Monday, February 22, 2010

About Gratitude

By Miki Kashtan

Despite years of knowing that gratitude contributes to life, and suggesting to people in my workshops to start a gratitude practice in their lives, it is only in the last couple of months that I was finally able to start my own practice. In the past, using gratitude as a PRACTICE instead of just when it arose spontaneously (which I am blessed to have happen often) just wasn’t working for me. But the times were hard enough in my life, and the draw strong enough that I started.

So, for a couple of months now, during a period that included some of the most challenging times in many years, I end each day lying in bed, breathing fully and slowly, and reviewing my day, looking for everything that could possibly be a source of gratitude. Not as a check list, but really pausing with each one, putting my attention again and again on the mystery, wonder, magic, and awe that is the experience of whatever happened, whoever contributed to it. My primary focus is on the people who contribute to my life. It could be something really small, or it could be something extensive. Regardless, I focus my attention and my heart on really taking in that there was no reason for this person to do what they did, they didn't really have to do it, they only did it because they are human and we humans do things for each other. Sometimes without even intending to. On a few occasions my focus has been on people I don't even know, who produced something I was consuming on that day. Slowly, I attempt to open my heart to this person, as if I am trying to BE that person and feel what it's like to have done what they did that contributed to my life. I find enormous beauty in doing this. I go to sleep more peaceful. I also have an inkling that this practice may have been part of what shifted the inner experience I have into more softness, less anguish, despite the fact that so many challenges remain in my life.

What have I learned from doing this?

Two surprising things. One is that, exactly like Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication has said, gratitude is a kind of fuel. Especially on days when I have felt depleted, lacking resources, or particularly stressed, I found the practice to nourish me, give me some energy, release some of the stress. Then I started wondering what other aspects of life act in this way, as fuel? So far I have come up with a few: beauty, love, vision, and inspiration. One morning, in talking with a friend, I also realized that I had used vision as my primary fuel for far too long, and that I was worn out. So I am especially happy to have found other forms of fuel.

The other thing I learned is even more surprising to me. I learned that on the days that were the hardest I usually had more things that I could be grateful for, more people that contributed to my life on those days. Why would that be, I wondered. Here's my hypothesis: when we are doing well, we require less support, and we can more easily hold on to the illusion of self-sufficiency. When we are faced with challenges, we become more aware of how much of our life depends on the grace and generosity of others. I find immense comfort and richness in this realization.

Why write a blog?

One of the biggest treasures I have is a diary that my mother kept about me when I was a child. Most of the entries are from when I was about 5. I love it, in large part, because I so completely recognize myself in that girl. One of the entries describes a conversation I had with my mother in which I wanted to bring together all the prime ministers of the world so as to stop war. I couldn’t understand why war continued. In another entry, I asked my mother why we had to pay money to get our groceries; why wouldn’t everyone just be able to go to the store and get what they need.

The questions related to these two stories continue to reverberate throughout my life, along with others. I have enormous passion for finding ways to transform how we live on this planet to reduce and transform violence; to create a world that works for all; to have relationships that nourish us; to have workplaces where workers, bosses, and communities thrive. The list goes on and on. And I know that I am not alone in wanting to create this change.

Since 1995, I have been using Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as my guiding compass for reflecting on my inner life, my relationships, the world around me, and the larger questions that are always on my mind, never far from front and center. Using this lens, I have a different experience inside, I relate differently to people, and I think differently about the world. Starting in 1996, I have been sharing what I have learned with others. Initially, I was working with individuals, and seeing changes in their lives and relationships. Later, I started teaching what I know, and saw others get excited, learn, and create shifts in their lives. A few years ago I started writing some of what I have learned. With the advent of blogs I became interested in sharing what I think and learn and experience with more people than might read my articles or come to workshops of mine. I still had to work through internal blocks. Despite the feedback from others, I had (and continue to have) doubts about why others would want to hear what I am thinking. But the passion overcame the doubt, and I am launching this blog.

What I hope to do here is share what I learn and explore as it’s happening. For example, today, while teaching people in the BayNVC Leadership Program about how to give feedback, I became aware of the parallel between how feedback loops are blocked both systemically and interpersonally. That is something I would write about, so that more than the 30 people in the group could reflect on the absence of feedback in our lives and in our systems. Perhaps in this way I could contribute to creating a culture of open-feedback, where we all learn how to give feedback (see the article on the BayNVC website), and how to be more open to receiving feedback from others.

I might also write about how to bring more empathy to the public conversation about political issues, so that town hall meetings can be opportunities for expanded understanding and working towards solutions that transcend polarized positions. Or about how to work internally to transform habits of blame and criticism so that we can have more harmonious relationships.

So many of us live with a sense of resignation, both personally and beyond; of having to just make do with a life that is, ultimately, not satisfying. My hope is to ignite a sense of possibility in those who read this blog. Perhaps this will show up as a growing willingness to open one’s heart to others in times of conflict. Perhaps it will translate into more self-acceptance, or more capacity to reach for vulnerability. Whatever form it takes, I wish for a way to contribute and to inspire a sense of meaning, purpose, and power in your own life.

My first entry is about the practice of gratitude. You can read about that next.