Cultivating Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude is one area of mindfulness, that some people, including myself, can find difficult. The formal practice that helps us to develop our sense of gratitude is often called “metta bhavana” or “loving kindness”. In the beginning, I used the practice very rarely. It’s now one of my favourites and I want to share it with you so you can try it too. Let me know what you think.

As I progressed with my practice, I began to realise that Loving Kindness very quickly complimented my other formal meditations. I became more aware of my self-judgements and just how strong my emotions could be when faced with situations that required a little more self-love or love for others.

With further reading and practice, I can now recommend the loving-kindness meditation as a fantastic way to cultivate gratitude and positivity.

It has helped me consider more challenging thoughts in a different light and also appreciate external challenges more.

In essence, practising loving-kindness and cultivating gratitude teaches us something about ourselves. As we become more aware of our responses to stress and challenge, we can learn to mentally distance ourselves, developing more clarity and positivism.

Why cultivate gratitude?

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The meditation for cultivating gratitude is called metta bhavana or loving kindness.

I’m going to explain more about how gratitude can help you in your daily practice and how you can trigger gratitude with some pretty simple and enjoyable techniques.

First, here are three reasons why you should introduce Metta Bhavana to your life.

#1 It increases positive emotions

If you’re looking to boost your happiness and well-being, loving-kindness meditation could be just the practice for you.

Practising Loving Kindness Meditation regularly can increase multiple positive emotions including love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe.

These positive emotions can have a ripple effect on those practising the meditation. This also extends to those we bring to mind during the meditation. I found, that by simply seeing all of our connections as human beings, I began to make even the most challenging of people less problematic. This greatly reduced my stress response towards them.

#2 It quiets your inner critic

We all have our internal critic and near-constant chatter that goes on inside our minds. This is such a common behaviour and one we can manage. For many of us, this voice inside our heads can be very highly charged and influential upon our actions and emotions. By taking time to bring positive affirmation and loving kindness to ourselves often, this inner voice eventually looses power and no longer becomes our focus.

Beyond reducing self-criticism we can experience improvements in self-compassion and positive emotions. We can learn to be more empathetic to others and less judgemental of ourselves.

#3 It can increase your capacity for empathy

Regularly practising Loving Kindness Meditation has been shown to activate and strengthen areas of the brain responsible for empathy. One of the most important benefits of empathy is that it improves relationships. Increased empathy can also lead to more compassionate action and a greater sense of altruism.

My loving-kindness practice

Here are the steps I recommend to anyone who wants to cultivate gratitude in their lives through mindfulness meditation. I have been working with my amazing group of mindful practitioners on loving-kindness this month. You will find my guided Metta Bhavana at the bottom of this page and I’ll be posting about the shared experiences of the group in time.

Step 1 Acknowledge Your Worthiness

One of the reasons we tend to lean away from positivity, instead of leaning into it, is that we struggle with our worthiness. Do we deserve joy? The answer is yes.

You are a human being and you are worthy of feeling joy.

Find space in your day or week to remind yourself that you are enough. That you are unique and special. Put a reminder on your phone, leave yourself a note on the fridge or make it part of your morning or evening routines. But tell yourself daily that you are enough and you are worthy of happiness.

Step 2 Stop the comparison game

We can be happy for the successes of others without belittling our own. It’s important to realize that we only see the best of other people’s daily lives, we know our own daily struggles much more intimately. So it’s never a fair comparison.

Step 3 Diarise your gratitude

Writing down what you are grateful for can help to remind you of all the blessings in your life that you may take for granted. Including awareness of everyday successes or blessings in your daily journal will naturally change how you start to value these experiences.

My wife started the “thankful” jar a couple of years ago. We fill it as the year goes on. Taking a piece of paper and just writing down what we are thankful for in that moment.

At the end of each year, we open it and begin making our way through these amazing moments, deepening our connection and gratitude for each other.

Step 4 Write a thank you note

Birthdays and weddings aside, when was the last time you took time out to say thank you. It doesn’t need to be a card. A text, a note on a colleague’s desk, telling people that we appreciate them makes the person receiving the note feel good – and we get to experience those feelings of gratitude too.

Step 5 Practice Metta Bhavana

When you cultivate gratitude, you’re able to feel true happiness and contentment. Through practising the Metta Bhavana or Loving Kindness meditation, we touch the sense of shared humanity in all living beings. We’re tapping into a fundamental shared desire. We all want to be happy.

May you be well, may you be happy, and may you free from suffering

Mindfulness in 2020 | My top 10 resolutions for a mindful new year

The lovely paté and brie glow I seem to have acquired over Christmas is now slowly fading; along with late-starts in the morning and the abundance of tiny chocolate treats throughout the day. 2020 has arrived and is desperate for our attention. So, in this brief but welcomed first weekend in January, I find myself making plans for the year ahead. Here are my observations – those things I have decided I want with me as I leap bravely into this new decade. 

I’ve called my want list ‘resolutions’ because it seems the right thing to do. But they are simply the hopes that inspire me most, I hope they make you feel good too.

#1 Retreats, more and more mindful retreats 

Outside of mindful retreat venue
Mindful morning retreats held at the Xavier Centre, Carfin.

I ran my very first series of mindful morning retreats in 2019, the last of which was on the 18th of December, just as the holiday period approached. To bring together a group of people who want to practice meditation in a shared space, sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors, is really what Mindfulness Practice is all about for me. I want to continue these for as long as I can and the first of these is already setup for you. If you want to come along, book here

#2 Public speaking and big group mindfulness 

Presenting at the Practical Mindset event in Hamilton last year.

On a slightly larger scale, I had the opportunity to lead a mindful practice session with a group of 50 delegates at the Practical Mindset event last year. It took place during our beautiful long summer in the picturesque setting of Chatelherault Country Park. I got so much from the event, the chance to share my thoughts on mindfulness practice and its place in the development of mental health services, self-care and recovery. I’m looking forward to more of this in 2020, starting with a mindful workshop at the Career Development Institute’s conference in Glasgow this month. I know I have much to contribute in this area as the coordinator of the Coalition of Schools Educating Mindfully COSEM in Scotland

#3 Greater access to MBSR CPD training

I want to find more ways to bring certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction MBSR training to those who are practising with me on a regular basis. It sounds like a lot, but it’s really not, and if you work in health or social care, gaining the MBSR CPD credits is definitely worthwhile. If I’m already talking you round (well that was easy) let me tell you more about it right here

#4 More audio meditations for your convenience 

Free audio recordings of mindfulness meditations for you to follow at home.

Guided meditation is such a luxury when you’ve had a difficult day or your morning feels a little less glorious than you would like. Your feedback on the audio available from my site has been really positive and all of that positivity simply makes me want to do more. 

#5 Help those working with vulnerable young people 

I gained some experience last year that I am so very grateful for, as I got to work directly with young people. These clients were looking not only for mental health support but for some careers guidance and coaching too. It really was an ideal job, and I got so much out of it, it will be difficult to top this year. I did, however, get a very real insight into just how demanding that kind of work can be and as a result, I have increased respect and admiration for those of you who work directly with children, young people and those with additional support needs on a daily basis. I’ll be bidding for contracts across the country specifically looking to support staff in these areas with their everyday stressors. 

#6 Work the circuits 

Apologies, that was an attempt at a gym reference, only I don’t really do anything at the gym *except meditate, so probably messed it up a little. So, my contract with NL Leisure is up for review. I would love to offer a one-hour weekly mindfulness meditation class in every gym in the country, but it’s just not that straight forward. I’ll be spending more time this year talking to wellbeing and procurement professionals in gyms in your local area to find ways of bringing weekly mindful meditation classes to our gyms. If you live in North Lanarkshire you can sign up to weekly mindful meditation classes right here.

#7 More reading recommendations 

One thing I know I’ll never tire of is reading, and reading about mindfulness practice is my passion. I’m looking forward to sharing with you more of the pieces that I recommend for your bookshelf, kindle or just a quick excerpt here and there for you to read on the train. 

#8 Managing my anxiety and depression  

Mindfulness meditation is now the number one recommended therapy for the treatment of depression according to NICE. And I can vouch for its success. I suffer from depression and anxiety. While recovering from a prolonged period of depression in 2010, I discovered mindfulness meditation and began using it, along with many other forms of support, to aid my recovery. Mindfulness meditation continues to be a daily source of happiness and mental strength for me, during good and bad days. I will continue to share some of my own personal experience of recovery and I would love to hear more about your experiences too. 

#9 New materials fit for a new decade 

It’s with great pleasure that we are working again with the fabulous graphic designer Suzie Black. She’s helped build the Mindfulness Practice brand and we’re delighted to be in cahoots with her on some new materials for the events ahead – watch this space. 

#10 More family time, of course 

My number one priority, Therese and little Milo are getting more involved with Mindfulness Practice this year. Expect to see them at events and you may even hear from Therese sometimes on our social and web content. With their continued support and encouragement, I know I can embrace everything this year has to offer with acceptance and joy. 

That’s all from me, I wish you all a very happy and healthy year ahead and leave you with these beautiful words from a very moving poem by the renowned poet Mary Oliver.

The stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, 
and there was a new voice 
which you slowly 
recognized as your own, 
that kept you company 
as you strode deeper and deeper 
into the world, 
determined to do 
the only thing you could do- 
determined to save 
the only life you could save. 

from the poem The Journey by Mary Oliver