Tag Archives: gratitude

#39: Love & Anxiety-Contentment at Christmas?

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I have read lots of blogs, books and articles raving about the importance of mindfulness in order to live in a peaceful mind and body, and I agree 100%! But what I would love to read or hear more about is another “state” or attitude, that of Contentment.  Contentment is related to mindfulness but is not exactly a buzzword in our predominately self-focused popular culture.  I was with a friend recently who will remain nameless, so as not to embarrass her and her kids. She spent a small mortgage on her day off to take her sons and their friends to one of those “fun zone” places (where junk food, quarters and over-stimulation reign supreme.) Unfortunately, even after her hours of sacrifice, the only sound heard on the way home was the song of complaint. Complaints about what they didn’t get, and frustration about having to leave “so soon”. There was not one word of gratitude and certainly not a shred of Contentment found in that car.  Not in the kids, or in my friend.  A sense of entitlement and unrealistic expectations often walk hand-in-hand and both kill our ability to feel Contentment. Gratitude and Contentment are not the same concepts but are related, supply energy to each other, and are the Yin to the Yang of entitlement and unrealistic expectations.

Why is Contentment so hard to achieve in our daily existence? There are several reasons besides those noted above. One seems to be, at times humans can mistakenly equate Contentment to stagnation or lack of ambition. The reasoning goes, “if I am content with where I am in life and what I have, how will I grow and improve and get more out of life?” But  Contentment is a great word and a great state to spend time in, dictionary.com defines Contentment as: the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.  I like that phrase, ease of mind. The last blog was about human restlessness and how it negatively impacts our joy and increases our anxiety levels. Restlessness could be called unease of mind or even dis-ease of mind. Contentment then, is one of the antidotes for getting stuck in restlessness on a regular basis.

Contentment is not stagnation.  You can have goals, dreams, and desires but still live in Contentment on a regular basis. Because Contentment is not about specific outcomes but an overall ease of mind /attitude about life. Contented people usually have fairly realistic expectations (read appropriate) about  life, limits and their place therein. Contentment allows us to experience the overwhelming good that is our daily life without being tainted by seething restlessness or the frustration that comes from comparing our lives with the lives of others we believe are more fortunate.

Here is a fairly simple example. If at age 30 I take up the sport of football, there is very little possibility that I will be drafted by the NFL. I could become a great football player, if I am willing to put in hours of daily practice. But NFL level players usually have been playing football since childhood. If my expectations, or set goals, do not match reality, Contentment will be a hard state to attain. If I expect to be drafted I will be disappointed and discontented. However, If I expect to get really good and enjoy the sport, I have a much better chance of feeling Contentment with my choices and accomplishments.

Sometimes we paint unrealistic pictures in our heads about how life should play out, or even how we should feel on a regular basis. We can get the impression via reality TV, FB posts, movies, songs, etc. that life is one big happy adrenaline rush. We think we ought to feel immense love or excitement or joy 24/7.  Contentment is hard to find when living with those kind of unrealistic expectations.

Life was never intended to provide the same experiences all day long day after day. Let’s use art as an example to stand in for life and the various situations, moods, and sensations we all experience. A beautiful piece of art or a stunning photograph most often is comprised of various “objects”, shapes and colors. A green leaf is lovely, but in the fall when the leaves turn colors and become a  gorgeous palate of oranges, reds, yellows, and browns, that’s when tourists stream into New England to take in the art these multi-hued leaves provide. Very few people come to gawk in the summer when the leaves are only the color green.

Well, real Life is multi-hued as well. If you imagine feelings, events, and sensation as colors, there will be green moments and red moments, and purple moments. There are yellow feelings and pink feelings and black feelings, etc. Life is fluid and flows, it changes and morphs. When we realistically expect and accept there are green/red/blue/purple, etc, moments, we will not be thrown or upset when we don’t feel excitement or happiness all day long. We become more tolerant of the hues that we feel less fondness for but know that we can learn to be with, and learn from them. For example, we can allow ourselves to feel sad for a time which in turn allows us the awareness of how great it feels to experience happiness.

There is another great benefit to experiencing and enjoying life as multi-hued and morphing.  We become better able to sit and allow our own shifting internal states to BE whatever color they are without criticism and judgment. In so doing, we are more able to “tolerate” the shifting states of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones.

So friends the holiday season is upon us and it is easy to get caught in the busyness and the merchandise mucking about foisted upon us hourly via ads and TV networks. But I encourage you to settle inside yourself and find your own state of inner Contentment these next few weeks. Experience how Contentment may shift the energy of the Holiday Season and the family interactions during the many holiday themed events. As always, I would love to know how it goes for you so please let me know via comments.

GOING DEEPER:

1.) What is your knee-jerk reaction to the term Contentment? Is it positive or negative? What beliefs live inside your head and body about contentment? Do these block you from, or move you toward Contentment.

2.) Is my analogy normalizing life as multi-hued art, and not a single state of being, helpful to you? If not, come up with your own analogy or metaphor of life with its various permutations. Which colors/sensations/feelings are you most comfortable living with, and which are uncomfortable to you? Share your answers with your friends and loved ones if you dare.

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Love & Anxiety #20: Gratitude for our humanness?

This week I have been reading an awesome book called “Leaving Church: A memoir of faith”, http://www.barbarabrowntaylor.com and I have so enjoyed her prose, which somehow manages to be soaring, AND yet full of  down to earth wisdom. And, what I have really resonated with is her affirming the goodness of being a human! That our humanness is not the cause of our problems, so much as refusing to acknowledge we are human. Since we are human, we are fallible, messy, confused, prone to errors and tempers, stress and struggle. While at the same time, we are beautiful, loving, capable of great generosity and deeds of kindness, and containing great reservoirs of wisdom. This is one of her many books and is a worthwhile read, even if you don’t come from a faith tradition.

But since this blog is about love & anxiety, what I want to share today is how practicing gratitude for our humanness is a massive anxiety buster! Whenever we are able to accept what actually is (reality), rather than trying to live out what we wish we were (denial and pretense), our stress levels decrease. We are human and when we allow ourselves to love our humanness, “all our curves and our edges and our perfect imperfections”, to quote John Legend, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=450p7goxZqg anxiety diminishes and in its place, we make room for pleasure, joy and peace again. 

Being human means we learn, change, and grow as the years go by. What good parent would be angry at a child who takes at least 2 or more years to gain urinary continence (a child who pees their pants, for those who like simple words)? None, because good parents understand developmental tasks, and that the growth and maturation process of a human child goes on for years and years and years! Those of you who have grown children still living with you, really know what I mean.  So, growing fully into our humanness and living well is also a developmental process. One, I will submit, we are engaged in for our entire lives. Maybe there are a few of you that are fully done and have no more growing to do, but I am speaking to the rest of us that are continuing to learn and grow daily.

If taking the risk of loving our humanness becomes a desire, and we are willing to do the hard work of changing the internal lenses through which we view ourselves and our expectations, we can learn to live in the deep gratitude that comes from loving that we are human beings. Dr. Taylor seems to have learned this lesson, and I know it is one I have been working on for quite some time. The other benefit of gratefully embracing our humanness, is that gratitude in general decreases anxiety. If you recall, some of the earlier blogs were about how the brain is biased toward negative information and how we need to take in the “good” in our life in order to overcome the negativity. Practicing gratitude for anything is a great way to take in the good and shift our brain out of the anxiety/danger mode, back into openness and relaxation. 

I encourage you to work on “loving all your curves and all your edges and all your perfect imperfections” this week. Practice gratitude for your life and your human body, even if you screw up, yell at your kids, or fail to yet again to attain your own (too high) expectations. Please let me know how it goes!

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     Cameron and his mom, embracing his humanness!

Going deeper:

1. What does this blog bring up for you? Resonance and relief, or resistance and resentment? Journal about your answer and see what comes up for you.

2. Where did you get your first messages about your humanness? Were they positive messages or negative ones?

3. If this practice seems too hard or even impossible, I invite you to pick just one aspect of your humanness and just try to feel gratitude for it. It is a powerful practice and you will be surprised at how easy it becomes when you make this a new habit.