You probably do. Amidst the rush of holidays, as another year winds down, our thoughts turn to gratitude for our lives and people in it. But to truly embody gratitude, we must practice it not just from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, but from New Year’s to Thanksgiving as well. To-do-lists, work pressures, family issues and health and safety concerns can all threaten our well-being, so when stress and negativity build up, try practicing gratitude to stay in balance.
For the past several months I’ve been hit with some stressful life situations that have put my mindfulness practice to a test. It’s easier than ever to be hijacked by emotions or anxiety, but I’ve discovered that actively pursuing gratitude has helped keep me present and calmer. Not that I haven’t had my moments. When those happen, I compassionately remind myself that mindfulness (and being a human being) isn’t about being perfect. Many people keep gratitude lists or express it on Facebook during happy times, but the real practice is to be able to feel grateful during troubled times. So in the spirit of this season of gratitude and giving, here are some tips I’m presenting to you:
When you notice your mind in the worry-zone or negativity state, stop the train of thoughts by taking a pause to bring awareness to your breath. Acknowledge the thoughts (“there are those worries again”) and imagine letting them go with your next exhalation. Then think of a positive aspect of your life, or of the moment, and imagine taking it in on your next inhalation.
Throughout your day, when something good happens, dwell on it the same way you dwell on negative events. Repeat the event over in your mind again and again for at least 20 seconds.
Notice the tendency to let good things go. Be present to all aspects of nature, but especially to the beauty in the imperfect: bare branches, dried leaves or grass, gray clouds, so you can learn to appreciate more of the simple things we tend to ignore. Fixate on a compliment, rather than a complaint, green traffic lights, rather than red ones, what your body can do, rather than what it cannot, things you’ve already accomplished, rather than what you have yet to do. Appreciate more. Be easily awed.
Some thoughts I find helpful:
Emotional and physical pain are part of the human experience. Remembering that you are not alone in your suffering can help you feel more compassion for yourself and others. Practicing non-attachment to joy – knowing that all experiences are temporary and you, too, are not immune to suffering will help you prepare for the future. Mindfulness and gratitude practice won’t take away your suffering, nor will it change your life – but it can change how you look at your life and help you suffer less and feel more appreciation and peace.
Wishing you peace, joy and mindfulness this holiday season!