“When there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light.” Steve Maraboli
Life’s experiences – the good, the bad, and the indifferent – are ever-changing; they ebb and flow. Realizing that is actually the first step for us in finding balance in our daily lives and in life’s experiences, which can (and often do) change on a dime. In one moment, life seems near-perfect, flowing effortlessly; in the next moment, often suddenly, we’re caught up in an event that sends our thoughts and emotions into a state that seems beyond our control.
I’m sure that we’ve all experienced something like this: we’re enjoying a meal out with a friend or loved one, engaged in happy life-affirming conversation, and then, on the drive home, we get cut off by a distracted driver who nearly causes an accident. This sends us into an angry rage. So, what happened? How is our sense of peace and equanimity so quickly dispelled? Or, perhaps, we’ve been recently diagnosed with a chronic illness or experienced the loss of a loved one, sending our sense-of-self and our understanding of life off the rails; causing us to question our beliefs and our values. Whatever our circumstances or experiences, our body-minds are in constant motion; always trying to ‘figure out’ what this complex human experience is really all about. And, of course, when things are going well, gratitude comes easily. But when life is painful or challenging, even overwhelming at times, gratitude seems very distant and our reactions to difficult experiences or circumstances are, often, far from measured or positive. We tend to lose our ability or, perhaps, willingness to be even the slightest-bit gracious.
Many of us understand that one’s grace is their intention or ability to honour someone or something by one’s very presence. It is easy to strike out at that which causes us pain. Being angry, vengeful and hurtful, either with ourselves or with others, is a result of conditioning and of hard-wired, neurological processes. But, through the practice of mindfulness, becoming aware of the thoughts and emotions that cause these painful reactions provides us with space and opportunity to evaluate how we respond rather than react. Meditation is a great practice, too: it creates that space in our neurological patterns. Meditation trains our brains to be less-controlled by thoughts and emotions, focusing instead on being present with our inner heart-centre; a space of deep stillness and peace. By having space and opportunity to pause, we can remember that life is never easy; that difficulties and painful actions and events are a part of our human reality. We can remember and embrace our human frailty with a soft heart, understanding, gentle kindness, and with self-compassion. We can learn to embrace this common humanity for others as well, recognizing that about ourselves which requires healing is, likely, the very same for those who offend or hurt us. We can learn to honour the innate goodness and wholeness that is at the centre of each of us. And, we can recognize the journey which we are all on: a journey of awakening to the inner beauty and light we are all capable of, despite the damaged parts of ourselves that cry out for understanding, patience, gentle-kindness and healing.
Conversely, our successes and triumphs, our moments of praise and glory are perceived as results of more than just our own efforts. We are part of a whole; many circumstances and people are part of what enabled us to succeed and to flourish. With grace, we can learn to become humble, forgiving and generous-of-spirit toward ourselves and others. Recognizing that everything in life is impermanent and changing, we attune to the constant of conscious-present-awareness that provides space and opportunity for safety and for peace.
Through my own many years of learning to heal from anxiety and panic-disorder, I’ve learned one very powerful technique: practicing gratitude as a way to calm mind and emotions, even in the most difficult moments. Gratitude is the practice of being present and acknowledging all that is good in life in this moment despite the struggles we experience, the chaotic thoughts we have, or the difficult emotions we experience. Gratitude is the active and conscious awareness of and accounting for all of the positive things and all of the blessings we have right when we’re in our darkest and most-confused states. Gratitude is also life-affirming; a reinforcing practice when life seems to be going well (and when it is easier to practice). Gratitude is also, and perhaps more importantly, a practice of accepting all that is present in our life, including those circumstance, or people, that make us uneasy, uncomfortable or just down-right angry, sad or frustrated. The deeper practice of gratitude is allowing all that is, being thankful for everything without wishing it to be different. Being able to say “thank you for everything, I have no complaints about anything” means we are connecting with a deeper level of our true selves – that deep stillness that is peace and equanimity.
Taking time to breathe slowly and to attend to what ‘is’, dispels thoughts and emotions which can become caught up in worry and anxiety about things which have not yet happened (and might not happen). Practicing gratitude moves us from fear and anxiety to present-moment awareness; it calms the auto-response of thoughts and emotions. Focusing on the in-and-out breath brings us into the present moment and out of our thought patterns and emotional reactions. By being present, we are able to calm the neurological and biological reactions to fear, anxiety, stress and even panic. This also allows us to let go of past experiences that have caused us discomfort, harm and disappointment. Inner calmness is strengthened by a focus in the present moment, through gratitude and appreciation, for all that life can and will offer.
A life of peace and equanimity can and does emerge by embracing the power of living in grace and with gratitude. Each unfolding moment in our life offers us space and opportunity to see all things differently; to choose to embrace our inner light of heart-centred compassion, and to dare be the first to shine light in the darkness.
Breathing in, I accept the impermanence of life’s struggles.
Breathing out, I am gracious in difficult times.
Breathing in, I accept the impermanence of life’s successes.
Breathing out, I am grateful for all that is in my life.
Paul Kenney, B.Sc., CMMI,
Edited by Jeff Potts,
Author Bio -A devoted meditator, Paul believes in the integration of mind, body and spirit as necessary for healing and bringing about physical, mental and spiritual health and wellness. Through meditation, he believes anyone can develop the ability to be heart-centred and live in gratitude, joy and peace, despite past or current trauma and life struggles.