Yogi Assignment: Gratitude
Gratitude is the silver lining in every tragedy. It’s one thing to say that when the sun is shining and you stand on top of a mountain of achievement. It’s another when you stand in a pile of debris at the pit of emotional distress. While I’m not down in the darkness now, I know what it means to dig myself out of an emotional black hole. The weight of sadness sometimes crushes me and, when it does, it is with consistent effort and the application of all I’ve learned from the spiritual path that I find the strength to surface again. So, if you’re suffering now, let me be a meditative and prayerful voice that feels your pain as my own and truly understands how difficult it can be to look around at the pain you see and attempt to be grateful. I get it. Yet, it is exactly at the time when you feel most unable to practice gratitude that it is necessary to push through, or, at least it has been for me.
This week begins the Holiday season in the US and perhaps worldwide, which is often a bag of mixed feelings. Fall is often family time and for me that’s meant being my parents. This year everything is different because, as many of you know already, my father passed away recently. I have been spending Thanksgiving with my parents at their house nearly every year for the last 40 years. As an only child I always tried to spend at least one of the big American fall holidays with my family. I’ve been going to India nearly every year for the last 20 years and this holiday season I decided to stay home for both holidays. My Dad, however, didn’t make it to either. I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with the grief of it all. It hits me in waves. My father was battling a host of illnesses that left him immobile, non-communicate and in pain for nearly three years. His passing was certainly a relief. Yet that doesn’t make my sense of missing him any less. In fact, I feel like I’ve been grieving for the loss of my father already this whole time and now it’s reached a crescendo that culminated in the moment of his death. I remember when my grandfather passed away when I nearly 9 years old. He battled cancer for nearly two years and wanted to make it to my ninth birthday. My Mom got the cake a few days early because she’s type of person who prepares ahead. Well, my grandfather saw the cake in the fridge and crossed over in his sleep that night. My world changed. I remember sobbing in the car when a song came on that reminded me of him. My parents were amazing, but grandfather was pure joy. He lived with us and made me laugh every day. When he died it was like someone took the laughter away. Honestly, I felt like that until I met my husband Tim. Any of you who know Tim know that you can’t be around him for too long without Tim cracking some silly joke. Now my father is gone and I feel like someone nearly ripped the secure foundation out of the house of my life. I say “nearly” this time because I know the true foundation of my life is in my home in the Spirit, with God.
This week’s Yogi Assignment is Gratitude. While it may be utterly cliche to let gratitude be the theme of Thanksgiving week, it is a real process in the gritty work of my own emotional space right now. There is an exercise called the “Rampage of Appreciation” where you list ten things that you are grateful for in your life. This is the exercise that I’m asking you (and myself) to do right now. Getting in the attitude of gratitude helps you rejoice in all the goodness that surrounds you. If you meditate on the mess then it gets bigger. But if you place your mind on all the greatness and beauty that surrounds you, a few really awesome things happen. First, when you operate in gratitude it changes the atmosphere of your mind. Instead of ruminating in fear you resonate with your blessings. That mindset then opens you up to even more blessings. Second, when you’re practicing gratitude you are training your mind to be happy. Happiness is as much a choice as it is an automatic response. Some people seem to be happy no matter what is happening while others are perpetually miserable no matter how much success they have. If you can learn how to be happy right here, right now in the middle of whatever mess you find yourself deep in, then you’ll carry that happiness to the highest peaks of your life. But if you can’t find gratitude and happiness in your heart now, it’s unlikely that soaring achievements will bring it to you. The external world is only an amplifier for the inner world. You can’t control the outer world, but you can learn to mold your thoughts and thereby change the vibration of your inner world. The best time for training your mind is when things are easy because it’s when things are difficult that you’re tested.
So, start today, from wherever you are. If you’re caught in an emotional storm, be gentle with yourself. Ask yourself to find only one thing that you’re grateful for today. Then, if you find one see how many more you can find, but don’t push yourself. If it’s just one thing, hold on to that and rejoice in it. If you’re riding high, list at least ten things you’re grateful for! Share your lists on social media with the tag #yogiassignment so I can see or keep them for yourself and feel the substantive change from start to finish.
Here’s my gratitude list:
1. I’m grateful for my husband Tim who brought the laughter back to my life. As I’m writing this, Tim is also building an IKEA closet, which is second-nature to him being Sandinavian. I’m also thankful to Tim for loving me all these years and for being so handy because I can barely change a lightbulb without calling him for supervision.
2. I’m grateful for my Mom who is unflappable, courageous, stunningly beautiful and doesn’t know how to quit.
3. I love my home in Miami Beach, thank you, Miami for being this beautiful sunny, sandy place that seems to live in its own bubble and yet is still attached to the continental USA.
4. I cherish you, yes you reading this right now!!! And every student who has trusted me to be their guide into the inner tradition of yoga. Whether you practice with me on OmStars.com, find me at a workshop, at Miami Life Center, read my books, or connect with me on social media, I thank you and I celebrate you today! Without you I’d just be a girl doing handstands in a room by herself.
5. I’m thankful to all the people who work for me and my companies. Without your dedication and faith in me I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything. I’m standing on your shoulders.
6. I’m thankful to my teachers K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois—I know what a blessing it is to have a teacher and I’m so grateful that I met you when I was young and malleable.
7. I’m grateful to American Airlines for upgrading me nearly every time I fly. I know that sounds ridiculous but it makes a huge difference if you travel every weekend.
8. I’m grateful to my body for giving me the gift of life, the gift of yoga, handstands, backbends and more all these years! You’re strong and flexible and I love you my body.
9. I’m thankful to my yoga and meditation practice for clearing the way for a direct and transcendent experience of God and thankful to God for lifting me up in moments when I could not carry on by myself.
10. And finally, Dad, thank you, I’m so grateful to you for loving me all the days of your life. You were the best Dad!!! There was nothing you wouldn’t do for me, you would have moved heaven and earth if you needed to. The only time you stood up on your own after the massive stroke that changed everything was when I fell down for a moment. I love you so much and just because I miss you doesn’t mean I’m not ok. I send you off to your new home in the spirit with a full heart. I was fragile for so long and you took care of me as long as I needed it, but I’m strong now and I’m so grateful that you’re at peace. I might still ask for your help sometimes because I know you’ll be my angel on the other side.