There are so many things that you are supposed to be doing right at this time of the year. You’re supposed to be jolly and happy, you’re supposed to be jovial and full of cheer and joy. I’m also apparently supposed to be cheerily tolerating little children as they push past me with delightful glee and grab the largest and most cumbersome item off the shelf in the supermarket only to have it topple over on top of them and then be lying on the floor of the aisle in a tormented mess, right where I am trying discreetly to wheel my trolley beyond their puckered, sad, tear stained faces.
I’m also supposed to be going to the neighbourhood ‘street christmas’ party with even more children whom I don’t know, and taking a plate of food and possibly wine with the annoying lady who sits like a hawk in our back alley and accosts me every time the 4WD goes anywhere near the bricks (which I donated) of her makeshift garden of succulents. And I’m supposed to be understanding and apologetic about frightening the succulents with my big diesel 4WD.
I get it – it’s the time of being supposedly generous and cheerful and good willing-ness to fellow humans for some religious or cultural belief which I am not even sure I signed the contract for.
DAMMIT – how do I find this supposedly happiness and collective good will? What do I have to do to create the sense of I’ve been a good boy this year. I’m not a Grinch! I am a good person. Why can I not feel this supposed glee that seems to be in vociferous supply. I have to find my own relative emotion that equates to all this. So for me, its about finding grace . Indeed harbouring gratitude at this time is the one thing that I am supposed to do that I can latch onto and find some connection with.
What can I celebrate at this time that fits the perception of the culture for Christmas? – Gratitude. The festive season was always the one time of year when my slightly dysfunctional family would come together and the effort was very much there to have that one day where we were a unit and acted accordingly and shared in the happiness of the moment.
So at this time, it is a poignantly pure moment of reflection. Identifying the things in my daily life that I am thankful for, the actions that I receive from others that I am particularly grateful for. The love of my friends and the immense support of those that share in my weekly life. The unconditional bond that is family. And at the core of that group is the young kids that have ‘brought balance to the force’. So I am grateful for their presence in my life and how much it has made a difference for the general feeling of love and contentment that imbues my family now. The health that I enjoy and the ability to spend so much of my time chasing insignificant little balls around a court, or throwing myself into handstands against a wall or even just doing the occasional dance move in the kitchen whena good tune comes along and not end up with a broken ankle!
This cultivation of gratitude does have immense support from medical fields as to the benefits you can achieve from making gratitude …a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind” Graciousness tends to imbue a person with a sense of optimism, and this has large effects with the relationship between ourselves and how we treat and effect ourselves with maintenance (such as exercise) and preventative care (eating well etc).
Gratitude is a natural antidote to stress. It is well documented in scientific psychology fields that those with a gracious nature and a sense of gratitude for what they have rather than what they have not, has massive effects on the immune system and the ability to confront and deal with emotional highs and lows. Any cancer patient that harbours a positive and optimistic attitude to the disease and treatment has a far higher success rate in recovery to those that are unable to harness positivity. Disease and the mental approach to how you treat your body and your self (which could relate to your ‘soul’) has direct correlations to cortisol levels, serotonin and dopamine production, enzyme activity and T-cell activity.
There are numerous examples of what we can benefit from if we can take every situations and turn it into an opportunity. Richard Branson talks about never fearing to fail as each small failure is another step closer to success. Creating positivity from apparent defeat is one thing that separates many inspiring and successful people from those that are unable to make that leap from diversity to opportunity. You cannot do this without this positive and optimistic attitude. Gratitude is a great lever to imbue this quality into our psyche and thus create more positive outcomes for ourselves in relation to work, health, relationships and love.
So the pro-gratitude junkies advocate that there are a number of things that we can do to harness the benefits of gratitude, like keeping a gratitude journal, create visual reminders of things that may be taken for granted, have conversations with yourself in a positive and optimistic way…
I’ve found other ways of addressing the daily and weekly exercises to bring about gratitude and compassion and that takes place in daily meditation and restful exercise practices. For me there’s a quote:
“I honour the place in you, that is the same in me,
I honour the place in you where the whole universe resides.
I honour the place in you of love, of light, of peace and of truth,
I honour the place in you that is the same in me.
There is but one… NAMASTE”
This sits in my studio and is the quote that I chant at the end of my meditations. It really is powerful and I find myself wondering why I don’t do it more at the beginning of the day when I am most challenged with imbuing my gracious attitude towards the neighbourhood watch lady when she catches me leaving the garage door for work. I find that it really puts things in persepective for me.
The Dalai Lama talks about harnessing this daily mindfulness of compassion and affection to others to bring about a more balanced perspective to view the world but also to take part in it. This mindfulness is very much along the lines of compassion and understanding for the good of all, but it also serves for our own benefit. Creating a healthier state of mind resulting in a healthier body and system.
“Compassion suits our physical condition, whereas anger, fear and distrust are harmful to our well-being. Therefore, just as we learn the importance of physical hygiene to physical health, to ensure healthy minds, we need to learn some kind of emotional hygiene.”
Dalai Lama – 22 Oct 2014Public Address: John Oliver School, Vancouver
So Gratitude helps to harness this compassion and calm the mind to reside and exist in balance with the body and with the people around me. So at this time of year, I am mindful of being grateful that all that I have enjoyed this year and all that I have received, believed, interacted, enacted, learned and gained from the gazillion of experiences I’ve been fortunate to enjoy. So the next time I go into the supermarket and the kid is screaming on the floor – maybe I need to bend down and give him/her a smile and be grateful that at that moment in time and at that precise location, I’m grateful for all the positives that I have.