Establishing a gratitude practice

I feel like it would be remiss if I didn’t begin this blog post by extending my appreciation to you, reader. Thank you for reading these words and visiting this random assortment of thoughts, ideas, reflections, and calls for action. While I can envision a scenario where my ruminations echo in a uninhabited universe of the Internet, I prefer to imagine a space full of individuals — like yourself — participating in the conversation.

On of this journey to be a more mindful and centered person, I kept stumbling on this notion of a ‘gratitude practice.’ Now, over the years, I’ve seen friends use the social media platform of Facebook to take on a “X number day” challenge to share appreciation for other people, special places, basic needs, etc. I would see those posts (when the Facebook algorithm decided that I should) and think: “Awww, that’s so nice!”

And then I was like: “Where are the cat photos?”

catmeme

Seeing other people publicly acknowledge their gratitude is inspiring. Showing thanks in our world can feel so perfunctory. Like many others, my parents made sure I said “thank you” after receiving a gift or being the recipient of something special. Does this sound familiar:

Did you say thank you to your Aunt?”

Public shaming can be an effective tool to form what should be a kind habit. As adults, how do we get back to the root of why we express gratitude? How do we turn those words into feelings that sit with us, in our hearts and minds, and fill us with joy and celebration?

One of the tools that could help, according to gratitude gurus, is to start keeping a gratitude journal (mindfulness folks love their journals!) I’m a notorious start-a-writing-outlet-and-lose-interest-in-three-weeks person. I always have been (minus sophomore year of high school where our English teacher required us to keep a journal for the year. Some hilarious entries, I assure you, including a recap of my first date with my “long” term high school boyfriend, who I treated poorly looking back. I’m sorry Eric.).

Back to gratitude: in concert with the Calm app’s “7 days of Gratitude” meditation series, I’ve been physically noting what I’m grateful for each morning. In most cases, I reflect on the prior day and the people and experiences that positively impacted me. I’ve also tried to step back and extend appreciation for the seemingly mundane in my life, but from the perspective of others, are enormous gifts: running water, a heating unit, access to the public library, the ability to own a car, living in a neighborhood where I can freely walk or run outside.

Sometimes acknowledging these pieces of my life make me feel weird — it forces me to stare at my privilege head-on. I need that reminder because it’s easy to let these gifts gloss over me — the entitlements and opportunities. When I pause to appreciate the electricity in my home and my ability to talk on a phone with my parents, I feel the flame of injustice flicker in me, as I don’t want these gifts to be exclusive. I want them to be universal. And that requires me to be a part of the fight.

The initial steps to establish a gratitude practice are more private and hidden. Whether through journaling or running through a list mentally, we keep these actions behind closed doors. The next iteration is extending our thanks outwards (hence, going back to friends on Facebook). For me, I am less interested in sweeping displays of gratitude; I want to ensure that people I interact with feel my appreciation in genuine ways for me and for them. That looks like me sending a quick text or email letting them know how grateful I am for their willingness to give advice or attend an event. Or leaving a voicemail that ends with me saying “I love you.”

Gratitude

Gratitude rocks! Get it? Yeah…

This is a work in process, like everything else in life. Some days I will excel in expressing gratitude; other days, I will lie in a dark pit and cover myself with self-pity and dark chocolate. Over time, I hope that I will become more in tune with the gifts the world offers me — in the form of adventure, friendships, convenience, comfort — and give myself the time to acknowledge and appreciate those gifts, both internally and externally.

I am thankful for the ability to have time and space to write this morning. I am grateful for the Wifi connection that bridges people and communities across the globe. I am appreciative of having access to a coffee maker and coffee that provides the fuel for mornings…and afternoons…and sometimes evenings.

What are you grateful for in your life today? How do you share your appreciation for these gifts?

 

Recap: Wanderlust 108 – Charlotte 2016

Wanderlust 2016 - Charlotte

Where it began

Run. Yoga. Mediate.

The trifecta of health and balance for one’s mind, body, and spirit. Back in April, I had the opportunity to engage in these trio activities with two incredible friends. We hopped on the Amtrak in Durham after work on a Friday, heading to the Queen City (Charlotte).

Sheila, Michelle and I outside the Charlotte Amtrak station

A group of 3? Talk about synergy!

Wanderlust, known for its enormous yoga festivals, often in exotic locations, created day-long spin-offs dubbed Wanderlust 108.  Under “what to expect” the site notes:

lots of high fives, a little sweat, and a deep chill.

Wanderlust 108: Ready to start the 5k

The chill factor was in full effect – brr!

If I could offer some additional “what to expect” thoughts, I would include: an incredibly array of multicolored yoga pants; patchouli; and

Kombucha

Kombucha, of course.

As this Saturday neared, we kept a close eye on the weather. North Carolina had plunged into a cold snap, and Saturday’s temperatures were not looking ideal for outdoor recreation. It was windy – several yoga mats attempted flight. And it was cold – at least at the start. Fortunately, the sun provided respite and made the experience much more bearable.

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Queen City Yoga

The day began with a 5k run followed by a group dance party with MC Yogi (I kid you not), a Vinyasa flow, and a guided mediation (more on the last part below).

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Michelle is in to win

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Sheila gives peace and… brackets?

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Look ma! I’m sitting on a slackline.

A mindfulness triathalon. How zen. How challenging.

Never before had I meditated. I certainly had read my fair share of articles on the importance of mediation and centering and breathing exercises…blah blah blah. Yes, I shut those out because – let’s be real: we’ve got to get physical.


This is where the reader (that’s you) should leap from your chair and say:

 

YouLie

Ugh. I’m a bit ashamed I included such an image in this blog post. But, back to the subject at hand: my pursuits of strength have resided solely in the physical. I’m all about doing. I make to-do lists. I complete projects. I’ve got a plan. I’m constantly moving and moving and moving.

Not only does this lead to energy depletion, but it denies me from living fully. I don’t allow myself the space to turn inward and be still. For too long, I viewed that as a weakness. Diving headfirst by mediating in an open field among hundreds of strangers allowed me the first taste of meditation’s power.

I wish I could report that since attending Wanderlust 108, I’ve walked down a more enlightened path, prioritizing a time for quiet reflection each day. For the first two days after Charlotte, I tried to establish a morning routine. And then…oh, you know. Life happened.

Still, I had the opportunity of knowing what could be and now I can practice the intentional time-out.

As soon as I finish that run…

One of the other best takeaways from the 24 hour Charlotte adventure:

Vegan pimento cheese

Yes, that is VEGAN pimento cheese!

Do you meditate or engage in intentional mindfulness? If so, how did you end up making the practice part of your life?