|Image from NBC website (msnbc.com)|
It is my privilege to share with you a post attempting to answer this question written for Subho's Jejune Diet by Aarathi Selvan. A practitioner of holistic psychotherapy, Aarathi is also a "mommy blogger" at Between Life's Doings, one of the nicest blogs on mindfulness I have ever read. Over to +Aarathi Selvan
I live with the fact that the mental health services provided at my place of work can be against my philosophy of care. I also live with the reality of leaving my little one at home in the care of others who absolutely love her, while I work towards a better world for myself and others, and yet at the same time yearn for and miss her. I live with the knowledge that small children are shot dead and slit open in schools around the world. In a world that may look like it is going to pieces every day, in a life which seems to have more downs than ups, finding sanity, grace and peace seem like such an effort.
And an effort it is, to find peace, sanity and grace amidst life’s difficulties. Evolutionary psychologists will tell you that we are wired to look out for what is wrong in a situation rather than what is going well. Our survival depends of making sure that we scan for negative things in our circumstances. It is but natural to have that bent of mind then, to look at and focus on the negative side of life and life situation. However, Buddhist psychology seems to gently put our fears to rest. In the words of the Pema Chodron, this negative view of the world is merely "an innocent misunderstanding that we all share, something that can be turned around, corrected, and seen through, as if we were in a dark room and someone showed us where the light switch was."
The route to action, the route to looking at life with a balanced view, the way to look at my own circumstance without being bogged down by all that is negative around me, the way for me is through gratitude. Being grateful for the good in my life and being grateful for the difficult, miserable and hard things in my life. Gratitude helps me look back with a realistic lens that both good and bad have happened in my life, and I was able to find the “good” (e.g. My strengths as well as others’) within the “bad”. Gratitude also helps me look at right now with a view of mindful awareness of the “good” and “bad” in my situation. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology swears by gratitude as one of the most important tools to develop a happy life and to beat depression and anxiety, two of the oft occurring mental illnesses in the world.
Gratitude is a daily practice of being thankful for the gifts of life, for being thankful for both joys and sorrow that make us fully human. When you start a gratitude practice, the key is to partake in it every evening for two weeks at least (you will eventually get hooked). It is important to stick to it in order to gradually change the way our mind is bent towards focusing on the negative.
Here are 5 ways to practice gratitude:
1. Daily Gratitude Journal: I have a little book of gratitude that I write in every evening. I write about three things that I am grateful for on that day or the previous evening and why I am grateful for it (doesn’t have to be earth shattering for you to be able to journal, simple things in life are a blessing). I began this practice several months ago, coincidentally (and thankfully) at a time when I was in a very difficult patch with my life circumstances. A month after writing in this journal feverishly, I looked back with a feeling of burden about my life circumstance and reading what I had written for a month gave me a deep insight into the reality of my situation. I was able to acknowledge that yes, it was a difficult patch but I managed it and was able to be loving in my relationships with my daughter and husband. I managed it and I could do it again! This realization really got me hooked to journaling every day. In a week I might forget or not want to write once or twice but I come back to it all the time. Start journaling and see the difference yourself.
2. Gratitude to yourself: In my journal I also write about three things I am grateful for about myself and why. Such as, “ I am grateful for waking up at 5:30 this morning and practicing yoga before the day began (gratitude to self),this is an affirmation of my commitment to stay mindful about my body and my mind (the “why” of the gratitude). Journaling about being grateful to myself is a way of acknowledging my strengths and enhancing my ability to stand true to myself regardless of circumstances and people. This is especially important if you find yourself being harsh or critical about yourself.
3. Gratitude for difficult times: this is something that rescues me every time I do it. Recently I had been feeling a slump in my mood state, owning to some practices at my work place, like the way children with disabilities are treated. I have been ensuring that I model for the caretakers and “experts” a gentle and patient presence for the children I see. While it is anything but easy to be grateful for the situation that these children sometimes experience, I am grateful that I am thrown in the midst of this difficulty, not just to advocate for what is right but also to learn more about how I can help change this situation. Writing about being grateful for difficult times as steps to better living, helps for sure.
|One of our many welcome home invaders!|
4. Gratitude with infants and toddlers: If you have an infant or a toddler, practicing gratitude becomes mandatory. I say this because there are times when I feel furious with my little one. She doesn’t want to eat, she wants her way with things, she wakes up at 2 a.m. every morning of a certain week, she ignores me and plays with her caretaker when I am back from work - all things that often get me riled up and tied in knots. I remind myself to just look at her, just be with her, around her and watch her in wonderment, watch her the way she watches other things around her - with curiosity, eagerness and growing independence. Then I experience a burst of gratitude, my mind opens up to what appeared to be trouble. Gratitude opens my heart to her and my situation and I am able to think creatively about dealing with what seemed like trouble. Writing about it can help you process how you can see difficult situations with your baby as gifts to be with them more lovingly.
5. Gratitude with family: A great way to inculcate gratitude among older children is to practice it along with them. This can be an endearing family activity that you do with everyone at home once every week. You can have a large gratitude jar where your messages of gratitude about every week go in a little piece of paper. You can do a monthly or bi-monthly check-in where you spend an evening reading everyone’s gratitude notes over a cup of hot chocolate and giggles.
Finally, gratitude is way to stay open to all of life’s situations. It is a practice, something that sticks with you when you vow to nurture it in your life. Agreed life is difficult, no one said otherwise. But life is also a blessing if you can be grateful for the small gifts.