Adventures in Mindful Living
Whether you’re applying mindfulness to your relationships, career, health, or as a spiritual practice, you’ll find helpful stories, tips, and articles that will enrich your understanding of topics such as psychology, meditation, neuroscience, and personal development.
It’s easy to get hard on ourselves for not living up to our own expectations at work, at home, or with our kids and loved ones.
Let’s face it, trying to manage adulthood and responsibilities and relationships and career is A LOT. Being a human is hard work. It might feel like there is not enough of you to go around on any given day between the long to-do list, endless notifications and family or relationship dynamics to manage.
It’s also totally normal to feel sad and depressed when the people around us let us down and don’t live up to our expectations of them.
Maybe you’ve heard gratitude practices can help our mood or outlook on life in these difficult moments, but are unsure how to practice gratitude or how to practice mindfulness and gratitude together?
How Gratitude Helps When You’re Feeling Stuck.
Gratitude is simply choosing to place your attention on the things that are going well in your life.
These are the things you lean on when life gets hard, whether it’s your pets, friends, your partner, family, job, your creative projects, cooking or anything else that grounds you and gives you a sense of purpose and safety when life is throwing you curveballs.
It might feel counterintuitive to think in this positive way when you are feeling sad, anxious, down on yourself, or upset with others in your life. However, this re-framing can be a practice in self-compassion.
With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
– Dr. Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion Researcher
When we want to change our outlook or perspective on something to be more self-compassionate with ourselves or others, it’s normal to feel some resistance. Kristen Neff, refers to this resistance feeling that comes up in compassion practice as “backdraft.”
You’ve likely heard about the magic of keeping a gratitude journal or keeping a list of things you are grateful for, and sharing this list with others, but how do you find a way to integrate gratitude into your meditation practice?
Start with your breath.
As we do in meditation, a mindful practice of gratitude starts with the breath. The basic breathing practice of mindful breathing, focusing on the breath, is all about surrendering to the breath.
During your next meditation practice, with every breath you take, see if you can sense a felt sense of surrender and acceptance in that breath. This is the practice of staying in the present moment.
Once you are feeling a felt-sense of your breathing, simply add the word “thank you” to each exhale and see what happens.
At first maybe nothing happens, or maybe you start noticing your mind filling in the ending….
Maybe you say “thank you” and your mind shows you an image of your child laughing, or your dog panting looking up at you with a playful glint in their eye.
Maybe you feel the protection of your home’s roof and walls keeping you dry as the rain patters on the windowsill.
Or maybe it’s simply a felt sense of gratitude for 5 minutes of peaceful breathing in the midst of a busy day.
Remember the goldfish analogy
When put in a small bowl, goldfish stay small, growing to about 2-3 inches at best.
However, when a goldfish is put in the right conditions they will grow to a much larger size. Given plenty of tank or pond space, good water quality, warm temperature and access to quality food, goldfish can grow up to 18 inches – almost 6 times their average size in a bowl.
As humans we are much the same. If we operate in a secure environment 100% of the time, without risk or competition, we will evolve as much as a little goldfish.
Just like a goldfish leaving the security of that fish bowl and venturing into a larger pond, being given a challenge can be a chance for us to expand.
When we’re in the middle of chaos, change, and challenges in our lives, it can be tempting to return to that little bowl we were swimming and and avoid the challenges that will help us expand. Sometimes that looks like avoidance, criticism or anger. When we choose to respond to that opportunity with gratitude it can be the bravery that allows us to grow.
The key to practicing mindful gratitude is to keep in mind all of the things you are grateful for, all the challenges that have made you who you are, even when all you can see are the things you wish were different.
This is all we might see when we have yet to see how these difficult experiences we are facing will change and mold not only our environment, but us as well. Pretty soon, as time passes, you’ll look up and realize you’re not only growing into a stronger, smarter, more self-compassionate person, but like in the goldfish analogy you’re in a new, bigger tank or pond with more room to grow.
If we take on life’s challenges, explore new opportunities, put ourselves out there in relationships or engage with smart people – this is a bit like a goldfish going into a new environment. We naturally expand and live a more meaningful life.
Mindful gratitude isn’t about creating a perfect life to override the difficulties. Instead, it’s about managing your response to an imperfect life and, in that way, releasing old patterns and mindsets that are no longer serving you.
If you want to join a community to practice this with, check out our weekly Insight Hour and other free events in The SkillfulMeans Community, click here to learn more.
— Heather Wise, MPH, Co-Founder of SkillfulMeans and certified holistic health coach