A Gratitude and Mindfulness Practice and the Song of Ha’azinu
In this week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, Moses starts his farewell as the people’s leader with a song. Just as he sang a song of thanks and praise at the Red Sea after the Children of Israel were led out of Egypt, so he concludes his leadership with a song. The song is a history of the people of Israel and lessons that can be learned from all their experiences. He appeals to them to listen to these lessons, such as keeping their faith and recognizing all that G-d has done for them. The imagery is beautiful: “As an eagle that stirs up her nest and hovers over her young and spreads her wings, taking them …” G-d’s care for Israel is likened to a mother eagle who cares for her young.
But shortly after, we read that Israel became “fat” and ungrateful. We “forgot the One who brought us into this world”. Life was good and plenty in the land and we had what we needed. When things are difficult , it is easier to feel vulnerable and understand that what we have doesn't come only from us. We might be more likely to reach out, ask for help or cry,
When things are going well, we might forget that not all we have comes from us. We’re part of a family, a neighborhood and community and a bigger world. If we have faith, we believe that the source of good is outside of us, from G-d.
We are reminded to always remember this and never become too full of ourselves.
One way to do this is to cultivate a gratitude practice.
Gratitude allows us to notice our blessings and find balance amid life’s difficulties; mindfulness helps us handle tough times with acceptance, and compassion.
Gratitude is the intentional practice of noticing the good in your life. It relates to anything that makes you feel grateful, fortunate, or blessed. Some examples are gratitude for family and friends, community, health, home , job, pets, or personal belongings.
While gratitude may help you keep a balanced perspective about life — especially when things are difficult or falling apart — it’s not a cure-all.
Gratitude can’t take away the sting of life’s challenges, like job loss, heartbreak, or the death of a loved one. Sometimes painful emotions must be felt -– you must feel to heal .
While it may be tempting to try and cover up pain through gratitude, this may lead to unhealthy ways of coping through denial that negative events are taking place. Things are not sweetness and light all the time — and that’s OK. Ups and downs are part of life.
When you combine gratitude and mindfulness, it allows you to acknowledge the blessings in your everyday life and also sit with whatever you are experiencing right now -- in the present moment.
During hard times, a gratitude and mindfulness practice may help keep your perspective balanced.
For example, if you break up with your partner, it can help you:
be non-judgmental about the pain you feel
find positive takeaways from the experience
prevent yourself from ruminating about what happened
protect yourself from getting overwhelmed about what’s to come
With practice, it may become easier to gain more control over your mindset. If you can, try to work on it a little bit each day, one exercise at a time.
There are many ways to become more sensitive to the experience of gratitude and mindfulness. Here are some mindfulness gratitude exercises to get you started:
Gratitude bell: Set a daily alarm. When it goes off, pay attention to your senses (what you see, smell, taste, touch, and hear) then think of three things you’re grateful for.
Gratitude journal: Start each entry by noticing where you are and how you feel. Next, list two to five things you feel grateful for.
Mindfulness meditation: Start a meditation practice. You can find a guided meditation through one of the many available apps, like Insight Timer or headspace.
Oyinda Lagunju, health, well-being, and Mindfulness author , suggests this gratitude meditation
1. Begin by finding a comfortable seat, your eyes can either be closed or open with a soft gaze in front of you. sitting comfortably and with a straight spine. Allow your body to settle.
2. Now, take a few breaths. Let go of trying to control the breath. Let it move in and out naturally. Allow yourself to relax and let go of any tension or stress. Feel a sense of relaxed alertness, grounded yet present. And take a moment to appreciate how easy it is for most of us to breathe.
3. Noticing. Notice your current state of mind. How are you feeling right now? What is the tone of your mood? Take a moment to notice without judging if it’s good or bad.
4. And now, start to imagine what you have in your life to be grateful for. Start with feeling gratitude for the people and circumstances that led you to this moment here today. It could be your parents, grandparents, or other family members or friends, or anyone who has made a difference in your life. Pause
Feel gratitude for the opportunities you’ve had in life, education, travel and work experience.
5. Consider the health of your mind and body. Offer gratitude for your health and your body and all it does for you. Think of a part of your body that you are grateful for.
Now, consider your gratitude for the people in your life. Offer your gratitude to your immediate family members. Feel gratitude for your extended family. Feel appreciation for your coworkers and friends. Extend gratitude toward the mentors in your life who helped you grow into the person you are today. Pause
6. Now, consider your gratitude for the earth and your surroundings: For water. Food. And the air that you breathe every single day. Pause
And now, think of anything else that you feel gratitude for :
Think of and see clearly in your mind specific things for which you’re grateful. Each time, let gratitude fill your heart and say thank you:
A place you appreciate. Listen to how it sounds. Imagine how it would smell.
A meal or specific food. See it clearly in your mind. Imagine how it would smell and taste.
An animal. See them greeting you. Notice what color they are. Observe how they play with you.
7. Continue to focus on this quality of gratitude for a few more moments. Really let it sink in. When you’re ready, open your eyes fully. Slowly come back into the room. Move any parts of your body that might feel stiff.
8. And as you go through the rest of your day, consider expressing your appreciation for the person you chose in this practice, it could be a text, an email, a card or simply a mental wish for them. Then notice how this expression of gratitude changes your day.
Moshe was grateful for all he was able to do, and accepting that at the end, he would not live to see the completion of his life's work and go with the people into Israel.