"Gratitude is one of the greatest gifts we can experience."
At the end of a 6-day silent gratitude retreat earlier this month, Ryan and I sat on cushions in a huge room with 54 fellow meditators and were guided through a compelling exercise.
The speaker told us to close our eyes for a moment, then open them, and look around the room – at the structure, the furniture inside, all of the people – and identify everything that was wrong. Then we were asked to close our eyes again, and reopen them, looking around the exact same room, except this time with eyes of appreciation – finding everything that was right. At the end, we were asked to reflect on how each of these experiences felt. Woah - what a difference. The main point was this:
What we choose to focus our attention on is powerful and shapes the world we see and experience.
Think about when you learn a new word, and all of a sudden, you hear it everywhere. Or perhaps you buy a new blue Toyota Prius, and the next thing you know, there's a blue Toyota Prius on every street corner. The more attention you shine on a particular subject, the more evidence of it will grow.* When we focus on flaws or obstacles, they only multiply and often compound our problems.
This is where mindfulness and meditation can really help. Our working definition of meditation is a training of the mind using intention, attention, and heart. When we practice meditation, we cultivate our awareness and strengthen our ability to choose how and where we direct our attention – towards the positive or negative, compassion or conflict. Study after study reveals that we can actually improve our health and live with more joy when we learn to focus our attention in a specific way.
One tool we've found especially helpful is a simple gratitude practice. Even a few minutes each day can help create a reservoir of appreciation and positive emotions that not only ground you when life's challenges arise, but also prime your attention to notice what's going right. What's good in your life, today.