Mindfulness Activity #26
Gratitude Mindfulness Practice
Today’s practice is about gratitude. Why should we practice gratitude? It turns out that noticing and appreciating things we are grateful for results in more overall happiness in one’s life. In one 10 week study, people were divided into two groups: one made a list of things they were grateful for each day; the second group wrote down things that irritated or annoyed them. At the end of 10 weeks, the gratitude group had higher rates of contentment and also exercised more and had fewer visits to their doctors. There are a number of studies showing that gratitude is beneficial to physical health, mental health, relationships, resilience and that it reduces anger and aggression. At some point, when you have time, read this very brief article about the benefits of gratitude.
One time in my life when I profoundly experienced gratitude was in college. That summer, I participated in a community service trip. Twenty of us travelled to Mexico to the site of an orphanage. The children in the orphanage ranged in age from 6 to 19. Most of them were abandoned by their parents because they could not take care of them or lured into being trafficked. Many had been given drugs and become addicted so that they would stay with their pimps. The children were rescued and lived, and schooled together on this orphanage. I can only describe it as barren. We were there digging to install a bathroom (they had only an outhouse with a deep hole a hundred feet from camp). There was one room where they all slept on mats. We slept on sleeping bags in an adjoining building with a cement floor. The children were incredibly grateful for the donated clothes they wore. They had a bunch of clothes that were washed and hung and each morning they would go to the clothes line to grab clothing from the communal supply of clothes. I recall a little boy named Max who would get up early each day so that he could wear a NY Yankees shirt (it was at least 3 sizes too big for him). They were grateful for food, clothing, and safety, and shelter. When I returned to my very small apartment in a pretty seedy section of the Bronx, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I felt lucky to have a rug, and a refrigerator, and a fan. The apartment that previously felt like a dump suddenly made me feel privilege and experience gratitude. I’d like to say that that the experience permanently changed me, but we all get attached to things we want (a better seat on the plane, the show we want to watch on TV). We look ahead to what we don’t have, but want. There is nothing wrong with working towards goals, even material ones. However, when we cease to notice things in the present, we deprive ourselves of the good feelings associated with gratitude.
Right now, many people are experiencing uncertainty. We have lost freedoms and activities we once took for granted. Along with this, a basic sense of safety may have been eroded. Doing a brief mindfulness, noticing things we are grateful for can help. You may find many such practices on youtube. I encourage you to try them. Many ask you to catalogue broad things in your life you are grateful for including accomplishments, relationships, etc…They ask you to reflect on your circumstances compared to others, perhaps in developing countries. These may be helpful, but I think of them as gratitude 2.0. So the practice today is one of very basic gratitude. I’ll include a link to one of those broader practices, with pleasant music for those who are interested.
Our practice today has no chimes and no relaxing music or sounds. It is a quiet practice. So when you are ready, sit in a chair for this practice. Put your hand over your heart and silently say good morning to yourself using your name.
Sit and inhale deeply, noticing the moment your lungs are full, and then exhale. On your next inhale consider the oxygen being brought into your body and to each of your organs to keep you alive. See if you can connect to this oxygen as you breathe in and out. Consider the chair or the floor where you sit. It is solid and supports you. Feel that in the present moment, oxygen and a place to sit are all that you need. Continue to breathe in and out.
Now, take a moment to reflect on any of the things in your life that you are thankful for. Think about basic things like food, a place to be dry on a rainy day, a place to rest in the evening, your physical capabilities, your mind, your capacity to care for others, your ability to make choices and change if you wish to. Think about people in your life you are thankful for (whether you know them or you do not). Spend three minutes (leaders note timing) making a mental list. For each think you think of say to yourself, I am grateful for…and take a breath in and out before moving to something else. If you get distracted or judgmental, just take a new breath, and gently prod yourself to find something you actually appreciate. Do this reset as many times as you need to.
When your practice is concluded, process it for a moment. How did it make you feel? What did you notice?
The idea of practices like this is not only the brief warm feelings that they generate, rather it is to develop in yourself a moment to moment noticing of things you are grateful for. This creates a balance to many negative things in the world we are primed to notice. It is not solving problems or experiencing distress that hurts us, it is ONLY experiencing distress and focusing on painful things (that often grab our attention more easily) that can distort experience and create lasting feelings of unrest, depression, anxiety and rob us of a basic sense of safety and stability.
So, today, on this very cold and rainy day, I am grateful for my house that is warm and dry, for my cup of tea that is warm, and for the fact that I am here able to write and interact with people I care about and even those I don’t know.