Gratitude Rituals

Grateful people are happy people. Appreciating what you have and how far you’ve come is one of the foundations for living a more mindful, more meaningful life. Gratitude rituals are present in the teachings of so many wellness gurus that it almost feels cliche. Since I’ve started my intentional journey into mindfulness and wellness it seems that every person, every book, every podcast, and every article that talks about how to be a happier person tells you that gratitude is key and that ritualizing it creates a habit of thankfulness.

So it’s not really cliche–it’s something that actually works.

I’ve incorporated a couple of different gratitude rituals into my daily life. I’ll probably delve into each item much deeper in follow-up blogs. Here are some of the things I do to celebrate life and achievement:

  • During yoga, I’ll do gratitude sun salutations. With each routine set, I focus on one aspect of my life that I’m thankful for-home, marriage, family, financial stability, etc.
  • I keep a simple journal at work that I use as a daily planner. In it, I write out, in long form, three things that I am grateful for each morning before delving into my work day-coffee, corgis, upbeat music
  • During my lunch break, I often take a walk through a graveyard that’s around the corner from my office. My first lap around the path is always mindfulness focused, and part of my mindfulness practice during this walk is to once again think on those things that I’m grateful for that day.
  • I’m currently practicing a meditation method taught by Vishan Lakhiani that guides you through 6-phases. During one of these phases-the aptly named gratitude phase-you are instructed to think of three things your grateful for in your personal life, three things you are thankful for in your professional life, and then three things that you love, or are grateful for, about your self.
I am grateful that this isn’t my sock.

I think my practice here may be a bit extreme, but I want it to become second nature for me to be happy with what I have in this moment.  So when the big sucky situations happen, I’ve exercised and toned that gratitude muscle, and I can focus on the positive instead of the temporary negative of those moments.

I never want to take my life, my felicity for granted. I’ve worked long and hard to get where I am, and I’m going to get even better.

In her book, The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane has several exercises to express gratitude. One that I loved is to sit down with a pen and paper and write out five things that you can see in the room with you that you are grateful for. I am grateful for my cell phone that connects me to so many people. I am grateful for air conditioning because I live in the south and OMG the humidity. I am grateful for windows, so I can see the outside world. I am grateful for my chapstick, because it keeps my lips soft and healthy.

There are so many ways to get into the habit of gratitude. It’s all about taking a moment to stop and ponder on the joys of right now, no matter how small or how bizarre. Just allow yourself to be pleased with your progress and to be happy.

So tell me, what are you grateful for today?

 

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On Meditation: Part One

Meditation is the art of reaching a state where you are free from thoughts, emotions, and stresses —

Yeah, right.

That, my friends, is not meditation. That is nirvana, enlightenment, or whatever you want to call the ultimate phase of the human soul. Very few have ever reached this state.

No, meditation is a journey or an exercise. Meditation is simply acknowledging that for a few moments, you can let go of all the stressors in your life. You can detach yourself, and in doing so, can allow yourself to observe the now. We spend so much of our lives worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, that we don’t allow ourselves to feel the present.

Meditation has great benefits, both mental and physical, that I won’t go into here. Just know that every once in a while, you need to stop and just be. It’s kind of like when you work out–you don’t actually build muscle until you allow yourself to rest. It’s the healing of those torn muscle fibers that allow your to gain form and strength. The same is true for your emotional well-being. We can’t learn or grow as a person unless we give ourselves time to rest and and heal from the little tears that happen everyday to our non-physical being.

Even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Stop, take a few moments to observe your breath, observe how your body feels right now. Allow yourself to be quiet. And if your brain or your heart starts screwing with you, tell those pesky organs to calm down. Label the intrusions as thoughts or emotions – or be more descriptive. The more specific you can be with your labeling, the easier it is to push those interruptions aside and you can refocus on the here and now.

My meditation hammock

You can meditate anywhere at anytime. There’s no strict rules. Personally, my favorite time to meditate is in the evenings around dusk. I love to go outside and listen to the sounds of nature – crickets, treefrogs, the distant ducks and geese. I meditate in my hammock, on my porch swing (which is where I am now), or on the deck adjoining my bedroom while I sit on a pillow. I meditation anywhere from 5-15 minutes usually. From the time I close my eyes until I take that last deep breath and reopen them, the change in the sky and my surroundings is drastic and inspiring.

So I encourage you, find a place where you are peaceful and comfortable – a room in your house, on the bus on your commute, on a cushy bed of moss under a willow tree (beware of chiggers!)-and give meditation a shot.

My Happy Place

It’s a cliche that when you’re angry, you should try to find your “Happy Place.” But a tired joke this sentiment is not. Recognizing and defining your happy place is essential to resetting and realigning yourself when necessary.

Being able to stop yourself, to take a moment to close your eyes and breathe deep, and  to visual yourself in a place where you find calm and peace is a powerful technique. But before you can do this, you first have to identify where and what makes you content.

This could be the ocean on your last beach vacation, the lapping waves, the breeze, the gulls calling, the smell of the salty air. Or maybe it’s sitting on top of a tall mountain, overlooking a vast range, the sounds of song birds in the air, a patch of summer sweet blackberries behind you where hummingbirds take a break from their long summer sojourns. Or maybe it’s lounging in a big comfy chair in front of a roaring fireplace, snuggling in your quilt with a steaming hot cup of mulled apple cider in you hands.

Personally, I have a couple of visualization that I consider my happy places. The main one that I visualize when I need to check my emotions or thoughts, however, is my home. Specifically, I close my eyes and think about the wooded view I have from my back porch and of Mount Yonah  the lonely mountain, lording over the towns below, my husbands arms wrapped around me in a warm embrace, birds chattering in the forest that surrounds us, and the light scent of butterfly bushes in the air.

The Loebick Lodge
My happy place

A good happy place visualization should include all the senses, or as many as possible. Focus on the visual part of the visualization,  yes, but also the sounds, the smells, the tactile sensations, and yes, you should include taste if your happy place calls for it.

So why does this work? It’s thought to be a type of placebo effect. You brain reacts the same way to both experience and memory. So simply recalling the effects of a certain event can release the same hormones, endorphins, and  cause all sorts of chemical reactions (this can also be a bad thing, like when you remember traumatic events, but that’s a different topic all together).

Practice make perfect. The more that you take you mind to your happy place, the more reflexive the technique becomes, so that the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or experiencing an anxiety spiral, can can call up your happy place to help pull you out of the darkness.

*Disclaimer: The happy place technique is a supplement and not a substitute for proper medical advice or medications. Chemical imbalances are real. Please treat yourself accordingly.