Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melody Beattie
I often recommend cultivating a gratitude practice to the cancer survivors I work with. Why? Because it is easy to become consumed by anxiety and fear and to get overwhelmed by everything you need to do to take care of yourself. Gratitude – thinking of something you’re grateful for and feeling that in the heart – shifts you out of negativity. That in turn has an affect on the body. It affects mood and your sense of well-being.
I use gratitude as a way to stop my chattering mind and come into the present moment. Sometimes I’m acutely aware of this chattering “monkey mind,” so instead of letting it run wild, I think of things I’m grateful for. There are usually plenty of things even when I’m not having a good day. I’m grateful that the weather is nice or if it’s not, that I have a warm car that is running well. I’m grateful that I have people around me that love me; that I have an awesome pair of cats; that I live in a country that, while it has its problems, is still pretty great; that I get to do work that is gratifying. What I notice then is a shift in the feeling tone in my body. Feeling tone is a particular quality of awareness measured in terms of pleasantness and unpleasantness. Gratitude shifts me into a pleasant feeling tone.
We want to cultivate a pleasant feeling tone because it means the nervous system is in parasympathetic mode (PNS) and not in the stress response or the sympathetic nervous system. I’ve written about this in several posts including Yoga Nidra and the Parasympathic Nervous System. The PNS is the relaxation response or the “rest and digest” aspect of our autonomic nervous system and it’s crucial for healing. Research has shown a multitude of benefits that arise from the relaxation response including reduced pain, reduced hypertension (high blood pressure), improved sleep and reduced anxiety.
You can practice gratitude toward other people – your support people, caregivers; the doctors and nurses and other people who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping you heal. You can be grateful for a smile from a stranger on the street or a bubbly personality on the other end of the phone. Cultivate gratitude for the small brightenings of the day.
You can also direct gratitude toward yourself. Thank yourself for getting to yoga class, for taking care of yourself. Thank your self for being patient or for enduring discomfort, fear, and uncertainty during a difficult time. Even when things are especially hard, being grateful for what’s going right can be helpful.
I feel gratitude each day for the circumstances that have brought me to this fascinating work. I feel gratitude that my job is to work with the whole person. I’m continuously heartened that so many people share their deepest hopes, fears and loves with me. I’m grateful that this work asks me to be my best self.
Gratitude can connect you to your heart and, given that we live in a world that seems to require us to reside in our intellects, this is a gift. Gratitude connects us to ourselves and to others through the heart.