Gratitude: A Habit of the Heart

The most powerful agent of growth and transformation is something much more basic than any technique: a change of heart. ~ John Welwood

b2_MG_3119Gratitude is more than a feeling. It is a practice. In the Native American tradition elders begin each ceremony with a prayer of gratitude to father sky, and mother earth, to the four directions, and to the animal, plant, and mineral brothers and sisters who share our earth and support our life. A Buddhist monk begins each day with a chant of gratitude for the blessings in his life. Tibetan monks even offer prayers of thanksgiving for their suffering: “Grant that I might have enough suffering to awaken in me the deepest possible compassion and wisdom.”

As we mature, one of our tasks is to move beyond a purely emotional response to life and to cultivate positive emotions as habits of the heart. What this means is that we practice being grateful when we don’t feel thankful, loving when we don’t feel loving, and kind when we’d rather be mean and surly. This is how we turn feelings, which come and go, into conscious, intentional attitudes that guide our actions even when we don’t “feel” like it. Our attitudes then become habits of the heart.

What you discover through focusing on and practicing gratitude is this: The more grateful you are, the more joyful you become. You become more joyful for yourself, and for the good fortune of others. You find that you can be happy for the people you love, for bright blue skies, warm sunshine, the scent of flowers in bloom, the soft caress of cool breezes blowing–even for your own breath. Instead of feeling guilty about your own good fortune, you become able to embrace pleasure even when you are aware of the suffering of others. The more grateful you become, the happier you feel for no apparent reason. You simply love life and enjoy being alive.

There is much to be grateful for even if we can’t always see it. Author Dawna Markova says it best when she reminds us, “Gratitude is like a flashlight. If you go out into your yard at night and turn on your flashlight, you can suddenly see what’s there. It has always been there, but you couldn’t see it in the dark.”

When you shine the flashlight of gratitude on your life you can see all of the blessings both great and small that have always been there. Like the Native American elders, gratitude helps us acknowledge and appreciate everything that sustains our lives each day.

Gratitude is an expression of our confidence that life itself is on our side, that good things will come our way, and that even when unwanted experiences visit us, we regard them as merely bumps in the road that can help us learn to become wiser, more complete, and more loving. Gratitude helps us acknowledge that the life force that the poet Tupac Shakur identified as enlivening “the rose that grew from the crack in the concrete” is the same life force that enlivens each and every one of us.

An attitude of gratitude is not judgmental, envious or jealous. It does not compare itself to anyone or anything. It does not compete or disparage; rather, it is an attitude that openly receives what the Universe is offering, the sun, the rain, the air, and the earth as that which supports all of life. Gratitude invites us to become engaged in the excitement and wonder of life.

One caution: Telling yourself or others that you or they should feel grateful is not helpful. Guilt doesn’t work. Gratitude springs from either a conscious decision to notice what’s right with your life instead of what’s wrong or what’s missing, or from a spontaneous opening of the heart to life’s wonders. If you’re like most people there will be days when it’s impossible to feel grateful for anything no matter how hard you try. When that happens, be kind to yourself. The less guilt tripping you do to yourself and others, the more space you create for gratitude to sweetly and softly envelope your heart.

As you intentionally cultivate an attitude of gratitude, it changes the way you view the world. When you practice being grateful you feel connected to the abundant flow of life. The more you say “Thank You” the more you experience the feeling and the richness of spirit that gratefulness produces. At such times you don’t need to work at being grateful; you just are.

Dhanyavad Ananda

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Love Is Patient

“That could take some time.” –Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy

In Chinese folklore there once was a wise and humble man who had the most extraordinary gift. He could relate to anyone and got along with everyone. He never argued with friends, family, co-workers, or even strangers. His marriage was happy and his children were well behaved, respectful, kind and polite. He enjoyed remarkable harmony inside his home and out.

News of this amazing man traveled to the Emperor, who was so intrigued by the man’s reputation that he ordered him to come to the palace in order to meet him in person. After their meeting, the Emperor ordered the man, by royal proclamation, to write a 10,000-word document describing how everyone in the Empire could create peaceful relationships as he had done. The man was then sent off to write.

Five days later he returned to the palace with a heavy scroll that was immediately taken to the great hall and rolled out across a huge table. The Emperor’s court stood silently by as the Emperor began to read the scroll. Much to everyone’s delight,  in just a few minutes he nodded his approval . The man had written 10,000 words as the Emperor requested – but it was the same word written over and over and over again: Patience, Patience, Patience.

Patience is the ability to experience difficulty or inconvenience without complaining. Love is its foundation. Every loving heart overflows with patience. It is the way a mother shows her love to a toddler having a melt down, or the love a husband shows his wife when she’s running late, or the love a son shows his mother learning to use the latest technological gadget. Love and patience go together, hand in glove.

Patience is the loving response to frustration. Have you ever watched a small child trying to pour a glass of milk with unsteady hands? Can you wait to see if he actually needs your help to avoid a spill before you grab the milk carton and pour it yourself? If your wife (husband) is driving to a destination and going a different way than you anticipated, can you wait to see if she (he) asks for your help before you offer directions? How much frustration can you tolerate before you intervene with a solution to someone else’s problem?

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Patience is measured by the ability to put up with something you’d rather not; falling in and out of a handstand before you nail it, waiting for the relationship you long for to manifest, waiting to hear the outcome of an important job interview, or for an injury to heal or an illness to abate. We wait patiently not for the sake of endurance but in the recognition that in a breath or two, “This too shall pass.”

A frustration, an unpleasant experience, or inconvenience does not last forever and it is the power of an open heart that gives us the strength to look toward a brighter future. Patience makes room for the power of love to work on a troubled relationship. It empowers love to care for a troubled child, and to take care of our selves when we are troubled.

Achieving a balanced mental outlook and inner-peace requires patience. Patience is the ability to remain open to love in every moment. It’s easy to love every moment when things are going well, but how do you do it when you are suffering?

To learn patience, practice being still. Slow down. Take a moment each day just to notice your breath. Is it fast or slow, deep or shallow? Slow it down. Deepen it. Savor it. Take the time to glimpse a rainbow, smell a rose, hear a baby laugh. Be still. Make a practice of waiting patiently. Love is patient. Just when you think you have come to the end of your rope and your patience has run out, love empowers you to endure just a little bit longer.

Namaste

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Let Bygones Be Bygones

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a woman also attempting to cross. She asked if they could help her. The junior monk, in keeping with his vows never to touch a woman, ignored her request for help and crossed to the other side of the raging river. The senior monk carried the woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing. As they continued on their journey the senior monk noticed that the junior monk was suddenly silent and enquired, “Is something the matter? You seem very upset.” “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman,” the junior monk said. “How could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?” The senior monk replied, “I left the woman a long time ago at the river bank. However, you seem to be carrying her still.” This begs the question: What baggage are you carrying that you should have left behind a long time ago?

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The arrival of spring is a good time to do some mental and emotional housecleaning and to finish up unfinished business from the past. You can start by doing an inventory of old grudges you still carry, like the boss who kept you from getting that much needed raise and that much deserved promotion, the friend who never paid you back the money you lent, or the person you love who broke your heart. Your unwillingness, or inability to let go of past hurts stunts your spiritual and emotional growth and can cause stress that may lead to physical illness. Carrying old grudges weighs you down and keeps you stuck in the past. Dwelling on past grievances is a form of emotional and mental clutter and keeps you from getting on with your life.

Don’t let life pass you by. Forgiveness is an important step toward letting go of past offenses. It releases you and the other person. It creates opportunities for new possibilities either to form new relationships, or to transform the relationship with the person you feel has wronged you. If you have unfinished business with someone you need to release forgive him first and then let him go. If you need to reconnect with someone so you can begin again forgive her first and then push the reset button.

Forgiveness doesn’t happen all at once. It is a process that requires regular and consistent practice. If you are having difficulty forgiving someone who you feel has wronged you, start the process by forgiving yourself. Admit it, most of the time when someone has done us wrong, we not only blame them for the wrong doing, we blame ourselves for not being smart enough to have avoided the offense. “How could I have been so blind?” “Why didn’t I see that coming?” “What I should have done/said instead was…” Instead of blaming, shaming or criticizing yourself for something you wish you hadn’t said or done, or wish you had done differently, try forgiving yourself using this four-step process

  1. Identify what it is you feel you’ve done wrong or neglected to do right.
  2.  Allow yourself to feel the remorse that comes from having done something you regard as wrong or neglected to do differently.
  3.  Promise and mean that you will never do it again.
  4.  If you do it again, repeat the first three steps of the forgiveness process and then don’t do it again. Forgiveness is a recursive process, not something you do once and for all.

As you practice forgiving yourself, you will discover that it becomes easier to forgive others. Don’t be like the young monk whose rigid adherence to a rule blinded him to the senior monk’s kindness. Leave the past where it belongs, in the past. As Jack Kornfield reminds us, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.” Practice forgiveness. Step into the present moment. Let bygones be bygones.

Namaste

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Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Yoga is a pathway to happiness. As more and more people have begun to practice yoga postures, some once or twice a week, others everyday, they find that yoga gives them more than a physical workout. It also offers a sense of peace, inner strength, and resilience. It encourages us to live in harmony with nature and to choose actions that are healthy not only for ourselves, but also for others and the planet as well. Yoga helps us cleanse ourselves physically as well as psychologically and find our inner smile.

But what happens when the peace you experience on your yoga mat is disrupted by life’s ins and outs, its ups and downs? How do you take your yoga off the mat and make it a way of life? One way is to practice accepting reality as it is, not as you want it to be.

Have you ever caught yourself wishing that a situation would be different than it is? How many times do you pretend everything is great, hoping the problem will just disappear? Sometimes reality makes us feel uncomfortable or frustrated. Life doesn’t always go according to our plan. When we get bad news or fall on hard times, we naturally wish the situation were different. Our unwillingness to face the situation head on, not the situation itself, is what causes us to suffer.

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Click on the cartoon to view it full size.

Yoga teaches us that ignorance, in Sanskrit it is called avidya, is not bliss,  that knowledge is power. When we avoid reality, it is impossible to deal with the situation. That’s when we feel helpless and start to worry. We can make the situation worse than it actually is. Think about the times you have avoided phone calls that you thought might bring bad news, and then worried all night. Or the times you’ve avoided opening mail you didn’t want to read and then tortured yourself all day with what it might contain. Or about the time you avoided seeking medical advice for fear of what might be wrong and suffered needlessly not knowing the truth.

Have you ever bent the truth to avoid a confrontation or tortured yourself with thoughts of what might have been to avoid feeling regret? “If only I had turned left instead of right.” “If only I had taken the job I turned down instead of the one I took.” “If only I hadn’t spent all the money.” “If only I hadn’t gone on an eating binge, a drinking binge or shopping binge.” “If only I hadn’t gotten married, had gotten married, had children, didn’t have children.”

If only I could change reality.

The “If Onlies” are a form of denial and defense against feeling helpless. You are capable of looking at every situation realistically, from  the most trivial to the most serious. As unpleasant as certain realities can sometimes be, avoiding, denying or ignoring reality is an energy drain, a waste of time and in some cases, as we see in the Calvin and Hobbs cartoon above, dangerous. Avoiding reality is the cause of our suffering not the reality itself.

To strengthen your resolve to face reality head on, even if you do feel helpless to change the situation, before you begin each day recite the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” And then remind yourself, whether you like the reality of your situation or not, – Reality Is Manageable. Knowing this can help you solve whatever problem you face, find your inner smile, and your place of bliss.

Namaste

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Healthy Moments

Staying emotionally and mentally fit is just as important as remaining physically fit. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it does take intention, dedication, and focus. Here are some tips.

Make You A Priority As part of airline safety,  in the event of an emergency we’re told to put on our own oxygen mask first and then help others, including children. Why is putting yourself first important? In order to be able to take good care of others, you have to make your needs for rest, physical activity, relaxation, and spiritual renewal a priority. Putting yourself first is not the same as being selfish. Putting yourself first is practical.

Picture yourself as the center of a wheel. The spokes are attached to and radiate out from the wheel’s center. Imagine the spokes represent everyone who depends on you, family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Without a strong center, the spokes collapse and the wheel cannot turn. The same is true for you. If you do not operate from a strong center, you will burn out and become ineffective. Take a moment each day to treat yourself as if you are important. Learn to say yes to yourself, and make something you need or want a priority.

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Stay Calm In a world of unexpected events staying calm is easier said than done. Unexpected situations often require us to think fast and make quick decisions. It helps if we can remain calm. This takes practice. The best time to practice being calm and patient is when things are going well. That is truly the best preparation of all to deal with any future situation, especially an emergency.

To learn patience and calmness, practice being still. Slow down. Take a moment each day to notice your breathing. You can do this anywhere, at any time. Notice if your breathing is fast or slow, labored or easy, deep or shallow. Slow it down. Deepen it. Relax it. Take the time to glimpse a rainbow, smell a rose, or hear a baby laugh. Before you act on a decision, remember: Don’t just do something…sit there. Get calm first.
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Letting Go Of Stress When we are faced with a real or imagined physical or emotional threat, we start to feel anxious, overwhelmed or angry. These emotions increase our stress level and, if not released, can lead to headaches, heart disease, insomnia, PMS and depression.

You can relieve stress in just 10 minutes of quiet relaxation each day. This can be as simple as listening to quiet music, writing in a journal, or meditating.

You can also learn to reduce your stress through a technique called visualization. All you have to do is imagine how you would like to feel. Maybe you would like to feel peaceful. Close your eyes and picture a peaceful setting, like a sun setting on the ocean’s horizon. Take a moment to concentrate on it. Maybe you would like to feel content and secure. Picture a scene that evokes those feelings in you, like a mother lovingly holding her infant. Take a moment and concentrate on such an image. Imagine what you would hear, feel, and smell. Do this for a few moments each day.

Reality Is Manageable It’s usually not the situation you are in, but the way you see the situation that causes stress. Most of us blame our stress on something or someone outside of ourselves. If we are late for an appointment, we blame the traffic jam we’re in, not the fact that we didn’t give ourselves enough time to be on time. When we are faced with the possibility of a change we don’t like, instead of looking for the opportunity the change may bring, we tell ourselves what a horrible situation we are in. If we have a negative reaction toward someone else, it’s easy to blame our reaction on the other person instead of looking within and examining our own attitude.

We create our own stress by our reactions to situations. While we may not be able to control our circumstances, with awareness and patience, we can control our responses to our circumstances. So if a situation is stressful and you cannot change the situation, take moment and change the way you see the situation. Remember, reality is manageable. It’s all in how we see it.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to keep emotionally and mentally fit it. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of these suggestions. Practicing these tips daily will help transform your life. Go ahead. Give it a try. It’s the healthy thing to do and each one only takes a moment.

Namaste

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The Key to Happiness

The mind is a powerful tool. We can use it to love or hate, forgive or condemn, create or destroy, accept or blame, trust or doubt, respect or shame, despair or hope. How we choose to use our minds is entirely up to us. Every thought we think creates our reality. The mind affects how you feel, and what you do. All of your experiences are the outer effects of your inner thoughts.

Many of us think we have no control over our minds, but this is only because we have been taught to believe this is so. In fact, we are capable of controlling each and every thought we have. When we can’t change anything else, we can choose to change our minds.

KEY TO HAPPINESS

Human beings have what psychologists call a psychological immune system. It is a system of cognitive processes that helps us change our viewpoint, enabling us to feel better about our circumstances, conditions, or situations, no matter how undesirable. In other words, we are not dependent on getting what we want or having things go our way to feel happy. Instead of chasing after experiences that we hope will bring us joy, we can manufacture our own happiness by changing our minds. Our brains are hardwired that way.

Toni, (not her real name) a 29-year-old quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair for five years, was referred for therapy. She was depressed and acting out in self- destructive ways; resisting help she couldn’t do with out, firing her caregivers with regularity, and generally being non-compliant with her medical treatment. The story she told herself about her quadriplegia was, “God is punishing me. Before the accident I wanted to kill myself so God took the use of my hands from me.”  “Do you still want to kill yourself?” her therapist asked. “Yes, but now I can’t. That’s why I’m depressed.”

Being trapped in a body that did not move was bad enough, but being trapped in a negative mindset, which was there before her accident, was literally destroying Toni. Like Toni, many of us are trapped by negative or limiting thoughts. We distract ourselves from our negative thinking and its effects by searching for and relying on experiences to make us happy, never realizing that by changing our thoughts we can change our experience of any situation.

Toni knew she couldn’t change her paralysis but through therapy she discovered that she could change her mind. Through techniques of meditation, controlled breathing, and deep inner listening she learned to use her mind as a tool of awareness. She strengthened her psychological immune system and was able to develop the insight she needed to find peace of mind, hope, self-love, kindness, happiness, and forgiveness. She even became friends with the man who caused her accident.

Five months into therapy, Toni’s perspective had shifted from despair to hope. When asked, “Why do you suppose God kept you alive?” she corrected, “You mean why did God give me a second chance at life?” Her therapist nodded yes. “Because He knew I didn’t love myself when I had my accident and He wanted me to have a chance to do that, so He gave me a chance to rest and to use my mind to think, and to use my imagination, and to learn about myself.” Because she had no distractions and no other choice, Toni had to rely on her mind as a tool of awareness, which is the proper use of mind. Her efforts did not go unrewarded.

As her psychological wounds healed, Toni’s body and spirit also healed. She began to take good care of her body by complying with her medical treatment. She began to develop positive relationships with her caregivers and returned to the church where she had once sung in the choir. She began to experience a level of support she never imagined possible.

Your mind is a tool for you to use any way you wish. Instead of relying on winning the lottery, finding the man or woman of your dreams, landing that big contract you’ve been working hard to get, strengthen your psychological immune system. Tap into your ability to create your own happiness.

  • Attend personal growth workshops and go to psychotherapeutic counseling.
  • Make dietary changes and engage in various forms of physical activity such as yoga, martial arts, or other forms of exercise.
  • Do meditation and prayer.

It does not matter where you start. The key to happiness lies in cultivating practices that strengthen your innate capacity to create your own happiness whether or not you get what you want.

Namaste

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Peace of Mind

When everything around you is in turmoil, when chaos and confusion abound, how do you find peace of mind?
IMG_1180The ability to find peace within a chaotic situation was brought home to me most profoundly when I traveled as a pilgrim with 25 others to visit temples in South India. Being in the temples was stimulating, intense and at times overwhelming. The temples are places of ritual and worship but they are also like community centers where people pray, meditate, chant, celebrate, bathe in the temple tanks, sleep, and eat; children play there, and vendors conduct business on the colorfully decorated stone floors under gorgeously painted ceilings.  Everyone comes to the temple, worshippers, beggars, vendors, tourists, pilgrims, monkeys, goats, and even elephants.

IMG_1037The temples are the heart of the community and as such pulsate with life and energy. Quiet they are not. When we sat to meditate on the cool stone floors of these ancient buildings in our saris and dhotis in 90-degree heat the surroundings were anything but serene. Yet as I sat with 25 others in the midst of what felt like pandemonium, closed my eyes, focused on my breath, silently repeated a mantra I became so absorbed in the meditation that at some point all sound, movement, and any awareness of others disappeared. This, I thought, is peace of mind.

IMG_1360Peace of mind is not just a state of mind. It doesn’t happen automatically. It requires focused attention, commitment, and practice. It requires the 3 D’s – determination, dedication, and devotion. It means organizing and concentrating the unruly forces of the mind, sometimes referred to as monkey mind, on what can bring us peace instead of conflict. This means shifting our focus from an external to an internal perspective and contemplating peaceful responses to people, situations, and circumstances. 

IMG_0198In addition to a daily meditation practice one of the ways I practice peace of mind is by contemplating and meditating on wisdom that inspires me that others have shared. I especially enjoy these contemplations during the winter months when introspection seems to come more naturally. As the sun snuggles beneath her blanket of clouds to take her long winter’s nap it seems easy to turn within and contemplate the wisdom, that like a cup of comfort, soothes and calms. When I lose my way, when I become uncertain, when I become fearful, or despairing, these are words of wisdom that help me regain perspective and support me in being peaceful and serene. As we enter a new year, I hope some of the timeless wisdom that has touched my life can offer you comfort when you need it most.

Forgiveness
“Do not brood over your shortcomings or despise the lack of understanding that led you to them. In the net of experience, as well as in the net of wisdom, one can catch many butterflies of worthwhile lessons – even though it is sometimes the hard way.”  Paramahansa Yogananda

“Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.” Jack Kornfield

“If you make a mistake don’t do it again. If you do it again, don’t do it again.” Gopalaiyar Sundaramoorty

Acceptance
“If you want to stop suffering, stop asking the Universe for what it’s not offering.” Douglas Brooks

“Ask for what you want, but don’t demand it. Accept whatever happens for now. Turn up your love even if you don’t get what you want.” A Course In Miracles

Love
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you love. It will not lead you astray.” Rumi

“The day will come when after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”  Teilhard De Chardin

“The whole problem with people is…they don’t know what matters and what doesn’t. I was gonna say, the problem is they know what matters, but they don’t choose it. You know how hard that is Lily?,,,The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.” Sue Monk Kidd, “The Secret Life of Bees”

Rather than explaining what these snippets of wisdom and inspiration mean to me, if they speak to you, I hope you will contemplate them, meditate on them, derive your own meaning, and then apply what you learn to your interactions with others and to your daily activities.

If you feel inspired to do so, please share some of your favorite inspirational messages that bring you peace of mind.

Peaceful New Year!

Namaste

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