Gratitude can be defined as the quality of being thankful, appreciative, and mindful of those moments, the people, and blessings in our lives.
Gratitude is a newer addition to the attitudinal foundation of mindfulness practice. And it is a beautiful concept thtat we are capable of giving, feeling, and even accepting gratitude in any moment, and perhaps most useful in our darkest moments. Everyday we get to experience 24 brand new hours, and the freedom to choose how we use those hours, or at least some portion of them.
One of the most potentially beneficial aspects of mindfulness practice is the ability to bring a bare awareness to the thoughts, feelings, and the conditioned and habitual behaviors we engage in daily, this is called metacognition. Within this framework we start to see our “Automatic Pilot” which is part of our brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN), which our minds run on nearly %50 of the time. This is perhaps most often vividly described as when you drive your car and arrive to your destination but have been in your head the whole time and don’t remember the actual act of driving your car.
It is well known that our minds skew toward the negative as part of our survival instinct. Whilst lost in our minds we can find attachment and even comfort in our judgments about people, situations, and events that can take on a life of their own. It is so easy to get lost in the story of our lives. We can push people away we would otherwise want in our lives, or think we are good and they are bad, and so on and so forth, our judgments are often shallow but can run deep.
Now returning back to gratitude and mindfulness. Mindfulness combined with gratitude can allow us to not get caught up in story and see people, events, and our interactions in daily life with non-judgment. To see people as people, who are maybe not too different and even more like ourselves than we would like to admit, perhaps we can even find our common humanity with one another.
While on a hike recently I chose to go on a lesser traveled path in the park. Being in an area recently ravaged by heavy rain and flooding the path was overgrown, filled with brush, pricker bushes, spider webs, and was difficult to pass, especially in the heat and humidity on this day. In my head I said to myself “I took the wrong path.” It was unpleasant, and as I caught myself thinking this I realized I was judging my situation in this manner. Seeing this I was able to see the good. My perception in one moment was one way, but I also had the choice to see this experience in a new light.
As I brushed the sweat off my arms, and the spider webs off my eyeglasses away from my face, and continued to breath shallow in the heat, I turned my attention to the sunshine, and the beautiful butterflies flying around the overgrown path. They existed, whether I noticed them or not. Whether anyone appreciated them or not. Several cardinals and other birds flew around the path as well. Life was abundant and all around me. While walking my head was full of thought patterns, mostly negative about my story, and yet in that present moment there was beauty, a clear sky on a sunny day, and life all around me, and in that moment I became grateful for this day.
For all the sorrow, sadness, and mixed emotions I had been experiencing prior to that realization that was compounded by the heat and humidity had passed and gone away. It was possible to grateful for this moment when I was open to it.