I’ve always known what the words ‘grateful‘ and ‘gratitude‘ mean, but only what the dictionary tells you. Understanding the true concept of gratitude, I have learnt, really comes from the experiences and challenges life throws at you. This year, I found that gratitude played the leading role in forming the foundation of my resilience as a person. That’s difficult to explain, so I won’t, but my blog is for writing and sharing a journey of learning with you guys, so I’m talking about the benefits I’ve found from mindfulness and gratitude in the hope that it might make you give it a go, and feel those benefits too.
So what does gratitude mean to me? Well, many things – but chiefly, it grounds me. When I can’t see beyond a difficult time at work, at home, with family or with friends, I reflect on what I can be grateful for. We live in a world where many of our problems are so-called ‘First World Problems‘, and as a result, we often forget how blessed we are for the basic life comforts we have. Our health – physical, emotional, mental, social. A safe place to live. Family. Friends. A significant other. Two legs to walk on and two arms to help us care for our own physical needs. A voice that can speak. A mind with the ability to perform the complex tasks that get us through each day. A society that isn’t filled with day to day conflict and psychological stress. Many people don’t have one or more of those things, yet those that have them all, are often guilty of taking them for granted.
When I’m faced with a challenging day, or part of a day, or even week/month, I try to bring myself back to the basics that I can appreciate, enjoy and be grateful for. It’s easier some days than others, and I’m okay with that. A big catalyst in my journey with gratitude was when I started daily mindfulness and meditation using the Calm meditation app. I can’t tell you guys enough how much this simple act has changed me and my life. Stress management. Sleep. Day to day awareness of myself, my thoughts and my behaviour towards others. All beyond improved. Optimised.
So what IS mindfulness I hear you say? Well, I’ll bring in a definition here from Dr. Jon-Kabat Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction. He defined it as ‘awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.‘ He also said ‘It’s about knowing what is on your mind.’
I can’t put it any simpler than that. To me, mindfulness brings you back to yourself. To your breath, your thoughts, and the physical feelings we experience and often unconsciously ignore. Many of us do not take the time to listen to our mind and body – even if we don’t know what they are telling us, we at least are listening to the symptoms, and can act on the message we think we’re getting.
For example, when I’m faced with a tricky time, I’ve been guilty of dealing with it by ‘keeping busy’. I’ll be telling myself I’m just ‘getting on with things‘ – but in fact, it’s distraction from dealing with the issue at hand. Being mindful has now allowed me to tune into when my body tells me to slow down, and listen – it might be sore muscles from training a bit too much, or feeling tired from just packing too much into a day and not enough time given to sleep – but I hear what I’m being told. Previously (and I’m only practising mindfulness since January), I wouldn’t have heard those signs, and even if I did, I likely would have pushed on and ignored them.
So. Let’s bring this little reflection to a focus, and a take home to start with, if you want to bring mindfulness into your life. Take the time, at some point everyday, to be grateful. It might be on the bus to work, or the train home, or when you’re stuck in rush hour traffic on a Monday, already wishing the weekend would arrive sooner. Take a deep breath in, and then a long breath out. Look around you in that moment, and hear the thoughts your mind is saying. Most importantly, don’t judge yourself for what those thoughts might be, whether positive or negative. Just acknowledge them, and see them drift across your mind. Focus your attention on your breath, and try to name at least 3 things you can be grateful for in that moment of your life. Chances are, you’ll instantly feel even a smidge better – and probably a whole lot more than that.
I hope this post resonates with you guys on some level. It’s a bit different from my usual, but sometimes my favourite way to share with you guys is via my own journey, because I feel strongly that simple changes to our daily mental and physical habits can make huge differences to our overall health and wellness. As always, let me know what you think of the post – you can find me @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook!
Ciara 🙂 x