Being consciously aware and connected to that in which gives us cause to smile and rejoice is a deep practice. When I use the word practice I do not use it lightly, tossing it around like an empty, lifeless word. I use the word practice much in the same way that I offer a smile, with intention.
Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) is fond of saying something along the lines of: we’re always practicing something. So when we’re expending energy in being rude and snippy we’re practicing being mean. When we’re expending energy listening to a friend who’s struggling we’re practicing kindness. And so on. We become masterful at what we put our time and energy into.
Oftentimes we are more fond of practicing complaining and looking at what’s wrong rather than practicing joy and gratitude and looking at what’s right. We are more likely to practice non-gratitude and non-joy. What we think is what we create, it’s as simple and as powerful as that.
Over the last year (2012) I’ve made a conscious effort to cultivate joy and gratitude in my life in order to help support my mental and emotional health. After a rough summer in 2011 I surfaced from under a heavy fog of depression with a strong motivation towards self-care and well being. My practice was to be joyful. It may sound silly or entirely foreign, this idea of practicing joy, it did to me at first. I was under the impression that joy just happened, that it existed outside of myself of its own free will. But I came to see that this notion I had was an illusion, it simply wasn’t true. If I wanted a better life, if I wanted to be happy, if I wanted to be mentally and emotionally grounded it was up to me to make that happen.
When I get stuck in thinking: if only my husband would just do this I’d be happy, if only this person treated me better I’d be happy, if only I could have better health I’d be happy, if only….. then what I am practicing is that I am not in charge of my own well being. I am practicing giving my power away. I am practicing that this moment, right now, is not enough. I am practicing looking at what’s wrong. Again, we become masterful at what we put our time and energy into. As hard as it is to admit, I can see clearly my own capacity for becoming masterful at wallowing in self-pity. Over the last year and half or so I have come into close relationship with the teaching that I really am in charge of my own well being.
When we learn, discover, stumble upon or run smack into the truth of how we are all in charge of our reality and how we live our lives it can be both incredibly freeing and terribly deflating at the same time. When we have no one left but ourselves to hang our struggles on it can be frightfully sobering. Of course our lives are sculpted by a myriad of factors including people, collective ideals, education, financial resources and so on but the constant that weaves through them all is us. We always have a choice of how to respond to a situation. It is easy to think that life happens to us and we react accordingly, that we have very little influence over how it unfolds. And it is even easier to not be aware that this is our thinking.
We can easily understand what it means to practice at a skill or craft or musical instrument. It makes sense that when learning pottery or learning the guitar it will take time and dedication to make a beautiful bowl or play a great song. It is the same with practicing joy and gratitude. We need a certain amount of belief that with practice will come the fruits of our time and effort. For me, the fruits of my practice include more patience, an ability to better go with the flow of life, a greater ability to not get stuck in my negative thinking, lessened physical pain associated with my nerve disease RSD, more joy, more abundance and more gratitude! The more I practice joy the more joy that gets created!
Once we learn how to ride a bike it is very difficult to unlearn how to ride a bike. When we practice eating healthfully and drinking lots of water it becomes more challenging to eat crappy food and drink lots of pop. When we practice joy and gratitude it becomes more challenging to be negative and disconnected from ourselves and the world around us. It is the natural result of turning towards the light of our own humanity. We don’t need to actively stop doing anything, we need to actively start doing something different and the transformation we are looking for will develop as a natural result of our actions.