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Discovering Mindfulness with Heather Noto: Practicing Gratitude

Discovering Mindfulness with Heather Noto
Heather Noto photo by Claire Hageman

“I want to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” – John O’Donohue

I love this time of year with the shorter days and the colder temperatures. I love bundling up and cozying up. It’s a time for reflecting on the past and a time for planning for the future. As this year draws to a close, I have found that I am filled with gratitude. Not because the year is over, but because in retrospect, the many challenges of 2019 revealed the many things for which I can be thankful.

Our home, like many others in Craven County, was flooded during Hurricane Florence. We moved back down to our first floor a few months ago, after living on the second floor for over eleven months. What we didn’t lose to the flood waters, we moved up or out for the reconstruction. Now, as we slowly unpack the boxes, I am incredibly grateful for what we still have, not just certain cherished possessions, but our house, our friends and neighbors, and our community.

As we dive deeper into the practice of mindfulness, we become aware of its many benefits. Gratitude may be one of the biggest. The positive aspects of our life are often illuminated by paying closer attention to our daily experiences. When problems occur, we can lose sight of the good. We become preoccupied with how they are personally affecting us and by how we’re going to navigate through, missing the tiny jewels present in our everyday life. Simple things like someone holding a door open for us, a smile from a stranger when we’re feeling low, a cup of warm tea when we’re feeling stressed, or seeing a beautiful bird perched outside our window. These tiny sacred moments light up our day when we’re conscious enough to notice them.

Unwelcome situations are, unfortunately, unavoidable. Things happen. But when we become more present to our life as it is unfolding, more present to the good and the not so good, we may ultimately see that the not so good are often gifts in disguise. We may learn a valuable life lesson from an unfortunate situation, a disturbing conversation may provide us with a needed revelation, or we may be inspired to change for the better because of an unexpected loss. Although I hope we will never experience another Hurricane Florence, I celebrate our newly painted walls, and our new, upgraded appliances, but more important than the material things, I celebrate the new and deepened friendships that resulted from the shared experience.

One of my very favorite promotional buttons says: Life. Be in it. I have kept the button for a very long time because it reminds me to actively participate in my life. All of it. Jump in and enjoy it. There is power in gratitude, in appreciating what you have now and not focusing on what you don’t have. Learning to appreciate and be thankful for not only life’s blessings but also its challenges are key ingredients to a fulfilling and meaningful life. Consider your difficulties as an invitation to practice gratitude.

The New Year is upon us. And for many it’s a time for New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps you have already created your list? Several years ago, I switched from creating a list to choosing one word that encompassed my intentions for the upcoming year. My word in 2019 was fortitude. For 2020, my word will be gratitude. I choose this because I want and need to be more fully awake to the many gifts in my life.

I invite you to reflect on your challenges in 2019. Did any of them move your life in a direction for the better? No matter how small the shift, do you see the gift in disguise? And I invite you to look closer for all of the gifts, large and small, revealed each day for which you can give thanks.

Wishing you and yours all the best in 2020.    Until next time …


Mindfulness Exercise:  Practicing Gratitude …

Gratitude Journal:  A favorite exercise for practicing gratitude is to have a journal next to your bed dedicated only to writing things for which you are grateful. You can write in it before you go to sleep, recording the things that happened that day for which you are grateful, or first thing in the morning, before your feet touch the ground, starting your day in a place of appreciation.

Gratitude Jar: Write a short thank you note each morning on a post-it, fold it up and place it in your jar. Put your jar somewhere where you can see it, on your desk or your kitchen counter. Have the family participate, too. Maybe each person has their own color post-it notes. At the end of the year, dump out the contents of your jar and celebrate the abundance of gratitude experienced throughout the year.

When times are difficult, it is often hard to think of things for which to be grateful. Here are some suggestions: Being alive, family and friends, your health, a roof over your head, clean air and water, freshly cooked meals, warm clothes, a warm bed, a new sweater, a winter coat, a walk in nature, a new day.

Until Heather reestablishes her online presence, she can be found on LinkedIn or via email.

By Contributing Author, Heather Noto