Being Grateful: How a Little Gratitude Can Help Change your Perspective

A common theme during the holidays is to be grateful for what we have. This is a great theme and frame of mind for sure. But as the gift giving part of the holidays is starting for some and wrapping up for others, it can be difficult to focus on what we have that brings us a sense of gratitude. We’re so consumed with what we have to get for others, beating the crowds and getting the right gifts, that being grateful takes a back seat to feeling obligated to buy and do for others.

And that’s not such a bad thing. Giving and receiving is a great way to connect. To make someone special know that they’re important to you is something to be grateful for in itself. But the fatigue of buying gifts for so many often times makes us lose track of that sense of gratitude.

It’s also tough to recognize that we may not be as grateful as we “should” be for what we have. This can be especially true for those of us who come from a place of privilege. “I should be more grateful”, or “I should be volunteering or donating more” may be ways that we should all over ourselves.

But if you already have a busy schedule, a load of obligations and other responsibilities to meet, is it realistic to hold ourselves to these impossible standards of giving more than we have? And are they prerequisite to feeling grateful? They help, but if you’re already pressed for time and resources, then beating yourself up for not doing more is something Tara Brach calls, the second arrow, and is something that will easily keep us feeling low.

The first arrow is feeling guilty about not doing enough. The second arrow is when you beat yourself up for feeling guilty. So much guilt and self deprivation is inconducive to keeping in a grateful frame of mind. So how do we cultivate gratitude? We need to remember first that it’s not always so easy.

Being Grateful, It Ain’t Always Easy

I work at a family shelter as a second job. I’m working there mostly to pay off student loans, but also because this is my preferred career path. The first response I get from people when I tell them I work at a family shelter is usually, “that must be gratifying work”.

For sure, it has its moments. But there’s much more heart break happening than there are feelings of being somehow righteous and grateful in my chosen career path. The people I work for have, and are, seeing some of the worst life has to offer. And they aren’t grateful all that often.

And that’s not too say they don’t have things to be grateful for, or a judgement of their disposition in any way. Only, that they are circumstances that need dealing with that are more pressing than the time allowed to take stock of what they are grateful for. When you’re on fire, it’s hard to take a moment to appreciate the times you weren’t on fire. Or when you’re not going to be.

And you don’t have to be homeless to get caught up in feeling a lack of gratitude. We all have times where we just feel overwhelmed with the amount of fires we’re putting out. Or maybe we’re going through a rough patch at work or at home. Whatever the reason, it’s okay to not always feel a sense of gratitude for what we have and where we are.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of feeling grateful, or that we’re not grateful at all. Only we need to make room for other emotions that may take up more space than we have room for both they and gratitude at the same time. For example, obligation takes up much of the same space that gratitude does for me. With so many obligations and demands to meet, it’s sometimes difficult to see out of the tunnel vision I get when I am in the midst of fulfilling my obligations.

A good example of this is, I work 60+ hours a week. When I work at the family shelter, I have more time to accomplish other tasks on my todo list. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be getting things done for myself, while budgeting my time efficiently and reaching my financial goals simultaneously. But the feelings of fatigue, tiredness and obligation, are most of the time greater than the feelings of gratitude. But my feelings of gratitude are still present, only muffled.

Practicing Gratitude

This is where practicing gratitude comes into the picture. Because when we practice the feelings of feeling grateful, they become stronger. And as I’ve said above, the other, more unpleasant feelings will still be present. The goal isn’t to get rid of these more difficult feelings, but to make the feelings of gratitude stronger than the unpleasant feelings. They can coexist simultaneously. As my therapist put it, when you try to not feel some emotions, you begin to numb them all. This is something I know a lot about and is a dangerous frame of mind to maintain for any length of time.

One way to practice gratitude is, the next time you feel grateful for something, pause and remember how you feel. This is something Tara Brach calls, turning a state into a trait. When we allow ourselves to really experience our states, and work to remember them, then it will be easier to find our way back to these ways of being. Think of it this way: we became anxious in the first place by worrying about everything all the time. Why would it be different for other, more positive states of mind?

So how do we make the switch from anxious based thinking to gratitude based thinking? There are a few ways we can help to cultivate this space for ourselves. I’ll share with you a few ways I practice this for myself, and maybe give you some inspiration to create your own space of gratitude for yourself.

Practicing Gratitude: A Practical Guide

One of the ways I practice gratitude, and probably the simplest way is to recognize it when it happens. We all have certain things we like. And throughout our day, chances are that we’ve built in some of these likes and tendencies, to bring a little joy to our day. Our job is to then recognize those moments and savor them.

It’s the Little Things

For example, I’m writing this article in my room, that is filled with things that bring me a sense of comfort and ease. I have an album I’ve recently discovered playing. I’m burning bee’s wax candles that naturally neutralise the air, purifying it from toxic chemicals (read here for more information on the benefits of burning bee’s wax candles). And I have a diffuser, diffusing the scent of jasmine into my room. And drinking a glass of iced peach herbal tea, lightly sweetened.

The effect is a very calming one. And every once and awhile, I’ll look up from my computer screen and just appreciate the ambiance I’ve created, to make my space just that much more inviting. It’s a similar state to when you go to your favorite restaurant and soak in the atmosphere along with the tastes and smells that make it your favorite place.

Achieving Goals

Another way I soak in these moments of gratitude is when I’m actively engaged in something that has a direct effect on a goal I’m trying to achieve. For example, I’m currently working towards paying off my student loans. Something I had no idea of what I was doing when I started the process of borrowing money for my education.

When I’m on my lenders website, making a payment, I do the math to see where my new balance will be after the payment is processed. I sometimes go on the site just to look at the progress I’m making. These moments of savoring my balance dropping and me getting closer to my goal, 350$ to 700$ at a time is something that also has a calming effect on me.

I can see myself working on improving my future, one payment at a time. It’s nothing huge, like pulling down a large salary, but knowing that all the extra hours I’m putting into work, and all the sacrifices I’m making in my budget to get me to a place that will allow me the freedom I’m seeking for my future, is worth all the while. Rumi put it best when he said, “what you seek, is also seeking you.” I believe that to be true.

Taking Care of Something

I have a lot of plants in the room I’m sitting in currently. Tending to their needs is also something that brings me a sense of gratitude. When I see that something that is under my direct care is flourishing, there’s a feeling of accomplishment in knowing that I was directly responsible for its well being by my actions.

For example, one of my dracaena plants wasn’t doing so well. Its leaves were browning at the tips and some had died off completely. My rubber tree was also under some duress. The leaves were turning yellow and falling off. In both cases, it had to do with either too much, or too little water.

For my dracaena, I placed it between two of my bee’s wax candles. This worked to suck all of the humidity out from around the plant. This was why the leaves were dying and browning at the tips. I moved the plant, and now mist it every once and a while the same way I do my fern.

My rubber tree was suffering from exactly the opposite reason that my dracaena was. I was over watering my tree, causing the leaves to yellow and fall off. So I switched the watering schedule for the tree. I’m still waiting the see the effects this will have, on both my plants, but actively attending to my plants needs, another living thing, is gratifying. Especially when the changes you make improve the overall health of the plant.

Speaking of improving our overall health, a lot of the plants I own have air purifying qualities that are beneficial for our living environment and our health as well. So if you’re looking to make your space a little greener, head over to my article above and get started on purifying the air in your space in a natural way : )

Take Care of your Body

This is an important aspect of gratitude as well. It’s amazing how much a little bit of exercise will help to prevent injuries and keep us in healthy working order. For example, I do yoga twice a week for about an hour each time. I do two, roughly half-hour sessions with Yoga with Adrienne. One is her core strengthening ritual, and the other is a thirty minute flow. And the other weekly session is an hour long restorative flow at a local yoga studio.

It’s kind of amazing how much difference I’ve seen in my day to day routines after only a few weeks of actively strengthening my core. My workouts are smoother, my strength has improved and I feel better about myself in general. The restorative practice is satisfying as well. There are some strength training elements to the practice, but deep stretching and taking it a little easier on my body has equally as beneficial results as strength training alone.

After both my strength training and restorative practices, I feel stronger, less stressed, more relaxed and also happier that I’m working towards keeping my body in shape to avoid physical injuries and other maladies that comes with inactivity. Also, savasana, after a difficult workout is one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done. And it’s ease to develop a sense of gratitude during this final pose. As Adrienne puts it, “let the nutrients of your practice wash over your body”. I think what she means is, to me, soak in the gratitude you are cultivating with your yoga practice.

Bringing it All Together

Cultivating gratitude isn’t an easy task. Remember, try not to force it. When it comes to you, try and stay in the feeling and remember what it feels like. You can also tend to your spaces and routines to help facilitate it showing up more in your day to day. Actively work to surround yourself with the things that remind you to be grateful.

When other emotions come that make it difficult for you to feel and stay grateful, don’t push them away. Allow them the time and space they need to feel seen and heard. But try not to wallow in them.

Take care of yourself and of something else. Tending to our own, and others needs is conducive to cultivating states of gratitude. And it’s okay not to feel grateful all the time. Let it come and go, just remember to remember how it feels in your body and mind as it happens. Hopefully, with a little bit of practice, we can turn feeling gratitude into a recurring event. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “gratitude and rust” by shannonkringen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Self-Care: Setting Healthy Boundaries and Finding Balance

Setting healthy boundaries and balance. This is a tough one for a lot of folks including myself. We’re taught from an early age that it is better to give than to receive and that being selfless is a virtue. And in some cases those are noble values. But when the list of people to please and of tasks to do mount, what was a value can become a drain of your energy, vitality and your willingness to engage with those around you. And depending on the veracity to which you hold to these values, the effects can be dramatic.

Step One: Find Out Where Your Boundaries Are

I used to have poorly defined boundaries, as did those who were closest in to me. If I had a grievance with somebody, I would hold it in and resentment would eventually take hold. Leaving me with a silent grudge that was left to fester. But it wasn’t just me. Most of the people I was in close contact with day to day acted the same way. Arguments would erupt because of the smallest infraction or mistaken intention. All of which could have been avoided if we had just spoken candidly about how we felt about whatever the issue was.

I had a sort of falling out with a loved one recently who won’t talk to me because I asked them a question about a shared experience from our past. The question was benign enough. I asked if they had something from our youth that smelled of jasmine. They responded with, “I love you, but I just need time.” Time from what I’m not sure, but I know this person has a good heart. They just give more than they have to give and the result is, in this case anyway, a loss of a friend who could be a source of support.

We’ve all been in this person’s shoes. Too much to do and too many people and things to keep track of with not enough time to do it all in. The stress mounts until it feels like it’s all just too much to keep in. This is where setting healthy boundaries and finding balance by offsetting some of life’s stressors is most important. Ideally we would have some resources to fall back on before we get to this level of stress. But it’s never too late to take a break and give yourself the time and space needed to recover from the constant inflow of life stressors, whatever they may be.

Defining What Our Healthy Boundaries Look Like

One of the first steps in psychological self care is prevention. If the above scenario feels all too familiar, difficulty saying no to added responsibility, then setting healthy boundaries around saying no to added responsibility, will help to prevent some stress. It’s healthy to want to do for others. It’s one of the ways we create tight bonds and close relationships with one another and is one of the five love languages. But when we take on so much that the tasks we agree to do become a source of distress or breeds resentment, then we’re tearing apart the connections we were trying to build when we agreed to take them on in the first place.

Journaling

Alternately when stress does mount, journalling can be a way to put some distance between yourself and the situation. Giving yourself the time and space needed to gain a new perspective. Coming up with a resource list can be helpful as well. Something I’ve added to my journal for times when you feel as though you’ve run out of ideas or are just too tired to think. Check, been there 😀

I bullet journal. This is a mix of scrap booking/journaling/budgeting/day dreaming/daily planner, and whatever else you can put on a blank page. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination and it is a wonderful outlet for organizing life as it comes. I have a link to it over on my community page if you’re interested in starting one of your own. And don’t be intimidated either. You can start one regardless of whether or not you feel you’re artistic enough for such a project. It’s only for you anyways, unless you want to share it : )

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

Laughter is another obvious, though sometimes elusive resource and release from stress. It seems funny because at any given moment if I were asked if I’d like to have a good laugh, I would most likely be happy to. But I’m usually too preoccupied or engaged in what I’m doing to relax enough. If you’re uptight like I am, not to worry. Humor is something that can be cultivated. One way is by searching for shows or comedians that strike a chord with you. Or by finding an author who speaks to your sense of humor.

And don’t forget conversations with friends, family or co-workers that you are able to be comfortable with can also be a great comedic interlude to your day. We all have a friend who is funny regardless of what they’re doing or saying. Text them and see what they’re up to. Maybe start a conversation around a funny thing that happened to you in the past. And asking about others’ funny stories can be the start of a great conversation. From my experience there are some gems out there just waiting to be told!

Though, stressful times are often when it’s most difficult to focus on cultivating a relaxed state. Being mindful of the times we are stressed can be a powerful tool in helping us to come back to the mindset that can help cultivate a relaxed way of being, while aiding in developing a sense of humor. By recognizing we are stressed, we can then realize that it is a passing emotional state and allow it to flow through us. Rather than tighten our focus on how to stop, avoid or get rid of the stress.

Relax, You’ll Be Alright : )

Exploring and cultivating interests and hobbies. Saying no to stressful situations and responsibilities when you know you’ve taken too much on. Journaling or spending time with friends and family communicating and laughing, are all ways to help cultivate a relaxed state of being. They also allow us the time and space necessary to create the healthy boundaries and balance that are so important in caring for our mental health and well being.

So whether it’s asking a co-worker to pick up a task that you know you just won’t have the time to do. Writing about the emotions that come up during the day in your journal. Or finding a new comic or author to immerse yourself in. Taking time to recognize when you’re stressed and how to bring yourself back to a more relaxed version of you is a skill worth cultivating. And one that will bring you peace and balance. Peace and thanks for reading : )

“Finding balance” by James Jordan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Updated: 2/13/2022

Self-Care Emotional: How do You Relate to Your Inner-Critic?

“Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We all have an inner critic. The voice that says we’ll never finish that degree, or I’m never gonna land the job that would be just right for me. I’m never going to find the woman/man who’s my true love or I’m just plain not adding up. I know mine well. It took some digging but when I finally realized who was behind the wheel and where he was steering me, I can tell you it was a real eye opener.

Getting to Know Your Critical Voice

My inner critic has taken the form of my abusers past, and I can actually pinpoint it in my body. Of course this took years of work to even begin to unlock my frozen tundra of emotion. And this was after decades of not being able to feel my body, or to even know what my emotions were. Also that I was the one in charge, not my emotions.

My inner critic will often tell me things about myself that just aren’t true. Such as I’m overweight even though I weigh 185 and am 5’10”. I’m unable to find and do meaningful and fulfilling work even though I’ve excelled in all my positions and graduated Cum Laude from college. I need a another to take care of me because I’m incapable of doing so for myself, regardless of my well organized and healthfully curated my lifestyle… The list goes on.

But what’s most important to understand about all our critics is, asides from the content being untrue and damaging to our psyche, how often we get lured into its siren’s song. And allow ourselves to be led astray from what our heart’s true aspirations are. If you’re reading this then you’ve probably come to some of your own healthy conclusions. But in case you haven’t I’m here to tell you you are not the contents of your inner critic. And the only control it has over you is the control you give to it.

Our Critic Takes its Cues From Our Pasts

I know from my own early childhood experiences of trauma, that my critic has grown strong from repeated infractions against my sense of self worth. And it may seem as though these experiences are relegated to those who’ve experienced some sort of trauma. But the numbers of those who have experienced trauma are staggering. It’s reported that “nearly 14% of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse.” That’s about one in seven! That’s a lot of people.

But even those that haven’t experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, ways of coping with stress such as peer pressure and people pleasing have real consequences. And not to mention are a source of frustration for many. This all sounds pretty sad. And it is, but there are ways to identify our inner critic and create a caring cushion around it. To soften the blow when it does strike. This is where the hard work lay. In knowing how your inner critic has infiltrated your day to day routines and the patterns that we’ve cultivated in relating to it.

Recognizing Your Tells

Do you know the subtle signs of the transition between when you’re behind the wheel and your critic has taken over? Is there a low level of anxiety that is prevalent? Feeling as though you’re not adding up in some way for no reason? Are you believing things about yourself you know just aren’t true? These are just a few examples and they vary from person to person.

There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to knowing how you and your own personal inner critic relate to one another. Or the ways it has taken control in your life. But there is a commonality in coming to understanding who and what your inner critic is and needs. And it starts with listening.

When are the times you feel down on yourself? Or feel bad about a specific behavior or something you feel like you should be doing? Times that you are measuring yourself to another and feel as though you are coming up short? Those are the times and opportunities to listen inward. To feel where you feel them in your body. The places you are trying to avoid. That’s where you’ll find your critic.

Your critic is trying to tell you something but it’s afraid. Underneath that fear there is a protective quality, one that is trying to keep us safe. For me it’s, “I had better conform to certain expectations or else I’ll be rejected and unloved”. Listening to the message of what it’s trying to tell us and deciphering it from the fear will yield great rewards.

Finding What’s Underneath The Critic

Because once you find the message that is behind the fear, you can relate directly to the unattended hurt. The source of the wound. Though I should say when dealing with traumatic fear, this is something that should definitely be done in the care of a professional. And with the support of trusted family members and friends when possible. Tara Brach explains in one of her talks on relating to traumatic fear called, “Healing Trauma: The Light Shines Through the Broken Places” that it may not be safe to take in all the fear at once. It may end up retraumatize us.

I know from my own work with my therapist that learning the art of just this much, finding your window of tolerance is, is invaluable. Especially for those of us who have been trying to live up to our own imposed and impossible standards. Go hard or go home. The insatiable voice that keeps telling us we need to do more and accomplish greater deeds. And the critic doesn’t only focus on us. Others as well need to live up to our impossible standards or something terrible will happen. Or so we often times feel.

You’ve Met Your Inner Critic, Now What?

So what do we do when we finally come toe to toe with our inner critic? For me, it was about slowing down. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to work myself to death, to live up to the impossible standard I had created, that I realized it was never going to be enough. No matter how hard I worked, how I ignored my needs and those of others. No matter how critical I was of the job I was doing or others were doing, I was never going to meet the impossible standard I had in my mind of how things should be.

This took some doing because I was drinking 5 to 6 lattes a day and going hard to avoid coming home (figuratively). It wasn’t until I started meditating and switched to tea, one caffeinated cup a day, that I was able to create the space necessary to slow down and hear what my body was telling me. Instead of telling my body how to feel. It was a shock though. I won’t go into details but it hit hard. I was feeling all sorts of unattended emotion from my past. I had been ignoring not just the attic of my life but most of the useable square footage!

But that brought me to the second step of reckoning with the unfelt emotions. It was crazy at first. But my feelings began to slow down until they were manageable. Small enough to take in without being overwhelming. I needed a lot of support during that time too. And a lot of kindness. Mostly from and to myself.

I had been beating myself up for such a long time that there was some animosity for sure. But the more kindness I showed myself, the easier it became. Not only easier to bear but the inner critic began to lose it’s bite. When he would show up, which he still does sometimes, I could recognize him and treat him with kindness. Knowing that really it’s just the product of the ways I’ve been maltreated by myself and others.

So when you’re relating to your inner critic the key is to be kind. Kind to yourself, kindness to and from others as well. Because it’s that kindness that will then create the cushion around our hurt selves. The places our critics are protecting in order to make space for them to heal. And it’s not easy. People will say and do hurtful things and we will do and say hurtful things too. To ourselves and others. But it’s a practice. And the more we practice the better we become at being kind. And the more tame our critic will become. It’s doable, just don’t give up. Peace :] and thanks for reading!

Image credits: “Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Updated: 2/3/22

Self-Care: Step One; Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Self-care. It’s not easy for some. That’s why the next few articles I’ll be posting are going to be on just that. But looking at self-care through a slightly different refrain.

Self-care starts with the self but it always extends beyond the boundaries of our personal borders. For instance how we treat ourselves directly affects how we interact with others and our immediate environments. If you think you’re not worth the time and effort you are going to overlook the effect of your actions on your immediate environment.

If you treat your apartment like a giant trash bin, you will also most likely treat your green spaces the same way. And more than likely you won’t find time to fulfill some basic responsibilities we all need to get after in order to heal the world we live in. Like recycling and composting or shopping sustainably.

So with these ideas in mind I’m going to be writing articles steeped in these values, as I explore the boundaries between care of self and where the self really ends or begins. And what to do to mend, heal and engage more fully in the care of ourselves and our world. Start small, act big.

Some Goals

The goal is to create a list of areas and corresponding actionable items to execute, to further the care of ourselves, our spaces and our communities. The more we work together the greater the network of care-giving becomes. And hopefully we will all benefit from our change of perspective to a kinder, more forgiving and accepting nature.

These are some lofty goals. And I’m not trying to imply that there is some magic bullet that will cure all persons particular outlook of self and how we interact with the world. But it sure starts with taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions. And hopefully this exploration of self-care will give those looking, the jolt of a confidence boost. To start the process in taking themselves into account and becoming part of the solution instead of adding to the unrest. The disquiet that has currently taken hold of so many in our constant growth, consumer driven economy and power structures.

Parts of Self-Care

The outline of the articles will focus on specific areas and actions taken in these areas to obtain a more whole concept of self. And how this concept translates into a physical action. Also how it impacts our immediate environments and communities. The areas of focus will include, Physical, Psychological, Emotional, Spiritual, Personal, and Professional.

Using the above areas as a starting point, I will cover everything from where to buy clothing, to our roles in cleaning up the streets in our neighborhoods and towns. Getting involved in healthy eating habits by starting, or joining a community garden and how to transform unused community space into a bee refuge and public gardens to feed the homeless.

So here is the part of the post where I write a call to action. Something like, together we can make a difference. And that’s true. Together we really can make a difference towards the loving and understanding that’s strong enough to bolster a community rich in interconnected ties. One that is steeped in values that provide healing. But it starts here. Within each of us. Some of us have more internal cleaning to do. In fact it may look like a complete renovation. But it’s possible. Not only is it possible, but we can have fun along the way as well.

That being said it may not be an easy row to hoe, but it will yield gratifying fruits. And don’t forget, you’re not alone!

Updated: 2/3/22

%d bloggers like this: