While queueing for coffee at the Farmer’s Market on Friday, three young children and their mother were ahead of me. There was a powerful northern chill sweeping through. The children were wrapped up better than everyone else in snowsuits, hats and boots. As the queue shuffled along, the mother told her tribe “You better appreciate this”. They were so bundled up, I assumed they hadn’t heard her. Five steps forward, she repeated it. Another five steps, they ordered, and she repeated the phrase a third time. As the youngest child, who I guess was four (ish) reached to the counter for his drink, she said it again. “Mammy, what does the word appreciate mean?” he asked. His older siblings looked at her looking for an explanation. Perplexed, she looked down at them and up to me. With a sigh of weariness, “Please remember to say thank you”. She was exhausted. She was a mother, she was a home-schooling teacher, she was a home-maker, out at the farmers market, laden down with produce. She might have come here on her own when the children were at school. And maybe, just maybe, all her dreams, her desires, her needs and wants, were not being taken care of as she held on strong for everyone else.
If you look up “Gratitude Practice” online, you’ll be given a wealth of resources on how to cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation towards life. When you sign up for my newsletter, I even send you prompts to help you begin a practice of gratitude journaling. But what if, nearly one year into a year where the rug has been pulled out from under us, you just want to wallow for a bit? What if, you are tired and just want to feel that tiredness and wait it out?
I say go for it. Feel the sense of injustice that you feel. The important thing to remember is that all your feelings are valid. All your emotions are valid. And both will pass, both good and bad.
They. Will. Pass.
Mindfulness offers you techniques to avoid getting caught in the spiral of negative thoughts associated to these feelings and emotions.
Dr Rick Hanson studies the effects of happiness and how it shapes the brain. One practice he recommends is to take in the good and respect how you’re feeling at the same time. Multiple things can be true at the same time. You can feel weary, taken for granted and sick of the same old same old. You can also feel good about yourself, maybe you woke up this morning and your skin looks good. Maybe, as you stood at the sink for the umpteenth time today, you looked out the window and noticed a robin looking in at you?
Taking in the Good isn’t an active search for things to be grateful for. Taking in the Good allows you to zone out from a narrow, single perspective for a bit. An example of zooming out is to look at your garden or a local park. You’ll understand everything depends on each other. Right now, the soil is dependant on the rotting leaves to provide sustenance and protection. Blackbirds are dependant on this as the worms come up to eat these leaves. Everything in your garden is connected.
In a recent interview, psychologist Phillipa Perry, said that telling children to say please and thanks defeats the purpose. Children model behaviour, if they see us appreciating the small moments, they will understand appreciation. For some reason, adults tend to forget this. How can we cultivate appreciation in our lives? A more deliberate practice for us is to take in the good. Right now, stop reading this, look out the window and look up at the sky. As I write this, the rain has passed and the wind is blowing with strength. Some clouds are moving fast, others don’t seem to be moving. There is a bullfinch sitting on a branch of a tree. In the room I am in, my eyes are brought to a new lamp, a book I will enjoy later and a photo on the wall from a holiday with a friend ten years ago. I’m not associating deliberate gratitude or appreciation to these things. They are all external things. And they bring a sense of inner peace and inner joy.
Take five deliberate belly raising breaths as you take in something good.
Taking this a step further, by focussing on the quality of attention we bring to a moment of time, we can feel fuelled or depleted. And how we pay attention, over time, shapes our minds and how we attend to life. This is a core teaching of mindfulness practices.
As that little boy drank his hot chocolate last week, he licked his lips between sips. In a matter-of-fact way, he turned to his mother and said “This is warming my belly Mammy, do you want some”.
Right now, maybe warm hot chocolate is enough to let us practice Taking in the Good, for it to be a gentle start towards something deeper.
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