Mindset Training Week 7: Gratitude
My eyes fixate on a pastoral utopia: green grass, wildflowers, clouds layering over impossibly blue skies. Arcing overhead is a rainbow stacked with vibrant hues. Waterfalls trickle down volcanic rock nearby, snow-peaked mountains frame the background.
I am admiring this bucolic, Icelandic scene from my viewpoint: lodged in a pit of heavy sludge. Sheep peek their cotton-ball heads through a picket fence and bleat, “Come join us!” Black bubbles around me respond with a baritone groan, “It’s useless. Stay here with us. You’ll probably fail anyway.”
My self-guided process to improve my life was in motion. Accepting my life as it was, along with setting the intention of happiness, had made me feel incrementally better. But I continued to wake up each day feeling stuck in a bog, with the rainbows and green pastures seemingly unreachable.
I began attending meditation classes at the Buddhist temple near my house. One day after the Dharma talk, I crept near the monk. I had to ask him what I else could do to be happy. The pain in my heart was constant, and I didn’t know how to move past it. After my explanations and pleas, he was blunt: “Well, you aren’t the only one who has gone through a divorce.”
I looked at him blankly. Instead of validating my pain, he had served me up a dose of reality: “Here is your privilege, sister. You are not the only one who suffers, and your pain is minimal in comparison to others in this world.” I left the meditative place of peace fuming.
As I walked home, the seed of anger sprouted into reflection. Pity garners blame as well as comfort: it’s someone else’s fault that I am unhappy. This attitude of victimization, as well as my entitled attitude that someone else should fix it, was further sinking me in the mud of misery. Flashing my wound to everyone and saying “Look! I am hurting!” wasn’t making me better. It was making me worse.
Crawling out of the mud meant putting my drill sergeant hat on and giving myself a little tough love. I was in the habit of using negative events in my life, or those I perceived as negative, as an excuse to continue limiting habits. Through my actions, I was telling myself I deserved for terrible things to happen. I then used these traumas as an excuse to perpetuate bad behaviors. To get out of this vicious cycle of self-abuse, radical self-acceptance was necessary. It was time for me to take responsibility for the choices I’d made that put me in my current situation. The “poor me” syndrome was only going to keep me on the current loop. Finding acceptance for the “is-ness” of my life, then conscious intention, opened me up to the next step in the transformation process: gratitude.
As I continued my walk home from the Shambala center, I began to repeat the lesson’s mantra in my mind as I breathed. “May I be happy. May I be free.” With senses heightened after meditation, I rested my gaze on a flower. It was the most beautiful pink peony I had ever seen. Its delicate petals curled around each other, the nested layers of an infinite mystery. As I stood and observed this flower, the anger in my heart began to subside. I said to myself, “I am grateful for this flower.” I thought again on the words of the wise monk and felt gratitude toward him as well, for not giving me the answer I was looking for. I glanced around and suddenly found innumerable things to be grateful for. The sun in the sky, the children playing in the street, a bird flying by. To my surprise, the heaviness dragging down my heart began to lift.
Upon returning home, I pulled out my journal, where I had sketched out the grief of eight years of heartache. I wrote:
I will always care for you. Meeting you was the answer to my prayers for help. You gave me love, acceptance, and the companionship I felt was lacking in my life. I was so sad, empty, and hopeless. You filled that emptiness for me. Being with you gave me someone to live for. Moving with you to Seattle was the best decision I could have made. You saved me from myself and I will be forever grateful.
Prior to meeting Matt, I had been in an even deeper pit of mud. He pulled me to safety. When our marriage ended, it broke me, and I slid right back into the muck. But this time, I had to learn how to pull myself together and get myself onto dry land.
I said a silent prayer of gratitude to Matt, and wished for him to be happy too. Then, I made the promise to myself to put my wounds away and take my power back.
MIND TRAINING STEP THREE: GRATITUDE
Suffering binds and renders you powerless. Gratitude is a rope offering the lift you need to kick your legs free. Finding gratitude is a heart-healing practice, transforming the mind from victimization to self-empowerment. When you stay in your same old patterns, it’s like throwing back the rope, comfortable being sucked back into the pit.
Neither past events or other people determine your happiness. Unhappiness is your soul seeking growth and change. YOU determine the perspective of your life. You want to get out of the mud. Call for the rope and take your power back with resolve: you won’t allow events you can’t change to hold you back anymore. Nothing was irrevocably taken from you. Your power is still there. Hold on tight and protect it. Use the unsettling feelings provoked by limiting habits as a cue to look inward and consider a change in course. Greener pastures await.
Life comes with truly devastating experiences, and sometimes attempts at emotional support fall flat. If a person suggests “be happy” or “find gratitude” when you step in proverbial dog poop, it may trigger an urge to tell them where to shove it. After my divorce, people would say “Did you have any kids? No? Well, that’s good.” They were right, in a way, and still every time I’d fight back tears. It didn’t feel like something good.
In telling you to find gratitude, I am not minimizing your pain or taking away from your experience. I want you to look for what’s going right in each moment, to shift your mindset from doom and gloom to problem solving. The unconscious mind tends to fixate on what’s going wrong, repeating these negative things over and over in your head and sinking you into suffering. Shift the focus to look for what’s going right: A friend takes you out for coffee. Someone smiles at you. A neighbor holds the elevator door. Find gratitude for things that could have gone wrong but didn’t: You avoided an accident. The dog didn’t destroy the entire house. When you notice that you’re spiraling, reset. You don’t have to feel happy while saying your gratitudes. Just say them. Every day.
Schedule a morning routine each day. Your morning practice of meditation has already begun to solidify this habit. Refine your waking ritual by rising at the same time and committing the first 15 minutes of each day to self-reflection. Prior to your meditation practice, speak to yourself the three essential gratitudes for living a life of contentment. It may be helpful to write your essential gratitudes and post them where you will see them first thing upon waking.
- I am grateful to wake up and live my life.
- I am grateful for challenges, for they bring me growth.
- I am grateful for moments of joy for they are a precious treasure.
Every day we are blessed to exist in this body and experience life. It’s incredible! When you’re lying in bed dreading getting up, you’re causing yourself to suffer and leaking your power all over. Do not waste one more ounce of energy wishing you didn’t have to get up. Grab life by the horns and jump powerfully out of bed. Notice how saying the three gratitudes each morning make you feel stronger. Life is not happening to you. You are happening to life. Get up and get after it!
PROGRAMMING A GROWTH MINDSET
Your survivalist brain is always on guard for what’s going wrong, an evolutionary survival mechanism. You don’t have the same dangers as your ancestors did, but the brain is still programmed to look for threats. This results in limiting thoughts: judging, selfishness, complaining, picking at old wounds, and criticizing ourselves and others. But you’re shifting to a life of possibilities. You don’t need these protections any longer. They are not serving your highest potential.
When you get hooked into limited thinking, you weaken yourself. Shifting to gratitude and a growth mindset retains your precious energy and strengthens you. It reprograms the mind toward limitless possibilities and tells your heart to heal the old wounds that are holding you back. The shift from a limited to growth mindset is essential for transformation.
Follow these four steps to program your mind for growth. Use TMHH Workbook pages for Chapter 7. I will use my experience at the Buddhist Temple as an example.
Notice when a limiting thought arises within you.
I noticed that I reacted with offense to the Buddhist monk’s comments. His words triggered my anger and limiting thoughts.
Pause and take a deep breaths. Repeat “May I be happy. May I be free.”
I took in a deep meditative breaths and focused the gaze as I walked. “May I be happy. May I be free.”
Shift to a growth mindset. Choose one or more of the following:
- Look for what’s going right. This could be what you’re doing right or what someone around you is doing right.
- Find something to be grateful for. You can use one of the morning gratitudes.
- See what’s not going wrong.
I am grateful for the monk’s words opening my eyes to my self-perpetuated suffering and how I was only looking at my pain.
Give yourself a positive recognition. This statement acknowledges yourself for the positive steps you’re taking and assigns a positive quality to your thoughts, feelings and actions. Don’t wait for others to recognize your efforts. Recognize yourself.
- Use a sensory verb: I see, I hear, I notice.
- State what you did right or what did not go wrong
- Assign a quality of growth to your efforts. (see chapter 7 of your TMHH Workbook for a list of recognition qualities)
I see that I was able to shift my attitude from frustration to gratitude. That shows mindfulness and commitment to growth.
When traumatic events occur in life, the mind builds invisible barriers of protection around the heart. Gratitude softens these walls for healing by telling the mind that everything is okay and it doesn’t need to protect itself any longer. The heart is a powerful healer of the mind. Through meditation, you find a safe space to open the heart to healing old wounds.
ON-CUSHION: SEVEN-MINUTE MEDITATION
Begin your meditation practice with an intention set toward gratitude. In the morning, repeat your morning gratitudes. Before your evening meditation, list three new gratitudes for the day. Remind yourself that no matter what happens throughout your day, there is always something to be grateful for.
- Read your statement of purpose.
- AM: Read value components. PM: Check off value components.
- Program your timer for seven minutes with interval bells to sound every minute.
- Sit up tall with your spine aligned in a neutral position.
- Inhale fully through the nose then exhale, Haaaaa, through the mouth.
- Start your timer.
- With eyes closed and without strain, concentrate the gaze to the center of the forehead.
- Inhale through the nose for three counts, Om 1, Om 2, Om 3, pause.
- At the top of the in breath say silently to yourself, “Heart.”
- Exhale through the nose for three counts, Om 1, Om 2, Om 3, pause.
- At the bottom of the out breath say silently to yourself, “Mind.”
- Hold the breath for two 20-second intervals.
- Listen for the heart beating in the chest.
- Silently repeat “Love.”
Continue until the seventh interval bell sounds. Notice the feeling of peace after meditation practice. This is Love awakening from within. Send gratitude to your heart for bringing you peace. Affirm I am worthy of love.
OFF-CUSHION: HOW ARE YOU?
How are you?
How often are you asked that question? What’s your typical reply? Often it’s a non-answer like “I’m fine,” or the mind looks for what’s going wrong. As an experiment, set the intention to respond each time with something specific you’re grateful for. See how this changes the dynamic of your conversations, toward the positive and what’s going right. Notice how people respond. Look at every connection as an opportunity to use gratitude to generate a meaningful exchange of energy.
Complete introspection questions and Chapter 7 exercise from your TMHH Workbook.