Gratitude Practice

Gopi Kallayil – a high level businessman with Google marketing – said to Yoga Journal (November 2011, page 76), “I perform a gratitude practice on my drive to work every day. I count 10 things that I’m grateful for.” Ten things every day. I wonder, how many people might find that difficult? Do they lack gratitude? Do they lack the ability to see good things, or are they simply not in the habit? Kallayil calls it a “practice.” I believe, like any discipline, this is exactly what gratitude is.

When I was a little girl, my mom came upstairs to say “goodnight” every evening. She would stand in the hallway between our rooms, and lead us in our bedtime prayers: Now I lay me down to sleep…. She had her own version of the classic prayer: at the end, we prayed for blessings for our loved ones. God bless Mommy and Daddy… siblings, extended family, friends, neighbors; each night we prayed for them all. My favorite part was the very end: what were we grateful for? Each night we got to think of something new. I would go through the day wondering what I would say I was grateful for that night. It was fun to find something new. After all, of course I was grateful for the important things like health, family, security, love. But the little things – the unusual things – this was their time to shine! I particularly remember three of mine – all of which I had seen on Sesame Street in a “how is it made” feature: Crayons, peanut butter and saxophones. I can still see the images in my head, and the sax was my instrument of choice in junior high band.

Every day I find myself more and more grateful for my upbringing. Because I was raised to be thankful, I learned how to step outside my circumstances to see my good fortune. In other words, to be aware of your blessings, you must be aware of the plight of others. While someone may have had it better than me, there were so many that were suffering more than I could fathom or even know. I learned to wish them an improved situation while simultaneously recognizing my own blessings. This was not simply a process of compare and contrast. There were difficult times in my childhood – like there are for all of us – and the ritual of nightly gratitude taught me to tune into the silver lining, to recognize the positive moments in the day, to rely on hope of the future, to find joy in the little things. It was okay to feel angry or sad about our situations from time to time (indeed, necessary), but we also worked to see our blessings because they were what carried us through the difficult times.

I suggest we find space in our lives like Gopi Kallayil does and create for ourselves a gratitude practice. After a week of this effort, how will it change our perspectives? How will it improve our lives? Let me know your experience here!

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A life without a list…

How does one live a balanced life? How does one live a perfect life?

One doesn’t.

I’ve tried to be balanced and “do it all” and it hasn’t worked. I don’t even have kids. Could you imagine trying to pull that off with kids!?? Ha!

This is what I was trying to do in “perfect” balance:

  • Work a full-time day job, and also be a highly productive artist.
  • Submit to every possible exhibition and show my work as much as possible.
  • Maintain an active online presence.
  • Be active in other art pursuits: curating, volunteerism, artist talks, and so on.
  • Maintain this blog.
  • Maintain social relationships both online, in NY, and with my loved ones in Iowa and other states.
  • Be a great wife.
  • Keep a pleasant home, keep up with chores.
  • Cook healthy meals.
  • Exercise or do yoga as much as possible.
  • Keep up with four magazine subscriptions and read online articles, blogs, books, and keep up with over eight weekly or daily podcasts, including the news.
  • Save money and be thrifty.

And this is how I tried to pull it off: lists.

My pile of lists….

The list would never end. As soon as I crossed something off there was something to be added. I would spend too much time re-organizing my lists, re-listing and prioritizing my to-do items. The lists would populate into little reminder slips, bits of paper listing important art project ideas, or new blog topics. Charts organizing my time so I could fit exercise into a regimented schedule would be made over the course of hours, only to be immediately ignored. Databases tracking information on my computer so I don’t possibly forget something that might come of use in the future populate my hard drives. Torn out magazine articles and links emailed to myself pile up on my work spaces, to the point where I spend too much of my time organizing my lists rather than doing my work. I store long-term to-do’s on a separate list app, which is constantly nagging at me while I am inundated with my self-prescribed short-term to-do lists.

Then came the realization: I spend more time trying to manage my time populated by too many tasks, and not enough time doing those tasks. So I keep fewer lists. But it isn’t enough. Because I want to live some fabled “balanced” existence where I can “have it all” and “do it all.” I still feel like I have to choose between desires if I am going to do any of those things well. In my mind, I couldn’t possibly exercise and make art and do both well… or perfectly, which is my mind’s natural expectation. So rather than “fail” (a.k.a. doing something half-assed or doing something “good enough” or “just a bit”) I choose not to do it at all. And in making that choice of “not choosing” I feel even more like a failure. I expect myself to do it all and do it perfectly, and when I can’t pull it off I fail. It’s a lose-lose situation.

I am trying to balance things that don’t give me joy with things that do give me joy. Because I have so many tasks, things that normally give me joy (like making art or visiting friends) become points of stress due to the number of goals I set for myself and my perfectionist nature. My mind prioritizes the less joyful tasks because they give me hard-copy evidence that I am “worth” something. I don’t enjoy applying to show my work in galleries. But I do it, because I like to show my art and because that is a physical accomplishment that can be measured by myself and others. Doing yoga? Even though my body loves and desperately needs it? Well. That is a sensation. My mind doesn’t trust sensations. Because after all – sensations cannot be measured by others to determine my worth. So I forgo the physical nurturing of exercise and force myself to sit in front of a computer and be an “achiever.” See how this works?

I took an R & R day at Kripalu (a yoga haven in Massachusetts that I now love love LOVE) last month and have since been coming to a very important understanding. I need to feel joy as much as possible. This joy must be self-measured by sensation (emotion and spiritual satisfaction) rather than externally measured by achievement. Constantly working toward some sort of theoretical professional accomplishment won’t bring me joy. It will just be a line I check off on a very long list; a list that never comes to an end. But doing things that bring me joy? Doing things that nurture my body, intellect and spirit? Those are things that make a life worth living.

One of the best lessons I learned that day at Kripalu is that my mind lies to me. If I desperately need to stretch, my mind will ignore that sensation because I need to get that blog done, I need to get that application out, I need to get my list crossed-off. By the end of the day, my mind has created a situation where I no longer have time to do the stretching because my mind tells me I’m too tired. It tells me relaxing in front of the TV or having a brownie will do better than the physical exertion of yoga for my well-being. And because my goal has been to do it all, I feel like a failure since I didn’t get my tasks done quickly enough to have the energy to do yoga too. I do what my mind says because it shows me concrete results of success. Theoretically that should make me feel good, but it never does. It is never enough, because I always must choose, and historically that choice has not been my physical and emotional well-being. (Choosing to live a healthy life is difficult for me – it is “new” and challenging. Naturally, then, I create a reality populated by lists to avoid these needs. Confronting this habit is the scariest of all.)

I’m going to do the best I can, from now on, to choose sensation over thought. I’m choosing to try to be imperfect rather than to be perfect and balanced. I’m choosing to stop pushing myself, to quit driving myself toward my goals so blindly that I forget to live my life with the zeal I desire – the enthusiasm I foolishly believe I will access by accomplishing things, rather than connecting to things. I know now that I will always have to choose. The point is not to attain a life where I don’t have to give up anything. The point is to live a life where I simply choose well. Choose happiness and joy, not reward and prestige. Choose health and wellness, not money and measured accomplishment. Choose joy within the moment, rather than planned events and tasks. Choose improvisation, not regimented structure.

This weekend I have done what sounded good. Normally I would call myself lazy, but I’ve gotten things done. But I haven’t spent the whole weekend in front of the computer, or tethered to my work. This is what I did yesterday: I went to breakfast with my husband and had a great surprise encounter with one of his very cool bosses. We ventured into a bookstore, where I bought a few baby books for some expectant friends of mine. I met a man named Stanley in this store, Market Block Books in Troy, who had the most wonderful mustache and shared a love of bacon with me. He introduced me to an amazing magnet all about bacon – is there anything better?!

Then I wandered with Jake through the market. It was like being in a small town – everyone smiling and friendly, vendors sharing their passions much more than simply selling their wares. We met a man who makes his own pickles – we got the kind with Habanero peppers! Then after a few errands, I returned home and popped in to see my wonderful downstairs neighbor with whom I visited for over an hour. Usually I feel too overwhelmed to make time for visiting, but isn’t that silly? I did some chores and then Jake suggested we walk out on Peebles Island nearby. On a normal weekend I would feel stressed by such an offer, calculating the hours left in the day subtracted from the time the hike would take, but not now. Now I choose my wellness – and walking in a small forest is the epitome of a healthy activity! Here are some pictures from my day:

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(Somehow my lists are making it into this dumb slideshow – sorry! Lists were not a big part of my stellar day!)

On a normal weekend I might feel pressed for time today, but I don’t. I will simply get done what must be done and the rest can wait. I had a great day. I felt happy, and fulfilled; productive and connected with my community. It was the perfect day and I felt the best version of myself. It’s been a long time since I haven’t felt the fear of failure that results in the lack of achievement. And that is the gift I am trying to give myself now. And the funnest part? I actually got a lot done!

Happy spring, all.

What you make it

My fiance and I are going through some growing pains right now. Here we are, newly graduated, newly unemployed, and both pretty stressed and scared. To help, my mom sent me a  prayer to St. Jude for employment, and I pray it every day. I asked Jake, do you ever pray it? He said he never got into the habit of praying. So then I asked, “Well, how do you view good fortune? If it isn’t a God-thing, is it luck, random good fortune, odds, knowing the right people, or hard work?” And I had to chuckle when he said, “Oh, I think it’s a combination of hard work and dumb luck.”  We have such divergent attitudes about luck (I view it as a life path, synchronicity, blessings, purpose and destiny), but we both have the same outlook: it will all be okay. As long as we have each other, and we’re healthy and happy, it will be okay.

When one faces a difficulty, an obstruction, or an impediment, it important to remember: the situation is going to be exactly what one makes it to be. This can be said about how we receive information, how we choose to react, how we present ourselves professionally or socially. When it comes down to it, our outcomes are often dictated by our outlook.

If times are hard (which they are for many people right now), remember to stay as positive as you can. Don’t succumb to negativity. It will do more harm than good. Positivity will carry you through. When you feel like you can’t do anything more, remember: you are stronger than that. You have persevered before and you can do it again. When it seems like a hopeless cause, spend some time with people who make you feel great for who you are and what you do. When you feel like no matter how hard you try you won’t get ahead, make a list of all the things you’ve done to try and then make a list of the things you can’t control. If you can’t control it, let it be. But if you can do something to make a difference, do it.

Everything is what you make it.

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009

Mottos and mantras

So, as some of you know, I’m not really a “religious” person. I am a very faith-filled person though. My mother was a very spiritual woman and I was raised within a religious, relaxed extended family. So I think I got the best of both worlds.

Anyways, the reason I bring this up is because I think being kind and courteous extends to the way we live our lives. I don’t think anyone has to have a religion to be a good person. But there are many common beliefs taught in many faiths that are good principles to live by.  I believe that living these beliefs can make our world a happier place (despite the difficulties we experience) and can make it easier to spread niceness to others. Here are some attitudes/ideas I think are great.

  1. The classic: treat others as you would like to be treated.
  2. Try to practice what you preach. We’re human so we’ll always slip up, but the point is that we work hard to live what we believe.
  3. My grandma mailed me this quote. (If anyone knows who said it, please let me know, as I would like to give them proper credit.) “Attitude is the master key to life. With the right one, you can open any door.”
  4. Trust in your “higher power” (be it your self, God, Allah, Buddha, nothing, or something else) to lead you in the right direction. It is important that you are actively living every day in a good, positive, productive and receptive way. If you are doing these things, wherever you go is probably the right place to be.
  5. When I’m sad or distraught, my mom always says to me, “Live the questions.”  We don’t always know the answer. So we do the best we can even in the “not knowing.” Eventually, she says (correctly), we find that we have been living the answer and didn’t even know it. 
  6. Another I like, though I’m unsure to whom it is attributed: “Embrace that which defines you.”
  7. And this one is great—from a wonderful movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium: “Life is an occassion. Rise to it.”

Any suggestions for more?

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.