mindful Gratitude Challenge Week 1
Below is week 1 of the mindful Gratitude Challenge:
Day 1: Gratitude Challenge * One thing that went well *
Bring some gratitude to one interaction that went well today. What was it? Who else was involved? What was your role in this interaction? [know that when we focus on something good, bringing gratitude, we start to prime our brains to look for those occurrences more and more in life].
Day 2: Gratitude Challenge * Coming to your senses*
Our human bodies were gifted with many wonders, 5 of which include your senses. Some even view “thinking” as a sense (especially in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction). So today, pick your favorite sense—the way you enjoy experiencing the world—and bring gratitude for being able to use that sense. You can even expand your gratitude and write down what that sense does for you.
What sense do you use to take in the world around you? Are you moved by scenes of beauty; a flower blooming, the smile on a child’s face, or the colors that are rich and vivid in the world? Or do you enjoy listening to sound; to the fall of rain, the voice of a loved one, the sound of your favorite music or, the symphony of sounds all around you? What about your old snout? What does your olfactory sense pick up and take in? The smell of a flower, something baking in the oven, your favorite perfume, or the scent of your favorite person? What about touch? What calls out to you with this sense? The feel of your dog’s fur? The touch of a hand when you may in fact need one? The feeling of swimming in a pool with water all around you, or the warm feeling of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day? And what about taste? What calls to you? The way “fresh baked anything” tastes in your mouth? The taste of coffee or cocoa that brings you back to this moment? The taste of your favorite ice cream, or favorite meal?
So, identify the sense you want to bring gratitude for today, and then use it fully. Take note of any intricacies that you may notice about this sense. Bring gratitude to being able to experience this sense, and for what it does for you (allow you to: see beauty, hear joy, feel love, taste heaven, and smell goodness). When we bring gratitude for things we generally take for granted, we realize how special that “thing” is. So today, and perhaps on Thanksgiving Day too, bring gratitude to your senses and experience the world!
And as you take in the experience, take a moment to say to yourself, “this is what gratitude feels like” and then really “feel” into what might be happening in your body—an openness, warmth, energy, calm. Just feel, notice and savor! This is how gratitude starts to affect our physical bodies—beginning with our senses and then moving into our hearts.
Day 3: Gratitude Challenge * It’s All About the Breath*
As in life, in the world of mindfulness, the one thing that we know that is constant and consistent is our breath. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, is famous for saying, “If you are breathing you have more going right for you than wrong.” And boy is he right! After all, we know that our bodies can go three days without water, and three weeks without food. But deny of us our breath for more than 3 minutes, and we are doomed!
In mindful meditation, our breath is a reminder that we are not only alive, but we are alive in this moment. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Our breath cannot be experienced in the future or past. It is only available in the present moment,” and thus becomes our anchor to life… to this moment—the only one we have.
When we look at the breath in mindful meditation, we are reminded of its nature. Of how it comes and goes. Of how the body knows just what to do to take in what will nurture it, and release what no longer serves it. There is no need to control the breath, or change it. Mother nature has perfected the process or cycle of inhalation and exhalation. Sometimes we may find we are breathing with difficulty, but nevertheless, we are still breathing. It is to this cycle that we bring our gratitude for today. This cycle, this breath. This is the only moment we have to exist, make a difference, contribute to, and experience. What will you do with this breath, as you take in life? Perhaps bring gratitude to that fact.
So today, as you go about your business—perhaps take a moment as you transition, bringing attention to your breath. Bringing gratitude to being alive in this moment. With each transition, coming back to your breath and how grateful you are for it will allow your body to do what it needs to do: rejuvenate and reorganize mind, body and heart, from stress and interactions as you go about your day. Try to recognize the gift of breathing at least three times today. And when you go to bed tonight, bring back that gratitude for the breath that allowed you to do what you need to do in life!
Day 4: Mindful Gratitude Challenge * Appreciation for our Bodies *
Yesterday we appreciated our breath and breathing. Now it’s time to bring appreciation to the rest of the body. After all, the rest of the body supports living this life: circulating blood, digesting food, allowing for mobility, allowing for imagination, creation and reflection, and allowing for growth. So, for today, I invite you to do a brief 5-minute Body Scan with Gratitude Meditation, appreciating all the areas of your body– acknowledging the work it does day in and day out. This practice is based on the body scan meditations in both the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as well as Mindful Self-Compassion class that I teach. It can be done in the morning, evening, or anytime when you have 5 minutes to spare. You can always personalize this meditation, shortening or lengthening the duration with the amount of detail on which you focus. Here’s how it’s done:
· Sit comfortably in a chair, or on a pillow or cushion on the floor, or you can lie down if in an area where you’ll be undisturbed. If you are sleepy or tired, do this gratitude practice sitting up so that you do not go to sleep.
· Start by closing your eyes gently, or adopting a downward gaze. Sitting tall and alert, allowing your arms to rest on your knees or in your lap. Feet firmly planted on the floor.
· Taking a big inhale through your nostrils, slowly exhaling through your mouth, and returning to a normal breathing pattern.
· Noticing the experience you are having right now, in this moment. Acknowledging any bundled thoughts or emotions that followed you into this moment to exist just as they are. Not trying to push anything away, but just tuning in to your direct experience right now.
· Bringing awareness to your body sitting, breathing. Noticing the pressure of where your body makes contact with the chair, pillow, or cushion. If sitting in a chair, noticing your feet centered and supported by the floor.
· And now gathering up your attention and bringing your spotlight of awareness to the top of your head; starting with your skull, housing your brain. Noticing the sensations you may be feeling here as you focus. Bringing gratitude to what this part of your body does for you: the skull protecting the brain; the brain the central processing unit of your body, regulating your bodily functions, and allowing you to “be.”
· Next, scan your attention down your head to your face– softening your forehead, softening around your eyes, and bringing gratitude for your sense of sight. Scanning down to your ears, allowing you to hear. Continuing to your nose, appreciating your ability to take in air and to smell. Scanning your cheeks and mouth, and softening your jaw. Bringing appreciation for supporting you in smiling, communicating, eating, tasting, etc…. Continue scanning down to your chin and neck– checking in with the back of the neck now too… appreciating how your neck supports your head and connects you to your body.
· Scanning downward, and bringing attention to any sensations you feel in the upper torso; your chest- skin and muscles. Focusing inside your chest cavity where your lungs and heart are. Bringing appreciation to the protection of these organs and then to the organs themselves for the role they play in your life. When we are having difficulty with circulation or breathing, it is then that we notice these areas. If you are having difficulty now, bringing gratitude for the degree to which you can do these things. Remembering to scan your shoulders and upper back for all the work they do as well.
· Scanning down your torso to your abdomen and pelvic area. Bringing gratitude here for the protection of the organs that lie in this region, and to the organs themselves; digestion, reproduction, etc…. Turning your attention to the back of your lower torso, and bringing attention to your middle and lower back, noticing sensations. Scanning down to the hip bones and glute muscles, bringing gratitude for the support these areas bring you every day.
· Returning your focus to your shoulders and scanning down your arms; upper, elbows, forearms, wrists, hands and fingers; bringing appreciation to the lifting, communicating and the orchestrating of life’s intricacies that these areas support.
· Returning your attention back down to your legs; noticing sensations in your thighs, quadriceps, knees, calves and shins, ankles and feet, and out to your toes. Bringing gratitude along the way for all that this large area does for you, especially in regards to mobility. If you are having difficulty with mobility in any area here, especially noting with appreciation and bringing kindness to that area of your body. When you get to the feet, bringing admiration for supporting you all day, allow you to balance in this life.
· Lastly, widening your awareness to your entire body sitting or lying here. Living and breathing, in this moment. Bringing appreciation for this life. Nobody has a perfect body, and nobody has a perfect life. As Kristin Neff in her work on mindful self-compassion says, “We (all humans) are a perfect, imperfect mess.” This is the nature of the human experience. So now, bringing gratitude for existing in this body, and knowing that we are all connected because of the shared human experience.
· Taking one last deeper than normal in-breath through your nostrils, slowly exhaling through your mouth, and gently opening your eyes.
Day 5: Mindful Gratitude Challenge * Appreciation for our Emotions*
Now it’s time to turn our attention to appreciate the myriad emotions we may experience as human beings. The ability to feel all the gradients of emotions is something that makes us so unique as a species. Be it through happiness, elation, surprise, embarrassment, sadness, disappointment or anger, it is when we are “feeling” that we know we are alive. And with mindfulness, we are encouraged to “be” with whatever emotion arises, in whatever state that may be—both positive and negative.
What we know about emotions from science is that they come and go, and are fleeting. Yes, even the positive emotions are fleeting. Armed with this knowledge, we can work through emotions by just observing and acknowledging them, knowing that their duration is not long. When we observe our emotions, we see that there is a beginning, a middle and an end to each one. With this in mind, we can view an emotion as a wave in the ocean; mustering up energy, cresting at its peak, and then slowly rolling to the shore, to be taken back out once again.
However, sometimes we become preoccupied with ruminating about the emotions and the thoughts bundled up with them—repeatedly reliving them– that we are unable to let them ride out their natural course. By hanging onto such thought/emotion bundles, our minds become clouded, keeping us stuck and looping in the emotional state. On the other hand, if we resist the emotions we are feeling, they tend to persist—building and waiting to be recognized. This is especially true for negative emotions, where one smaller event piled up on another can bring a major emotional meltdown. Conversely, if the emotion is positive, we tend to hold on to that, not wanting to let it go, which then brings a longing for what once was, and ultimately living in the past and not in this present moment. And what we know about the present moment is that it is the only one we have where we have the freedom to make a choice.
In the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, we go into depth with this concept and how to be with the emotion, and then make a mindful decision for the next action. Mindfulness says to acknowledge and allow any emotion that is here, and that you need to “feel it to heal it.” So today, as you go about your day, give appreciation to the multitude of emotions that come your way, both the positive and negative. For both states, appreciate that you are able to feel the emotion, even the sadness, as it can motivate our next action. Try to observe your emotional experience, like a scientist, noticing when it starts, peaks and ends. And then give thanks to that ability to feel the range of emotions that makes us uniquely human.
One caveat: Notice when you are in a positive state, and say to yourself, “this is what happiness, love, or joy feels like.” Breathe into it a little longer (for 3 breaths perhaps), before allowing it to subside. By doing so, you will start to rewire those pathways in your brain and strengthen the ability to feel this emotion. What we know from science is that we need more positive emotion for our well-being, as our minds are wired to recognize threats (stress) and give more meaning and importance to the negative (dates to our ancestors and the survival of our species). That is not to say that we ignore the negative.
What is recommended is to experience as many opportunities as you can for positive emotion, for they rebuild our immune systems physiologically, along with our minds and spirits psychologically, and connection to others socially. So, experience and observe what comes up for you today, and then give thanks for the ability to feel ALL emotions—for they are the thread in our tapestry of life!
Day 6: Mindful Gratitude Challenge * Appreciation for our Minds*
How many of us give thanks for the amazing minds we possess? Well, today is just for that: to observe and appreciate our minds for all the capacities they have. In mindfulness, we talk about the wandering mind (moving from one random thought to another) and the monkey mind (always chattering). We talk about it like it’s something we should avoid. At times, we refer to it as a misbehaving child. How many times have you heard, “my mind won’t listen to me.” Or, “my mind is too busy, and cannot slow down.” Maybe it’s the reinforcement of society encouraging us to multi-task: endless distractions and notifications, 24/7 connectivity and the need to go, go, go that supports the mind’s tendency to wander. It could also be that we are hard wired to “think”: about random things when we are not engaged in or intentionally attending to a task. When this happens, we activate our default mode network in our brain (an interconnected area of regions) — which is responsible for three main things: focusing on ourselves—and usually in a critical way; rehashing our pasts or rehearsing our futures; and looking for problems to solve. It is area of our brain that is active when we are day dreaming or on auto-pilot, and not attending to what we are doing. Sometimes, it’s active when we are meditating as well.
What would happen if we just acknowledged the wandering, critical, and strategic mind for what it is, bringing gratitude for those qualities and to the mind itself? What would happen if we just sat for a moment and observed what we were thinking? Notice where our minds go when we are just sitting, and not judging ourselves for where they go. Do you find your mind going into the future and your to do list? Or does your mind go to the past remembering a regret you experienced? So, consider your mind and thoughts today, and bring some appreciation for the fact that your mind and brain are active and thinking. Act as if you are at the movies, watching your thoughts as though you are viewing a scene, taking a center seat in the theatre of your mind and life, for this moment.
Sometimes when our default mode is activated and returns us again and again to a specific thought, it could be helpful just to note what this thought is. That is not to say that we should ruminate on the thoughts—repeating the same ones over and over. Just notice and acknowledge that the thoughts are there. Dealing with and believing in thoughts is another subject and post. Today’s challenge is to notice the nature of your mind, and be okay with it in this moment. Later, we will look at how we address this wandering mind with mindfulness. But for now, appreciate that you have a mind, and that it’s active—whether you are engaged in a task or not. Bringing gratitude for the ability of our minds to think, daydream, remember, reflect, project and be can help us understand our minds better. Try noticing your thoughts at the beginning of the day, mid-way and then at the end of the day. What did you discover about the nature of YOUR mind? And how does bringing gratitude for it make you feel?
Day 7: Mindful Gratitude Challenge: *Appreciating our Essence*
We’ve appreciated our breath, bodies and minds to name a few things in this first week of the mindful Gratitude Challenge. Now it’s time to bring them all together to bring some gratitude for our essence or being- in its entirety! But what is your “essence” or where is your “being” you might ask?
In mindfulness, we ask one simple question to identify our essence or being, and that question is: “Who am I?” However, we don’t just ask this question once, we ask it again and again- and each time getting closer to who we really are- our essence. So, today let’s ask that question of ourselves, and see if we can recognize the inner being, bringing gratitude to this overseer of our lives.
· Begin by finding a comfortable seated position, taking a deeper than normal inhale, and gently closing your eyes as you exhale, bringing attention to your breath.
· Repeat breathing deep for two more cycles- as you settle into stillness, and then allow your breath to return to a normal breathing pattern as you ask, “Who am I?”
· And then listen to the answer that arises. It may be a first level answer, where you acknowledge the roles you may play in life. Perhaps your answer is that of your occupation- representing how you spend your day and or free time. The answer can range from, I’m a teacher, manager, director, specialist, writer, artist, investigator, musician, etc.., whatever you find yourself doing most of your waking hours. Listen to your initial responses.
· Then ask the SAME question again, but this time asking, “Who am I really?” going beyond that first level answer and perhaps addressing the roles you play in life in your relationships. You may answer, “I’m a mother, daughter, sister, aunt, grandparent, caregiver, friend, spouse, confidante, teacher, learner, peacemaker, etc…”.
· Listen for the answers as they arise, trying not to judge yourself as you ask and answer this question again. Listen for the answers that come to you.
· Now, once again ask the SAME question, with another slant, “Who am I, really really?” This time, go beyond that second level of answers, and dip into the unknown of who you really really are?
· Sitting back in stillness, allow the answers to arise.
Sometimes we follow this question up with another, asking, “When I ask this question, who is doing the asking and who is doing the listening?” The one that is listening is generally your being- which is considered your presence or awareness, if you will.
In Coaching, this presence and awareness can also be viewed as your intuition, that has a way of observing and knowing. It is this presence that you may notice at times as open vastness, or as focused feelings- as seen in a gut feeling about something. This presence has a way of keeping us healthy and on track if we are quiet enough to listen. It’s the inner wisdom we ALL possess, yet cannot access at times due to our busyness and distractions.
So, for today, let’s bring some gratitude to our “being,” “presence,” “awareness,” or “intuition,” whatever you prefer to call it. Being grateful that we have the capacity to “be” with, and not over-identifying with the roles we play in life can boost our well-being. And as we live our lives, no matter what life deals us, we can always access the constant awareness, presence, and intuition inside.
(*Note Dr. Deepak Chopra talks about this presence in his presentation on The Future of Well- being at the Global Wellness Summit 2016. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. talks about it as well in his talk in 2015 at the University of Oslo, Introduction to Mindfulness.)
Go onto Mindful Gratitude Challenge Week 2