I have had the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving at my house for the past twelve years. We have a large group, sometimes as many as forty people gather together to celebrate.
Ten years ago I asked everyone to write down what they were grateful for on a piece of paper. I remember the eye rolling that I got from the teenagers, and the slightly annoyed looks from the men watching football, but after some cajoling, everyone deposited their written sentiments into a basket. At the end of the meal, we all gathered together to read the notes. Each person took a turn reading until the basket was empty. Some of the notes were funny, some were sweet little scribbles written by a two year old or pictures of a turkey, some of the notes were sentimental and made us cry. Taking the time to focus on what we were grateful for that year brought us together as a family and reminded us of how fortunate we were.
Our gratitude ritual has since become a tradition that we look forward to. It was especially important after we lost my beautiful sister in law to cancer, when my brave nephew went to Iraq, when my niece and nephew lost a child, we lost a baby to and when many family members who lived in Breezy Point lost their homes and possessions to hurricane Sandy, and most recently when my mother and my father in law passed away.
A gratitude ritual reminds us that there is always something to be grateful for, even in the midst of tragedy. We might have to dig deep to find it, but it will be there like a shiny little gem.
Practicing gratitude daily can be transformational. Studies show that people who have a regular gratitude practice have stronger immune systems, are more generous, happy, and positive, and are less lonely and isolated.
The philosopher Meister Ekhart said, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice."
Like prayer, a gratitude ritual can enrich your life. It is a good practice to regularly list the things that you are grateful for and to say thank you to the people that you appreciate. It is an even better practice to push past the typical gratitude list of family, friends, and good health (if that's the case) and begin to look deeper.
Can you be grateful for your difficult sister in law or grumpy boss? Can you have gratitude for your knee injury or your not so perfect living quarters? Can you find gratitude for the people and experiences that challenge you the most?
Every person and experience in life gives us an opportunity to learn and to grow. Our failures and suffering often teach us the most about ourselves, even if it's not so obvious at the time. Looking for the good in every situation can rewire our brains and help us to have healthier and happier lives.
Years ago, my oldest son's seventh grade teacher said to me, "You will never have to worry about Ace. He has it all figured out. He pushes himself just hard enough to do well, but not so hard that he can't also relax and have a little fun".
Years later when he was in college, my husband asked him if he was working hard in his classes. His answer was, "You know Dad, there's such a thing as working too hard. When you work too hard, life just sucks. I don't want to live like that."
My (push yourself with 110 percent effort in everything you do) husband just about fell off his chair!
Ace never did yoga, but he described one of the Yoga Sutras to a tee.
Yoga Sutra 2.46 in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali says, "STHIRA SUKHAM ASANAM". Asanam means "a posture". I'll take some liberties here and say that a posture can be a yoga pose or a posture that you take in your life.
The sutra above tells us that a posture should have the qualities of steadiness and ease. Steadiness requires effort, while ease requires relaxation.
These two qualities may seem like polar opposites, but when we are able to cultivate them together, we will feel a healthy balance of stabilty, strength, flexibilty, and comfort.
To create this dichotomy in the postures on our yoga mats requires that we stay very connected to our bodies so that we can be aware of when we are pushing too hard or not hard enough.
If we are straining and gritting our teeth through a yoga class, there is no ease. This all work and no play mindset
will surely get us hurt.
On the other hand, if we don't push ourselves hard enough, we won't improve, advance, or see any growth in our poses. This mindset may leave us weak, stagnant or bored.
To create this dichotomy in the postures of our lives also requires that we stay very connected to ourselves so that we can be aware of the areas in our lives in which we are pushing so hard that our efforts are unsustainable.
On the other hand, if we aren't pushing or challenging ourselves enough, we won't improve in our lives or grow, which again may leave us weak, stagnant, or bored.
When we balance effort and ease in our yoga postures or in the postures of our lives, we create an internal balance that we can call upon to face everday challenges.
My 27 year old son Ace, has been fortunate enough to cultivate this internal balance early in his life. Recently, while facing a very difficult and potentially life changing situation, he was able to call upon this internal steadiness and ease to help him stay strong, steady, and flexible enough to adapt to the unexpected challenges that he was presented with.
Cultivating the qualities of steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha) takes effort and letting go. Patanjali says that when our minds experience a blending of effort and release, we get a glimpse of the infinite.
What qualities are you cultivating?
All Abhyasa Ahimsa Aparigraha Asmita-Ego Attachment Baron Baptiste Beginner's Mind Bramacharya Carl Jung Clear Seeing Colorless Comfortable Discomfort Creating Spaciousness In Mind And Body Cultivate The Opposite Deepak Chopra Dharma Empty Your Cup Enthusiasm Equanimity Family Fight Or Flight Great Vows Inner-awareness Inner Critic John Kabbatzinnb2faff332d Listening Mirrors To Ourselves Monkey Hunting Non Stealing Patanjali Pause Pillar Pleasure And Pain Posseses Us Practice Pratipaksa Bhavana Pratyahara Present Moment Present Moment Awareness Respond Instead Of React Samadhi Samskara Santosha Satya Sauca Sensual Pleasures Shadow Side Spirituality Steadiness And Ease Sthira And Sukha Strength Sustained Attention Svadhyaya There You Are Thich Nat Hahn This Too Shall Pass True Self Uncertainty Universal Truth What We Possess Wherever You Go Wisdom Yoga Philosophy Yoga Sutra 1. 14 Yoga Sutra 1.33 Yoga Sutra 2.33 Yoga Sutra 2 37cfe9965fa2 Yoga Sutra 2. 46 Yoga Sutras