Gratitude, the act of being thankful, sounds simple enough. We say thank you out of habit and frequently speak the words of gratitude. We talk the talk, but not always walk the walk. The practice is to be present with what we are grateful for in the moment. This is especially challenging when we ourselves are experiencing scarcity or depletion.
Bringing mindfulness to the practice of gratitude helps us to tap into what we have to be grateful for on a deeper level. Mindfulness is bringing conscious awareness to any given moment; noticing our physical, emotional, and cognitive responses. You may say thank you to someone who has checked you out at the grocery out of habit. To mindfully practice gratitude, you would notice how this person looks and what she says. You may notice that the way she talks reminds you of someone and brings up a certain emotion. You might even find yourself wondering more about her and notice that you feel more relaxed as you allow yourself to say “thank you” mindfully. Or you may notice that you feel more tense, not used to letting yourself feel this vulnerable. The trick to any mindfulness practice is that you cannot filter out the uncomfortable from the comfortable.
To be mindfully grateful, you have to be open to your own feelings of depletion or scarcity. It’s easy to practice authentic gratitude when we are feeling abundance. But, there are many times in life when we feel anything but grateful — when we are feeling overworked or under-appreciated; when finances are tight and time is short; when we are ill or experiencing loss; and countless other situations. It’s easy to get caught up in comparing and the black and white thinking of “us” and “them.” In her new book Rising Strong, Brene Brown talks about the process of off-loading hurt. Off-loading hurt can be pushing it down, stockpiling or numbing in other ways. It is in these moments when we feel low ourselves that we tend to off-load those feelings, which creates a barrier to gratitude.
This week of Thanksgiving, see if you can use the following suggestions for practicing gratitude with mindfulness:
- Each evening before bedtime, set aside a few quiet moments to write down 10 things you are grateful for. Number 1-10 first. Then quietly bring your attention to what comes up for you. Notice what comes to mind. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back to your gratitude exercise. Your 10 items do not have to be big. Your favorite cup of coffee or sleeping an extra 5 mintues on a chilly day is enough to be grateful for.
- Remember that it is okay to be thankful for just being. In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.”
- Notice the human inclination to compare and one-up. Particularly when we feel depleted or fearful, humans tend to categorize and compare. When we get into the “I am struggling more” or “my story is worse” pattern, we have left mindfulness and are off-loading hurt. This is the time to bring in self-compassion and remember that we all experience suffering at some point. Take care of yourself.
- For a more structured practice, use Tara Brach’s Loving Kindness Meditation each day this week. This practice can lighten your heart and open you up for more experiences.
There are many benefits to a gratitude practice from decreasing anxiety/depression to living a more succesful personal and profesional life. Mostly, it allows each of us to authentically connect with the best in those around us and therefore nurture and grow what we are grateful for in our lives. Happy Thanksgiving!
Mindful moments are short practices to be used throughout your week to relax, integrate and center yourself. Inspired by the wisdom traditions and science, mindful moments are meant to be accessible and simple enough for anyone to practice. Many teachers and leaders in integrative medicine have influenced our approach to mindful moments. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Pema Chodron would say it is “practicing in the gaps.” Look for the weekly mindful moment every Monday. May it support you in finding your center to live life to the fullest.