The other day I came across a Facebook feed with a very colorful picture of a women meditating. The caption read, “Begin each day with a grateful heart.”
Instantly I was drawn to it. It is true, we should begin each day with a grateful heart; what a great way to start your day. Then I had a follow-up question that arose: “Why does sometimes the heart not feel that way?”
Perhaps, you know with your mind that you are grateful but how often of that is felt from a place within the heart? Our American way of living is very “go, go, go,” and with the busy of a typical day, often it is only when we take a day off from our routine that we begin to relish from a place of thankfulness.
I just returned from a three-week volunteer trip to the remote villages of Nepal, a third-world country. Before I left for the trip, somehow I had managed to be the busiest I have ever been—with fundraising, teaching, massage work, writing articles and staying present in my relationships.
I knew I was in overload because I had a hard time being in the present moment with each task or person that I was conversing with. I was mentally grateful for the opportunity that lay ahead, and for all those who were supporting me, but I also felt a small block in my heart. It almost felt like if I slowed down to really take it all in that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all my “objectives” — the overloading work I had compiled for myself.
During the trip, I journaled nearly every day. I kept track of our travels, the people we met along the way, my mental and emotional state, and I jotted down any relevant or irrelevant happenings. The more I landed in Nepal, the more I accepted the slow paced lifestyle. The people work hard, but also enjoy themselves, taking breaks for tea, chatting with one another and taking in the beauty around them. There was no television, video games, or techie gadgets to distract the interactions between people.
As the trip went on, I noticed my interest began to shift and my listening deepened. No longer feeling the pull of Facebook or the blinking curser on my computer screen reminding me to write another article, or the voices echoing from the television as someone absentmindedly reads the newspaper and makes dinner.
No. It was simple. It was raw and completely organic, in a very special way. It became apparent to me how much of our technology sucks up our time if we let it; how easy it is to be consumed by an email, a video or even a text conversation when a real person sits directly in front of us trying to connect.
After arriving home to Colorado, my adjustment was a slow one, as I made a conscious decision that I did not want to go back to the full-steam, all engines ahead mode of life I was previously living. Yes, I sure got a lot done, but I was not really in the moment.
When our hearts are in a place of the living present moment, that is when we feel gratitude. We may think we are grateful—and for that we are—but to connect the thinking mind along side the felt state of the heart is powerful. Think of a time in your past when you were really grateful. What were you doing? Who were you with? Did you accomplish something or were you just elated to be in the company of another?
There is a reason why we call yoga a practice, the same can be applied to the practice of gratitude. As we link our breath with the movement of our bodies in yoga asana, we too can link our mental mind of appreciation with our feeling heart of gratitude.
In practicing gratitude, we deepen our relationship to ourselves and to the world around us, and we live more presently in each moment and learn to be okay just the way we are and where we are. Here are three ways to cultivate more gratitude in our lives.
1. Practice patience.
“From cane reeds, sugar,
From a worms cocoon, silk.
Be Patient if you can and from sour grapes will come something sweet”
The first thing I learned in Nepal was that things were done in a very organic manner. I remember on our travels within Nepal from Kathmandu to Phaplu, we were at the airport for the first flight out, but after much conversing between the locals we were informed we would be on the second flight…hopefully. So we waited. And we waited. And then we waited some more. Soon, it became very apparent to me that this is their custom and I could either jump on board or leave.
Learning to be patient in this manner was new. Pleasantly, I began to let go and reside in a place of not really knowing what would be next because what was on the itinerary was not a definitive. The beauty is that I found a sense of gratitude within my heart by going with the flow.
You see, when we are patient, we are more likely to listen. And when we listen more, we really begin to see who we are with, what is happening around us and how it makes us feel inside. Quickly, my world was not just my world anymore. Taking the time to be patient and to absorb my surroundings without judgement, anticipation or control, I felt thankful deep within my heart.
Practicing patience is a way to cultivate more gratitude in our lives. Where can you be more patient in your life?
2. Pause and smell the flowers.
Many moments on the four to six hour hikes held an overwhelming sense of calm and comfort, just in taking steps, one foot in front of the other. Soon the chatter of writing, worrying and/or doing gently drifted away like that of a cloud from a passing storm, and my mind settled into this place of pausing.
I not only knew I needed to be a better friend, volunteer, partner, etc., I desired to be; I wanted deeply to take in the smell of the flowers, to stop and to absorb. My attention for things became sharper and I was even able to approach the world with a wider sense of openness.
Practicing gratitude means to slow down, to pause and to take in moments. How often do we talk on the phone, drive and sip our coffee at the same time? Who is guilty of doing all of that at the same time while steering the wheel with their knee? I am. But what is it worth it? Who loses here? We do. We lose because we do not notice the change of the autumn leaves as we drive or we do not hear the last part of the sentence our friend said on the phone. We lose those great moments to really take in the aromas of life and be truly thankful.
Practicing pausing is a way to cultivate more gratitude in our lives. How can you pause more?
3. Be in the present moment.
No longer feeling the technological distractions of my modern day life, I began to appreciate the simple routine in Nepal. Daily we woke to “bed tea”—hot tea delivered to our tent at 6:30 a.m. It was something that felt strange to me at first, but overtime I not only welcomed it, I actually looked forward to it. I enjoyed the sweet interaction of the porters offering me tea as we greeted one another other with a smile.
Breakfast was eaten as the sun was rising, and I would sit in the cold, blanketed in my down. Soon, we would be on our way to continue building the Cold Food Storage at the monastery with the locals, taking small tea breaks from time to time. With small verbal conversation, we built a community and learned to accept one another, as we were in a raw non-verbal way.
At times patience was needed, while at other times pausing was necessary, taking time to re-evaluate the project. The days were long and when dinner came, all bundled in the mess tent with the stars shining bright above the Himalayan mountains, it became even more apparent of how important the practice of acceptance is.
Ae each night came to an end with time to reflect and journal while wrapped up in my sleeping bag and beanie, I became grounded. The more I accepted the reality of the situation, the more I became aware of the present moment; awareness of where I was right then, of the interactions between people, of who I was deep within.
Practicing acceptance is a challenging piece in the journey. It means we must be patient and that we have to slow down. It is hard to appreciate a flower for what it is if we are too busy in the mind thinking of other things.
When the mind is chattering away about this or that, but not taking in the flower, we miss the details of the flower; its color, its texture and its smell. When we embrace acceptance, we are instantly transported to the present moment, allowing us a beautiful opportunity for appreciation.
Practicing acceptance is a way to cultivate more gratitude in our lives. Where can you be more accepting in your life? What takes you away from the living in the present moment?
In lu of Thanksgiving, take this opportunity to begin practicing these three ways to manifest and plant more gratitude in your heart. Begin with trying on the coat of patience. You may find that the mittens and gloves of pausing will come more readily to you as you practice. And lastly, when your heart is open and calm, embrace the present moment with acceptance. As we deepen all three of these in our lives, our hearts will soon overfill with the abundance of gratitude; allowing us to spread the richness of such warmth to those around us.
Wishing you all a safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving!
Kristina Kuzmich, born and raised in the Midwest, first found Colorado through Naropa University in 2004, and instantly called it “home.” Kristina is a 200 E-RYT and a Licensed Massage Therapist residing in the Vail Valley, and is the founder and owner of Mindful Evolution Yoga. She is the Yoga Director for the Aria Yoga Program at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, the only certified SmartFLOW © Yoga Teacher in Colorado and is proud to be a yoga ambassador for lululemon athletica and Manduka. A lover of dark chocolate and mate tea, an avid hiker, snowboarder, writer and community worker, she insists on traveling the globe in her diligent pursuit of perpetual growth. She is a junkie to the card game, Rummy, and while not shy to share her obsession for fairy tales, particularly devouring up The Brother’s Grimm, Kristina has an exploratory skill in creating meals in the kitchen. She isn’t afraid to dabble into her favorite styles of wine (all things French), share her opinions when asked, and will continually practice seeking the truth and finding clarity, though the wine may cloud that at times.
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