The holidays are a good time to renew our commitment to practice gratitude and compassion. Start with looking at your own mind and the focus of its attention. The other day I posted a joke about how it only takes one person going too slow to trigger you. Sometimes when I am shopping in the crowds and stop to look for one second, immediately someone will say, “Excuse me,” because I have become the obstacle to their forward movement. That moment is the one that becomes contagious because their stress is pushing my stress button. In a mindful moment there is a choice for my attention. Biologically, the body and mind snap into a defensive posture, mirroring the agitation around it to keep you safe. Remember to watch your mind closely when you are becoming agitated or when someone next you is becoming agitated about you. Gratitude and compassion become most difficult to practice when your automatic defenses are being triggered or when you feel attacked, invaded or drained. By the way, watch if you are seeking attention by draining the world, attacking the world to push it where you want it to go or invading the world to seize what you think will fix your life.
The reason we practice mindfulness in the first place is to become aware, completely aware of the moment, which includes the awareness of our own focus. Notice how your attention and stress hormones are triggered throughout the day. Watch your mind and body when you are around irritating people, crowds, traffic and especially family. Watch how you feel when you are shopping and around strangers.
During these times, notice how easy or difficult it is for you to stand down, to move your focus back to what you are doing and away from the many stress hormones you are encountering. In fact, humans have various needs with their recovery from stress. Some people love to go to Black Friday every year and find it exhilarating. Maybe they are invaders! Someone like me with hair trigger stress reactions or even when you just feel more worn out or hormonal would be not be practicing self-compassion to force yourself into highly stressful crowds or into hostile angry situations. Keeping your focus on what you want to accomplish and moving away from defensive reactions becomes increasingly difficult when you are already on edge. But even acting on what your mind wants to accomplish can be tricky since the mind is often mistaken about what makes us happy.
For years on end, I beat myself up and was also criticized most of my life for being so anxious, allergic and sick. My sweet daughter would tease me about being a high maintenance toddler. Recently, she said she was turning over a new leaf and was practicing being nicer to people. Now she said she decided to say that I am a delicate flower instead of a toddler. Well, toddlers can be cute but they are often exhausting. Just a simple change of words can move us toward compassion. Moving your focus to the person who is frustrated can remind you how unpleasant it is for that person to be so frustrated that they become a frustration virus for everyone around them.
How would matching the frustration of another help either of you in the least?
The first step is to notice your own frustration and stress chemicals. Check out your thoughts and the state of you body. The next step is to look around to verify that you are not in immediate need of defense. If you are continually tolerating and avoiding the fact that you are pumping stress hormones, an anxiety attack can occur. Finally, you can return your focus to your breath, relaxing your body and then projecting love from your heart to the situation. Now, you have chosen compassion. Projecting compassion will create a result that cannot be predicted beforehand. However, you definitely will be increasing your own peace of mind with this focus. You can choose a course of action that is more beneficial to you and to the world.
Upon looking at all these stress triggers, along with the mind’s preoccupation with the negative energies of the world it becomes quite apparent why we do not practice gratitude more often. It is difficult to be grateful when you are constantly scanning and reacting to all the negativity around you. When you can move your focus from the negative triggers, focusing on love flowing from your heart to the world a new reality appears.
This reality is the one that happens when your heart opens, when peace arrives and even the colors of the world expand. For many of us this event is only occurring whenever we witness a sunset or when we travel to beautiful locations. The truth is that the beautiful location exists right here and right now just beyond our attention to our so-called problems. As soon as you move your focus away from the frustration and fear, you can find your gratitude because it is waiting for you to see it.
The selection for today from The Buddha is Still Teaching (Selected and Edited by Jack Kornfield) is taken from the book Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World by Christina Feldman and it titled “Align Your Heart.”
She said, “What difference would it make in your life if you engaged the world with a conscious commitment to end sorrow or pain wherever you meet it? What difference would it make to wake in the morning and greet your family, the stranger beside you on the bus, the troublesome colleague, with the intention to listen to them wholeheartedly and be present for them? Compassion doesn’t always call for grand or heroic gestures. It asks you to find in your heart the simple but profound willingness to be present, with a commitment to end sorrow and contribute to the well-being and ease of all beings. A word of kindness, a loving touch, a patient presence, a willingness to step beyond your fears and reactions are all gestures of compassion that can transform a moment of fear or pain. Aligning yourself with the path of understanding and compassion, you are learning to listen to the cries of the world.
“The universe is full of beings, those you know and those who you will forever be strangers. The world is made up those you care for, those you are indifferent to, and those you fear or dislike. With those you love and care for, your compassion is often unhesitating: you reach out to console, support, and encourage without reservation. With those who are strangers, your response may vary. You may feel an indifference that you are ashamed of or a vague sympathy that is quickly forgotten in the busyness of your life. With those you dislike, your compassion for their suffering can be subtly mixed with an embarrassed satisfaction over their suffering. Compassion is an invitation to cross the divide that separates “us” from “them.” At times these almost imperceptible barriers are lifted. You see lines of pain in the faces of refugees or the homeless woman on the street, and your heart trembles. You listen again to the anguish of the person you resent and find that your history of struggle with him is released, as the hardness of your heart begins to soften. Suddenly you are present in a new way – free of prejudice and fear. It is as if your heart has expanded, revealing all of life as one organism.”
Let’s practice. Close your eyes and breathe slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. Relax with each exhale. Place your attention inside your heart. Find a feeling of peace and love inside your heart, a place of safely. Relax more and more as you sit inside this safe place inside your heart. Now as you continue to remember that giving attention to any situation or person can be filtered through your own heart, filtered with peace and love, imagine a person in front of you that you find problematic, annoying or draining. As this person appears, your mind may have a few pieces of advice. It may tell you to stay safe. It might offer you guilt about the way you treat this person. It could tell you they deserve no better. If your mind is talking to you about this situation, just gently return to the safety and love inside your own heart. Send this loving energy to your mind and body and relax again inside the safety of your heart. Now, as you breathe in, breathe in love. As you exhale, breath peace, love and compassion to the person you fear. When you inhale, breathe in peace, love and compassion to you. No more is required and possibly no more would be beneficial to either of you. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth as you relax in the knowledge that this love offered from your heart is enough for you and the world.