When I was a kid, I wasn’t an especially happy kid. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. Of worry. I was cautious. I worried if other kids liked me. I was living in my head and was mighty glad when I was able to read at three. I could inhabit my head even more and find relief in my fantasy and my books.
Current times are a bit like that. But I know by now that fantasy and books aren’t the cure I need. I need to find different ways. And, thinking back to my childhood, I see what can be done.
This is a story about simple stress-relief hacks. And about gratitude practice. But it also gives you tools if you think you have nothing to be grateful for. Your mind-body connection is an immensely powerful tool for you. Please use it to be calm and healthy. Stress and fear are not what we need right now.
About my childhood feelings, I don’t know if I was really that unhappy or if it just feels like that in hindsight. But I do know that my mum tried to teach me gratitude through remembering happy moments. It had no special spiritual meaning for her or anything, she just thought it would lighten my kid-life. And it did, in a sense.
When she tucked me in at night, she sat by my bed and asked me what the three happy moments of my day were. I remember my sulking reply.
“There were no happy moments.”
“Ah, come on, we laughed while doing the washing up, remember?”
And I remembered. A tiny smile entered my brain. And I remembered more. How I had dared to play with the neighboring kid and how he had seemed nice to me. I was thankful for that. How I watched the butterfly for as long as half an hour. Going from this flower to that. Rolling out her tiny tongue.
To have seen the butterfly tongue was something I was really grateful for.
Health and Immune System
What does seeing a butterfly tongue have to do with our health? Well, more than you might think. Let me give you my perception based on my holistic science studies.
First of all, science is very clear on the fact that our health is suffering due to stress and anxiety. Scientific insight described on Healthline proves that stress can lead to panic attacks, headaches, breathing problems, upset stomach, loss of libido, increased blood pressure, and extreme fatigue.
Secondly, in times of COVID, everybody is talking about immune systems. And how we should have a strong immune system to overcome virus infections.
“There is a well-documented link between the central nervous system (CNS) and the immune system. Under stress, CNS releases stress hormones that perturb the balance and stability kept by many factions of the immune system, with serious health consequences.” — Ronald Glaser in Discovery Medicine
Well, how do we reduce our stress and calm our minds? Is there a pill for that? No, there isn’t. Of course, we can get some help from natural sources, like Valerian. But why use medication of any kind when we can relieve our stress with our own bodies and brains?
Over the years, I learned that gratitude practice and mind-body connection can be just the pills we need.
Gratitude and Reciprocity
Gratitude practice is much more than what I did as a kid. Yes, thinking about happy moments of your day lightens the load of life. And I wish it for every kid. But gratitude also connects us to what’s really important in life.
And it helps us to remember giving back. It puts reciprocity on a pedestal. And that’s where it belongs. We are not given life to just take and take and take. Consume and consume and consume.
We’re given life to experience what it means to be human. Life is like a mirror that bounces experiences about being human around.
What you give is what you get.
What goes around comes around.
And if we remember that often by being aware of all that we are experiencing ourselves and being aware of what we give back (or even better, give first), life will become a very different experience.
Religious Gratitude and Psychology
Gratitude practice is often known as a Buddhist practice, although many other religions have rituals of gratitude too.
“The Blessed One said, ‘Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.’” — Katannu Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation
Gratitude is much more than just remembering what’s good in life. It’s really about accepting all in life and being grateful for all that’s given to you. Remember that in nature there’s no good or bad. Just something that’s right in a certain circumstance. A certain place, a certain time.
Many religions know practices of giving gratitude before eating for instance. Saying grace. Some less religious people recognize the rain in the food. They are thankful for the rain and sun who created the food and have a moment of silence before eating as well.
I’m not belonging to a certain religion myself. So I rather describe it as a practice of observation. Of noticing what’s going on and being immensely grateful for the flow of life through me, all other beings, and everything else. And I am really convinced that the world becomes a better place when I, as a human being, give energy to the things I want to create in life.
Good food is food that received the energy of gratitude first.
Loving connections are connections that receive my full attention, and radiation of love.
Good health is created by giving loving attention to my body and my mind. Taking time to care. Taking time to hear the silence. And be just energy and flow.
Gratitude and Abundance
Gratitude practice is hard when you are living in an experience of scarcity. And our minds are psychologically wired to feel scarcity. We think we deserve more than we get. We think someone (some God or other human) owes us something. We want to see results from all the hard work we put in.
Hmm… this is an obstacle. Gratitude practice is needed badly in our lives to get rid of our scarcity mindset. We all want to experience abundance in our lives. But our subconscious is shouting so loud that we deserve more, that we can’t hear the gratitude voice very clearly.
So, just sitting down for half an hour every day and feeling grateful, might not be that easy. It’s hard to conjure up a feeling like gratefulness when the tiny voices in your head are getting louder.
“Yeah, I want to feel grateful, but he has more than I have. And it’s just not fair.”
“If only I could become rich and beautiful, I would be grateful.”
“Please, make my son healthy again, and I will be grateful.”
Practical Gratitude Practices
Well, let’s get to the practical stuff. The theory is great, but we want to know how to do stuff in real life. In between your demanding children, your boss screaming that he wants you to be productive, and you trying to cook a meal with healthy veg.
We have come to this earth with a body. And that has a reason. Philosophy and religion and theories are nothing when we cannot embody the experience. It will just be words. It will not stick. Let alone become a healthy routine.
Let me give you some ideas for practicing gratitude. The one with the strongest mind-body connection can be found last.
- Give dinner a moment of silence and attention. Say grace. If you cannot connect to a higher being, don’t worry. Keep it practical. Remember how the food is grown. Feel the rain on your skin, the sun through your hair, and feel the germination of the seed in the soil. Remember how you gave your loving attention to preparing the meal. Say thanks to the people at your table, the food herself, and all beings in the chain leading up to your food
- Say thanks to the water you drink during the day. Feel the flow of water enter your body and think about rivers and rain. Feel the connection
- Take a moment each day to feel the air enter your body as breath. Say thanks to the planet for creating healthy air full of oxygen. Feel how the oxygen clears your brain when you breathe consciously for somewhat longer
- Keep a journal is great for cleansing your mind and for gratitude. And in case you wonder, I don’t mean just a diary where you note things like: “met H. today and we had a great talk.” No, go full flow. Don’t limit yourself to what you perceive as good. Just write everything that comes out of you. You can use a prompt like: Today I experienced… or Today my body feels…
- Getting it all out on paper is one thing. And yes, I mean actually paper. With a pencil or a pen. That’s a valuable body-mind connection. Your active hands think while writing and make you flush even better. When words become angry dark strikes, that’s also okay. Let it go. Just flush it out. It’s all about experience, remember. All experiences…
- Read back in your journal. After a week or a month or even a year, you will have a different perspective on what you wrote. And things that seemed ‘bad’ at the time, not something to be grateful for at all, can be ‘good’ or a ‘valuable lesson’ in hindsight. Underline it. And say thanks for all experiences
The Best Practice
The best practice of all takes only a few minutes of your day. It combines focus, breath, and conjuring up a feeling. Your mind will respond with calm. Your stress levels will decrease and because of that, your immune system will become stronger.
It is a mind-body experience that can really change your life if you start practicing it.
Focus: focusing is easier when you involve your body. So put a finger on your skin close to your heart. And feel the sensation on your skin. Your heart has 40,000 neurons, its own nervous system, and by putting a finger on it you’ll activate this little brain.
Breath: close your eyes and make your breath suitable for calmness. Breathe calmly into your lower belly in approx 4 seconds. Breathe out twice as long for 8 seconds. You’ll enter your parasympathetic nervous system and come into the rest and digest state instead of the stressful fight or flight state.
Emotion: now, conjure up the feeling of gratitude. You can think about actual things you are grateful for. You can come to a state of acceptance. And also here, it might help you to imagine a smile on your face. No big smiling unless you really feel it. No, just some threads from the corners of your mouth to the tops of your ears.
I hope this will help you to become the calm and wise being you already are inside. You are good enough, my friends. Just being you is enough.
If you want to connect, you can find me somewhere on this beautiful planet. My hands in the soil and my gaze focused on the stars. Or you can find me via Linktree.
© Désirée Driesenaar