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Dr. Joanna McDermid, Associate Director, BCCH, Centre for Mindfulness

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite season. There are a few reasons for this…the autumn leaves changing colors, cooling temperatures and shorter days, the idea of togetherness and sharing a meal. I am glad to have a reminder to give thanks, to have an opportunity to express appreciation for the people and the life that is all around us.

October was also the birth month of my dear Uncle Tim, the hero of our family, our teacher. I’ll share that Uncle Tim was born with a significant disability and that one of his favorite holidays, was Thanksgiving. While Uncle Tim passed away various years ago now, he left an indelible mark on the lives of those who were blessed to have met him. He showed us how to love, how to support each other, and how to focus on what matters.

I carry his memory and message with me in my heart, and so with the Thanksgiving holiday now behind us, and the turbulence and suffering and world events in front of us, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of gratefulness, of why this matters to me, and how I can bring this quality to my life.

I started by noticing how it is easier for me to be grateful when things are going well. I reflected about when things are tough- when there is suffering and pain- can I bring gratefulness to these moments or situations? Should I even try? I know forcing myself to feel something other than what I am feeling, is not compassionate and could cause more harm. I know that what is needed in these moments, is to bear witness to, or to stay present with, what is already here in my heart.

So I experimented with keeping gratefulness in mind in the midst of a difficult moment. A first step was simply recognizing it was a difficult moment for me. I also decided I would choose to remain aware that gratefulness matters to me.  I didn’t know what to do next, so I began to practice mindful breathing- which took effort because of the pain- saying silently to myself the words of Buddhist Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh:

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out

As I continued my mindful breathing, I started to notice my pain was changing and that all of a sudden…a moment of peace, in the midst of the pain.

Things happened quickly after that. I remembered I was breathing and I was alive. I felt grateful I was alive.  I became aware I was holding on to things that were outside of my control. I became aware of tension in my body. I was able to let go of a bit of the tension. I came back to my breath again. Another brief moment of peace. And then I felt grateful for that. And so on.

I still felt the pain, but practicing this way allowed me stay present in the midst of difficulty, and for that I am very grateful.

May we all find our way home, may we all stay as safe as we can.  

If you have a few minutes, please take a few minutes to view this beautiful video on grateful living.

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