I have been thinking more and more about gratitude lately. This is relatively new to me, as this is a subject that I had never thought could remotely concern me.
You see, I used to believe that practicing gratitude had something to do with God, or with religion. I thought that saying thanks, or giving grace, was what religious people did before and after a meal.
I was brought up in quite a religious environment, although faith was never imposed on me. But I got the opportunity to observe members of my family that were practicing daily. I asked them what all that was about, and why they prayed first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, before breaking bread, etc.
The short answer I got on a regular basis was: “We are thanking the Lord for giving us the opportunity to live a new day. We are thanking Him for being alive, for giving us food to survive, and the faith the thrive.”
So from a very young age, I associated giving gratitude to thanking god. Little did I know that even if I didn’t believe in religious dogmas, or in any kind of God described in their books, gratitude is secular practice, in its purest spiritual sense.
So what changed my mind, and how did I come to practice gratitude every single day, making me a more compassionate, happier, and most of all, a more mindful human being?
As I was coming back from my daily 10k run one morning, I passed by in front of our local clinic. There were two guys having a chat. Both in their mid-thirties. They were both in wheel chairs, and although it was not my first time seeing people in wheel chairs, because of the state of mind that I was in at that particular moment, I suddenly felt a great emotion.
I started thinking, wow, these guys must be so courageous. They are just hanging out here, with what for me seems like a great disadvantage, and instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they are laughing, having a nice coffee in the sun, and enjoying their lives.
That brought my thoughts to my own life. I started thinking of all the things that I was lucky to have and enjoy daily. Of course the first thing that came to mind was how lucky I was to be able to go running every morning in a healthy body.
As the thoughts continued, I started thinking about more material things, such as my running shoes that allowed me to run without hurting my knees, and my coffee machine that wakes me up every morning with a delicious cup of my favorite brew.
I started to realize that I was feeling grateful for all those things that I never once gave a second thought about, until now.
But that was not the strongest part of my moment of clarity: I then started to think about deeper and more meaningful things that I had in my life : people.
My wife was the fist thing that came to mind. She is my partner, my best friend, my inspiration. I trust her with my life, and our love for each other has proven to be, again and again throughout the years, unconditional.
My emotion levels were rising, and I am having goosebumps whilst typing it at this very moment.
I then started thinking about my grand mother, and what an amazing human being she is. She is 92 years old, and has lived through many hardships. She went through so much, and yet, she radiates love and joy every single day. People go see her everyday, because she can cheer you up like nobody can. She is the most caring and loving person in the world. She also reads a book a day, and I call her more often than I type the word google.
I started feeling so grateful that I was raised and educated by this extraordinary woman. She taught me everything. Reading, writing, counting, singing, loving, cooking, sharing. I also felt so grateful that she was still alive, still well, and still deeply present in our lives.
I get up at 4:30 every morning to meditate, exercise, read and write. So all this happened before 7 am. Needless to tell you that after that experience, all my troubles faded away and I had one of the most productive and awesome day of my life.
Let me assure you, that since that beautiful morning, I have been practicing gratitude and journaling every single day. I made it a key part of my morning routine, and it radically changed my life for the better. It also improved my relationships a great deal.
You see, what I discovered bit by bit was that when I am in the process of practicing gratitude, even for simple things like being grateful to having an iPhone connected to the internet, I can only be in the present. I can only be here and now.
I have not yet managed to be sad, or depressed whilst practicing gratitude. I have never managed to be troubled about past events, or anxious and stressed about the future to come, whilst practicing gratitude.
I have come to the conclusion that you cannot feel hurt and gratitude simultaneously.
This is why I strongly believe, that when you find yourself in a bad situation, or that you start having negative and dark thoughts about anything, especially about yourself, close your eyes, breath deeply, and ask yourself those questions :
- Who do I love ? Who do I love deeply? Who is part of my life that I am so grateful to have by my side? ( It can be anyone: a family member, a friend, a lover, your pet, … )
- What are am grateful for that enhances the quality of my life? ( It can be anything. Your blender/juice maker? Your laptop? your work space? your yoga mat? your running shoes? )
- What tools / skills / abilities do I have for which I am grateful? ( Again, it can be anything. Maybe you can play beautiful music, or cook delicious foods. Maybe you can make people smile, laugh, or feel safe. Maybe you have the ability to connect with people… )
Try it for a month. Try asking yourselves these three questions daily, and I guarantee you, that this simple exercise will bring your mindfulness to another level.
Source: Raphael Reiter