Gratitude is an essential component of being mindful. The overall practice is called cultivating positive states. States like compassion, gratitude, forgiveness are part of being mindful of one’s inner life and heart. Aside from encouraging kindness, acknowledging and cultivating these states add joy, happiness, and meaning to our lifes.
Full disclosure, I have a really hard time with gratitude. I don’t know if it was the way it was originally presented to me, for instance, when I was emotionally hurting or being challenged, someone would remind me that I had a lot to be thankful for. In that context, I always felt that somehow gratitude diminished my own suffering. It was as if the two, pain and gratitude, could not co-exist. That one emotion meant that the other was invalid. So every time I tried to practice gratitude I was aware of a subtle feeling that my suffering was invalid. A little voice would even tell me so. It was unfortunate because I wanted to feel gratitude.
Luckily I recently found a practice that helped. It takes you on a logical path of connection from how you care for your own life, to the things and people that have helped you on that path. For instance, think of the ways that you have cared for yourself in the past. Maybe you’ve gotten a college degree to increase your earning power. Maybe you go to the gym and eat right to care for your body. Maybe you followed your calling because it makes you feel good to make a difference. At the very least, you probably brush your teeth, shower, and feed yourself. If you think about it there are many ways that you care for your life everyday. Think of the ones that have the most meaning to you.
The next step is to become aware of all the people, systems, and things that have supported you in doing this care. With regard to your degree, there are the teachers, the classrooms that were built, the college system, the financial aid, etc. Caring for your diet involves people who grow, pick, and ship the food, the sunshine, the water system, your stove or your local grocer. Just think about who and what helped you along the way. It’s hard not to feel supported, when there is so much that supports us. It’s heartening to be mindful of the support.
This way of noticing helped me look at gratitude in a different way, it wasn’t dependent on the fact that I was complaining about or experiencing something uncomfortable. It was just an honest look at how I’ve been supported while trying to care for myself.
Today, on Memorial Day we can do the same practice. Let’s notice the ways we’ve cared for ourselves. And then let’s be aware of the freedoms that allow us to do that. I can think of the freedom to write and read our opinions, the freedom to love who we love, the freedom to worship in a way that is meaningful for us, the freedom to follow our values, the freedom to think and be educated, the freedom to feel relatively safe.
Now we can be mindful of those who fought for those freedoms. So many gave their lives so that others could have better lives. It’s important to be mindful of this often, if not just on Memorial Day, that what we enjoy comes from many, many others who gave selflessly.
I’m aware that regarding freedoms, there is still a lot of work to be done in this country. But on this Memorial Day may we be mindful of those that cared enough to care for us. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of them. <3