This morning as I changed the sheets on the bed, I sprayed a lavender scent over the bedding. I thought of my niece who made the tincture and sent her a heartfelt mental “thank you.” Remembering her gift allowed me to put aside the momentary annoyance of changing the sheets when I’d rather be outside in the cool kaleidoscope of autumn colors. I literally stopped, felt the inner physical release of receiving kindness, and followed that with gratitude—for Kathryn, for the driver who brought the lavender to her, for the farmer who grew it, and for the seed itself. Gratitude.
To help us survive, our human brains are hard-wired to scan for danger. As prehistoric beings, if we didn’t see the wildfire racing toward our camp, we would lose our home. Now, if we don’t see the car running the stoplight, we could be injured. Unfortunately, this scanning for danger creates a negative bias in our thought patterns. On one level, our survival does depend on paying attention to our surroundings, but it’s important to realize that we can train our attention to see the good that surrounds us, too. We see what we look for and our body-mind responds to that.
Ongoing stress (getting to work on time, not having work, concern about our family, wishing they or we were different) causes physical tension. That’s proven. On the other hand, gratitude causes physical release. That’s proven too. What we focus on determines our mental and emotional states.
In asana, we need not know the emotional or physical benefits of the pose in order to reap the benefits. Practicing warrior poses brings strength and willpower to the system. Practicing forward bends calms the system. Practicing backbends invigorates. The proof resides in the pose and in the practice. Young children derive the benefits of doing yoga poses even though they don’t intellectually know about the results of the practice.
What do you practice? Do you scan for danger or for kindness?
Take a moment and remember a kindness that someone has done for you. Maybe your friend made soup for you when you were sick, or your granddaddy brought you Hershey’s kisses when you were young. Experience the receiving of that kindness as a felt sensation, not just a mental memory. Sit and take that in. The acceptance of kindness, the ability to fully take it in and feel gratitude, may take practice. Feel into your muscles, your gut, and your heart space. What is your body’s experience of accepting kindness? Where is the release… the expansion?
Now, from that felt-space, extend gratitude toward the person who offered you that loving kindness, whether they are still in your life or not. How does that feel? Are you willing to practice the acceptance of kindness and the expression of gratitude? I bet you are!
As you move through your day, notice how many acts of kindness are given to you. Take them in. As you experience the kindnesses you receive, pass them on to other people, along with a healthy dose of gratitude, for their presence in your life.