Mindfulness Blog: Part 9 - East Cheshire Hospice

Mindfulness Blog: Part 9

Mindfulness – A blog by East Cheshire Hospice’s Lindsay Dobson

So last time I talked about stress – well this time I’d like to change direction completely and talk about focusing on gratitude.

First let me tell you a little about the science behind all this.  So, I’ve mentioned before that what we focus on we grow. But neuroscience has shown us this is literally true!!

There have been lots of studies done on this, but two of the most well know are, one on taxi drivers in London, brain scans showed the area of their brains to do with sense of direction and finding their way, where larger than the average persons.  Another is one where scientist rewarded mice for noticing smells and other mice for noticing sounds – and when they looked at their brains to see which parts were larger and better developed, yep, you guessed it! The ones rewarded for smells had better development in the areas associated with smell recognition and the ones rewarded for sounds, the sound areas where better developed!!

So, we now know, that when you focus your attention on something that area of your brain grows and develops.  So, if we focus constantly on our stress – and I have been guilty of this!! Guess what our stress receptors grow!! But if we focus on the things that bring us joy, that we are grateful for – then those parts of the brain will grow and develop instead.

So, whilst I don’t advocate ignoring your stress and distress – as I’ve explored in the previous little bite size bit – I absolutely think we should acknowledge, allow and sit kindly with those feelings.  I also think we need to set time aside to notice and give thanks for those things we love and are grateful for.

Lots of studies have been done on this, and they all show that when we show gratitude, we feel better!!  Not just the person we show gratitude too, but us, for giving it!!

Have you ever met one of those people, who **** has happened too, lots of it!! And yet they have a smile, and a way in the world that is so peaceful and humble and grateful?  Some of the most inspiring people I know are like that – when you hear of the things they have lived through its humbling to see the joy they still find in life and the belief they have in the world and those of us in it!!  So often they are also the people who just keep giving of themselves, rather than feeling bitter and hard done to, they exude a peace and love everywhere they go. I aspire to be like that! But for those of us mere mortals it’s something we must practice and there are times when that is most definitely harder than others!!

They way to do that? Well again its find what works for you – it might be as simple as starting and finishing your day with a thank you for those things your grateful for. It might be keeping a gratitude journal and finding at least one thing or three or more, that you are grateful for each day or that moved you, or for which you felt love!  It might be remembering that the work you do, brings peace to someone and doing whatever you are doing as an act of great love, whether it’s changing a bed, or holding a hand, or writing a letter ! I practice acts of kindness with my children, we have a little pack of suggestions and each day we choose one and do it, they don’t have to be large – one was drawing a bit thank you rainbow on the wall, another is we give a picture or a biscuit to a delivery driver, ring someone to say hi, to take a picture of all the things we find beautiful today, to pick up a bit of rubbish… but whatever it is we do it with joy – we pick up the rubbish and talk about how beautiful the world is and how we want to protect it by putting this rubbish in the bin.  Does it mean my children are like mini saints – erm no definitely not!  Does it mean if we do this, we will suddenly be saintly all the time – sadly not! But it does mean that each time we do, we take our attention to something of beauty, of something that inspires us to feel love or compassion or to feel gratitude and each time we do that, we strengthen that pathway in our brain, meaning that if we do it little and often enough, we start to feel a little bit better about the world and ourselves J

Don’t be too harsh on yourself though on those days when you just cannot find any sunshine within the clouds, be gentle, rest if you can and try again tomorrow.

If that grey day continues for too many, talk to someone, ask for help as not being able to find even the smallest of small things to be grateful for can be a sign we need a little support – which is also very very human , and gives someone the opportunity to help you with love and do something kind for you and them J

Viktor Frankl wrote one of my fav books (I have a lot of fab books!) man’s search for meaning.  Whilst living through the horror of concentration camps, he noticed that those who found meaning and showed human kindness through the ordeal, did better emotionally in the long run.  When I start to feel overwhelmed with my own troubles, I remind myself that if those who lived through that horror could find meaning and joy in life, then so can I, but that its ok to also have times when that’s hard to do, and in those times, just keep trying to act from a place of compassion for myself and others and keep taking the next step, so that one day I can see what I learned from the suffering and make some sense of it.

“The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him?

No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, although these are things which cannot inspire envy.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

One day perhaps we will all look back at this time, and whatever role we played through it and feel this is one of the things of which we are most proud!

Lindsay x

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