Day 20 with Kurt: Gratitude

My mother used to say, “Sh*t or get off the pot.” Her words have rarely rung so true. After reading the Week Three chapter, three times, I sat last night, at long last, for a meditation on emotions. For 12 minutes, more or less, I took refuge in the Guided Meditation on Sharon’s CD.

During the sitting, I felt the slow spread of dread. It wasn’t a full panic attack—no telltale breathlessness or sweating; I wasn’t a flight risk—but there was a tingling and tightening of the chest. My throat began to close. My shoulders tensed up. My neck began to throb with an exaggerated approximation of my pulse. I wasn’t battling any specific past or perceived future. Rather, I was facing long-held, pervasive feelings of anxiety, and trying to peel them apart to get to their make-up. These feelings aren’t monolithic in their composition, and I was willing to dive deep to observe what’s really behind them. I was trying—struggling—to sit with them, even if for a minute.

I felt weak. Stupid, even. I returned home, time and again, to the breath, to regain focus and stop the whirling tangents from taking over my sitting. Still, waves of loneliness overtook me. I felt my eyes swelling, as though tears were building up. What set me off? Looking back, I think it was the expectation of the worst-case scenario, and less so the actual emotions that were kicking up.

I’m awfully good at awfulizing, after all.

I won’t pretend to have arrived at some life-altering epiphany after one guided meditation, but yesterday evening’s sitting demonstrated how expert I am at manufacturing emotions. How little they have to do with what’s actually happening. How self-defeating a spiral I’m able to engineer, in spite of all instincts of self-preservation.

Ultimately, I felt rather pleased to have made it through last night’s sitting, and I’ll continue with the guided mindfulness practice this week. This morning, though, I wanted to kick off the day with a meditation on positive emotions. This was a treat, because it’s something I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year—although I hadn’t really considered it a meditation. Now I know it is.

During a workshop in early January at Brooklyn Yoga School, Sharon suggested that we identify three things to be grateful for at the end of every day. She warned that it wouldn’t be easy at first. After all, we’re so conditioned to pick the nits. We spin ourselves into breathless rapture over a litany of the day’s disappointments and regrets. Yet how often do we linger on a single moment of appreciation? Or rest in the quiet comfort of the good? Not often enough. But with some training, maybe that can change.

So I decided to take Sharon’s advice, and started The Gratitude Project. This practice has taught me to be gentle on myself. And, through it, I’m working to upend years of conditioning to the contrary.

In advance of this morning’s sitting, I read through my 20-some posts on appreciation, and I meditated on the flow of gratitude I’ve been tapping over the past few weeks. There’s still so much I don’t see in the day-to-day, but my sight’s getting better. Appreciation is a muscle we need to work to strengthen, like any other. And this morning’s sitting left me that much stronger, left me that much more agile, and left me chanting kirtan on my walk to the subway.

Gratitude isn’t always the first door we choose. But, ultimately, it’s probably the most rewarding.

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2 responses to “Day 20 with Kurt: Gratitude

  1. after a rough day at work yesterday and the prospect of another one coming, there’s a lot to complain about, but i find myself thinking about your project…what am i grateful for today? an understanding colleague and confidante. a smiling husband who stayed at work way past working hours just to keep me company, and a sweet phone call from my aunt…hey, this actually works! Kurt, I think you are on to something…

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