I've been thinking about gratitude a lot lately. As the seasons change and as we approach the gratitudiest of holidays, Thanksgiving, I feel myself wanting to go deeper into this topic personally, and with my students.
Most of you know, my son was born last year. As I approach his first birthday, I am flooded with many emotions. My how time flies! Gee, you've gotten so big! Soon you'll be off to college!
I received some good advice before giving birth. It was to appreciate all the little things. The good and the bad. The late night feedings, and the cranky afternoons. This advice mainly came to me from mothers and fathers whose children were well grown. My parent friends with young kids had different advice to give. Mainly about the minutiae of daily life with a baby. Which types of diapers to buy. What lifesaving swaddle to use. Tips on breastfeeding. Which wine to stock up on.
Of course, it's all important. But what has landed deep in my heart is the advice to appreciate it all. There's a sense of wonder, of yearning, and of gratitude that comes from the givers of this advice.
It's not easy. How can you feel grateful for this moment, when in this moment your baby is crying, it is 3 am, your breasts are sore and leaking, your back aches from too much hunching and too little yoga, and your kitchen is a mess! My, those early days were not easy.
But I didn't hate them. When you practice meditation, you learn to become present in the moment. This moment. Good, bad, or neutral. I had a solid meditation practice going in to motherhood, and it sure was tested in those first few months.
I wasn't perfect. There were days where I relied on my husband, or my mom, or my friends to encourage and uplift me. And, at the very least, to tend to the baby while I took an overdue nap. There were times when I cried out of pure exhaustion.
But most times I cried out of pure love. Of true gratitude for this being that I created. I am grateful you are here. I am grateful you are mine. I am grateful that you have provided me a year's worth of trials and lessons and smiles.
So, though this past year has been full of so many positive and life affirming things to be grateful for. What I am most grateful for is the hard stuff. The sticky stuff. I do look on those early days with a sense of reverence. The quiet times late at night (or early in the morning) nursing my baby as the city slept. The mobility coming back to my body after weeks of recovery and rebuilding. The evolution of my own yoga and meditation practice, and with that the letting go of striving to do too much, or push myself too hard. Learning to really be in the moment. To slow down. And to find gratitude in the simplest of things.
I like to weave in teachings on gratitude in many of my meditation classes. Additionally, Unfold's signature course Fall Into Gratitude, a 30-Day Corporate Meditation Challenge is live and running, so I'm getting many opportunities this Fall to teach these wonderful lessons.
But, perhaps you haven't been to my classes lately! Here's a little primer on gratitude meditation.
3 Tips for starting a Gratitude Meditation Practice:
1. Reflect. Close your eyes and slow down your breathing. Without too much effort, allow your mind gently wander. You can step through the day, the prior week or month and see what comes to the forefront. Notice if you are shying away from the hard stuff. That's ok. Practice noticing how you feel as different situations, people, things come to mind.
2. Connect. Once you see what's in your mind with step 1, allow yourself to bring to mind a few things for which you feel grateful. So, for example, after scanning my mind this evening (step 1) I have reflected on my son eating a messy dinner, and my husband cleaning him up, and teaching a yoga class earlier this morning. I'm going to settle in on 3 things that I feel grateful for. My son. My husband. My work. I hold onto these three things and let a sense of gratitude wash over me. The messy dinner: what fun he is having learning to eat and connect with us. My husband: after a long day at work he jumps right into the mess and takes such pleasure in caring for our son. Teaching yoga: I was able to connect with one student in particular who really enjoyed class.
3. Internalize. Hold those things in the forefront of your mind for a few more minutes. Really let them soak in. Begin to send feelings of loving kindness to those people or ideas you connected with in step 2. I find that when I add this step of loving kindness, or metta, to my gratitude practice, I really get a deep sense of peace and contentment. After the meditation session, however long you have to sit and meditate is fine, write down these three things. Try to do this every day.
This isn't rocket science. But it isn't always easy either. The trick is to actually do it. You can practice gratitude at any time of any day. You don't even have to close your eyes. When you make a concerted effort to notice the things around you and feel grateful for them, for this moment, layers of discontentment start to shed. Life gets just a little easier in the day-to-day.
And if for nothing else, you can always be grateful for your breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel gratitude.
It's never too late to start. What are you grateful for today?
From my heart to yours,