives.  We just might be hard-wried toward negative thoughts.

That being said, we can over-ride that wiring by changing what we spend time thinking about.  The more time you spend thinking about what's going well in your life, the more you will see what's going well.  Also, you will see more ways to create more and cause more great things to happen.  Gratitude creates feelings of inter-connectedness.  You appreciate the work that others are doing in the world so you have all the things that surround you.  You feel supported by this, rather than focused on the politician who doesn't seem to be working in the direction you want or the drivers who are constantly creating danger on the road with bad behavior.  Not to mention there's a sense of relief in seeing what is possible in life rather than in always worrying about what's not going well.

There are many spiritual traditions and teachers that say to be thankful for all that happens, because unknown blessings lie in everything.  We may not believe this or know for sure that it's true, but you can be sure that if you believe something is horrible and continue to focus on the horrible-ness of the situation, then horrible it will be.  Seeing aspects that one can be grateful for will allow you to find a way out, a solution, some supports, and all that might be possible. 

This was the case for Matt Long who after a devastating bike accident with a bus, allowed himself to wallow in the misery of his recovery which was grueling and overwhelming and at time, not very hopeful.  Once he decided to change his focus - he saw the amazing supportive people in his life, the potential unknowns that might be possible, the models of healing he had not other-wise noticed in life and the formerly great love of life he held, then he began to heal his mind and soon after his body.  Gratitude for what he had made him see what he could have with some hard work (really, really hard work in this case).

There are studies being done on gratitude at the University of CA, Davis, and elsewhere finding that students who keep gratitude journals also report sleeping better, exercising more, having fewer health issues, and having an overall more positive and satisfied outlook on their lives.  This is all about perception.  Change your perception of your life and you will change your life!

How to begin?  The easiest method is to simply meditate on all you have to be grateful for daily.  This means a review of the day or the previous day - "I am grateful for.........."  This can also be done in a journal  (if you'd like a copy of a gratitude journal page, let me know).  Another simple method is to create a grateful feeling in the mind and body and simply stay there as long as you can - mindful gratitude.  Someone recently told me she has the intention to list something every day - something NEW every day.  How many would you come up with?  100? 500?  1000s?  Finally, there is the practice of acknowledging an annoying, troubling, disturbing situation and then saying but I am grateful for......  This would look like this:  "It is annoying that that driver can not drive safely, but I am grateful that others are being safe."  "I am so frustrated with her!  But, I am grateful I have him to make me laugh about it."

How will you be grateful each day?

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