Category Archives: Mindfulness

Fear is Your Friend.

fear-is-your-friendIf you’re new here, welcome! I invite you to check out my Abbey of the Arts guest post to read about connections between New Cosmology and New Monasticism.

 

There’s a lot of fear going around these days, especially for those of us who got blindsided on November 8th.

We’re wired for fear. It’s how our brains work, and it’s not our fault.

However, if you’re feeling afraid and you’re not in actual physical danger, your fearful feeling is what’s actually dangerous.

Feeling afraid activates our sympathetic nervous system, also known as “fight, flight, or freeze.” Your sympathetic nervous system activation is a good thing when you’re actually being chased by a bear, or when staying very still could save your life.

But when you’re feeling afraid in a situation you can’t actually do anything about, your sympathetic nervous system stays consistently activated. This causes a cascade of stress hormones that create wear and tear and disease.

Feeling afraid about something you can’t change creates suffering. A negative goal is unattainable. Period.

You’re like a car in neutral, and the driver has his foot on the accelerator. All revved up, unable to move.

You’re like a tethered runner in a race. The starting gun goes off and you can’t move.

It’s a no-win situation that will only cause distress and disease.

The only thing fear is good for, if you’re not actually in physical danger, is as a sign that something’s asking for attention. Something or someone you value is threatened.

“Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood,” according to John Mayer. Fear tells us what we care about.

So, how do you handle fear about something you can’t fix, now or ever? Use your fear to point the way to positive action.

You need a positive goal and a way to get there.

Here’s how to do that.

1. When you recognize that you’re feeling afraid, stop and breathe. Deep, rhythmic, steady breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system and its healing hormones.

2. Give love to the part of you that feels fearful. Thank it for its vigilance and concern. “Thank you, fear, for wanting me to be safe. Thank you, fear, for your concern.” Allow yourself to feel the fear you feel.

3. Investigate this fear you feel. One way to do that is with this worksheet, which guides you to a positive goal and related actions in loving response to your fear. I’ve filled in the first row with one of my biggest fears in a Trump administration. You can download a pdf for your use here: using-fear-to-make-a-plan

 

Turning Fear into a Plan

 

Fear In my control?

Yes/No

Value(s) threatened What do I want to happen? What can I actually do?
Sarah Palin as Sec’y of Interior No Intact healthy ecosystems

 

Sacredness of land

 

Lives of innocents (trees, whales, wolves, bears, cougars, etc.)

I want protections for public lands, plants, and animals to be increased.

 

I want the land to be cherished.

Volunteer

Advocate

Educate

Demonstrate

Protest

Get arrested, if necessary.

4. Disentangle yourself from the fearful feeling. Remember that you are not your fear, and you do NOT want to let it drive your bus. You want your values to determine your actions, not your fears.

Fear is useful as a call to action. The action might be to do nothing. That’s okay. The point is to use our fear as a pointer to what we value that’s under threat, and to identify ways to take positive action.

We’re going to get really good at turning our fear into positive action, friends.

Just think how wise, powerful, and effective we’ll be in four years!

(This podcast from Buddhist teacher and psychologist Tara Brach goes deeper into how to handle fear and anger. Tara talks about “limbic hijacks” and how to get out of them.)

Journaling is a Revolutionary Act: 10 Ways to Journal

Found on @IHAVECAT

Found on @IHAVECAT, Tamar Aslanian’s blog

I owe Donald Trump a debt of gratitude.

Sisters, after the events of the last week, I understand that journaling is so much more than a feel-good activity. Journaling is an act of revolution.

My original intro to this post was blah blah blah – journaling is good for you and here’s why… The fall is such a perfect time to journal, what with cool days and long nights and evenings by the fireside… Many studies (google “journaling and mental health”) support journaling’s positive effect on anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments…

All these things are true, and they’re way less relevant than this: We must know how beautiful, precious, and priceless we are. We must know how freaking IMPORTANT and NECESSARY we are, so we can more powerfully express and defend ourselves.

I believe it’s imperative that we find our voice. We must know what we think, feel, and want in order to stand up and resist the sorts of all-too-prevalent attitudes we saw on such glaring display in Trump’s “pussy” video. Journaling is, for many of us, a valuable tool in our self-knowledge tool kit.

Our knowledge of our belovedness gets obscured by our culture, our families, our schools, and even our churches. Uncovering our essential, true, deeply loved core and living from that part of us is what the world needs. Our world craves our honest, passionate, whole, beautiful voices. Our clearly-articulated love, for ourselves and for all of creation, will heal.

One caveat: journaling is NOT helpful when we use our journal to beat ourselves up. If you’re doing this, please stop. And maybe try one of these suggestions…

Here are ten forms your journaling could take. There are so many others. If journaling makes you crazy or bores you silly, perhaps one of these will be a vehicle for knowing yourself more fully.

  1. A happiness journal. Shawn Achor, a Harvard happiness researcher, recommends five simple actions that build happiness over time:
  • List three things you’re grateful for every day. Three NEW things every day.
  • Journal for two minutes about a positive experience. (This practice rewires your brain for happiness. Our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative things, so intentionally noticing the positive builds new neural pathways.)
  • Meditate for as little as two minutes daily. Meditation will help you learn to direct your attention where it’s most helpful.
  • Perform one random act of kindness daily. Write down what you did.
  • Exercise

(I found Shawn’s research in Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge.)

 

  1. A nature journal. You can go easy by simply noting the weather and one or two observations. You can go hardcore, too. One of my favorite nature journaling resources is Irene Brady’s Illustrating Nature. She also has many useful blog posts about drawing and sketching nature.

 

  1. A sensory journal. Note at least one thing daily that you saw, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled. This is a great way to gently get in touch with your body, if you’ve lost yours. Add on number 4 to go deeper.

 

  1. A body journal. Four or more times during the day (set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself), take five minutes and check in with your body. Put your feet flat on the floor and take three deep breaths. Ask yourself these questions: What am I feeling emotionally? What sensations do I feel in my body? What are these emotions and sensations telling me? Can I simply allow them? We’re not trying to fix anything, we’re just noticing. After a few days, you should have a fairly good sense of what your baseline is. Body journaling is an effective way to get ahold of what you might want to bring to coaching. If you want to get fancy, note your exercise patterns and your cravings. See number 8 if you want to take this further.

 

  1. A morning pages journal. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends morning pages as a way to skim off the surface ramblings of your mind in order to get to the good stuff below. (Julia recommends three pages. Three pages takes me way too long, so I usually just write for 20 minutes as fast as I can, which is usually around two pages. Do what works for you.)

 

  1. An art journal. This can be especially useful if you’re more comfortable with words, because keeping a visual journal will help you access your right-brained intuitive non-linear wisdom. I love Daisy Yellow for instruction and inspiration.

 

  1. A “Pray Rain” Journal. I learned about this from Martha Beck, who learned about it from Jeannette Maw. Jeannette’s language is a little too “Law of Attraction” for my comfort, but the way Martha talks about it makes sense to me. Basically what you do is write an entry in the journal that describes your life as you want it to be. Think really big here. Shoot for the moon. I’ve used this tool to uncover what I really wanted underneath the scar tissue and the social conditioning. It’s powerful, people. And knowing what we want is the first step to actually getting it, right?

 

  1. A thoughts journal. Complete one awareness-wheel daily, then do inquiry on one thought that you identified using Byron Katie’s method she calls simply The Work. Call me and I’ll walk you through this, with pleasure and for free.

 

  1. A prayer journal. Write down the people and the needs you’re holding in prayer. This is useful for me because I always forget who it was in Facebook groups asking to be held in light, or for good vibes, or healing juju. (These are all alternative ways to ask for prayer, IMHO.) I also note my flesh and blood friends and relations whom I’m carrying in my heart, and for what. Life gets complicated and I want to remember.

 

  1. A Lectio Divina Journal. Use the four steps of Lectio (I go into depth about Lectio in this blog post) to meditate on a bible passage, a poem, a photo, a natural object, a memory, etc. Write down what you hear.

 

I don’t do all of these all the time. (Who has many hours each day to do every one of these? I don’t.) My journal is a mish-mash of all of these. I also have several journals going at once – a small notebook in my bag, a larger notebook in my backpack, and the biggest unlined sketchbook one next to my morning sit spot. And different types of journaling meet different needs and are appropriate for different seasons of life.

What’s your journaling practice? Which of these suggestions appeal? What journal type would you add to this list?

 

 

Self-Care Is Your Job, Part 4: Conflict

Episcopal coach and writerThis post on conflict has taken awhile because it’s so freaking huge for me. I’m really uncomfortable with conflict. In fact, I pretty much hate it.

Oh, well. Too bad for me.

Here’s why:

Learning how to handle conflict is an integral piece of growing up and taking care of ourselves instead of expecting others to take care of us.

Managing conflict well requires being willing to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth.

Managing conflict well requires believing in our own self-worth.

Managing conflict well requires trusting in the essential goodness of others.

Like the other components of self-care we’ve been discussing, conflict management requires learning skills that most of us weren’t taught , and practicing skills that many people around us will find challenging and uncomfortable.

To recap.

  1. Self-care is our job because we’re holons – whole/parts that exist both as separate entities and as components of something greater than ourselves. We’re created to be who we are.
  1. Real self-care requires self-regard, self-knowledge, and self-compassion. We often settle for shallow imitations because giving ourselves what we really desire is so freaking scary. Truly caring for ourselves often looks and feels irrational, it’s labeled “selfish,” and it requires visibility and risk.
  1. So we require boundaries – knowing where we stop and others start – taking care of our side of the street. Knowing the difference between my business, your business, and God’s business, as Byron Katie puts it.

And all of these new skills will inevitably lead to conflict.

As we develop new ways, we disrupt old ways. As we become more ourselves, don’t expect people around us to form a cheering section. Do expect what Martha Beck calls “change back attacks.”

When we define our edges and boundaries, when we are clear on our values and goals, we’ll have more conflict in our life. It’s inevitable.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not good news for me. As I mentioned, conflict scares me to death. In my family of origin, conflict often meant someone was going to get physically and/or emotionally hurt.

In my adult life that’s no longer true, yet the pattern remains.

Note: if conflict for you means that someone will get physically hurt, please get help. You’re in an abusive situation and you need help, right now.

Most likely what I’m dealing with when, as an adult, I feel scared of conflict is my lizard brain, the source of fight/flight/freeze responses to threat. What’s required to deal with these primitive, false brain responses is to activate my higher order thinking skills (HOTS).

We activate our HOTS by slowing down and noticing what we’re thinking, how we feel, and what we want. The best tools I know of to do this are mindfulness, the awareness wheel, and being clear on our values and goals.

We retrain our brain by choosing to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth.

We retrain our brain by choosing to know the truth and to tell it, for the sake of authentic, intimate relationships.

Our cultural conditioning, our training to be nice, to be good girls, goes deep.

This will take time, so let’s start today to build the skills necessary to be happy and healthy.

Resources:

This amazing little book by Rachel Alexandria called Woman Overboard: Six ways women avoid conflict and one way to live drama-free

Marshall Rosenberg’s work in nonviolent communication

Brene Brown’s work

And here’s the awareness wheel again. If you’d like me to talk you through an awareness wheel or two, please contact me. I’d be glad to assist.

I’d love to hear about your self-care journeys and practices in the comments!

Loving is Listening. Loving is Feeling. Loving is Embodied.

Feelings (vantagephotography.com)

Feelings (vantagephotography.com)

“Loving is listening. Loving is feeling. Loving is embodied.”

I wrote these words in my journal this Valentine’s Day morning. I had woken up with a feeling of trepidation about an event I had on my schedule today, and I felt myself push that feeling away.

I noticed myself not listening to my heart.

I learned not to “do feelings” as a kid. I grew up in a family where feelings weren’t especially welcome.

Growing up in a family that “doesn’t do feelings” is common.

I think many middle-aged Americans grew up in families that greeted our feelings with irritation or even hostility. My mom used to say, “If you’re going to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about.”

I learned from my parents, and from the culture, that my feelings were best ignored. What I felt was both unimportant AND something to be feared, controlled, and sequestered. Very confusing.

Over time, I learned to ignore my emotions myself before anyone else got the chance to tell me they were silly, and I got really good at it. Why have feelings, or desires, if they only cause pain? Ignoring my feelings, or judging myself for my feelings, is probably the most common way that I’m mean to myself.

Unfortunately for me, and for all of us who have learned to ignore our feelings, they don’t go away. Feelings exist to be felt, and when they’re not felt, they do all sorts of damage.

What I’m finally learning, in ripe middle age, is that my feelings are precious pearls of wisdom. My feelings are jewels. My feelings are signposts. My feelings are priceless.

My word for 2016 is “heart,” and the Lenten discipline that chose me this year is to listen. (Is it a coincidence that the first four letters of “heart” spell “hear”?)

I’m feeling led to further refine my Lenten discipline. I’m committing to listening to other people with intention and presence. I’m also committing to listening to myself with compassion — to hearing and honoring my feelings.

I’m finding two tools very useful in practicing compassionate listening to myself.

The first one is Dr. Tara Brach’s RAIN processRecognize the feeling. Allow the feeling. Investigate the feeling. Non-identify with the feeling.

The second tool I’m finding useful is the Awareness Wheel, a tool developed to help couples communicate more effectively. I find “doing a wheel” an extremely helpful tool for clarifying what’s going on with me on many levels, and to help my brain talk to my heart. Here’s a link.

If you, like me, have gotten really good at being mean to yourself by ignoring or belittling your feelings, I invite you to join me in giving yourself the gift of feeling what you feel. You’ll survive, and your life will be enriched beyond your wildest hopes.

Loving is listening. Loving is feeling. Loving is being in this miraculous body on this amazing Earth with gratitude and compassion.

 

Winter Solstice: Two Poems

Milky Way (I learn to paint stars)

Milky Way 

WINTER SOLSTICE 

Perhaps
for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then
gracefully
tilts.
Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

~Rebecca Parker

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Life goes in circles and cycles. Years go in circles and cycles. No need to be ponderous about this. Simply hold what your life brings each day and each night like you would hold a wild bird: gently, reverently, attentively, awestruck and breathless with wild wonder. Days will grow and nights will shrink from now through mid-summer, when dark will expand again and light will contract. That’s how it is on this round planet with a slightly tilted axis. That’s simply how it is. Cherish this long tonight and all the long nights to come. Soon enough sun’s time will come, with its burgeonings and its demands. Long days for getting things done are just over the horizon. Today, send blessings to what’s quietly, secretly happening in darkness.

Winter Solstice: Two Poems

Milky Way (I learn to paint stars)

Milky Way 

WINTER SOLSTICE 

Perhaps
for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then
gracefully
tilts.
Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

~Rebecca Parker

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Life goes in circles and cycles. Years go in circles and cycles. No need to be ponderous about this. Simply hold what your life brings each day and each night like you would hold a wild bird: gently, reverently, attentively, awestruck and breathless with wild wonder. Days will grow and nights will shrink from now through mid-summer, when dark will expand again and light will contract. That’s how it is on this round planet with a slightly tilted axis. That’s simply how it is. Cherish this long tonight and all the long nights to come. Soon enough sun’s time will come, with its burgeonings and its demands. Long days for getting things done are just over the horizon. Today, send blessings to what’s quietly, secretly happening in darkness.

If You’re Worried About Food

Kundalini Original Art

Kundalini
Original Art

Are you worried about food? I am. I know I’m not alone, because I’ve been talking to a lot of women these days who are worried about food. We women are often worried about food, and the holiday season is just a scary time when you’re worried about food.

So, let’s take a collective deep breath and investigate with kindness this thing we have about food, okay?

First of all, is it true that your eating is a problem?  Do you have data that you eat too much, or the wrong things? Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How’s your blood work? Do you have elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood sugar?
  • How’s your waist to height ratio? This is a better indicator of obesity and health risk than BMI, for most of us.
  • How’s your fitness level? Do you get through your day without too much fatigue or a lot of caffeine? Can you do what you like to do?
  • Do you often eat when you’re not hungry?
  • Do you often keep eating when you’re full?
  • Does thinking about your eating take up too much mind space?
  • Do you feel anxious about food and eating?
  • Do you make food rules and then break them?

The answers to these questions will help you decide if you’re actually overeating, or if you just think you are.

Secondly, whether you really do overeat, or if your diet is actually fine and you’re just in the habit of worrying about food, it’s not your fault. There are SO many reasons why we can feel like a mess around food:

  • Our survival brains are wired to love sugar and fat.
  • The chemical cascade that happens in the brain when we eat sugary fatty salty crunchy foods is identical to the cascade that happens when an addict takes a hit. These foods are addictive and they act on our brains like street drugs.
  • Food is everywhere! And we have to eat.
  • Our culture encourages us to live in our heads, so we lose touch with our bodies. We forget what “hungry” and “full” actually feel like.
  • We don’t eat in a vacuum. We experience social pressure to eat and drink certain things at certain times. This is especially true around the holidays.
  • There’s so much choice, and so much conflicting advice, about food.
  • and on and on and on…

Third, if you do habitually overeat, overeating is almost certainly a “treatment plan” to handle discomfort.

If you worry about food, it’s not your fault. However, your eating is your responsibility.

Your body is your responsibility.

Your health and peaceful mind are your responsibility.

Feeding yourself well is your responsibility.

Reclaiming ownership and taking grown-up responsibility for ourselves requires two things: mindfulness and compassion. So for the next week, notice with gentleness and kindness what’s going on in your heart and mind and body when you eat:

  • Notice if you’re hungry, and what “hungry” feels like.
  • Notice what you really want to eat.
  • Notice if you’re full, and what “full” feels like.
  • Notice what emotions you’re feeling before, during, and after you eat.
  • Notice how your body feels after you eat.

Just notice and attend, with gentle kindness. Keep a food and emotion diary if that floats your boat, recording what you ate and what was going on with you internally and externally when you ate it.

Next week we’ll dive more deeply into the power of mindfulness and compassion. In the meantime, here are some resources:

Happy Eating!

~Barb

(Wondering where I’ve been since July? I took a break from my blog and coaching practice to catch up with myself, emotionally and physically, after this last year’s transitions.)

Crazy, Cheesy Gratitude – Part 4

Rooted in Hope

Rooted in Hope

These last few weeks I’ve been exploring gratitude –my little gratitude miracle, why gratitude can feel hard at first, and why gratitude is worth the work. Here’s my four-step system for building the gratitude habit.

Step One: Decide to become aware of your complaining habits. One way to do this is to take a 7-day “Complaining Cleanse.” Make the commitment to stop complaining for seven days. If you complain, you have to start over. Here’s an Elephant Journal article for inspiration. Note what you feel like complaining about. (I noticed that my complaints were almost always about the media or other people’s spiritual beliefs. Interesting.) Mindfulness is a requirement here – practice some sort of mindfulness meditation daily and watch what your mind is up to. We can only become aware through mindfulness. If you’re feeling especially brave, tell your family and friends about your commitment and invite them to alert you to your complaining habits.

Step Two: Use only language of choice, responsibility, and accountability. “I” statements are powerful. Expunge “I can’t” and “I have to” from your vocabulary. “I can’t do it” almost always means “I refuse to accept the consequences of doing it.” “I have to do it” almost always means “I refuse to accept the consequences of not doing it.”  Say “I will,” “I choose to,” “I won’t,” and, hardest of all (for me at least), “I want.” Noticing when language of choice escapes us is a great clue for where we have work to do. Again, if you’re feeling especially brave, invite your friends and family to point out when you use victim language. Fun for the whole family! (Thanks, Wings and Dr. Jon Lange, for this tool.)

Step Three: When you feel the urge to complain, judge, or whine, ask yourself “What do I want to happen?” These six words take you out of your lizardy fearful brain and put you up in your HOTS (higher order thinking skills). Now you can thoughtfully discern if the situation calls for leaving, changing, or accepting, and make a plan to move toward peacefulness. (Thanks to Pam Grout for this one.)

Step Four: Practice crazy cheesy gratitude. Make “Thank you” your mantra. Write down your gratitudes. When you feel joy and bliss, take thirty seconds to consciously and intentionally absorb the moment with all five senses. (Remember the negativity bias? We have to work to remember positive moments. They’re like Teflon to negativity’s Velcro.) This is how we rewire our brains from negativity to gratitude and joy, and make gratitude our default.

Gratitude is our calling, even though it may feel hard and look silly. Gratitude makes us healthier in body, mind, and spirit. Gratitude takes work, and it’s work worth doing. That coach ride from Hell last summer… I’m grateful for what I finally learned that day. I’m SO grateful for my little gratitude miracle.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about gratitude and your responses to these posts, so please reply in the comments. Thanks!

Want to learn more about the power of gratitude and other tools to live your authentic, joyful life? I offer a free one-hour “discovery session.” Hit “reply” to set up a time to talk.

Crazy, Cheesy Gratitude – Part 3

Rooted in Hope

Rooted in Hope

Why choose gratitude, when it feels unfamiliar, conspicuous, silly, or unsafe? Why do the work of retraining my brain for gratitude?

Two weeks ago, you went along with me on the “coach ride from Hell,” when I experienced a small gratitude miracle. Last week I explored some reasons why I think maybe we resist gratitude. This week: why choose gratitude and acceptance over complaining and resistance.

Reason 1. The part of our brains that’s hard-wired for negativity is a primitive part. A more recent evolutionary development is our cerebral cortex that is capable of higher order thinking skills, what I called “HOTS” when I taught these concepts to middle schoolers. We can, with practice, literally rise above the fearful lizard part of our brain into the layer of our brain that’s capable of abstract thought. This takes work, and it’s work worth doing. When we stay with what’s fearfully familiar, we cement the neural connections that keep us fearful. When we make the effort to practice gratitude, we move up into our HOTS and strengthen those neurons. Over time, gratitude will get easier and we will feel more peaceful and centered.

Reason 2. When we’re feeling anxious and fearful, a whole cascade of destructive nastiness happens in our bodies. When we choose negativity, our sympathetic nervous system, which evolved to save us from actual short-term, time-limited dangers such as saber-toothed tigers, is constantly working. Rather than getting us geared up for a specific threat to fight or flee from, adrenal cortisol stays at constant low levels that wreak havoc. Gratitude short-circuits the sympathetic nervous system response and brings our calming restorative parasympathetic nervous system back on line. We will go to fear instinctively. It takes practice to activate our HOTS and our parasympathetic nervous system. We have to choose to do it, because for most of us choosing gratitude doesn’t come naturally.

Reason 3.  Eckhart Tolle says “When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change it, or accept it. All else is madness.” Right on, Eckhart! There’s lots of awesomeness about being a victim: I can be irresponsible and lazy when I choose victimhood. So much easier to moan and groan about what’s wrong than to practice discernment regarding a situation. So much easier to complain and whine than ask myself “Can I leave this situation? Can I change this situation? Or is the only choice to accept the situation?” Discernment requires a choice. It’s work to climb out of my lizard brain up into my HOTS and actually think about what’s going on. It’s not natural or easy. But the payoff?? The gratitude payoff is that I take control of my life and put myself back in the driver’s seat, which calms me down. If the only choice in a situation is acceptance, as it was on the coach ride from Hell described in part one of this series, then gratitude is the best way into acceptance that I know.

Reason 4. Gratitude is the faithful response. Sarcasm, whining, constant negative judgment, and cynicism are unchristian. That’s a blunt statement, isn’t it? Here’s why I say gratitude is required of Christians: I believe that God is constantly working for good and that the Holy Spirit is constantly inspiring and healing. Therefore, I must stay open to the possibilities and potential of the present, and I must be stay available to being used by God in ways I don’t expect. I must “pitch my tent in the land of hope,” as Peter says in Acts 2:26 (The Message).To stay open and available, I must drop my attachment to what I think should be happening and what other people should be doing that they’re not, which is the content of most of my complaining. Gratitude is faithful.

Reason 5. Like attracts like. Positive energy attracts more positive energy. I’d rather hang with positive, affirming, hopeful people, and I want to be that person for others.

Okay, those are my top five reasons why gratitude is healthier for our souls, minds, and bodies than complaining and negativity. Please add your reasons and responses in the comments, and tune in next week for some tools to make gratitude a habit.

Crazy, Cheesy Gratitude – Part 2

Rooted in Hope

Rooted in Hope

Last week I took you along with me on the coach ride from Hell. I described the small miracle that occurred when I chose gratitude over resistance and complaining. And I told you that choosing gratitude felt cheesy and Polly Anna-ish and fake. Why is that?

I’ve come up with four reasons why gratitude feels wrong and foreign. I’m sure there are more, so please bring ‘em on in the comments!

  1. Gratitude feels unfamiliar. Our brains are hard-wired for negativity – the “negativity bias.” The human nervous system, writes Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, “scans for, reacts to, stores, and recalls negative information about oneself and one’s world. The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. The natural result is a growing – and unfair – residue of emotional pain, pessimism, and numbing inhibition in implicit memory.” So it’s normal and natural to notice and focus on the negative. It’s how we kept ourselves safe in the age of the Pleistocene.
  1. Gratitude feels conspicuous. We live in a culture of criticism. Our media pays a lot of attention to disasters and threats, and not just conservative outlets like Fox News. Our local evening news is full of scary stuff. And liberal commentators like Jon Stewart and Larry Wilmore make their living skewering people they’ve decided are wrong. (I usually agree with them.) Gratitude stands out in a sea of negativity.
  1. Gratitude looks and sounds stupid, at least to me. I think in my family “smart” sounded like criticism and sarcasm and judgment. Keeping up a running commentary on what’s wrong and how we could do it better is what intelligence sounds like to me. I know this is nuts, yet it’s in there pretty deep. I’m working on it.
  1. Gratitude feels dangerous, if we believe that it’s our negativity and judgment and criticism that keep us safe. I wonder if we believe that if we drop the constant scoping for what’s wrong, we’ll find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do and going places we don’t want to go. “I’d better remember that I don’t like x or I’ll find myself doing x all the time!”

So there are a few reasons why I think gratitude sometimes feels cheesy and fake and dumb and hard. I’d love to hear yours in the comments. Next week, I’ll share reasons why I believe gratitude is a better choice than resistance and complaining, for our minds, bodies, and souls.