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Year-End Gratitude Exercise

 

Gratitude lists have become one of my top-five tools in moments of anger, resentment, frustration, loneliness, or pretty much any other unpleasant feeling. Reorienting myself through the lens of gratitude almost immediately snaps me out of a downward spiral, and restores a sense of balance in the present moment. Combating suffering with gratitude reminds me that it's not all black-and-white, good-or-bad, right-or-wrong. For everything I have to worry or complain about, I have at least one thing to feel really good about.

Over the years, I've stopped making specific New Year's resolutions, and have shifted toward setting intentions that are pretty wide-open, like: "I'd like to become comfortable with change," or "I want to move into the world of film with my music," or simply a personal mantra like, "self-care through exercise." But before I can set any intentions, I must first look back at what manifested itself in the year behind me. This helps me get outside of my thinking/planning mind, and look for any clues that my path is heading in a certain direction (maybe not the direction I thought it would be heading). Then I can start to set intentions for the new year that keep me on my path. 

Whether or not you're into all of that hippie stuff, it's always a great exercise to make a gratitude list. Even the toughest bro or the angriest nihilist can receive benefits from practicing gratitude. And what better time to do so than the end of the year? Here is a little year-end ritual that you might like to try, as a way to spend some time with yourself and get centered before setting your intentions or resolutions for a new year.

First: Make Time & Find Space

Look at your calendar and find 1-2 hours that you can be totally alone, with no one around. This may require asking your housemate(s) to plan an outing so you can have the house to yourself. Think about where you'd like to spend this time: in your bedroom, on your porch, in your yard... or maybe out in nature, on a hike or at a park. Have the time scheduled so you can hold yourself accountable to it. This is a gift to yourself!

Prepare Your Surroundings

You will need a journal to write down your gratitude list, and anything else you want to write during this time (don't forget your favorite pen). Think about how can you make your space feel safe, special, warm, inviting, comfortable, and peaceful. I always like to have a couple of blankets with me, and maybe a meditation cushion to sit on. I also usually bring a couple of incense sticks, or a candle (which means I'll also need matches). Sometimes I'll make tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. For this exercise, you might want to have your calendar handy, whether that's on your phone, computer, or in a planner. Maybe you have a journal you've written in reguarly throughout the year. Anything that will help you remember what happened and when. Also, are there any other items, photos, smells, fabrics, or visuals you want to put in your space? Take some time and create a space that is truly yours.

Breathe & Get Still

Once you're settled in your space, and you have a full 1-2 hours ahead of you without distraction, give yourself at least five minutes to slow down and get still. You can use a guided meditation on the Insight Timer app , or simply set a timer on your phone. Close your eyes and bring the focus to your breathing. Allow yourself to breathe naturally, and maybe do some gentle neck rolls or seated twists to release tension in your muscles, and to get more comfortable. If you have a higher power, you can invite that power into the space as well. After this short meditation, you should feel much more relaxed and present. 

Look Back & Reflect

This is where you'll start to dig through your calendar, planner, journal, or anything else that helps you remember what happened throughout the past year. Take your time and enjoy re-reading journal entries, clicking through your calendar, or even scrolling through your Facebook Timeline or Instagram profile (so long as you won't get distracted and start checking your feeds). Stay in the present moment as you revisit these artifacts. Start to focus in on 1-2 things per month that were the highlights of that month, or important turning points, or special moments. For me, going through my calendar and journals is the best way to remember what happened, what changed, and what I accomplished. If at any point you start to feel distracted, anxious, or overwhelmed, simply put down whatever you're looking at and return to your breathing. Take breaks, drink some tea, or stare off into space as often as you want or need to during this excavation process!

Make Your List

This is where you will turn your focus toward gratitude. You might find that after digging through the year's artifacts, you remembered so many things that make you feel grateful! The challenge here is to come up with one thing for each month of the year that sums up that month in a word or sentence. This could be a specific event, an accomplishment, or some personal discovery you made during that month that helped you gain new awareness. Maybe it was a trip, a fun night with friends, a family gathering, or a memorable meditation experience. Perhaps you received accalades at work, or finished a painting, or released a new work. Or, you could choose a theme for each month of the year that represents how you felt about that month: friends, art, travel, health, rest, community, etc. One by one, write down each month's highlight, memory, or theme.

Take your time and feel the gratitude you have for each thing you write on your list. You might even say "thank you" out loud to your list, or to your higher power, or to the universe at large. Smile if something makes you smile. Laugh if it makes you laugh. Cry if it makes you cry! Enjoy the process, and allow yourself to feel the feelings that arise. This is your time. This is a gift to yourself!

End with Loving-Kindness

When you have made your list and you feel ready to wrap things up, put down your journal and put away your phone or planner, then close your eyes and seal in the gratitude with a loving-kindness practice. There are many ways to do a loving-kindness meditation, but the one I use the most is this: 

First, I bring my mind's focus to a picture of myself. I see myself either as I am today, or as I was as a small child.  With each full breath (in and out), I say each sentence in my mind or aloud, directed at that image of myself:

*May I be safe from inner and outer harm.

*May I be free from guilt, shame and hatred.

*May I enjoy physical and mental well-being.

*May I live with the ease of an open heart.

Second, I bring my mind's focus to people and beings (including pets) that I love. I picture their faces individually, or I see them standing in a group in front of me. With each full breath (in and out), I say each sentence in my mind or aloud, directed at the image of these people and beings that I love:

*May you be safe from inner and outer harm.

*May you be free from guilt, shame and hatred.

*May you enjoy physical and mental well-being.

*May you live with the ease of an open heart.

Third, I bring my mind's focus to a person or people that I find challenging or difficult. I picture their faces, or I see them standing in a group in front of me. With each full breath (in and out), I say each sentence in my mind or aloud, honestly and with as much compassion as I can muster:

*May you be safe from inner and outer harm.

*May you be free from guilt, shame and hatred.

*May you enjoy physical and mental well-being.

*May you live with the ease of an open heart.

Finally, I bring my mind's focus to the entire planet Earth. I zoom out in my mind's eye to see the planet floating in space, or a imagine myself flying in an airplane around the whole world, looking down at all the lights of all the cities, thinking about not only the humans but also the animals and plants that live there. With each full breath (in and out), I say each sentence in my mind or aloud, directed to the whole world: 

*May all beings be safe from inner and outer harm.

*May all beings be free from guilt, shame and hatred.

*May all beings enjoy physical and mental well-being.

*May all beings live with the ease of an open heart.

Sarah Saturday