The Best Gift of the Season… — Lionesses of Africa

by Ashika Pillay 

So many mixed emotions, as I think back on 2021. Many ups and oh so many downs! Not a rollercoaster, more like an ocean with calm then chaos and everything in between! When I look back on this year, I think it has been deeply transformative for many of us, where we’ve met the edge of our comfort, often thrown into spaces we did not know we could endure. 

When I look back on this year, I also think back on what got me through it. Family and friends, love and belonging, the meaning of the work I do, giving and receiving. I hesitate to use the word resilience here. There was something softer than that. When I look back on this year, the practice that shifted me the most was gratitude. The practice of opening and truly deeply receiving what I already have. 

I started a challenge of 21 days of Gratitude during Mental Health Awareness week on Linkedin and on my Facebook page. While it received some traction online, the biggest impact and the greatest number of likes was actually on the platform of “me”. I had invited a practice that was not just cognitive (and head-based) but embodied (and body-based). Feeling gratitude in my body rather than thinking about gratitude. Transforming the biochemistry of my body through allowing gratitude to infuse and permeate the cells of my body. Today, as I write this blog, I am on Day 54. Day 54?! Yes. You may have a few questions? 

First, how have I kept this up, you may wonder? I’ve found a place, where it fits. Where writing daily at the end of the day, is natural for me, not contrived, and part of something I already do (a habit hack from James Clear’s Atomic Habits). There’s so much more I could write about just this alone. However, this maybe a topic for another blog.

How has it been meaningful for me, you may ask? Well, the first is that when I write my gratitude list, I write, and recall that moment in my body. Neuro-scientifically speaking, what this does, is it invites the moment back, as well as all the biochemicals that happened in that moment. So, for example when I recall the beautiful sunrise over the garden, the grass still misted, and the silence palpable, it basically gives me a second shot at appreciating that beautiful scene. 

The second way it’s shifted me, is that now, as I go along my day, I’m conscious of things that I am grateful for, in the moment. So rather than it being something I recall at the end of the day, I am slowly becoming grateful in the moment. This definitely is taking more time. However, I can feel that I am almost slowing down, in a way, at points in my day, to do what Rick Hanson, author, psychologist and Buddhist teacher calls “wiring the good”. Because our brains are teflon for the positive (meaning it runs off us) and velcro for the negative (i.e., it’s much stickier), rewiring our brains for happiness and gratitude is really a conscious activity. We can experience this by simply sitting with something positive allowing it to soak in, bathing our bodies with those feel good hormones for as little as 20 seconds. I have found some of those little moments creep in. A smile, and a deep breath of gratitude can emerge from finding that parking spot! This shifts my mind, my mood and of course my body and my relationships.

Third, and definitely not last, I have found the beauty in the simple. I’m noticing things more. My awareness is shifting to sometimes becoming aware in how miraculous it is that I could be doing certain things. And, when things don’t go my way, I am practicing what I read through author Ryan Holiday, a mantra of three simple words. Yes, Thank You! When I don’t get what I was wishing for or wanting. Yes, thank you! Now I can try something else. Perhaps this is invoking the practice of surrendering. Not sure as yet.

So, friends, if you’ve read this far, I guess you can gauge that this has been a deeply meaningful practice for me. My invitation to you, as you leave 2021 behind, as you enter the threshold of 2022, as you take time to pause and reflect on this year, look at how you can integrate this transformative practice into your lives. Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving. I leave you with these beautiful words of Melodie Beattie, which speak for themselves.

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