mindful Gratitude Challenge Week 3
Day 15: mindful GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: *Appreciating the Ability to Begin Anew*
As we launch into this week with the mindful gratitude challenge, and as we appreciate the end of one cycle, let’s bring gratitude for the ability to begin anew, to begin again.
We talk about and exercise this ability in mindfulness meditation where, when we notice our minds wandering, we choose to bring our attention back to our current focus. We CHOOSE intentionally to begin again- and not judge ourselves or our minds for following their nature, to think in this case. We simply observe that this is what the mind does and gently shift our focus back.
We don’t beat ourselves up for this tendency, instead we offer compassion and remind ourselves that we are perfectly imperfect human beings. And perhaps remind ourselves that this is a practice… that can become stronger as we repeatedly practice this shift and return of attention.
Besides suspending judgement, the ability to begin anew also involves bringing curiosity to our situation- perhaps observing life with a beginner’s mind. Looking at a situation with such a mind allows us to strip our preconceptions of what it we think we see or know about the object of focus. We come to the situation not knowing, not anticipating and not striving. Seeing with fresh eyes allows us to begin again, and really look closely, see more clearly and allow things to unfold as they naturally would. Beginning anew allows us to get out of our own way.
How might beginning anew in our daily lives influence our wellness in general? Maybe we can restart a conversation when we realize a miscommunication has taken place, or when preconceived ideas cloud our current understandings. Maybe we can begin again when we fail at an activity and feel like giving up. Perhaps we can begin again, exploring with fresh eyes, bringing awareness and undivided attention to our task, without expectations of the way it is supposed to be, and allow for whatever naturally unfolds. How might our interactions with each other flourish? How might our own self opinion change? How might our wellness and health benefit as we begin this next moment anew?
So today, let’s bring gratitude now for the ability to begin anew, and then exercise this ability in your next interaction. What did you notice? What do you notice now? Being grateful and mindful has the capacity to change ourselves, our views and the world! Begin now…
Day 16: mindful GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: *Appreciating the Beauty Around Us*
Today you are challenged to LOOK for the beauty and goodness around you. This can be a challenge for some, especially when the media broadcasts violent acts and incites more violence as a result. It’s hard to find beauty in the world when the negative is emphasized repeatedly. Then to top it off, these negative events are often quite shocking, which may cause a stir of discomfort within us. And what we know about the human mind, is that it’s wired for the negative- assigning more value and meaning to negative events. Psychologist Rick Hanson has noted, “Our brains are teflon for the good stuff and velcro for the bad.” Knowing this, it’s time to really focus on the good, and beauty in the world… and allow it to stick!
So for today, be the change you wish to see in the world by propagating beauty- perhaps starting with your smile. Wisdom Teacher, and world renown buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, talks about peace beginning with your beautiful smile. To know outer peace, we must know inner peace. When we smile we are reminded that we are alive, we have this breath, and this day to make a difference.
Find the beauty in a smile, in this breath, in this day. Look with your eyes and heart… what do you see, what do you notice? When we look at something intently we can see so many layers and qualities around that object. We start to notice form perhaps, or function. Sometimes it’s the physical beauty that stands out, and sometimes it’s the function.
What makes this object unique? Look at the colors and textures. Look how light may affect this object, or the effects of temperature. Look at this object for a duration of time- 5 minutes or longer to really see it. Does your mind start to bring judgment that this is something that you love? Does your mind begin to build a story around this object? Notice where your mind goes when meditating on an object. Notice the accompanying emotions. What feelings does this object elicit? Notice. Notice how this thing makes you feel when you first see it and then after viewing it for a while. Does your perception change? If yes, why?
With deep seeing, comes wisdom around whatever it is we are considering, and wisdom around the filter from which we view. Many times we see things not as THEY are, but as WE are. So for today, take in beauty where ever you may see it, as it truly is, and be with it for a while.
Bring gratitude for this ability to look deeply, and discover the beauty in life. Where to look: in the face of another with their smile, or in your own mirror even. Look around at nature as she is full of gems that nourish our eyes and souls. Look at life as it unfolds around you, and if you can, notice beauty in all you see.
Day 17: mindful GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: *Appreciating the Symphony of Life*
Yesterday we were challenged to really look deeply at the world around us, taking in as much detail through our sense of sight. Today, we will turn the focus of our awareness to our sense of hearing, and really listen to the playlist of this moment in our lives.
Our world is so busy and full of the sounds of life that can be experienced through our ears. These sounds vary in intensity, pitch, duration, and other qualities as well. They may originate from a variety of sources: music notes played through an instrument, voices as they fluidly form coherent speech that is understood (or not), the aliveness of nature as experienced through rain, wind, and thunder, as well as in other creatures.
And what about the sound of silence? How many of us experience the intensity of what silence can bring? Have you ever noticed when silence is here, our minds may fill it in with our own inner chatter? It can be very insightful when we listen to the silence- what might we really hear?
There’s no doubt about it. The range of our sense of hearing is amazing. We can perceive many different qualities of sound, and notice that, like our breath as well as with thoughts and emotions, all sounds have a beginning, middle, and end, as well as a space in-between.
So today, widen your awareness to all the sounds that make up your world. And when one sound dominates your attention drowning out all others, focus your awareness on that sound. Try not to name the sound, or wrap your mind around it with a story. Just simply notice the sound, listening for the phases. Notice it’s depth or lightness, duration, and cycle. Notice sounds that precede it, and those that follow.
As implied, you might notice that our minds not only want to name the sound, we want to build a story around it. And then we tend to judge the sounds as something we like or dislike, assigning a negative or positive value to them. This is normal as this is what the mind does. So instead of judging your mind for judging the sound, just take it in and fully experience the sound, as IT is, not as YOU are.
Bring gratitude to the fact that you ARE ABLE to hear these sounds. When we bring our attention to the sense of hearing, we see how rich our world is, and how abundant it is with experiences to be noticed. And by attending to silence, we can appreciate that quality as well. Take into consideration that the ABSENCE of something can help us appreciate its PRESENCE even more.
So today, take in the symphony that life offers through your ears. Allow whatever sounds come into your awareness, be with them without naming, judging or explaining. Just listen to them come and go, and give thanks for your ability to experience the world through this modality. Knowing that this sense can deteriorate with age and illness may allow us to experience even more gratitude- for the level of this ability that we possess.
Open your ears, open your awareness, and live today with gratitude for all that you hear, that is here!
Day 18: mindful GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: *Appreciating Touch*
Today we are invited to get “in-touch” and bring gratitude to our sense of touch, because we can! When was the last time you noticed how something physically felt? The warm, soft towels out of the dryer, or the temperature of your face as you turn toward the sun? What about the firmness of the earth as you stand supported, or the warmth of a hand to hold just at the right time?
The skin is our largest organ, and provides us so many opportunities to experience this sense of touch. So today, bring gratitude for being able to reach out, touch and be touched. And when you do, notice as much as you can about the qualities of the object you are touching. What do you notice? Texture? Temperature? State of matter (liquid, solid, etc…)? Density? Moisture? Dryness? Weight? What does this object feel like? Notice if it evokes an emotion at the same time. What do you notice? A pleasant, relaxed, appreciative mood? What about frustration, anger or event sadness? And is there a thought around that emotion, or rule or belief? Just notice whatever arises, and allow it to be here. And then return your focus to the felt sense of this object, breathing it in along with gratitude.
Tuning into the body, noticing where we make contact with another source OUTSIDE our bodies, as well as the feelings that accompany those sensations allow us to notice more INSIDE our own bodies– and when we are in need of attunement. Strengthening our sense of touch allows us to notice the how our straight back is supported by our spine– bone stacked upon bone in our vertebra. When we sit in mindfulness meditation, we can notice the touch of our body against the surface of whatever it is on which we are sitting, and notice pressure or support of the chair/cushion as they hold us. We can use this sense of touch in everyday mindfulness practices as we stand in line waiting. Instead of getting angry or frustrated for having to wait, start feeling into the soles of your feet. Detect the sensations your feel in your toes and heels, as they touch the inside of your shoe, or as your feet are planted and grounded on the hard floor. If you are out in nature and near a soft ground cover, take off your shoes and allow your feet to really touch the earth– be it grass, dirt, or sand. This mindfulness practice helps us come back to the present moment, where happiness and gratitude can be found– all accessed mindfully through the sense of touch.
One other concept to share on how touch affects our well-being is the value of skin-to-skin. In the Mindful Self-Compassion course I teach and coach around, we talk about the importance of a soothing touch- such as placing your hand over your heart, your hands cupping your cheeks, or using one hand to touch your other arm. By offering ourselves a soothing touch in the times of stress or discomfort, we allow the release of oxytocin– the feel good and bonding hormone– that the body sends out as a response. That immediate release can begin to alleviate the stress or discomfort, as we begin to feel supported, especially by our own selves. Try it for yourself. What do you notice?
Read more information about touch. Take a look at the research done on touch by Dacher Keltner, at the University of California, Berkeley and with the Greater Good Science Center. Read more information about a soothing touch used in Mindful Self-Compassion, as found by Christopher Germer on his Mindful Self-Compassion site. Or check out this article on 8 Reasons Why We Need Human Touch More Than Ever, as found in Psychology Today online that really speaks to overall well-being.
One small touch is all you need to recognize the multitude of experiences for which to be grateful utilizing this sense. What will you reach out, touch, notice and be grateful for today?
“I want to touch the heart of the world and make it smile.” Charles de Lint
Day 19: mindful GRATITUDE CHALLENGE *Appreciating our Sense of Smell*
Since we are revisiting some of our senses and bringing gratitude for how we experience the world, it’s only fitting to include gratitude for our good ole olfactory sense. Without it, how would we tune in and smell the coffee brewing, the fresh baked “insert your favorite goodie here”, or our favorite loved one? Our sense of smell does so much for us in our world: to inform, set a mood, inspire and deter. It allows us to know whether food is ripe to eat or past expiration, or when something isn’t quite right, as in a baby’s diaper, or the smell of smoke.
Our sense of smell may set a mood, and awaken memories and appetites in many ways. When was the last time you visited a shopping mall only to find yourself hungry upon taking in the smells of cinnamon associated with cinnamon rolls, or taking in the many fragrance testers at the perfume or cologne display? How about revisiting a certain smell and calling up memories of Grandma’s House and the corresponding emotions? What comes into your mind when you smell jasmine in the air (the smell of summer), or perhaps a pine tree (the smell of Christmas)?
Our noses are involved in detecting pheromones, or naturally occurring secretions which are odorless that send airborne signals to alert others that certain conditions exist. These pheromones can also trigger responses, such as the synchronization of menstrual cycles in women, or mate attraction, or even the ability to trust.
With the above in mind, the stage is set for our sense of smell to play a large role in our lives. So throughout today, notice the smells around you. Pay attention to how our minds like to identify the smell, and then watch where the story takes us (to memories of the past most likely). Notice if the smell is pleasant or unpleasant. About what is it trying to tell you or inform? Does it elicit a mood as well? What else do you notice? Definitely engage this sense on Thanksgiving Day at meal time. How does this sense trigger your appetite for food? What role does smell play in your life to support eating mindfully? So today, bring gratitude for the ability to smell, and take in the world through this venue. And as you do, consider the following from Walter Hagen:
You’re only here for a short visit.
Don’t hurry, don’t worry.
And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.
Day 20: mindful GRATITUDE CHALLENGE *Gratitude for our Sense of Taste*
In wrapping up the senses, it’s time to bring gratitude to our sense of taste! After all, when was the last time you bit into or drank something, and took in the flavor, texture, temperature, nutritional aspect and any other quality that is important to you? When is the last time you offered yourself a bite of something where you fully enjoyed it, for what it provided in that moment, and not felt guilty about it then or later? When is the last time you consciously filled your plate with food that you intended to eat fully, and with joy? When is the last time you were grateful for the sense of taste?
Taste comes into play when we talk about eating mindfully, especially around savoring. Our attempts to fuel ourselves is sometimes driven by hunger, and sometimes by other factors, such as how our mouths want to be busy. There are other factors at play as well, but today we’ll concentrate on taste and how the world can be experienced through our taste-buds. This experience can then bring gratitude and joy in the present moment.
There are two parts to today’s challenge. The first part is to slow down the eating process: notice and savor the bite you are about to put into your mouth. In slowing down, we notice intricate details about the food we are consuming. Our daily habits of going and multi-tasking as we are being can sometimes impede our mindfulness practices especially around eating. These habits can have an influence on our life satisfaction in general. So, with the current bite you are taking, notice it’s texture, flavor, and other qualities that stand out. Notice if one side of your mouth or taste buds is enjoying it more than the other? Is the flavor stronger on one side over the other? Also, notice where your mind is during this tasting and savoring experience. Notice how the mind wants to judge the taste and experience. If the experience is pleasant or unpleasant, ask where your mind is as you are savoring? Is it bringing up a story, triggered by the experience? Additionally, what emotions are present as you eat and savor? Where can you feel that emotion in your body? Our sense of taste starts in the mouth, and then our minds get a hold of it which also influences our bodies.
The second part of today’s challenge is to pay particularly close attention to the first three bites, bringing gratitude for all they offer. After the first three bites the law of diminishing returns sets in… and the subsequent bites won’t be as productive or tasteful, or bring as much joy as the ones before it. This law comes from the study of Economics, and can be observed when eating a meal. This law also shows that we don’t need to eat as much as we think. Overstuffing ourselves can have detrimental effects. But that’s another blog post.
In closing today’s challenge, consider the following quote (yes, an original). Think about how it applies not only to eating mindfully with gratitude, but also living mindfully and with gratitude:
Eat, Drink and be Mindful—of all that goes into your mouth.
Do not let an element go by without noticing it’s unique qualities.
Live in the present moment and savor what is here.
Life is too rich to go back for seconds.
Appreciate what is right now.
And let that be enough.
Day 21: mindful GRATITUDE CHALLENGE *Appreciating Nature*
Going outside of ourselves today, it’s time to bring gratitude to our world as experienced through nature. Just take a look outside your window and you will be met with an abundance of possibilities on which to focus your appreciation. From the sky above opening our perspective- whether it’s blue, gray, purple or black, and filled with clouds or stars; to the ground below- centering and supporting us, with it’s firmness, silkiness, and ruggedness, varying in shades of brown, green, white and black. Now look in between, where the details of life emerge in the trees, flowers, creatures, insects, i.e. elements of nature. This landscape offers us so much inspiration, affecting us in a multitude of ways.
Look at nature around you right now. What do you notice? Nature has a way of eliciting gratitude within us, as well as awe as we take in the details of the moment. What we know about these two positive emotions-gratitude AND awe— is that they affect us on a larger scale. They remind us of our small selves and our place in the large landscape of our world. We begin to see how we are connected to each other, which can result in an increase of empathy and compassion. All this is just by witnessing beauty or the miracle of nature. Who knew that we could derive so many benefits by experiencing one small glimpse of life?
So today, make your way to a natural space- or one where nature exists. Notice as much as you can about your object of focus and gratitude. What do you notice? Colors? Textures? Form? Function? Take in it’s inner and/or outer beauty. Notice as many details as possible, and breathe in the positive emotion of gratitude (awe will follow). Bring appreciation for this object and all of nature for doing what she does, automatically, and the joy that she gives.
And if you have a chance, peruse one of my favorite childhood books, by Shel Silverstein. This book is a great illustration of a giving relationship… one that many of us can appreciate.
mindful Gratitude Challenge Week 4