Dear Me: Thank You!
I have written before on the importance of gratitude. There seems to be plenty of evidence that there is a direct link between gratitude and happiness. Even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances, there is usually something that we can find to be grateful for.
The practice I have previously offered you of gratitude journaling is profound; it helps us identify those things, small and big, we can be grateful for even on tough days. This time, I want to turn to a particularly difficult kind of gratitude. Most of us, at most times, will not find trouble identifying something that we are grateful for, but I would wager that for most of us, that gratitude is primarily directed outward: gratitude to someone for their love and care, gratitude for the food we have on our table, gratitude for a sunny day. In contrast, how often do you direct your gratitude toward yourself, to the person that you are today? If you're anything like me, the inner critical voice is by default too strong to allow for this to happen often. If you followed or even contemplated the practice from last month of writing and rewriting your self-limiting beliefs, you may have started to bring that inner critic to the surface a bit.
When we deal with a physical impediment of some kind, be it injury, a period of pain, or illness, I have found, both in myself and in my students, that the inner critic can get even stronger. We may fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as deficient, we ask ourselves "What's wrong with me?" and look for causes of our own making. We may criticize our body for betraying us, and ourselves for "failing". We may discount it, but underneath, we feel like we are less worthy. On the flipside, if we are caring for someone with illness, we may find ourselves with feelings of inadequacy or guilt for not being able to do even more. And of course, even if you are not dealing with illness, there is likely an inner critic with its judgments on something else about your life.
So today I am going to offer you a simple practice to reverse these tendencies, by bringing gratitude inward.
The practice is: Write yourself a letter of gratitude.
Take your time and be really specific. For example, what recent events were you grateful to yourself for? Which recent interactions, which particular traits of yours, make you think of yourself with gratitude? What skills of yours do you admire? Write the letter by hand. And really be there for the experience, including both the mental encouragement and mental resistance that you might encounter.
The invitation to this practice, when I received it from my own teacher some years back, was a revelation to me, for two reasons. First, I realized that while my initial reaction was "I'm fine, I don't need this", it turned out that it was difficult to overcome a sense of resistance and embarrassment. It was challenging to be tender toward myself, and I felt like I wasn't worth the time. Just noticing this was a learning experience. But I did force myself to spend the time, and while it was uncomfortable, it opened the door to a second revelation: a more compassionate regard of myself. This self-compassion, in turn, turns out to be a critical component of every kind of healing, be it physical or emotional, and it requires repeated attention and cultivation.
But nothing I can share of my experience will compare to your own. Do the practice for yourself, and see what new depths it will uncover for you.
As always, I would love to hear of any experience that you might want to share; feel free to post a comment or write to me privately.