Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and with it, a great opportunity to think about gratitude. It’s generally a pleasant holiday (barring any family drama!) that is celebrated in many countries as a day of giving thanks for the blessings of the harvest. A feast of comfort foods, it’s a time to gather with the ones you love, all in the name of giving thanks.
I have some fond memories of Thanksgivings past, some that resemble a Norman Rockwell painting. Although we were never the kind of family to go around the table and express our personal gratitudes, we always said grace and gave thanks to the hands that made the food.
I grew up in a home where we were taught to mind our Ps and Qs, always encouraged to say please and thank you at any and all opportunities. Good manners were strictly enforced. It’s really so easy to take things for granted, so it was actually great training. It instilled in me an attitude of gratitude, at least helped me to look for the blessings in life.
It’s easy to be grateful for a gift, a compliment, or a good deed; the times when a blessing is handed to us. But there are times when we need to dig a little deeper. Sometimes the acknowledgment of a blessing comes from a shift in our perspective of a situation. Sometimes we need the help of our logical minds to find them, but blessings are everywhere.
With today’s tragedies…raging fires on the west coast, hurricanes in the southeast, mass shootings and other senseless, random acts of violence, it can be so hard to see the blessings. Even in our day to day lives, it often takes a curse for us to see the blessing. It’s usually after some degree of suffering has passed that we can find a silver lining. And unfortunately, it’s observing the suffering in the world that can make us pause and be grateful for what we do have.
Gratitude journals are very popular these days. By making a daily list of things for which we are grateful, we bring awareness to all that we have. When we’re in a bad mood, it really can be hard to find anything…which is why it’s such a great practice. And putting it down on paper helps to refresh our memories.
To express gratitude is great. While words are wonderful, activating it with your heart is magic!
The heart does more than just pump blood. Through his work in neurocardiology, Dr. J. Andrew Armour has shown that the heart has a network of about 40,000 neurons that he called “the little brain in the heart”. The heart manufactures neurotransmitters that send information to the brain. Research has shown that more information is sent from the heart to the brain than from the brain to the heart. In fact, the heart started beating in the fetus before the brain even developed, so it makes sense that the heart is instrumental in informing the brain. The neocortex in the brain, the part that uses intellect, was the last to form…and we tend to rely on it so much!
In our society, we often give our brains too much power, we are very logical. But as ancient cultures have known for centuries, the power is in accessing our heart intelligence. As both the head and the heart are extremely important, the optimal scenario is to have them working together in harmony. At the Institute of HeartMath, they call this heart coherence.
The Institute of HeartMath is a nonprofit research and educational organization. They have done amazing research on heart intelligence. (They can describe it better in this short video!) They have done years of research studying the benefits of being in coherence and they’ve developed techniques to help improve our internal coherence.
One of the physiological effects of being in heart coherence is the remarkable effect on the autonomic nervous system. It reduces the activity in the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight), while increasing activity in the parasympathetic system (rest-and-digest).
The same precursor hormone is used to manufacture both cortisol (stress hormone) and DHEA (anti-aging hormone). When one is increased the other is decreased. Some of the functions they help to regulate are in your brain, your glycemic control, your immune system, your liver, your metabolism, your production of sex hormones and your thyroid function. It’s important to have a healthy cortisol to DHEA ratio, and activating your heart coherence is key. Raising your coherence decreases stress and increases your DHEA production. (Anti-aging…I’ll take it!)
Also, the heart gives off about five thousand times more electromagnetic energy than the brain. This electromagnetic energy carries information, much like cell phones and radio stations broadcasting information. The heart’s electromagnetic energy informs the brain and every cell in the body, as well as extending out about eight to ten feet from the body. The information you are carrying in your energetic field is being broadcast around you, which has an effect on your environment and everyone in it. When you are in coherence, the energy that you are generating will be ordered and coherent. And having a magnetic quality, you are attracting energy that resonates with your field…like attracts like!
So, what does this have to do with Thanksgiving???
Well, gratitude’s close relative is appreciation. To me, appreciation has a slightly more personal connotation and seems to come more from the heart. Appreciation is an inside job, and there’s nothing like heartfelt appreciation. When something appreciates, it grows in value.
In The HeartMath Solution, by Doc Childre and Howard Martin, they talk about activating our core heart feelings as a means of bringing ourselves into coherence. Positive emotions such as love, appreciation, happiness, care and compassion are core heart feelings. In their training program, appreciation is one of the four core heart feelings that they call a “power tool”. It is easier to find something to appreciate, however small, than it is to conjure love or care.
By activating and cultivating appreciation, we are connecting the heart and the brain, allowing them to work together. We are increasing our internal coherence, thus increasing our intuition and our intelligence. We are able to think more clearly and function more effectively. When our hearts are in coherence, there are so many benefits. Personal internal coherence leads to social coherence, which leads to global coherence.
Challenge for the week: Feel the appreciation!
By stopping and thinking of one thing to appreciate (just one little thing!), you can start to activate your heart coherence. And to add one of HeartMath’s techniques can help: the practice of heart focused breathing. Start by taking some slow, deep breaths. If it helps, you can place your hand over your heart (it aids in bringing awareness to your heart center). Then imagine breathing in and out through your heart. Bring that one thing you appreciate to your awareness. Really feel the appreciation. The trick is to activate the feeling, getting out of your head and into your heart. It sounds simple, but it works!
If it’s difficult to find something to appreciate, take out a piece of scrap paper and write down what sucks. Get it out of your system. Then perhaps you can start to see things from a new perspective. Just the fact that you are alive and breathing! Have another piece of paper, or a journal, and start to make your list. You can discard the scrap paper, but keep the list. In the future, you can look back at your gratitude journal for inspiration. We have so much more than we will ever need, and yet we feel lack. Change your perspective.
And if you are blessed to find yourself at a Thanksgiving feast, really appreciate the present moment. It’s not necessary to say it out loud (although it might be nice for others to hear!), but go inside and feel it in your heart. The people you are with, the food you are eating. Really dig in to that appreciation.
Have a very Happy Thanksgiving! Please feel free to leave any questions or comments.