Despite the fact that my emotional health and physical well-being seemingly depend on focusing on goodness and gratitude, I am surrounded by many opportunities to see the darker sides of life.
So I have a choice to make over and over again.
Ed and I just finished our meditative tai chi practice at the beautifully-maintained pool/hot tub complex in our Tucson community. The breeze whispered through the tall palm trees above us. It felt like we were at a resort…but no — we actually live here.
Is everything in my life perfect? Certainly not.
But I can control where I focus my attention.
I could go out on my back patio and gaze at the stunning Santa Catalina mountains behind us. I might notice the majestic palms in the distance, the orange tree in the corner of our courtyard — already laden with nearly-ripe oranges, and our water feature surrounded by six pots of bright red geraniums. Best of all, I could be out on the patio under the desert night sky full of stars, surrounded by dancing shadows cast by the soft lights we installed under our bushes.
Alternatively, I could notice that there is a leak in the water feature, that the siding along the edge of our roof needs to be replaced, and that we have a useless fire pit taking up space in the middle of the patio. And then there are the cracks in our bedroom, hall and garage ceilings that need to be repaired. The list of needed repairs seems endless.
Does it really matter where I focus?
A recent Harvard Medical School publication says that focusing on things I can be grateful for and acknowledging the goodness in my life are consistently associated with greater happiness.
Similarly, a 2015 article in Psychology Today states that gratitude is associated with several scientifically proven benefits including improved physical and psychological health, self-esteem, and even better sleep.
We all have to make these choices.
For example, the Thanksgiving holiday looms before us. I say looms because of the controversies surrounding it. Is it a special, beloved holiday for eating turkey and spending time with friends and family? Or is it a self-indulgent feast celebrating the conquest of native Americans by colonists? In a recent Washington Post article, Valerie Strauss offers us a choice about whether Thanksgiving is a reminder of an early heartwarming multi-cultural celebration or the cruel remembrance of European colonization.
How can I focus on goodness and gratitude in the midst of my personal challenges, historical controversies, and the ongoing political storm confronting us on a daily basis?
I do take seriously the challenges and controversies around me. They remind me that I’m blessed to live in a nation where alternative and seemingly mutually-exclusive perspectives can exist side-by-side and be openly argued.
But I admit that sometimes it all feels like too much evil and darkness around me. When that begins to pull me down, I find my way back to gratitude with these three practices:
1. Retreating from the chaos. For me, this means temporarily refraining from reading the news or engaging in debates about current social and political issues.
2. Becoming still. This entails retreating from the chatter in my own mind, beginning by simply becoming aware that it’s there.
3. Finding my center. Our daily practice of tai chi is a moving meditation, which helps me find the true core within me where gratitude resides, no matter what’s happening around me.
Oh, and speaking of gratitude…I’m especially grateful this Thanksgiving that Ed and I can follow our chosen tradition of eating the food we love in an Indian restaurant, rather than having to comply with the turkey tradition.
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