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How To Find Gratitude

Sep/17/2023 / by Sweta Vikram

Why being thankful should be part of our life

Open notebook and pen with written words to express gratitude
Photo via Shutterstock

I teach mindfulness workshops in NYC, to high schoolers, busy professionals, C-suite bosses, incarcerated men and women, and senior citizens. And in each workshop, I remind the participants to make gratitude a habit and practice. Because life is rarely fair, and if we rely only on good situations—like promotions, new job, two-week vacation in Paris, job offer, great academic scores, home purchase, a new child—to feel grateful, we’ll end up disappointed.

Why Gratitude Needs To Be A Practice

You know why gratitude should not be merely a reaction to your current life situation? Because it helps us challenge difficult times purposefully and offers a shift in perspective. If you asked me a month ago what I was grateful for in the summer of 2023, I would have probably said not much. Memorial Day weekend is when we did “pind-daan” for my father. I picked his ashes a week after I had booked my tickets to be with him in India for his birthday. In my 40s, I am an orphan, and no amount of platitude can shake up this realization. 

What should I be grateful for? I sat in my meditation chair. Still plenty, my inner voice whispered. I didn’t want to acknowledge this fact, but it was true. If we truly want to experience gratitude authentically, we must take a few steps back and snap out of victim mode. Loss and pain suck. Period! No spiritual mumbo-jumbo or toxic positivity can make any loss better. But in finding the “blessings” and “thankfulness,” we make our mental and emotional health stronger.

 The universe gave me generous opportunities that I couldn’t take for granted. I was able to travel to India two months in a row (financially, physically, mentally, emotionally, and workwise), feed my dad his last few meals, and give him marma massages, comfort him, and hug him before he died. Someone I know couldn’t attend their sibling’s wedding because of visa issues. There are so many friends who lost a loved one during COVID-19 and watched their parent’s funerals via Zoom. They never got closure and haven’t yet reached the acceptance stage of grief. 

Finding Gratitude In Challenging Times

A few weeks ago, we organized a dinner party at home. I am not sure what happened, but I took one wrong step, slipped, and landed hard on the floor. In those fractions of seconds, I had to save either my spine or the back of my head or my right wrist, or the left wrist. I took an executive decision and chose to “sacrifice” the left wrist. I hurt my ankle slightly, but my left hand was (still is after a month) immobile. Thankfully, we had an orthopedic surgeon in the room that night, and he confirmed there were no fractures. My husband and another person rushed to the pharmacy in the middle of the night to get painkillers and a hand brace. Even though I could move my hand, it was red and swollen to the size of a melon.

In the past 20 years, unless there has been a health or personal emergency, I have never missed my morning yoga practice. I hurt myself on a Saturday night and on Sunday morning, I knew there was a distance between me and yoga asanas for a while. I was nervous at first because I credit my stable nature and ability to withstand life’s storms to my daily yoga practice.

August was when I was supposed to travel to India for my father’s birthday. August is when my plans changed, and I traveled to Chicago instead. August was when a coworking space in NYC and a chic hotel offered me free space to work on my new book tentatively titled “The Loss That Binds Us”There was too much happening, and I needed to bend my body on the yoga mat to let go, feel centered, and surrender.

I had to change my relationship with yoga. I was upset at first. Papa is dead, and India will never be the same. And now I must figure out who I am on the yoga mat because I can’t use my left wrist?!

Grief and Gratitude

Movement, even during the peak of grief, comes to me easily. I started to hike and walk more now that I wasn’t doing an hour of asanas every day. I increased the time spent in nature and my step count. I did kundalini yoga kriya, pranayama, and meditation. Every time I felt stuck at work or while writing the book or in my grieving journey, I stepped out for a walk instead of moving through a yoga sequence. As a result, my heart started to feel lighter. I felt a huge transformation in my personal healing in August. After all, walking is also a form of medicine.

Walking while you are grieving may help you take steps towards healing. And with no access to yoga asanas, I also had to learn to let go and not be rigid in a whole new way. Yoga is brilliant, but I was stuck in my usual practice space, so there was no external outlet. Taking a walk is a good way to tire yourself out and develop healthy sleeping patterns. But it also allowed me to be freer. I wasn’t bound to any class timing and studio schedules—something I needed at this time in my life. In Chicago, I walked 10 miles daily and visited some meaningful neighborhoods that my father had talked about. Walking made me feel reconnected to him and reduced feelings of stress.

Taking Time to Heal

I am a big believer that you can’t eat, sleep, or drink your way through grief. But my masala chai consumption did go up when I was shuttling between ICUs in Pune and Mumbai in May. Even after I returned to NYC, I continued to drink more chai than usual because the fatigue in my body was extraordinarily high, and I had to play catch up at work. It was in Chicago that I stopped drinking chai. It wasn’t premeditated, it’s something that just happened.

The more I healed, the less dependent I became. It’s been four weeks since I last had chai. I have neither had cravings nor have I missed it. But I don’t make declarations about never drinking it ever again either. Flexibility.

When I reflect on my arm injury (by the way, I still can’t do sun salutations and the pain is excruciating), I am grateful for it. It taught me that rigidity and excessive attachment is the root cause of all aches and pains in the world. Gratitude is waiting for each one of us at every corner in life. Whether you befriend it or ignore it—the choice is yours.

“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” ~ Willie Nelson

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