I’m struggling with a bit of low grade depression these days. A combination of several recent events, a friendship that ended, some good old-fashioned family drama, a sense of feeling misunderstood have all contributed.

You know the drill. It’s the stuff of life. And to that end, we can all get a little down and have difficulty finding inspiration at times.

To feel sick at heart is no different than to feel sick in the body. We have to take the right medicine, to restore balance. The best medicine that I know of for heart-sickness is gratitude practice.

 
 

Gratitude practice is a way of opening the heart to appreciation and hopeful possibility. Over the years I have enjoyed the teachings of Brother David Steindl-Rast, who writes and lectures extensively about the path of being grateful. These ideas for practice come from his work. They are simple and profound.

The Breath of Thanks

Taking full deep breaths slows everything down. Close your eyes and breath deeply ten times and with each exhale say to yourself “thank you.”

Notice that your shoulders will start to drop. Your heart rate slows. You can actually lower your blood pressure several points with deep, deliberate breathing. And isn’t “thank you” a beautiful prayer to whisper throughout the day?

Naming the Gift and Writing it Down

Because I am a writer, my office is filled with notebooks and yellow legal pads. When I write down what I am grateful for, it causes me to pause and feel into the gift that I’ve been given.

Start with three things. One of the things that I wrote down this morning: I am grateful for this drizzly weather. I appreciate how conducive it is to writing. Thank you for the gift of this grey, calming blanket of mist.

Name the gift and write it down. There is something about writing it down that commits the gift in a deeper way into the psyche, so don’t just do it in your head. Find a time to write down what you are grateful for.

Observation

After deep breathing, I let my eyes fall upon the things that surround me, whether inside of my house or outside in nature. I can always find something to appreciate. I let the object of that appreciation bring a smile to my lips.

My dog is curled up on the rug in my office. This fur baby looks at me with his big brown eyes in which there is never any judgment or assessment. Did you ever hear that funny phrase, “I hope to one day become the person my dog thinks I am?” Observing my dog and then feeling how grateful I am for him lifts my spirits.

Surprise

Observation leads to surprise. Sometimes when I get stuck, and feel like I’ve slammed up against a concrete wall, I practice the element of surprise.

For instance, I didn’t expect that small brown bird to sit right on my window sill and watch me wash the pots and pans. I can focus on what a wonder it is that such a small creature would sit outside my window, curious about me. What is it about a small bird that conjures such gentle tenderness? In the moment of such observation and wonderings, I have made myself more alive.

Awakening the Senses

“How can I give a full response to this present moment unless I am alert to its message?” (David Stendle-Rast) What are the activities that utilize our senses? Sitting on the back porch, allowing us to see, smell and feel the nature in our own back yard? Hot tea on a cold morning that awakens our taste buds and tickles our nose with its aroma?

For me, the thing that leads me to most appreciate my senses is a walk in the woods. Anything that places our attention on one or more of our senses is what makes up this practice. We can be grateful for our sight, our taste, our hearing. Today I am grateful for the sense of sight that allows me to type my post and see out the window of my office into the yard.

In an attempt to restore well-being and balance, I am more focused than usual on a deliberate gratitude practice. This is the healing balm that never fails to turn things around for me.

Part of my practice today was to write this post, and you know what? It helped me. It helped me to acknowledge to myself that life isn’t always perfect, fair or kind and yet I can always find a way to open my hearts with the practice of gratitude.

I am grateful to be able to share all of the things that delight and challenge me with my readers at Sixty and Me. Thank you for being a part of my gratitude practice and my life.

How do you practice gratitude in your life? How do experience gratitude through your senses? What practices bring you the greatest sense of delight? Please join in the conversation.

Stephanie RaffelockStephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. In her Sixty and Me column, she explores writing, living fully and loving well. She enjoys literary representation by Dystel, Goderich and Bouret in New York. You can find Stephanie at StephanieRaffelock.com or Tweet her @Sraffelock.

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