It’s time to step back from the world of politics and disaster and find True Center. The stress and grief engaging the world is too much for us to bear day in and day out. Today I’m going to focus on the inner strength and resilience of the heart. As my friend and teacher, Alan Cohen catches the heart of appreciation. I would add to the thankful thoughts our thankful heart. When we are in fear or stress or concern for the future, our hearts are the only place where we can find the Truth of things—going only to the brain and thinking about it puts us on the track of repetitive worry. What will happen next? What does the future hold for my children and grandchildren? What if I lose my job? What if the doctor says I have…? On and on goes the ego and its protective core that seeks to prepare us for the worst. The heart, by reminding us of what we appreciate, love and are grateful for, slows down the ride. In the pauses of the heart’s beat, we can rediscover the awe and wonder of the good things in the world, and in our own lives.
Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence
of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts.
Alan Cohen, author
A recent article on Oprah.com opened with these words: “An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed.” An awful lot of Gen Xers is a lot of people. I am not one to say “look at the troubles of others and be grateful.” That is a brain activity that does not attach to emotion. We can empathize with the grief of others, but it never seems to lift our attention on our own problems. That’s because we are in the brain. I am in the process of packing for a move from the home I have lived in and loved for twenty-five years. We are “down-sizing,” a catchall phrase that doesn’t cover what it refers to. Every piece has to go through the “go” or “don’t go” of the catalog in my mind. “Have I used you in the past two years?” I ask a lovely platter in my kitchen. “No? Then let’s send you where someone will appreciate you.” Two drawers in my bedroom hold cards sent at Mother’s Day and other special times from my children and my partner. I am moving where my daughters live—better than cards, wouldn’t you agree? Each decision has to be run through my heart’s knowing but my head keeps arguing. For example, it asks me what will happen if, at a later date, I need something I am donating. Having recently watched the citizens of the world suffer hurricane, flood, fire and other catastrophic events, that is a silly question. I get past that pretty quickly. It’s the memories that lie within the things that are so hard to set aside—and I don’t have to. My memories are bright and alive and frequently inhabit my meditations. Again, it’s not that we compare ourselves to others, but our heart says we are blessed and that sends an emotional pulse of gratitude through our bodies.
Wayne Dyer spoke often of gratitude, and I remember to be grateful for his life on this planet. He wrote: “Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe.”
Five minutes. Awesome use of time! I am a practicing HeartMath® Trainer, and one thing we teach is that an appreciative heart is good medicine. Heart activity has been found to be linked to our emotions, health and well-being. As we experience anger, fear, frustration and other negative emotions, our heart’s rhythms become what is called “incoherent.” A tracing would show the activity of the heart resembling a seismic event. On the other hand, feelings of appreciation, gratitude, love and kindness will produce a pattern resembling waves or smooth mountain peaks. The incoherent patterns let the brain know we’re stressed and it sends all the chemicals into the body that are detrimental to our health. The coherent pattern lets the brain know we are in a peaceful place and it sends signals to the body that produce endorphins and other “feel good” chemicals and we relax.
Heart-focused positive feelings boost the immune system, while negative emotions may suppress the immune response for up to six hours. In other words, that altercation you had with a mate or work partner that lasted five minutes can actually affect your body for up to six hours. Thinking it through will not change our emotional charge of a situation, but going to the heart will. And it is amazingly simple to be aware of what we are feeling and take ourselves into our hearts. So here’s a practice for you to use in these chaotic times so that your heart won’t reflect that chaos. Use this tool at the moment the negative thought strikes or you’re in a stressful situation, even if you’re at work and have to excuse yourself to go to the restroom. You are about to transform the “stress response” instantly.
- Take a few moments to be quiet. If you’re in a meeting and can’t step out, just keep your eyes open and do the steps.
- Breathe deeply into and around your heart. If you like color, visualize the breath as green, flowing around your heart. Breathe in for the count of five and out for the count of five several times, just visualizing the breath flow.
- If you go to your thoughts, just imagine the breath flowing down from your head and into your heart.
- Now, in your memory, as you slowly breathe, think of a time and place where you felt calm, relaxed or loved. It can be as simple as a sunset. I imagine myself in a rocking chair with a sleeping baby or puppy.
- Continue to breathe, and feel your whole body relax into the posture of that time and place.
- In a short time, you should feel your shoulders, legs, arms, face and neck relax physically. Continue to breathe deeply as the meeting continues or your time-out continues. When you exhale, imagine your feelings of calm and peace reaching out to others.
Daily practice of this technique will change your life. You will find yourself automatically going to your peaceful place whenever anxiety or worry or stress shows up. As you practice, you will also find you send more and more of that feeling to those around you, and they begin to change. This and other tools combining my work and HeartMath® will have people saying “I want what you’re having.” I promise. Peace in this world is a hard thing to find, so it is essential we create our own. Until next time, I send you my appreciation for reading my work. I am grateful.
The loving parts of your personality have no trouble loving. That is all they do. You experience the loving parts as gratitude, appreciation, caring, patience, contentment and awe of life.
Gary Zukav, writer and scientist