The open sky at Viveka Gardens gives the perfect opportunity to observe the stars and moon, dawn and dusk, be in tune with the rhythm of the day and feel grateful for the interconnectedness of life
The turn of the year, maybe taking stock as well as enjoying good cheer, is a time for gratitude. What went well, what was learnt? Personally, 2016 was the year in which Viveka Gardens Yoga Farm was brought into manifestation. Gratitude is a little overwhelming right now but I want to share my reflections on how the practice of gratitude helps develop trust and resilience so that your life goals can come to be.
The grounding thing about gratitude is that it can only be an authentic response. You can only be grateful for what you have (or don’t have). It’s completely realistic: you can’t invent gratitude. We just need to remember to look. Evoking gratitude does not mean we have to put on a rictus of false positivity, nor fail to honour our pain. Finding gratitude is a quiet and reflective practice that takes time to develop. And, as I often remind myself, practice is just that: having a go.
To evoke gratitude sometimes seems impossible, for instance in the face of deep personal suffering, world disaster or atrocity. Gratitude cannot be a sticking plaster. The Active Hope movement that arose in response to wide felt grief for what we have done to the planet employs gratitude techniques to build resilience. The despair many feel now at the rise of world power autocrats seems to be the equivalent to what many were expressing about peak oil at the turn of the century. Tapping into Gaia and the interconnectedness of life is one failsafe way to feel not only gratitude but also trust in the bigger picture. My friend and teacher, Rachel Corby, describes how in this inspiring blog.
Gratitude is delighting in what you have. Santosha, sanskrit for contentedness, is one of five niyamas, or observances, in Patanjali’s Raja Yoga (a cornerstone of yogic philosophy), that is on the ladder of eight rungs to enlightenment. Affluenza, a term coined to describe how having more things makes you discontent, is the opposite of gratitude. The aim of advertising is to fuel discontent so avoid the mill of consumerism and allow gratitude for what you have (or don’t have). Know that you are enough.
One practice in yoga nidra, once fully relaxed with the mind waves slowed, is to evoke the feeling of gratitude. What is the felt sensation of gratitude away from intellectualising or instances of it? Allowing the feeling to arise at the heart centre, the sankalpa or heart’s prayer or intention can be repeated. Your sankalpa may be your life goal or role (dharma), or some shorter term aim. Alternatively, if the goal is yet to be identified, in this heart space it can be allowed to well up. If the sankalpa is a seed then gratitude is the perfect soil to start it and cultivate it. This is the perfect metaphor for me, passionate about plants, and this practice continues to aid me in manifesting Viveka Gardens. Gratitude brings you in alignment with your purpose, maybe even your whole life purpose – what joy!
An evening practice of focusing on the positive that happened, or what was learned from things that didn’t go so well, and maybe journaling that, is a great way to put the day to bed. This relaxes the mind and allows your subconscious to move on with fresh inspiration for you. I read recently that neuroscience has shown that gratitude produces serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter that contributes to mood balance, the equanimity yogis work towards. Simply focusing on the good things in your life makes you feel better. What’s more, if you make a habit of it, apparently neuron density increases in the parts of your brain that promote emotional intelligence so that you become even more aware and balanced, gaining mental resilience.
Students shared a very humble puja on New Year’s Day here at Viveka Gardens, repeating the Ganesh mantra 108 times and placing petals and rice on the altar. Puja is a bhakti yoga practice that allows you to offer up your feelings, maybe feelings you don’t know what to do with. Puja is also a means for supplication: by tuning to the vibration of the particular deity that is honoured you take strength for what you need. Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, who removes obstacles – be they external situations or inner mental blocks – has been the object of practice or me in recent months for courage in taking risks and surmounting issues. Currently a little overwhelmed with gratitude to have manifested the farm and daunted about starting on the next slope, I offer this too.
Whatever happens in 2017, and if there is something you want to change or develop, may the attitude of gratitude be with you bringing faith, resilience and contentedness.