It was a special evening this Monday, as Joseph returned to the group after being released on bail from the deportation detention centre. Thank you to all the people from the group who wrote letters of support for Joseph, and a big thank you to David who has done amazing work in finding a barrister who has represented Joseph and for offering Joseph so much support and care as he contested the deportation decision by the Home Office.
Joseph spoke to the group before we went into the tea break and expressed his gratitude for all the help he has received from everyone. Joseph still needs to have his asylum claim assessed, but he has a good team in place now and it is looking more hopeful, but for now he is not able to work or receive any benefits, luckily his uncle is offering him a home and support and he has been able to start coming to the group again.
By coincidence we had spoken about gratitude in the earlier one hour group as well. One of the men there had been on the 8 week mindfulness course that I teach where gratitude is a daily practice throughout the course. As part of the home practice for the course I suggest that people write down a few things that they felt grateful for each day. He had completed the course some years ago, but now still practices gratitude. Another member of the group spoke of how she found writing it down felt too forced, so she lies in bed and allows her last thoughts to be of gratude for something in the day and we spoke of how effective this could be.
After Joseph introduced the theme of gratitude before the tea break I then spoke on this for a few minutes when we came back before going into the Loving Kindness practice. The thing with gratitude is that it is about looking for what is there, in however small a way, that nourishes us. The brain is plastic and malleable, but too often we get into habits, and then the easiest neural route is the one that is most familiar. If we tend to look at what is absent then by the end of the day it is easy to have a sense of a day full of lack. But to retrain the mind or strengthen the mind’s tendency to notice what nourishes us will develop the neural routes in the brain that tend towards noticing what is good in our life and over time remould the brain.
From teaching this practice over the years people have come back to me saying they suddenly noticed small things, the sun on their face for a few minutes as they stood on a platform – rather than being lost in their smart phone, a moment of grass waving in the breeze as the train was waiting to go into a station – rather than annoyance a the delay, or a smile from a colleague that might have passed unnoticed before.
My minduflness supervisor once quoted to me this saying: “the mind is like teflon for good experiences and like velcro for the bad”. Good experiences have to be held in conscious thought for a few minutes to full register or they just slip away. In contrast, bad experiences are registered and remembered instantly. This is in part because our brain is a ‘don’t get killed mechanism’, it’s job is to register danger and keep us safe. Good events it just notes and recognises as non threatening. But the funny look a person gives us, the aggressive push in the tube or any other perceived threat will be registered and remembered.
Practicing gratitude at the end of the day is a way to help our mind recollect the good that has happened and take time to fully register it, and fall asleep with that as our last thought.
One way to help with this is to find a small pebble or smooth crystal you can carry in your pocket. Each time you put your hand in your pocket and feel it it acts as a reminder to take note: “what am I grateful for right now, or from what has happened so far this day”. I’ve started doing this and it works really well as a reminder to stop for a moment and take note. Research into eh power of gratitude has found that it is important to feel gratitude for specifics that have recently happened. People whose gratitude practice were on generalised themes: “I’m grateful for my house/boyfriend/job” stopped showing any benefits after a few weeks, whereas people who focused on things that had happened that day or recently continued to benefit from it for weeks and months.
The meditation below is a version of the Loving Kindess meditation I recorded 8 years ago. Rather strange to look back like this! And the recording quality is poor so it looks strangely like a 1950s fire side chat! But the theme is gratitude. Connecting with kindness for our body and heart and being through gratitude for this body, the earth that supports it and all of the universe for supporting our life. I’ll lead a version of this on Monday after the tea break