“In order to be happy, we must first possess inner contentment, and inner contentment doesn't come from having all we want, but rather from wanting, appreciating and being grateful for all we have.”
~ Dalai Lama
We've all been living through unprecedented challenges.
I've found that calling upon gratitude, even in the midst of very real stress, is a way to help refocus the mind and find some joy, even if just for a few moments.
There has been a lot of loss and grief that many have faced, and still are facing. As we emerge from this challenging time, we will all no doubt be reflecting on what really matters and recreating paths that fulfill us.
Mindfulness helps us pay deeper attention to the ordinary “miracles” in our lives that we so often take for granted - the ones that are still present even while we all move through this strange time.
Through focusing on what we can be grateful for, we build new neural pathways that incline the mind towards the positive aspects of our existence.
A study by Dr Joshua Brown, Professor of Psychological Brain Sciences at Indiana University, looked at the benefits of gratitude for three hundred students who were receiving counselling for depression or anxiety. The students were divided into three groups - the first writing a weekly letter of gratitude to another person (most participants didn’t actually send it), the second writing about their negative feelings and experiences, and the third serving as a control group who did no writing activity.
Both one month and three months after the writing exercise ended, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health than either of the other groups.
Gratitude isn’t about denying the challenges or suffering in life; it’s about amplifying the goodness that is already there by simply noticing it more consciously.
We can spend so much of our lives missing the many miracles that are present while we face challenges. We can so easily become imprisoned by unproductive thinking patterns and self-limiting beliefs. As you’ve probably noticed in your meditation practice, it’s so easy to get absorbed and carried away by our own stories and inner narratives.
The next time you’re feeling tension or stress, ask yourself, “What can I let go of in this moment to make things feel a little easier for myself?”
What thoughts, expectations, attitudes or beliefs could you let go of that would support your wellbeing and happiness?
Here's a quick, simple mindfulness practice that I use frequently at family dinners. It is a simple but lovely mindfulness practice that can be used with children as young as 2 or 3 years old, and it encourages attention training and the habit of gratitude.
The child at the table leads this practice. If you live alone or don't have children, you can do it by yourself or with friends.
- Use a meditation bell or any other kind of instrument that will have a sustained ring or sound (for example, a spoon on a glass).
- The child rings the bell and gives the instruction for everyone to close their eyes and open them once they no longer hear the sound of the bell.
- When everyone's eyes are open, each person shares something that they feel grateful for, however big or small.
- Then you eat dinner and take a few moments to actively bring mindfulness to eating. You could also ask children questions like, “Where on your tongue do you notice the flavours? Does it taste different with your eyes open or closed? Do you chew on a particular side of your mouth?” All of these questions are aimed at engaging one's curiosity and bringing attention to the actual act of eating and tasting mindfully.
Whether you have a family or are living alone, you can always try this mindfulness dinner table practice with friends or family, or even do it yourself before you eat a meal as a way of embedding mindfulness and gratitude into your daily life.
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