MSC practices of gratitude, savouring and awe
Session Details - December 5th and 8th - Weaving positive experiences into the fabric of our brain. In turn allowing them to find their way into our everyday life. Bringing greater balance to the mind's negativity bias.
We started with an open awareness mindfulness practice, followed by the heart practice of giving and receiving.
"The key to knowing joy is to be easily pleased." - Mark Nepo
We discussed Rick Hanson's metaphor of gardening in relation to our MSC practice:
1. Observe the garden
2. Pull the weeds
3. Plant the flowers
Being with and working with:
Bringing curiosity to Rick Hanson’s swing on our practice assisting us to improve our well-being via experientially directed neuroplasticity. This metaphor perhaps speaks to the practice of being with our moment-to-moment experience – but at the same time noticing what is helping and what is hindering our experience being one of warm acceptance. The brain does not change through observation alone. Reducing the negative and growing the positive helps to change the brain via changing our mind (just pause on that one a moment or two...)
Being with the garden and working in the garden of the mind are synergistic:
I have found MSC to be the ‘work’ – the gardening, of particular value are the practices of gratitude, savouring the good and coming to a sense of awe and wonder.
Just as an experienced gardener first gets to truly know the garden. From this knowing work must be done, but always the checking ongoing being with - one evokes the other. The gardener knows that plants need to be nurtured, seeds need optimal conditions to shoot, weather conditions are always changing, and that weeds may take over unless they are placed in the compost - where, with patience they turn into the best fertilizer for the garden.The being with and working in the garden of the mind are synergistic.
Awe is an emotion that, psychologists are coming to understand, can have profoundly positive effects on people. It happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental models of what’s possible in the world. In its wake, people act more generously and ethically, think more critically when encountering persuasive stimuli, like arguments or advertisements, and often feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general. Awe prompts people to redirect concern away from the self and toward everything else. Research from the Greater Good Science Centre found that about three-quarters of the time a sense of awe and wonder is elicited by nature.
Each person in our group shared a personal experience of feeling awe struck, these included moments in nature but also how art, music the resilence of fellow humans and the wonder of a young child. Just as compassion can be felt as the quivering of one's heart, we all agreed that we shared a heartfelt sense of connection upon hearing each other's stories of awe.
Gratitude as a wisdom practice:
The better we regulate our nervous system the more stress we can tolerate, and the less likely we are to make bad decisions in the midst of it. In a word, we are more resilient. Mindfulness is not a magic resilience pill. But in putting us in more intimate touch with how the world’s ups and downs are mirrored in our bodies and minds, it enables us to work more effectively with our very difficult world. And that’s not a retreat. It’s an advance.
Robert Emmons, perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components. “First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”
In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
Emmons and other researchers see the social dimension as being especially important to gratitude. “I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion,“ writes Emmons, “because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
Because gratitude encourages us not only to appreciate gifts but to repay them (or pay them forward), the sociologist Georg Simmel called it “the moral memory of mankind.”
Here are some of the top research-based reasons for practicing gratitude.
- Practicing gratitude has proven to be one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction; it also boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions.
- On the flip side, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.
- Gratitude is good for our bodies: Studies suggest gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. It also encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health.
- Grateful people sleep better: They get more hours of sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more refreshed upon awakening
- Gratitude strengthens relationships: It makes us feel closer and more committed to friends and romantic partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship.
- Gratitude promotes forgiveness.
- Gratitude makes us “pay it forward”: Grateful people are more helpful, altruistic, and compassionate.
- Gratitude is good for kids: assisting them to have more positive emotion, and feel more connected to their community.
- Gratitude is good for schools: Studies suggest it makes students feel better about their school; it also makes teachers feel more satisfied and accomplished, and less emotionally exhausted, possibly reducing teacher burnout.
Some of the most effective ways to cultivate gratitude, according to research.
- Keep a gratitude journal, recording three to five things for which you’re grateful every day or week.
- Write a “gratitude letter” to an important person in your life whom you’ve never properly thanked.
- Savour the good in your life—don’t just gloss over the beauty and pleasures that come your way.
Adapted from information found on The Greater Good Science Centre's website