Mindfulness Helps Cultivate the Perspective “We’ll See”
As we learned in this interview with Susan Kaiser Greenland, practicing a gratitude walk can be very helpful for people of all ages to re-frame difficult emotions or experiences and hold both the difficult and the good with balance and equanimity. Here’s an exercise from Resilience that explores our gratitude beyond the personal to the larger “Web of Life.”
Exercise: Practicing Gratitude for the Web of Life
Cultivating the experience of gratitude — thankfulness for any blessings and good fortune in your life — is one of the easiest ways to build the mental muscles that allow you to hold both the difficult and the good in one perspective at the same time. In this exercise, you extend your gratitude beyond the most immediate blessings to the larger web of life — people who keep your life going even though you may never have met them.
1. Take five to ten minutes to pause from the ongoing demands of your life to recall people who have helped you keep going: someone who helped you find your reading glasses when you were distracted by rushing on to the next thing; a friend who sent a supportive email when your nephew wrecked your car (though thankfully not himself; the grocery clerk who promptly swept up the jelly jars your exuberant three-year-old knocked off the shelf; a coworker who took over your duties for the day when a nasty flu simply would not let you get out of bed.
2. Take a moment to focus on any felt sense of thankfulness these recollections evoke. As you let the sensations resonate, notice where in your body you feel any sense of gratitude.
3. Expand the circle of your awareness to gratitude for the people you have not yet met who also help keep your life going. Think of the people who are staffing your local hospital right now, ready to help if you slip on a rug on the way to the bathroom, break a bone, and have to be rushed to the emergency room. You might include people staffing airports, pharmacies, fire stations, and gas stations, and those who test water quality at the municipal reservoir so that when you turn on the kitchen faucet you have safe water to drink. Practice gratitude for the people growing your food and recycling your garbage, for the entire web of life that supports you.
4. Reflect on this experience of practicing gratitude and empathy for helpful people in your life and for the larger web of life. Sense the feelings your practice evokes. Notice any changes in your own emotions or thoughts about yourself as you focus on cultivating gratitude.
5. If you wish, set the intention to do a three-minute gratitude practice every day for thirty days, focusing your attention on the people, circumstances, and resources that sustain your well-being every day.
Over time, this practice will cause you to experience not only more gratitude but more of other positive emotions as well — joy, tranquility, contentment — enhancing your well-being overall.