The Privilege of Gratitude

It’s another beautiful, sunny day here in Vancouver, a city I am proud to call home. A city that in many ways is safe enough, and affords me the privilege of gratitude. I am sitting down by the beach, surrounded by loved ones and nature, with the added bonus thats it’s the weekend! During moments like this gratitude is a natural by product, which follows a sense of ease, vicariously linked to pleasure.

But what about gratitude when it’s Monday morning, or at the end of a long day of work, with a tired child who needs your attention? What about gratitude that is not evoked from a natural state of pleasure, but from discontent or difficulty in some way?

Robert Holden says, “The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become”. In a sense I think that what he is saying here is that we have to be willing to show up, to check our expectations and be with ourselves beyond a limited sense of self. A sense of self that is not defined by small, narrow thoughts, but by seeing clearly, and accepting, the truth as it is in the moment.

Gratitude is easy on a warm, sunny day relaxing at the beach. But gratitude in the presence of mental stress, tension, or discontent, well that’s an elixir-of-life version. Gratitude has the potential to inspire something that was once unseen. Gratitude that remembers the choice to orient to what is good in the present moment in spite of discontentment is noble and carries grace in its pocket. It is through the re-orienting toward what is good that the practice of gratitude can cultivate a softer sense of self, befriended by presence with self and life around you.

Life is stressful; let’s not kid ourselves. Being grateful when we’re stressed can seem like an impossible task. And the way in, is through, resting in simplicity. Start small, notice what pleases or relaxes you in your surroundings. Soften the windows of your eyes. Pay attention to the smiles of your loved ones, the warmth of your hands around your tea mug. Allow some simple pleasure to offer itself to you as a token of homecoming, returning you back to your senses, breathing your body back into presence so that you can begin again into the next moment and deal with the situation at hand. Practicing gratitude in easy moments is a good way to start, fine tuning the brain’s neural networks toward tolerance when life gets challenging.

Gratitude as a practice is available at any given moment, if we look for it. It can soften our relationship to unpredictability and to that which is beyond our control. Gratitude is carried forward by the attitude we hold toward ourselves. To lean into the experience of life and watch, wait for something to be grateful for, no matter how small. This is no easy feat as we all know, but the more that we can practice small moments of daily gratitude, the greater the possibility becomes to fine tune our relationship to life’s challenges. In essence gratitude is the companion to self compassion, befriending our potential to be with life on life’s terms. Reminding us that we are ok just as we are.

As Ram Daas once said, “We are all just walking each other home”. So too we can walk our gratitude along the path with us, toward greater presence and self acceptance in our willingness to practice for ourselves and each other. So jump on the gratitude train, look out the window of your life, which has no destination. Watch…wait and wonder. Gratitude lies just around the next corner.

Compassion Compass

As I write this we are two-thirds of the way through 2016. Two-thirds through a year fraught with violence and unprecedented political and global uncertainty. I find it difficult at times not to become overwhelmed by the disproportionate amount of suffering in the world. My own interpretation is that this overwhelm is what makes us human, impacted in ways that are necessary to the function of caring deeply about others.

Like many people, I know intimately how the path of overwhelm can lead to a tightening in the body and the psyche. Thoughts get narrower, the body accommodates accordingly, to protect, to defend. The coping strategy is to judge self, and to criticize others.

We live in a world that moves at a pace that is often pathological in nature. The obsessive and compulsive qualities that propel us away from being in relationship with ourselves and others are in a sense a reaction to our own helplessness. Unfortunately, this notion of busyness is rewarded in society, shackled to a void of unworthiness and misguided by a belief that having and doing more will keep our loneliness at bay. It is simply a myth. Our worthiness is nurtured by our capacity to care deeply about ourselves and those around us. To know that we are enough just as we are.

As I am witness to other people’s suffering both in my office, in the day-to-day of life, and in watching the news, I ask myself, how do I cultivate hope in place of suffering? My own resolution to this question has become a daily practice of leaning into myself with kindness. Leaning toward others with kindness. This is a state that I can measure in the smile that is returned from the stranger, or the softening in my own belly. A remembering that I have some control over, in my intention to decide. This privilege of choice affords me the opportunity to be with someone else and to not leave myself in return.

My partner and I have a dog. While our dog is older in years, she is youthful in disposition and loving in character. She brings smiles in her curious nature with strangers, uninhibited in the ways that only dogs know best.

She is my running buddy, she is my compassion compass. With her I am connected to that which exists in us all, our basic goodness. Some call it love, some call it compassion, I like to think that my dog would call it being. It is our essence and true nature.

So, I smile at random strangers. I wish them good morning. I look up to the elderly man on the porch who feels invisible. I greet him hello and watch his face turn from a cloak of loneliness to curiosity and delight. A random act of kindness has the ability to re-instill a person’s capacity for re-remembering that they matter. It is the mechanism for countering our own inner terrorist. It is the collective archetype of mother, putting her hands around us, whispering “there, there…sshhh…everything is ok…you matter”.

When we call upon kindness toward ourselves, or another, we are no longer separated, we belong to one another. We are one another.

In a world with so much uncertainty, I invite you re-remember. Breathe, slow down. Breathe some more…. Watch…. Wait for what is needed in that moment. Do you need to be kinder to yourself, or to another? Can you soften in the body? Can you loosen in the mind…? Breathe some more.

Press repeat….