In Canada, my adopted home country, this is Thanksgiving weekend. The trees wear their colourful garlands with short lived intensity – soon it will be winter – and our friends and family share laughter and seasonal harvest around their tables.
In Santa Cruz, California, where I currently live; today is a warm 21 + degrees C (80 + for you Fahrenheit folks); we wade in ocean water that is the warmest it has been all year and eat lunch under a cloudless sky. Clouds are unnecessary as the newest Trump scandal clouds all media air waves and conversation. It does not feel like Thanksgiving. In fact, it feels like we have much to worry and complain about.
Two nights ago on the eve of my 39th birthday, I was in a funk. I replayed my list of worries in my head. The tape ran like this: “I am not sure if we are in the place I want to call home. Where is home? Why can’t we figure it out, NOW? Where will we be next year at this time? ” I pushed away the thought of “there are many wonderful people here; our son’s school is amazing and we have slow-melted into this conscious, ocean side community. I love my yoga classes here etc.” Instead I focused on the negative: “I’m not sure if I am living the life I want to live. I am not sure what my contribution in this world right now is etc. etc.”
I played up the negative self chatter. I wallowed in it and a part of me knew that I wanted to wallow in it. I know I was in a funk because it was my birthday and I felt a sort of urgency of needing “time” – time away from scheduling life, from washing dishes and organising laundry and childcare and packing lunches and trying desperately to slot in time for yoga and something inspirational – to take stock, to check in with my path and give my life an honest once-over. You know, the sort of things you think about on your birthdays as you get older.
I sat alone on the couch. My husband was putting our son to bed. I felt lonely – as though my inner compass had decided to take a hike without me. On the verge of tears. I let a few out. Then they rushed out. Uncontrollable soft sobs, until they stopped. And I felt lighter, as though I had released something. Not everything, but something. And I slowed down my breathing and told myself I had a lot to be thankful for. A lot to be happy about. I needed to remember what those things were tonight.
I started a list.
- I have loving, inspiring family and friends around the globe, many of whom I don’t see as often as I would like, but I know we are in one another’s thoughts.
- I have a beautiful child with a kind, loving man, to whom we are giving a wonderful education.
- I live by the ocean in a beautiful place. We may not know where we will be next year, but right now, we are here.
- I am active. I am strong and I am happiest when moving and doing something physical and have always been that way.
- I get to teach something I love doing for my vocation. I teach yoga, I write and I inspire people to live their best, healthiest and most peaceful selves.
- I am alive. I am breathing. I am fully wholly alive. Now, in this moment. Not the next, but just this one.
- We are growing a pumpkin in our little garden!
- I have some amazing skills and talents and I am always open to learning and trying new things.
- I have goals that I’ve accomplished and those that I still have to.
- I put my heart into everything I do.
- I am not perfect and that is ok.
It was a longer list, but these were my initial jottings. As I wrote, I noticed how things began to shift in my head and in my body. My shoulders relaxed, as did my jaw. The space of release did not recede back into negativity. Instead, another voice began to tell me that I was going to be ok. That life was beautiful and full of challenge all at the same time. That I was in the thick of it. That I needed a lot of patience, a lot of communication and focus to make my dreams happen. That it may take more time. And it was all possible. That tension and worry set up shop in the very muscles, tissues and nerve endings of our body. That I knew through all my years of training in yoga, how to ease it out. That feeling what I felt, was valid, but I also needed to acknowledge that it was exactly that, a feeling. And feelings are projections of our sensory mind. The part of ourself controlled by our senses. And that there was a part of me still beyond that. More still. More prescient and more present.
I slowly made my way toward bed. First to my meditation cushion. I lit a candle and I breathed, watching those thoughts, watching those emotions. That night. I felt huge gratitude. It was in me and around me. It was a reminder that tuning into what we are thankful for is a daily practice, not a once in a year special occasion.
In his book The Buddha’s Brain, Dr. Rick Hansen talks about how we have an inherent negative bias in our neurophysiology. This has been our body’s way of protecting us from dangerous experiences since millennia. Don’t eat this plant (you may die if you do), eat that one instead etc.. Our tendency as humans is to collect and stick with negative emotions and experiences, even when most of our experiences are actually positive.
To maintain equilibrium takes constant, minute by minute work. Hansen says that we need to revel in the positive experiences. To remember them fully. In our lives as goal-oriented, hyper achieving individuals, we are not good at celebrating our wins. But the more we do this, the more happy neural connections we build in our brains. This in turn has huge benefits on our overall health and vitality.
Meditation helps and so does yoga. But in my experience, a daily gratitude journal is key to staying on your path toward happiness.
Here are two simple daily exercises that you can include in your life. I hope that they offer you some benefit and inspiration.
- Daily Gratitude Journal
Keep a journal beside your bed just for this purpose! Write a list of five things you are grateful for that day. Keep it as simple and short or as long as you would like to. It could be something that occurred as a result of something you were working on, or just something beautiful about the weather, as in , the sunset was stunning tonight. Anything that lit you up. Be honest. Don’t create a fake feeling about something. Instead try to look at your day and your thoughts and emotions reacting to situations or people with some objectivity.
- A Rose and a Thorn
We play this game at our dinner table almost nightly. Sometimes we need a reminder from our 5 year old who loves it. We ask one another. “What is a rose from your day today and what is a thorn?” It is a wonderful way to look at both a positive experience and a negative experience from our day with objectivity and realism. Inevitably what I’ve found, is that the negative incident loses its edge just a bit and I am always left with more of a sense of equilibrium. And equilibrium is an open gateway toward happiness.
I hope that you have a wonderful long weekend. Thanks for reading and and if you have any thoughts about these suggestions please do leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.