the body loves me even when I don't love it this animal spirit inside is fighting tirelessly to keep me alive Intricate networks of blood vessels and veins muscles and sinews and breathing stardust cleverly conspiring to keep me safe I poison its efforts with casual harm cutting and gagging and straining its limits imperfection is not justification for punishment blinded to the enormous, exhausting efforts of a body trying its very best This quivering creature that cradles my soul only craving compassion and care the bare minimum of reciprocation for non-stop, selfless service offered in a myriad of unnoticed ways I cannot fault it for not following vanity and dangling me just above death to fit in a smaller dress it doesn't understand that desire true love is keeping me healthy The fierce physical innocence of this form continues to create blood and breath and bone to buoy me forward in this life without thanks the precious animal that is also me doesn't deserve such callous disregard The mind and the body are wards of one another it's time my mental faculties begin carrying their own weight in the ways of consistent loving-kindness for this creature doing the best it can
I truly believe I can choose to be happy my younger self was always so there was innocence and joy in each breath I loved everyone and the world at once my heart was full of gratitude But somewhere along the way my soul got bogged down with disillusion bitterness encroached upon my heart like blight creeping through late fall crops all of life turned sour for awhile Now I struggle with these separate shades of self I know deep down that pure love and light remain still it feels like a denial to turn toward it and away from who I've known myself to be as I've grown into the person I am today This anger and violence I've harbored for so long grip me so much tighter than childhood pleasures to let it go feels like a refusal to acknowledge my own pain to surrender to a delusion that it never existed to favor a false sense of all pervading peace My precious passion has turned to poison through years of focusing on the wrong things an all-mighty wave of indignation rises up to consume the small voice inside that pleads for the path towards gentle gratitude and humble happiness Can I really learn to reconcile these two opposing forces? Can the soft thread of unconditional love truly overcome the violent force of white knuckled hatred? I'm afraid of who I will become if I am unable to turn from my current path, led by self-righteous ego Still there is a quiet hope that stirs within that there is still time to reclaim my one life and use my precious gifts to create light instead of adding to the choking darkness that tempts me and ties my hands When I succumb to the swirling torment that tells me happiness is not my nature I will strive to remember my soul's complexity and call out for the small child that once embodied the brave wisdom of a wide open heart
It has been over six years since I started practicing daily gratitude. I have journals upon journals filled with lists of things I’m grateful for. After all of this, after so much time spent training my brain to find gratitude, how can it be that I still feel like a terminally ungrateful person?
The main issue I have with a lot of mindfulness practices is the way my clever brain figures out ways to get around them after awhile. It’s ironic that most of the “mindfulness” I have incorporated into my everyday life isn’t done very mindfully at all anymore. Whether it be meditation, journaling, or mindful eating my brain seems more adept at learning to avoid the conscious effort rather than learning to be more present like I had intended.
If you can relate to this issue, you’re probably already asking, “How can we solve this problem?” While I don’t yet have a definitive answer, one thing I’ve noticed is that of all the self-care tasks I do every day, the one that never seems to get stale is my yoga practice. The only difference between yoga and my other practices is that the yoga flows I do are ever changing and evolving. I don’t practice the same poses in the same order everyday. If I did, I’m sure that would just as easily become a mindless habit like the rest. So the only advice I can give to you and to myself is: Keep changing it up.
This isn’t the perfect solution, I know. It is frustrating to constantly have to be reimagining ways to keep yourself mindful. It would be so much nicer if we could just do a few short little identical practices everyday and reap all the benefits of a more compassionate, mindful, spiritual life. I guess the old saying that nothing worth doing is easy still rings true.
I’ve found that novelty is essential to keep me mindful, even if it is aggravating to have to always search for it. Luckily, sometimes that little tweak for my practice finds me on it’s own like it did yesterday. I stumbled upon a Podcast that referenced The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. In his book, he talks about savoring little things throughout our day that “delight” us. For some reason, just this small, almost insignificant shift in perception has made a huge difference for me. It’s amazing how powerful the slightest change of framing can completely shift our perspective on something.
Replacing Gratitude with Delight
Despite sticking with my gratitude practice for so many years, I noticed almost immediately that it was not providing the mental benefits I had hoped. Sometimes it even seemed to backfire. There are a lot of days where I struggle to think of things to be grateful for. This makes me feel awful, because I know I have such an amazing life. I know I should be able to come up with dozens of things to be grateful for every day. The guilt spiral begins and I end up harming my mental health instead of helping it.
The most important part of gratitude is actually feeling it. As someone who struggles to stay grounded in my body and emotions, “grateful” is a rather vague sensation for me. There are lots of other emotions that compile this more complex feeling. It’s hard for me to just drop into a sense of gratitude on demand. However, “delight” feels a bit more tangible most days. Just the word alone makes the corners of my mouth twitch into a soft smile. Delight. Now that I can feel.
Not only am I more easily able to feel delight in my body, it also somehow feels a bit more lighthearted than gratitude. There is something very daunting and serious about being grateful. Not to mention the reverse, being ungrateful, is tied to a lot of shame. Delight, on the other hand, brings up a sense of buoyancy and silliness for some reason. Imagining being delighted makes me want to giggle and wiggle my toes in a way being grateful does not. There is a joyous, uplifting, lightness about the idea of feeling delighted. It also seems easier to pick small things in a practice about delight versus a practice about gratitude. Saying I am grateful for the way a stinkbug stopped and looked at me when I tapped the counter next to it feels strange, but to say the same scenario delighted me fits perfectly.
Putting It Into Practice
Today, instead of a gratitude list, try listing some things that delighted you. I’ll go first. Here are just a few things that brought a sense of delight into my life this morning:
- Hitting that snooze button on my alarm and snuggling back into my warm blankets with my dog for those few precious moments before getting up.
- Enjoying that first hot, black coffee.
- Feeling my house get warmer as I waited for the furnace to get going.
- Listening to music and singing as I drove to work.
- The smell of the perfectly ripe, beautiful, big apple I brought for breakfast.
Regardless of what kind of list you write, it’s helpful to be as detailed as possible. Add lots of physical descriptions, trying to incorporate as many senses into it as possible. I have to admit, I couldn’t help but smile as I wrote down my morning’s delights just now.
My favorite part about learning about this new way to practice bringing mindful moments of pleasure into your life was the idea of sharing it with others. Yesterday I asked a few other people to tell me something that delighted them about their day. It brought me just as much joy and happiness to hear about their experiences and imagine them savoring those small delights.
I hope at least some of you find this helpful. I would love to hear about any other ways you’ve found to keep a spark of novelty in your daily practices. Please, please, please leave a comment and let me know what delights you’ve had so far today!
It’s hard to find a moment where I’m not rushing blindly into the next. As if there is some final destination that I’m frantic to reach. Without even realize it, I’ve spent half my life in fast forward. It just feels like the past and the future are somehow more tangible and quantifiable than the present moment ever can be. I’m afraid to rest here precisely because it is so fragile and fleeting. Fearful that if I live in this moment, I won’t have anything to show for it a few years from now. But focusing on an imaginary future can never serve me. The happiness I say I desire above all else, can only be found right here.
For someone who is so caught up in mental machinations, it’s extremely hard to settle into the simplicity of bodily sensation and experience. Language and logic cannot hold onto the slippery, ineffable value of being just as I am. The effort to try to make sense of everything pulls me out of every moment and places me in an artificial bubble of self-awareness, severed from the here and now unfolding before me. It feels foreign to forget myself in the soft feeling of fabric against sensitive skin. My mind has become so powerful and proficient at wrestling my other senses into stale submission. Finding myself suddenly surprised to scan my body and realize, once again, I’ve bitten my finger until its stinging and bleeding. How can I continuously be so cut off from the physical manifestation of me?
Never would I have imagined that one of my life’s greatest challenges could be participating in it. I’m much better at meticulous planning and pushing and pulling myself than planting my feet mindfully in front of me with every step. How bizarre it is to attempt to do nothing, and fail so reliably. Sitting on the bank of a river, utterly unable to keep myself from casting a line again and again. Not even noticing that I’ve been fishing, then suddenly coming back to reel my over eager hook back in for the thousandth time. Not even finishing setting my intention to be silent and settle into the stillness before realizing that damn bobber is already back on the surface of the water. The stamina of my persistence and patience needs to be built up, and that will take time. I’ve been strengthening my practice of falling into frustration these past 28 years. I must allow myself to surrender to the possibility it may take 28 years to rectify that habit.
It seemed simple and exciting when I first stumbled upon the ancient knowledge of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation and learned all that I truly desired was already mine. Little did I know that getting to a point where I was capable of granting myself permission to enjoy it would be a tremendously tedious and time-consuming trial. I must constantly remind myself that my repeatedly frustrated efforts, my failures, my relapses, my misdirections are all worth it. I want life to be easy, but I need it to be challenging so that I may learn and grow and develop into a being I can be proud of.
Every moment can be a celebration, a chance to be grateful, when I remember that I’ve already reached the destination I’ve been striving for. Every time I take a deep breath and notice the world around me is a victory. I won’t be discouraged by my many mistakes and missteps. They cannot spoil the joy contained within the rare moments where I manage to be fully present. Small successes still count. Whether I feel like I’m moving forward or backward, in the end I will always be right here. And right here is the only place I need to be.
Easy breathing, autumn air early mornings turned satisfyingly crisp the sun has softened like sleepy eyelids drooping gently in the pastel sky Time to get cozy and start lighting candles celebrating sumptuous spices and savory foods using up the squashes left over from one last harvest patient preparation of nests for the cold months ahead Another successful cycle completed observing the graceful pirouette of mother earth showering colorful leaves from her folded skirt as she spins new life into old, familiar stories Sit with me awhile and listen to the cicada chorus begin its evening song to signal the bittersweet surrender from summer a goodbye serenade to constant sunshine Learning to enjoy the subtle sadness of certain endings seeing myself in the auburn fade of fallen leaves allowing my own colors to seep out slowly to nourish the dark soil with all that I once was
Anxiety is living life in the periphery a mind afraid to focus on direct experience like eyes left straining into the blurry images produced from the outer angles of sight Endlessly missing the opportunity to see what's right in front of me distracted by the desperation to see it all before making my next move Walking blindly into the future while believing there is some safety in focusing all attention on the sidelines absorbed by unclear, obscured visions Mastering the practice of mindfulness the ever evolving effort to stare straight ahead being present with what's before me rather than apparitions hovering just out of view Keep walking faithfully forward syncing each breath with firm steps resting in the reality of perpetual uncertainty softly savoring all the surprises of life Allowing myself to become engrossed in the ever unfolding mirage of right now releasing all tight tendrils of assumed control to be submerged in this moment
Shedding the crackling layers of thought the busy hum inside that separates us from the splendid simplicity of the moment embracing boredom as a sacred rest Letting go of the desperate clinging the endless search for answers and meaning this life doesn't have to be anything besides exactly what it is as we breathe here now You're doing enough, you are enough whether or not you've made a masterpiece out of every second of your day sip in inner stillness with the stale air All tension comes from the stories we tell our insistence that we should be somewhere else when did it become so scary to nestle into silence to spend hours watching the rain come and go When did I begin to rely on the things outside myself to be a signal for if I'm doing okay, if I'm allowed to be happy hushing my internal guide to subscribe to other influences surrendering my deep knowing for doubt Even my sad days have their own worth it's the struggle to escape them that becomes suffering sitting with myself in the darkness is okay being a friend to this form instead of abandoning her I still don't know if unconditional love can be taught or if it's already there beneath all the noise but if this life is just spent searching and learning what a beautiful experience it will be regardless
This body is not an ornament or a toy to break and replace it is the holy vessel that holds me and tethers me to this world A useful container that houses the soul perfect and precious because it is uniquely mine the one thing I fully own, my true home the most important gift I could be given How ungrateful I've been for the mortal flesh that supports me my personal window into reality an unconscious effort that keeps me living Belittling all that this body does based only on shallow self judgement centered around outward appearance as if that even matters The frightened animal form my consciousness has been assigned to protect and take care of offering only criticism and neglect May I be a better steward to this living temporary temple and learn to speak to it with gratitude and soft caresses of loving kindness
My multitudes are mercurial the ever shifting sand of self spills through tightly clenched fists scattered by hot wind into oblivion Not fully embodied by either the single granular piece nor the expansive vastness of the dunes rather residing somewhere in between The jarring duel perspective of being the witness and the subject simultaneously surreal surveillance of mind and body fabricated force of strained separation Taking action is a distraction over-the-top over analyzing of reality obscures the resounding hum of here and now learning to let go and simply allow Releasing the tension of assumed control setting down the false shield of ego to finally reveal the safety we've been seeking was hiding behind the fear of full surrender
Waking to the sound of rain a song of rest outside my window sanctuary of subdued sunshine a signal to soften and slow down Dewey refuge from frantic movement rejuvenation released from the sky deflating this bloated baggage of worry replaced with soothing streams of surrender Tender tones of grey and blue wrapping me in sacred stillness permission to let go and listen the soft drumbeat of water on leaves Muffled birdsongs through the mist relentless ethereal cadence of crickets full bodied accompaniment to life's chorus syncopated splashes contributed by clouds Damp doves drying in tree branches the whole world holding it's breath absorbing this gift of liquid life relinquished awe-inspiring cycle of earth's abundance Savoring the simple gifts of nature the last few decades of clean water overcome with sheer gratitude for deep exhales punctuated by raindrops