The Courage to Embrace Gratitude, Present, and Joy
"A mindset of gratitude opens a present heart to receive the gift of True Joy." This is my focus for 2023. I started something new this year by taking the three words that will be my guiding themes and putting them all together into a sentence. Now, I have a mantra for this year!
I am going to take some time to dig a bit deeper into each of the three words. Maybe, by the end of your time reading this, you will have discovered your words for 2023. If you already have done a similar exercise, you may feel inspired to expand on your themes for your year and even your own mantra phrase.
Gratitude ~ Present ~ Joy. What does each mean individually? What do these three words have in common? How am I integrating them into my life? These are three questions I encourage you to ask yourself about your words that will guide your journey into the new year. After trying to set resolutions in the past, I have discovered this type of exercise is much more effective for me. I guess many more people have had little success in keeping resolutions as well. According to an article posted by Discover Daily Habits in a 2016 study, of the 41% of Americans who make New Year's resolutions, by the end of the year only 9% feel they are successful in keeping them. I will circle back in December of this year to see how I have actually kept these as ongoing themes throughout the year. Stay tuned...
Before I get into discussing these three words, I will share with you an ongoing activity that I have begun this year. In my journal, I have taken a page for each word. I put the word at the top of each page. Most days, I take a few minutes to add some notes to the page. I have noted song lyrics, verses, thoughts, and quotes. I am not religious about this exercise. If I miss a day, that is okay. My desire is by the end of the year, I will have filled up some pages about each of these words. I typically add these notes in the morning as I am starting my day. However, if I think of something to add and my journal is not near me, I also have a section of my notes on my phone for the same entries. At some point, I can always print the digital notes and then add them to my journal if I want them all together.
Let's start with the common definition of gratitude according to Merriam-Webster: the state of being grateful; thankfulness. What intrigued me right away by this meaning was the phrase "state of". To me, that means it is a part of you and even a mindset you choose to put into place. When I looked up the word gratitude in the thesaurus, I interestingly discovered that "grace", "gratefulness", and "appreciativeness" were all listed as synonyms. I was a bit surprised to see the word "grace". Grace can have many meanings to people. Some may see it from a biblical perspective as forgiveness. Some can see it as politeness and/or being courteous. The word grace holds a special meaning to me, because I personally see it as the gift that God offers us which has to do with forgiveness and freedom. Unconditional love of God to us can be seen as a gift of grace. And for that, I have gratitude.
Choice. We all have the choice each and every day to choose to have a mindset of gratitude. This is such a key part of being thankful. Am I excited to wake up to pouring rain, sick children, a day altered because of cancellations, the dog bringing in mud all over the newly mopped floors, a clogged up toilet...by all means no. I am not saying that we have to be thankful for all of those inconveniences; however, I am saying I get to choose what to focus on when all these interruptions come my way. As we go through life's seasons, we will often be living in a storm. While in those times, we may be at a loss for words. Gratitude may not be at the top of the list when we are in the valley.
When I think of these seasons in my life, I often lean on the words of songs for comfort. One that I find myself singing recently is "God is in This Story" by Katy Nichole and Big Daddy Weave. Here are some of the lyrics that have spoken to me:
There's torn up pages in this book
Words that tell me I'm no good
Chapters that defined me for so long
But the hands of grace and endless love
Dusted off and picked me up
Told my heart that hope is never gone
God is in this story
God is in the details
Even in the broken parts
He holds my heart, He never fails
When I'm at my weakest
I will trust Jesus
Always in the highs and lows
The One who goes before me
God is in this story
Present ~ There are many ways to define present. The presence that I am referring to is to be in the here and now, in the current space and time. This can be achieved with many mindfulness tools, such as breathwork, meditation, prayer, resetting your nervous system with tapping, engaging your five senses, writing/journaling, listening to music, and going out in nature to just name a few. Refer to another article that I wrote titled The Balance of Mindsight for some more discussion about using two other tools, the Brain Huddle and the Wheel of Awareness. I believe I have had to learn this skill of being present as I have walked through a variety of valleys in which all I wanted to do was to run away, leap over the valley, anything but to be present in the hard season.
A writer I often gain insight from about being present is Henri Nouwen. In his book appropriately titled, Here and Now, Nouwen states, "To live in the present, we must believe deeply that what is most important is the here and now. We are constantly distracted by things that have happened in the past or that might happen in the future. It is not easy to remain focused on the present. Our mind is hard to master and keeps pulling us away from the moment." Another quote from Here and Now: "God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful." The idea that God is right there in the valley with me is empowering. I actually do believe that God goes before us in the trenches to lead us during the overwhelming times when we so want to run away.
For me personally, the tools I lean on most often to bring my attention to the here and now are praying, breathwork (specifically the 4, 7, 8 method) going for a walk in nature, looking up at the clouds, touching tree trunks as I am hiking, using the Tapping Solution, reading scriptures, writing and listening to music, and meditating. I encourage you to find a few ways that help you to invite the presence in and focus on incorporating at least 2 to 3 ways weekly. Then, you can start to use them daily. Once you start to get comfortable with recalling these tools regularly, you will be able to do so while your brain is in a reactive state to calm your nervous system. You can refer to my website for more articles about the brain.
Joy ~ Let's review the phrase that puts all three of these words together: "A mindset of gratitude opens a present heart to receive the gift of True Joy." I am finding once I focus my mind on gratitude, my heart will be opened to being present, and then, I will be able to receive joy. What do I mean by True Joy? I again will turn to Henri Nouwen for a definition of joy: "Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing - sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death - can take that love away." I believe we can actually be unhappy about many things in our lives, but still experience joy. Do you believe sorrow and joy can co-exist? Interesting question. I believe the answer is yes. I will refer to a few scriptures and accounts from the Christian Bible to understand that True Joy is not determined by our circumstances.
While Stephen, a courageous early church deacon and public speaker, was stoned to death in the public square for speaking about Jesus. While he was being attacked, he prayed for God to fill him with Joy. (Acts 7) Another man who did not allow fear to take his joy and gratitude away was Joseph who got sold as a slave by his own brothers and eventually put into prison for two years (Genesis 39 - 41). He still believed that God's love would sustain him and he would get through the very dark, cold season. A woman of the Old Testament that I look to for strength is Abigail, the wife of a wealthy man named Nabal. Abigail and Nabal had a loveless marriage. She was not respected and was left to clean up her husband's messes often. She was a wise woman who leaned on her wisdom of God to guide her. She was able to open her heart to receiving True Joy which guided her through years of dark valleys. (1 Samuel 25).
Tony Robbins poignantly states, "True joy comes from being and expressing who you really are." As I have a mindset of gratitude, I will become present in the here and now, and then I will be able to embrace True Joy. This type of joy can also be thought of as becoming your True Self. Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher, discusses in his Collection of Works that the True Self is part of the human personality. He called it the Self with a capital S. It is misleading at times for many, because Self does not refer to the ego as in myself, but to the Center of our being. Jung referred to the Self as being the image of God within us all. In her beautiful book, When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd describes "The soul-work involved in this internal restructuring is, I believe the deepest meaning of spiritual becoming." She describes the whitling away of our false selves as part of a pruning process to identify and embrace our True Self.
To conclude, let's revisit the idea of choice. Tony Robbins describes the concept of choosing to focus on positive thoughts as positive stacking versus negative stacking. I believe it takes bravery to vulnerably embrace the journey of receiving True Joy. Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, describes in the search for your True Self, you have to use courage. He goes on to say, "Courage isn't the absence of despair and fear but the capacity to move ahead in spite of them." Joe Dispenza, researcher and author, in his latest blog post, discusses the daily battle of facing and becoming aware of our thoughts and not letting them pass you by. He describes that awareness as metacognition. Once you decide to positively choose to embrace the present moment despite the discomfort, you are then choosing to embrace "the art of survival to creation." Joe states, "Comfort is the not the key, but balance; relaxed and present in the present moment." Did you catch that key statement, "comfort is not the key." Whew, that is hard to hear! But, do be aware that we have to ease into the art of becoming aware of negative and dysfunctional patterns. We must be kind to ourselves as we start that journey. In the blog, Joe Dispenza empowers us to embrace this state: "Relax in the heart; awake in the brain."
To begin this process, let these questions resonate in your heart and mind: What will you choose to positively stack today? Do you desire to embrace the courage to cultivate what the Meister Eckhart calls your "true seed" within you? We all are given the gift of True Joy. We have the privilege to decide daily whether we will embrace this mantra: "A mindset of gratitude opens a present heart to receive the gift of True Joy."