With the energy of Thanksgiving still lingering in our minds and hearts I like to reflect on the conversations I have had with my students and friends around Gratitude.
One of the most powerful ways of opening up our hearts and minds is the act of offering up thanks for all we have received. Initially when we give thanks our minds go straight to those people, things and experiences that have filled our lives, homes and hearts with joy and pleasure. Of course it’s easy to be grateful when you are getting what you want and when you want it. Anyone can then be grateful!
An integral part of giving thanks is not just being grateful for what we HAVE but also for what we HAD, but have now lost. There can be much heart ache or downright heart break over that which we have “lost” that it can feel hard to offer up thanks. Sometimes the loss is tinged with anger, disappointment or downright disbelief. But if we can remember everything that that person, or creature or experience brought us, that helped us be who we are today, then the act of remembering becomes a celebration and in its own way a deep release of the negative energy that can surround loss.
We hindsight and kind-sight we can then offer up thanks for the illness that made us appreciate good health, a job loss that eventually resulted in us following our true passion, the death of a parent that reminded us of the importance of family or a break up that made space for our perfect mate to enter our lives.
But when we are deep in the messy moments and things are not going our way, when our lives don’t make sense and we are not feeling all “warm and fuzzy” it definitely gets more challenging to find reasons to give thanks. And so yes, at times being grateful can feel like simply just too much like hard work!
So, for me, "being grateful" and holding an “attitude of gratitude” entails the daily act of “practicing gratitude” which takes work, just like my yoga practice.
Yoga, like life, asks us to show up, every day, in every way, over and over again - not just when it’s easy, not just when we are full of energy, pain free, and inspired, but also when we feel bored, tired, sore, sad, frustrated, confused and overwhelmed.
But it is in those challenging moments that the real yoga begins. We are invited to dig deep into what we are feeling, why we are feeling it and to embrace the opportunity to open up and learn something from it. Our bodies, minds and hearts HAVE to open for the understanding and learning to begin.
When we work really deep into a pose, into the areas of tension, congestion, (good) pain and even some level of fear we learn something about the pose, but really we learn more about ourselves. Even if it is just where our shoulders are in caturanga, or what our knee is doing in Triangle pose, or how we move into a backbend.
When I am struggling to let go in a pose, when I am holding onto tension and struggling with what is coming up in my mind and emotions, I back off, change direction, even change the pose slightly and go into my breath, primarily the exhalation. Just like the inhalation is an act of “receiving in” the breath, the exhalation is an act of “giving it back out" that calms me down, relaxes me and allows me to soften into the work, knowing it is not actually about the pose.
I am reminded that Yoga uses the poses to open the mind and heart to the understanding, integration and assimilation of our experiences, and insights so that they are literally yoked to, and into, our very being. Our efforts change us, moving us in the direction we wish to go, recognizing and then releasing thoughts and behaviors that keep us feeling small, limited, unsupported and even unloved.
Coming to our mats is a gift we give to ourselves. As we take time to nurture and strengthen ourselves through the simple act of conscious breathing and moving, we add to, and draw from, the collective energy of the others in the room, and in this way we all are nourished. We leave our mats feeling calmer, clearer and lighter, able to see what is really important, what we really need (not want), and more importantly, even recognize what others need.
So when I am struggling with finding things to be grateful for, then I shift towards the opportunity of giving as opposed to focusing on what I am receiving. And we can give in so many big and small ways… in gifts, thanks, encouragement, time, a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on. When we give freely, lovingly, consciously, unexpectedly and with no expectation of even a thank you something magical happens – our hearts are opened up as we move our focus from ourselves to another, to see them and give thanks for them and all they bring and have brought us.
So if there is anything that is hard work but worth working for its learning to understand and integrate gratitude in your life, because when we are grateful we are filled with GRACE!