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So About This Gratitude Business....
21 November 2019

So About This Gratitude Business....
21 November 2019

So About This Gratitude Business....

As I pause here a week before Thanksgiving I hesitate a bit to launch into the subject of gratitude. In fact, when I look over the blog I realize I've avoided it the past couple of Thanksgivings. Not completely: in offering the Thanksgiving class each year I have referenced the spirit of gratitude that Sharon inspires every Thanksgiving by raising money for the Haven, but to be honest, the vogue of gratitude practices in popular media and its omnipresence this time of year creates a quiet wariness in me.

Don't get me wrong—I believe that anchoring the holiday in a deep seated sense of our own feeling of gratefulness for one another and our circumstances and expressing that to one another is undeniably a healthy, helpful practice. The link between practicing gratitude and well-being is well-established through decades of research. But I also think that sometimes the pressure to feel gratitude can undermine happiness, and the practice of pushing gratitude, or imposing its practice on other people can have the undesired effect of denying realities of deep suffering and hardship. "Pushing" gratitude can also undermine the sheer effort that has gone into creating one's happiness and good fortune and bring about feelings of both depression and inadequacy.

My wariness come when we are told to be grateful, even gently guided to search for what in our heart sparks gratitude.  If we are told to essentially deny what is deeply troubling and difficult in our lives and jump right to gratitude, it can either feel so elusive as to make us feel like we are a failure because we can't feel it, or it can create a sinkhole of self loathing ("I don't have it nearly as bad as other people so why is it so hard to feel grateful for my life?").

You cannot force the feeling of gratitude, and when you do, it doesn't feel deeply true. So I try not to do that with other people and with myself. I find instead the practice of cultivating metta, of loving kindness, a much more potent source of connecting with our collective interdependence and interconnection, and once I tap into that, gratitude is full and flowering. Metta is like any muscle—its tonicity must be cultivated over time and with space. Our capacity for metta may be minimal or elusive at first, but
with practice, metta eventually becomes our response—displaces the reactions of negativity that inhibit our sense of interconnectedness. With practice, we remember that our capacity for loving kindness is boundless like the ocean of the heart, able to welcome all tides. From this boundless capacity, gratitude can flourish naturally.


What does this look like? Well, google 'metta meditation' and you will find a vast library of information and techniques. There are lots of guided techniques to awaken loving kindness in yourself on the yoga mat/cushion. I find when I steep myself in a metta practice in meditation, even briefly, that love flows more easily, and from love, gratitude arises.
There is good guidance out there on the interwebs, far more eloquent than what I can offer here, but if you want a very simple, 10-minute exercise:

Sit comfortably, close your eyes, go inside.
Center your awareness of your breath in the space of the chest—the "mystical heart" space. Allow a feeling of light, of warmth, of fullness to build there.
Bring to mind someone in your life who you love easily. (yes, that can be your dog). Sit with that feeling for a bit, allowing love to build in your heart.

Bring to mind someone who you love, but the love is more challenging and harder to access. Sit with it a bit.

Turn that focus of love in toward yourself. Sit with it.

Then gradually expand the feeling of love as if the feeling itself had reaching tendrils out into the the people in your immediate environs, and then outward from there, gradually encircling your local community, and outward from there to include all sentient beings.

This is simple I know, but sometimes simple is the best way in.

I will not be telling people to be grateful, or even to search inside for what makes them grateful this week and next. What I will do here is encourage you to tap into love this season and include yourself in that exploration.

It's easy for me to express my own gratitude because I am extremely fortunate in my life. I have opportunity daily to experience gratitude when I teach. And daily I see you all being unfailingly kind to one another in that lovely space, and to me, and love and gratitude flow. I am thankful daily to all of you who come to the studio so that I can make my living doing what I have loved to do for over 25 years. Thank you, I wish you so much love and joy this day and every day.

Leslie

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ACCOMMODATIONS:

The building itself was renovated to be energy efficient, and the room is moderately heated in cooler seasons to promote a good, healthy sweat, but not heated to an excessive or wasteful degree. There are cubbies in our large office to store your personal belongings, a spacious changing room, a comfy sofa and a water cooler (please bring a water bottle to fill, to cut down on paper cup usage). Two nice, clean bathrooms are located just down the hall. There are also cubbies in the studio itself for valuables, which students are welcome to use. We have a full lending library of yoga books, and encourage students to borrow freely. Gift certificates are available for purchase in any amount.

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GUIDELINES FOR PRACTICE

Please do not wear perfume or any strong scent

People with allergies can be very sensitive to scent. Also, lots of people sweating in a closed space is less stinky than lots of people all wearing different brands of perfume or deodorant.

Wear comfortable clothing

Not so tight it binds, not so loose it gets in your way. And please do not wear clothes that “gap” and are inappropriately revealing.

Practice on an empty stomach

If possible, don’t eat at least three hours before practice. If you know that this isn’t possible for you, eat easily digested food one hour before class.

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Keep your eyes on your own practice

The practice is richer when it happens from the inside out. It’s not about comparing yourself with the person next to you. Be present with your own experience.

Be kind and loving to yourself

Rest when you need to. Honor where you are in your practice. Use the energy of those around to inspire, not diminish, you. Remember: you are perfect just as you are now, and yoga is meant to enhance that understanding and let that perfection shine. Have fun!

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