Recently my grandson, now 5, tried to pick a stinging nettle. Of course, he stung his hand and ran to his Mum crying. As his hand became red, itchy and inflamed, he told her how much he hated stinging nettles. Nothing would pacify him, until my daughter explained to him that the inflammation was his body’s way of healing. She added that nettles have many benefits when drunk as a tea or applied in a cream, such as lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and treating hay fever. We just have to be mindful when we pick them and be careful. At that point he stopped crying, ran outside and thanked the nettles for all they do. The hymn I learned as a child – all things bright and beautiful– started playing in my mind of its own accord. Funny old thing the mind and the undercurrent of thoughts, words, images and sounds.
This reminded me about gratitude. Sometimes things to be grateful for aren’t always wrapped up in neat, pleasant packages. Gifts from life that lead to transformation often come through difficult experiences. Working through an unpleasant experience can allow insight to arise through our mindfulness practice. This in turn leads to change. Being able to respond in a different way causes us less suffering. And even if we don’t directly benefit from a difficult experience it can lead to us being able to help others from the challenges we have faced.
In our mindfulness and compassion training we are taught how the beautiful lotus flower needs mud to survive and grow. In relation to our lives, it is the shadow material, or mud that we actively turn into the energy of compassion. The Mindfulness Association teach us that the mud is the fertiliser for the awakening of the compassionate heart:
“It involves cultivating a sense of gratitude for all that we are and that we have, rather than dwelling in a poverty mentality of always wanting things to be better or different”. “This is a way of connecting with the fact that from a mindfulness perspective there is more right with us than is wrong with us (as Jon Kabat-Zinn says)”.
I’m sitting on a train on my way to our regular meetings at MAHQ in Manchester. I notice how I have a deep sense of gratitude for this. I love being part of the team and I love the days we spend together. It is such a privilege. And yet, I wouldn’t be part of all this if I hadn’t endured the pain of being made redundant twice in the last 6 years. If someone had told me 6 years ago when I lost a job I loved, working for a great company, that one day I would be grateful for having left it all behind because something better was in store, I wouldn’t have believed them. As Heather says, working for the Mindfulness Association and teaching Mindfulness has to be the best job in the world. And I agree.
When I reflect on my life, I can count endless instances of challenges I have faced that have transformed me into the happier, calmer and more mindful version of the person I am today. Also, I have been able to complete a MSc research project and a chapter for the forthcoming book – Mindful Heroes (watch out for it), based on my studies and difficulties I faced many years ago. Furthermore, I have been able to share the gift of mindfulness to a large number of people, so far, who are facing similar challenges.
I invite you to bring to mind a difficulty which has been transformational in a positive way. Recall the benefits. Are you able to be grateful for this difficulty in any way? Is it possible that a difficulty you are going through right now will lead to something positive? Take a few moments to reflect on this with a huge dose of self-compassion thrown in. Then maybe you like to try the gratitude practice which comes from our Mindfulness training by bringing to mind 3 things you are grateful for, and notice how that feels.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please comment below or send me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org