I love this holiday. No gifts, just an excuse to gather with friends and family, contemplating all the reasons we have to feel grateful. Of course, the more we do this regularly, the happier we feel. But culturally, we’re so trained to focus on everything we don’t have, and all the ways we aren’t measuring up. The more we feed that beast of lack, the worse we feel. When we’re coming from that “never enough” place, it leads to hoarding-to feeling that we must grasp at what we’ve got, while striving to accrue more.
Left to its own devices, the mind tends to get snagged on the negative. To focus on the one person who isn’t getting us, the one insult in the sea of compliments, the one person walking away, the one family member who’s challenging, instead of all the people moving toward us. Some of this could be biological. Back in the day, we used to worry about being eaten by saber-toothed tigers. If we weren’t on the alert, if we weren’t planning ahead, and thinking about all the things that could go wrong, we might end up as lunch for some creature. Of course, we’ve certainly turned the tables at this point. There aren’t many of us who need to worry about tigers anymore, but that “negativity bias” can be hard to shake.
Some people are addicted to worry; they’re addicted to stress. The Dalai Lama has a great quote, “If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time.”
You can lose hours, days, weeks or years worrying about things that will never come to pass. You can literally make yourself sick with worry, because thoughts create chemical reactions in the body. We really aren’t made to withstand continuous stress. Short spurts when we’re on the run from that “tiger” can be pretty manageable, but a constant state of high blood pressure, anxiety and fear are depleting and debilitating.
One of the great gifts of a consistent yoga practice is that we get to hone our focus. We use “drishtis” to train the mind on one point. We use sensations in the body (the most important of which is that steady, deep breath) to stay rooted in the present, and in so doing, we create space between our thoughts. We use the breath to calm the nervous system, and to build a foundation of steadiness in a spinning world. Maybe eventually, we develop a seated meditation practice, and start to really understand that we are not our thoughts, and that we do not have to believe everything we think, as the saying goes. Sometimes we’re dwelling on thoughts that weaken us. Yoga practice helps us to pick the mind up, and place it on thoughts that are going to strengthen and nurture us.
A gratitude practice is a great form of health insurance. I’m not saying it cures everything, I’m just suggesting that when we start and end each day reminding ourselves of all the gifts in our lives, that has a huge impact on our outlook, and the way we’re moving through the day, and sleeping through the night. The more we remember how much we do have, and how many things are going well, the more we come from a place of abundance, or “Santosha” (contentment)which leads to our generosity. If we think we don’t have enough, and other people have more, and we’re never going to reach our potential, we come from a place of fear, and we are unlikely to give much when we’re afraid. When we come from a place of gratitude and love, we know we have enough to give, and the beauty there is that giving feels so good.
We could really use givers in the world right now. It would be remiss not to acknowledge the suffering, grief, confusion and division that exists when we look around. We can’t solve these problems by continuing to isolate ourselves or draw lines when we feel hopeless or heartbroken, we have to reach out. And we don’t reach out from fear, we reach out from love. If you’ve just lost someone, this holiday season will probably be painful, and my heart goes out to you. If life isn’t unfolding the way you wish it would, the holidays can magnify those feelings. It might look like everyone else has the family, the friends, the love. You never know what someone has from the outside. Maybe this is a lonely time in your life right now; I’ve certainly had lonely and painful holidays. Remember that feelings are not facts, and they are not forever, and how you feel now is not how you will always feel.
“The best things in life aren’t things,” as Art Buchwald famously said. Connection and shared experiences, the love and laughter of those we hold dearest, belief in ourselves and in the goodness of people, these are the things that allow us to relax and breathe and open. Our main job here is to uncover our particular gifts and share them, because when we do that we feel fulfilled, and we know we’re having a positive and meaningful impact on the world around us.
Wishing you the happiest Thanksgiving, and also hoping the other 364 days are filled with gratitude.
Sending you love, Ally Hamilton