Cultivating Gratitude

This morning I woke up to the cheerful sound of my one and half year old niece chattering away to herself on the baby monitor in my room. I laid there smiling to myself as I listened until I decided it was time to go in and get her out of her crib. When I walked into my niece’s room she stood up in her crib hollering “Eee” (her handle on Auntie). I lifted my gorgeous little darling out of her crib, embraced her with a good morning cuddle and kiss then carried her back to my room. We curled up in my bed watching Dora of course, which is my niece’s absolute favourite show at the moment (and also helps me to brush up on my Spanish “skills”). I watched my darling little niece in astoundment and astronomical gratitude for such a special moment with my precious girl. She had grown so big, her eyelashes are astonishingly long and dark outlining her gorgeous big brown eyes; she is no longer a baby. I had missed so much over the last year of her life while I was living overseas. So I laid there holding my beautiful baby girl in my arms watching and listening to her giggle along with Dora (and Backpack and Boots for those who have seen Dora the Explorer) taking every last ounce of it all in and completely present in the precious moment with her. I was completely overflowed with gratitude.

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” – Brene Brown

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Being mindful and practicing gratitude on a regular basis sounds so simple right? Well maybe it is in some ways but it does not come easy in the world we live in. We live in a society where we take everything for granted and are constantly busy. We never seem to focus on where we are but instead worry about where we are going. We miss out on so many precious moments because our minds are distracted or somewhere else. Instead we need to be thankful for this very moment we are in now just as it is. Mindfulness and gratitude to me come hand in hand. When we are completely aware and present in each moment is when we are truly awake. It is then when we start to find more joy and peace with the way things are. We begin to find our hearts are full of gratitude for all things, indifferent to whether they are positive or negative. For appreciation in our tribulations is just as important as appreciation in our triumphs. We find we are overflowing with thankfulness for what we have right here right now.

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While writing all of this I find myself singing “No day but today” from the musical Rent. “There is no future, there is no past, I live each moment as my last. There’s only us, There’s only this, Forget regret – or life is yours to miss.” Okay, now that I’ve gotten completely sidetracked with my “magnificent” singing voice let’s get back to what I was saying. Let me explain to you when I first really learned about the power of gratitude.

At 15 years old was the first time I traveled to Africa. We spent a day with the children living in a village on an island off the Okavango Delta. Now, before going into more detail I just need to state this would be one of, if not the very best and most significant days in my life. When our boat pulled up to their island, the children were standing along the shoreline jumping, waving and dancing with pure excitement to see us. They ran to our boat holding theirs hand out, not to beg for money but instead to lend us a hand getting out of the boat. The young ones never let go of our hands once from the time we arrived until we later departed. They showed us all around their village, how they caught fish and grew food. They showed us their homes that they had made of mud, elephant dung and straw. These people did not have much at all. They wore no shoes and torn old clothing that was either too big or too small. They survived off very little food and water. The children made toys out of sticks and stones. In this particular village the children are taught to never beg for anything but be thankful for everything. They only knew of what they had and did not want for anymore.

That day with those children little did I know, would forever change my life and my perspective on being. Those children had decided to be consciously grateful for all the little things that seem so minuscule but yet are so astronomical. Their gratitude astounded me and it was then when I made the subconscious decision to try my very hardest to be more thankful.IMG_1633

Practicing gratitude does not mean denying all of life’s difficulties. We live in troubling times; we are all battling challenges, facing obstacles, dealing with uncertainty and disappointment. When we cultivate gratitude in both the joy and the hardships we encounter we begin to become more mindful of the circumstances we are in and the world that surrounds us. Keep in mind that gratitude is a practice; it is not a trait that we automatically possess rather is a skill like all others that needs to be practiced. Cultivating gratefulness and grace helps to open a heart that has been guarded. Gratitude is neither sentimental nor indifferent, it is not jealous nor does it boast, it is not judgmental but rather accepting. It sets the stones and builds the foundation of the ability of forgiveness and clears the mind so it is receptive of spiritual growth.

Be grateful. Be mindful. Be present. We only have moments to live.

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