Here we are again, getting closer to the end of the year, and the Christmas holidays. For many, it is a time of celebration, gathering, and hopefully rest to some extent. For some of us, the end of the year is synonym to challenging times, confrontational to unresolved family conflicts, separation, or stress or overwhelm. There is certainly some pressure about what one “should” do or not, even how one “should” feel, and that in itself is difficult.
Gratitude, the quality of thankfulness and appreciation, often comes back in people’s minds and mouths at this time. It almost “belongs” inseparably to the spirit of Christmas (and certainly Thanksgiving celebrated in North America a few weeks back). While contacting the feeling of gratitude for your life currently might seem very easy to you, I bet at some point—now or earlier—gratitude has felt like a foreign country. It certainly has for me.
In my early years of my yoga journey, I starting to get acquainted with the generally “positive attitude” that modern yogis seemed to cultivate. I would love going to teachers trained in theme-based asana class, and I ended up training in such methods, but some of the themes they would bring would just feel fake, alienating or, in the best case, numb.
Joy. Enthusiasm. Celebration. Gratitude. What the heck are they talking about? I can’t just decide to feel that feeling and magically be in it, can I? Such questions popped up in my mind. Although the teachers intended well, the result was that I felt a little deserted, disconnected from the subject at stake.
It took me a few more years of yoga practice, studies, and certainly teaching to realize the point. First, it is not about suddenly provoking a certain positive feeling and pretend it is here (although some might feel that way), it is about opening to it. Second, the process of opening to such a feeling like gratitude brings us to a place of deeper connection and makes us step into “the zone.” What zone? You might call it a spiritual connection, a relationship to something greater, an experience of wholeness or oneness in which we step outside the limited world of our day-to-day mind.
At a quite tangible level, and to me this is where it starts, it is a willingness to stay open in our hearts and be touched, be moved. To me, this is what gratitude—or joy, enthusiasm or the like—is a tool, a doorway into.
So if you, like me, can feel a pressure to be grateful on command or a feeling of being wrong if you don’t, I invite you to start somewhere else. Let gratitude (or similar feeling) be a possible entry door into an expansive experience of connectedness and deeper fulfilment, which you might already know and recognize. A good way to start, even before making a list of what you are grateful for, could be to place a hand on your heart or belly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply three times. Doing so represents a simple way to create that needed space if we are to be touched by gratitude or anything deeper. And perhaps over the next three days, make a short inventory each day of three things you feel thankful for. Then, go a little further and close your eyes for five to ten breaths, and let yourself feel the experience in your body, in your heart and belly of gratitude itself. After your inventory, just take a short time to notice how gratitude actually feels at a somatic level, also when you drop the mental image of the particular objects, things or persons you are grateful for. What did you learn?
I’ll summarize this mini explorative practice below, so you more easily can come back to. I recommend doing it at least three days in a row:
- Place a hand on your heart or belly, close your eyes, and breathe deeply three times.
- Make a short inventory each day of three things you feel thankful for right now.
- Then, close your eyes for five to ten breaths, and let the mental image of the particular objects, things or persons you are grateful for go. Explore the physical sensations in your body (heart and belly for example) of the feeling of gratitude itself.
- Write down one or two things that you noticed and learned.
I truly hope you can take some time to rest over the next few weeks and to reconnect to the most important person in your life, aka you.
No, it is not easy to fully own and acknowledge that. I am with you here, still in the learning process. Let us trust together that gratitude and whatever uplifting feeling and energy we can share with others comes from that place inside us, that deep recognition that self-love and self-appreciation precedes all other forms of love and appreciation for those around us.
I wish you a very happy holiday time, celebrating it or not, and I look forward to seeing you and connecting with you in the new year.
Many blessings for your transition from the old and into the new…