Getting in touch with the memories of your heart:
When Oprah attended a Tony Robbins seminar in 2011, she says, he led an exercise that brought her to tears and reawakened memories she hadn’t thought about for 20 years. As we begin this course I’ve chosen, via Oprah’s YouTube clip, to let Tony lead us in this exercise. Hopefullly you are alone in the room and can fully enter into the exercise. If not, you might want to save it until you can be alone and really enter into it. Tony calls the exercise the Emotional Flood, an exercise where we flood ourselves with positive memories, memories for which we are truly grateful. Let yourself really enter into the video clip, don’t just “Look at it.” Allow yourself to “FEEL IT” by participating fully.
Why we need to focus on Gratitude?
I offer this course because I personally always need a pep talk on Gratitude. So as I talk to you I am also talking to myself. So often in my past if I received 200 glowing evaluations and one bad, I’d focus on the bad and that’s what I’d keep remembering. I’m not alone in this. Newer research tells us the brain has evolved a “negativity bias” that is like “Velcro for bad experiences” but “Teflon for positive ones”, tilting the mind toward feelings of anxiety, mistrust, and inadequacy. (Source: Rick Hanson, PhD
) Developing an attitude of gratitude is a way to trick” the neural machinery of memory to weave positive experiences into the brain and the self more deeply. So I try to practice gratitude at all times because it helps me to remember the other 200 positive evaluations and cherish each of them as the truth of my life. Gratitude has been for me what Jean-Baptise Massieu has called “the memory of our heart.” Geprge Simmel goes a step further and says “Gratitude is the moral memory of humankind.” When we focus on gratitude and let that be our memory the results include greater happiness, a deeper peace, abundant resilience, more energy and a depth in relationships. I know that sounds too good to be true but by Week 4, if you follow the class and the exercises and read about the research, I believe you will agree that it is true.
What is Gratitude?
According to Robert A. Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, gratitude is our ability to affirm goodness and recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside ourselves. (We’ll hear more from him as we look at the research.) Brother David Steindl-Rast, the world’s leading spiritual expert on gratitude, uses different terms for gratitude. (We’ll hear more from him as we look at gratitude as prayer.) Brother David sees two parts or two phases to the process of gratitude: gratefulness and thanksgiving. Gratefulness he sees as those moments in which gratitude wells up in our hearts and we experience it first hand as if something were filling up within us, filling with joy, but we haven’t yet articulated it. Gratefulness is like a vessel that is still inarticulate until it overflows; it is like the bowl of a fountain when it fills up, and it’s very quiet, and still, and then when it overflows, it starts to make noise, and it sparkles, and it ripples down. When it makes noise, when gratefulness is articulated, then it becomes thanksgiving. Thanksgiving , according to Brother David, comes to a point where the heart overflows and we sing, and we thank somebody and we write it down because we want to remember it forever. When these two things happen(gratefulness and thanksgiving) that is Gratitude. That’s when the real joy comes; the joy that transforms us. It is articulating our gratefulness that brings the real joy.
But in our society, just when we’re filled with “gratefulness” and ready to flow over into “Thanksgiving” we hear an advertisement or someone telling us there’s a new and improved something and your neighbor probably has this new and improved one and so we feel deflated and we don’t want to articulate it; we don’t express our gratitude. Or perhaps just when we’re ready to overflow we let doubt enter into us and we say that person really didn’t mean that complement or that person’s motives are tainted and we choose not to believe in their goodness. So instead of overflowing, we make the bowl bigger, and bigger, and bigger. But it never overflows; it never gives us the joy that comes from our sharing, from our gratefulness. Without that we never reach that deep meaning, that special memory, in our life. The joy is missing for us, the joy that comes from remembering, from sharing.
Bother David’s writings suggest that we need to teach ourselves to intervene, to become articulate, to remember, to share. To do this we need to practice gratitude to the fullest, to let ourselves overflow and be thankful so that we experience the true joy of gratitude. We have to teach ourselves how to listen, really listen, and behold what is right there in front of us. We have to teach ourselves how to “practice this gratefulness” And, he says there is a very simple kind of methodology to it: stop, look, go. Most of us are caught up in schedules, and deadlines, and rushing around. And so the first thing is that we have to stop, because otherwise we are not really coming into this present moment at all. And we can’t even appreciate the opportunity that is given to us because we rush by and don’t even notice it, so stopping is the first thing. But that doesn’t have to be long, And if we really see what the opportunity is, we must, of course, not stop there, but we must do something with it. Go, avail yourself of that opportunity. And if you do that, if you try practicing that, at this moment, tonight, we would already be happier people, because it has an immediate feedback of joy, a split second is enough to stop. And then you look. You ask yourself: “What is the opportunity of this given moment?” Only this moment, the unique opportunity this moment gives? And that is where this beholding comes in. That is the moment when you are able to see the gift and you are able to say THANK YOU.
Listen to Brother David tell us about his method for developing gratitude: STOP, Look, Go
Stop, Look, Go – A Framework for Gratitude
Brother David offers a process to help us remember to be grateful: Stop, Look, Go.
- Stop – take a moment or put up stop signs around the house as a reminder to express gratitude. — I use what I call a a gratitude stone. It’s an ordinary stone that I keep in my pocket. When I put my hand in my pocket, it reminds me to look for things for which I’m grateful and then to express gratitude.
- Look – be present and aware of the moment; that is essential. See, smell and experience what is going on. Take in all that is there. You want it to be ingrained in your memory. If I’m not noticing anything, I always ask God “what am I missing?” and before you know it something comes into my mine for which I’m very grateful or I see something that I didn’t notice a few minutes ago. Try it you’ll like it! But really take the time (even just 30 seconds) to really look and feel your gratefulness
- Go – take action — Express gratitude or share your gratefulness with others. — If there’s someone right next to you, share it right away, so that you can share the joy of articulating your gratefulness. If no one is there remember it for your gratitude journal that day. If the gratitude involves a person who you were reminded of — call them or write them or make some contact. If they are deceased then journal about them that evening in your gratitude journal. If gratitude is the memory of the heart. You can choose to make nice memories every day!
These are simple steps but during this week if you focus on them you will notice a difference in your life.
Some optional homework to consider for an Attitude of Gratitude
(I know I can only cover so much in a session before I overwhelm or bore you so I put little practices or segments into the week. They are important because they are all a part of helping you develop that Attitude of Gratitude. But there is nothing magical about the sequencing. Life may make it impossible to do all of them or one may really appeal to you and the others not touch you at all so just let happen what happens. It is an offering and that’s all.)
Day 1 of week 1
If you don’t already have a gratitude journal — create or buy one. This will be your lifeline. All the research suggests that writing down just 3 things every day for which you’re grateful can transform your life. Check this link to see the benefits of a gratitude journal
and some specifics on how to begin one.
It is a short and sweet article from the Huffington Post but it is powerful and detailed enough to motivate you.
Day 2 of week 1
Talk to someone (family, friends, co-workers) about the things for which you are grateful. We often do something like this at Thanksgiving but gratitude shouldn’t be limited to one holiday. (Obviously continue your Gratitude Journal)
Day 3 of week 1
Listen to this TED Talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast; it only takes 15 minutes. Spend some time thinking about it and perhaps even journaling about it.. It is solidly packed and I know it has moved many hearts toward gratitude. Open your heart to the possibility that you are willing to make gratitude become a habit and maybe even a life long commitment. Brother David makes it simple. (Continue your Gratitude Journal)
Day 4 of week 1
“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today; have you used one to say Thank You” (Dr. William Arthur Ward) . Here is a habit I have tried to develop over the past 20 years. I don’t know who introduced it to me but I am grateful for whoever that was. As soon as I get out of bed in the morning, as I place each foot on the ground, I say the two syllables “Thank You”. It is a simple gesture but always sets me off on the right path for my journey that day. If this wouldn’t help you then think of something else that you would want to develop as a “one second” moment of gratitude to your Creator. Also at some point today allow yourself time to sit in stillness and remember all that has been given to you by your Creator who loves you extravagantly. (Don’t forget your gratitude journal)
Day 5 of week 1
Here is a link to a poem by Mary Oliver that says it all: The Messenger by Mary Oliver I would invite you to sit with it. Read it through a few times and allow your heart to swell with gratitude the way she did. You might even want to try your own hand at a poem. If you do, please share it with us, we would be so grateful. (Write in your gratitude journal)
Day 6 of week 2
Here is a simple closing prayer to the week. It is some good quotes on gratitude arranged in the beauty of nature.
I’ll connect with you next Wednesday. I hope this was helpful in some small way.