Experimenting in Gratitude: Results
Daily routine, gratitude, and deliberate (i.e. mindful) eating are all prescribed in Ayurveda for helping create or restore balance. It felt important to me, in designing my experiment, to start at the very beginning of my daily routine and thread the experiment throughout my day, while keeping it simple and avoiding adding too much to my to-do list. I found the design effective towards these ends.
The Dalai Lama’s prayer, mentioned above, is one I find beautiful and manageable. In past years I would start my day reciting it, which helped give meaning and direction to my morning, but recently, until this experiment, I had fallen out of the practice. At first, resuming the recitation felt like reuniting with an old friend, bringing me joy and ease as I reconnected with the lines, but I noticed that it soon became easy for me to skim over the words. For this reason, I chose to deepen the practice by saying the prayer twice each morning, focusing very deeply (often pausing) on one line the second time through, and considering that section of the prayer to be my intention for the day. This was helpful in the moment as it helped me contemplate the words and their particular relevance to me, and to develop insight. For example, I felt an energetic longing to expand my heart to others. The effect of the intention throughout my day was much more subtle; sometimes I forgot it altogether. Most notably, the day I worked with letting go of anger towards others, I became aware of a choice, the moment after my anger sparked, regarding whether or not I would feed it; this was both empowering, and a relief.
The mindful/appreciative eating was the most challenging part of the experiment for me. I was aware that eating is an emotional process for me, but I did not anticipate the level of resistance I felt to mindful eating. I generally enjoyed feeling more connected to the ingredients and sources of my food, but I truly struggled to slow down my eating. In fact, I felt inclined to eat more and faster during the experiment, and often had the experience of “eating my stress”, so to speak. An exception to this was the day we did a vata-pacifying asana practice in class. I had a snack afterwards, and had no trouble slowing down—in fact, I preferred it. This led me to suspect that the more out of balance I am in the direction of vata dosha, the more inclined I am to eat emotionally. Interestingly, knowing this did not reduce my resistance to mindful eating during my experiment. I think that I tend to abuse vata imbalance to get things done when I get overwhelmed or behind on my obligations, and I am neurotically reluctant to let this go. In psychological terms, I use mindless eating to cope, and I need some replacement approaches as well as stress-reduction to help me relinquish such coping.
The evening gratitude practice was a simple and effective way for me to look back on my day, or even into the present moment, through the lens of appreciation, which felt good—grounding, relaxing and accurate. It also cut through some of the inane ruminating I was doing as I went to sleep at night.