If you want to be happy, be grateful

This morning I stumbled on a TED talk by  Brother David Steindl-Rast, an “inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and above all, about being grateful”. He is a Benedictine monk, has a PhD in experimental psychology, is co founder of gratefulness.org, an interactive website with several thousand participants from more than 240 countries, and author of 99 blessings, a series of prayers for the general reader — whether people of faith, agnostics, or uncertain.

In 1958/59 Brother David was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Cornell University, where he also held the Thorpe Lectureship. He was one of the first Roman Catholics to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and is the author of The Ground we share – a text on Buddhist and Christian practice, written with Robert Aitken Roshi. With famed physicist Fritjof Capra, he co-authored Belonging to the Universe, the book was awarded the prestigious American Book Award.

I decided to listen to his talk. It is definitely worth watching, but before you do so, watch the short video below, to get a feeling for who he is and what he is about. Don’t be put of because he is a Catholic priest, what he says here is useful for every one: “We should live our lives with ongoing awareness of the constant miracle we all live in.”

“There are many things for which we cannot be grateful, but there is no moment for which we cannot be grateful, because in every moment, even difficult ones, we have the opportunity to do something.” — Brother David Steindl-Rast

The TED talk is here:

I also had a look at his website: gratefulness.org, where you can light a virtual candle in an exercise of mindfulness, serenity, and solidarity. “It is the integral practice of grateful living,” says Brother David, “that unites Christianity, Buddhism, and all the religious traditions.”
 Definitely worth a visit too.

I highly recommend keeping a gratitude journal and one of the best places to find out how to do so (and be inspired by the stories of people who keep gratitude journals) is 365grateful.com. They also have a mailing list (for motivation) and a Facebook page: Facebook.com/365Grateful

There are also some exquisitely beautiful videos on Youtube that combine Brother David’s wisdom with the stunning time-lapse photography of Louie Schwartzberg. I like the one called Gratitude best – on this video Louie describes how he started his career taking time-lapse pictures – it took him ONE MONTH to make a 4 minute film, because he could not afford more film.

If you wonder what exactly the Definition of Gratitude is, you can find out HERE. And you will find a list of my favourite Gratitude Quotes HERE.

Gratitude Meditation features centrally in our Mindfulness Meditation with Horses Workshops. If you would like to find out more, please e-mail us on 2learnmeditation@gmail.com.



Mindful Self-Compassion

This is one of the most powerful Youtube video’s I have ever seen!

In this video, a group of women is asked to write down comments they make to themselves about their bodies during the day. Two actresses then repeat these comments, in public, to each other, to the distress of the unsuspecting women sitting nearby. Several interrupt the actresses, to object at the way they speak to each other…but this IS the way we speak to ourselves, every day. We can not bear to hear this said out loud, to another woman, but we persist in berating ourselves mercilessly.

There is something seriously wrong here somewhere…

These days, we know all about the inner critic and we know that we should stop criticising ourselves, but we continue to do it, no matter how many talks on self-esteem we listen to.

I recently discovered MSC ( mindful self-compassion ) developed by Christopher K. Germer, PhD, leader in the integration of mindfulness and psychotherapy (MindfulSelfCompassion.org) and Kristin Neff, PhD, pioneering researcher in the field of self-compassion (Self-Compassion.org). This approach appeals to me, not in the least because there is a solid body of research to back it up. (self-compassion.org/the-research/ ).

But what exactly is MSC? According to the developers, mindfulness is the first step in emotional healing—being able to turn toward and acknowledge our difficult thoughts and feelings (such as insecurity, hurt, frustration, confusion) with a spirit of openness and curiosity. Self-compassion involves responding to these difficult thoughts and feelings with kindness, empathy and understanding so that we soothe and comfort ourselves when we’re hurting.

This makes a lot of sense to me.

Dr Kristin Neff talks about self-esteem and self-compassion:

“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” Dr Kirstin Neff

Kirstin Neff is the author of the book: Self-compassion – Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, an extraordinary book offers exercises and action plans for dealing with every emotionally debilitating struggle, be it parenting, weight loss, or any of the numerous trials of everyday living.


Extract from the book:
“Perhaps our behaviour becomes more understandable, however, when we remember that just like self-aggrandisement, self-criticism is a type of safety behaviour designed to ensure acceptance within the larger social group. Even though the alpha dog gets to eat first, the dog that shows his belly when snarled at still gets his share. He’s given a safe place in the pack even if it’s at the bottom of the pecking order. Self-criticism serves as a submissive behaviour because it allows us to abase ourselves before imaginary others who pronounce judgement over us—then reward our submission with a few crumbs from the table. When we are forced to admit our failings, we can appease our mental judges by acquiescing to their negative opinions of us.”

If you would like to find out more about my own views about mindful self-compassion,mindmedcover2 please consider buying my book, Mindfulness and Meditation in the south of France. (available in mid-Dec 2016  from Amazon). The book covers mindfulness and meditation in detail. Each chapter starts with a letter from a potential workshop participant, explaining her personal problems. Each chapter offers a potential solution based on mindfulness and meditation. You may even recognise yourself in one of the letters!

We have also incorporated MSC into our Mindfulness Meditation with Horses Workshops.

Meditation Quotes

I have found hundreds of quotes about meditation on line. Seems like just about every body ever born had something to say about meditation. Some of the meditation quotes I came across meant nothing to me, some I did not understand, some rang a bell and some stopped me in my tracks and took my breath away.

You will find a selection below.

Meditation quotes for beginners can be especially valuable, I have included a few of those. All beginners need reassurance – and meditation quotes can show them that some one has struggled with the same issues during meditation before and has  survived to share their knowledge. Quotes can also go a long way to define what meditation is about, exactly. And meditation sayings can show that people one would least have expected to meditate, not only does so, but do it well and have helpful information and experiences to share. Some meditation quotes are so accurate that one can use them as a focus point on during meditation.

I hope you find these as instructive and useful as I do:

It is never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn’t depend on how long it has been running; a shift in perspective doesn’t depend on how long you’ve held on to the old view. When you flip the switch, it doesn’t matter whether it’s been dark for ten minutes, ten years or ten decades. The light still illuminates the room and banishes the murkiness, letting you see the things you couldn’t see before. It’s never too late to take a moment to look. – Sharon Salzberg

Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed. – Saint Francis de Sales

Some people think that meditation takes time away from physical accomplishment. Taken to extremes, of course, that’s true. Most people, however, find that meditation creates more time than it takes. – Peter McWilliams

Dedicating some time to meditation is a meaningful expression of caring for yourself that can help you move through the mire of feeling unworthy of recovery. As your mind grows quieter and more spacious, you can begin to see self-defeating thought patterns for what they are, and open up to other, more positive options. – Sharon Salzberg

Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are. – Ani Pema Chodron

To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. –  Jon Kabat-Zinn

Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day. – Deepak Chopra

Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God. – Diana Robinson

Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it. – Eckhart Tolle

Concentration is a cornerstone of mindfulness practice. Your mindfulness will only be as robust as the capacity of your mind to be calm and stable. Without calmness, the mirror of mindfulness will have an agitated and choppy surface and will not be able to reflect things with any accuracy. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

If the quotes have inspired you and you would like to try meditating, I have created a playlist called Guided Meditations with with a large choice of meditations to suit different situations. You’ll find it HERE.

Gratitude Quotes and Gratitude Meditations

I read hundreds of famous quotes about gratitude while researching this post. Only a handful of these resonated with my understanding of the meaning of gratitude. This is my list – for now. I may add more quotes on gratitude while I research the subject, but for now, these are my favourites.

During our Personal Empowerment workshops here in the south of France, we introduce our guests to a meditation technique called a Gratitude Meditation. We often refer to these quotes to help them appreciate the value of this technique.

Several of these quotes reflect own personal my gratitude definition: that gratitude is something to express actively and not only to receive passively.

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” – Eckhart Tolle

To be grateful is to recognise the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.” – Thomas Merton

We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.” – Neal A. Maxwell

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”  – G.K. Chesterton

“Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.” – Edwin Arlington Robinson

“The more you recognise and express gratitude for the things you have, the more things you will have to express gratitude for.” – Zig Ziglar

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Gratitude is merely the secret hope of further favours.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

When we become more fully aware that our success is due in large measure to the loyalty, helpfulness, and encouragement we have received from others, our desire grows to pass on similar gifts. Gratitude spurs us on to prove ourselves worthy of what others have done for us.” – Wilferd A. Peterson

Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

In the past, I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realise that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. – Henri J. M. Nouwen

 “Authentic success is being so grateful for the many blessings bestowed on you and yours that you can share your portion with others.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

As I express my gratitude, I become more deeply aware of it. And the greater my awareness, the greater my need to express it. What happens here is a spiralling ascent, a process of growth in ever expanding circles around a steady centre.” – Brother David Steindl-Rast

 During our retreats we discuss the importance of gratitude,  we do gratitude meditations, we explain to participants why and how to express gratitude in a gratitude journal,  we review the benefits of gratitude…we share with our guests how feeling deeply grateful for our first two exceptional horses has led to people offering us horses as gifts, horses that we would have loved to have but never thought we would be able to afford. We now have six of the most amazing horses, each different, each with his/her own way of helping our guests.

More information about our Connect with Horses workshops here: Equine Guided Growth Workshops.

Chinese Symbol for Gratitude
Chinese Symbol for Gratitude

Women’s Retreats: Empowering Women to Speak their Minds

In Vino Veritas

This weekend was the Portes Ouvertes de Madiran, when all the independent Madiran wine makers open their doors to the public. We have lived here for 7 years now and have very rarely missed one. Initially, we did not know anyone.Now we know most of the producers, most of them have become friends over the years, so it is with great pleasure that we visit to taste the wines of the new season and to support our friends by attending either their Saturday evening dinners or Sunday lunches…or both. Not only do we get to see our wine-making friends, but we also come across most of our other wine-loving friends during the two days, as we all wander from vineyard to vineyard, tasting wine, exploring cellars, admiring the latest machinery, the newly planted vines and so on and so forth – by the end of the day it becomes somewhat difficult to remember the details, spittoon or no spittoon.

Women’s Retreats: Strictly Women Only

As is usual, we often end up at the same wine-producer at the end of the day, looking fairly desperately for somewhere to sit down (standing upright eventually becomes a bit of a challenge), and since women tend to feel the effects sooner than men, we often retire to comfortable seating in a quiet corner while our menfolk rejoin the fray. So it was again this Sunday afternoon. We were an eclectic group : women of all ages, convictions, backgrounds and of various nationalities and cultures. We discuss all sorts of subjects when we meet like this, but Sunday’s hottest topic was the new women-only Midlife Renaissance Retreat that I have launched in Autumn 2015. More than one of the women had already attended one of my retreats or workshops and all were familiar with my horse-inspired ways. It was the first time that I was doing a woman-only meditation retreat and opinions about it were varied and mixed. Being an outspoken bunch, they did not hesitate to share their well-developed views.

Women Speaking Their Minds

Some were in favour, others voiced doubts. My retreats are working very well as they are, attracting both men and women, and often couples – where one attends the retreat as an active participant and the other as a non-participant, spending his/her days lying in a hammock or sun bed by the lake while devouring a book or two from our library, or enthusiastically walking the surrounding countryside taking photographs or painting, or visiting the local markets, both food and flea, and coming back in the evening to proudly share the day’s treasured finds, or joining my husband who enjoys nothing better but to take non-participators on tutored wine tasting tours often barely getting back in time for dinner.

Empowering and Supporting Women 

I had to marshal my thoughts, while all faces were turned to me expectantly. Yes, I am embarking on a new path here, but I will still be hosting mixed retreats, so it is neither a complete nor a permanent change. The whole idea for me is about bringing women together to empower and support each other. I have spent many hours watching in awe as our horses work with our female guests, dramatically boosting our guests’ self-confidence, showing them how to be assertive, how to communicate in a way that gets the desired results, demonstrating effective, practical and immediate ways of handling stress, enabling them to express their feelings, be themselves without excuses…and of course teaching them how to practice mindfulness meditation.

It is true that our horses can help women just as well whether there male guests present or not. The difference at a women-only retreat would be the way women would be able to share their experiences. When a non-participating husband asks his wife, having spent the afternoon wine-tasting, how her equine-assisted experiential learning session went, I have heard answers along the lines of “Yep, it was great, I learned a lot.” When another women participant, who had been watching the session asks, it is more along the lines of « That was amazing! I couldn’t BELIEVE I would ever be capable of doing that! Wasn’t it awesome ? » followed closely by an in-depth discussion of each women’s experience and ending with the firm foundation of a new friendship have been laid.

Women on a women-only retreat, assuming the retreat location and set-up makes them feel safe and supported, find it easier to talk about things that matter to them, than when they are in the presence of their own and other menfolk. On women-only retreats, women meet other women, from different walks of life, with different convictions and of different  persuasions, different cultures, backgrounds and at different life stages. This offers them the opportunity to step out of their comfort-zone while feeling safe, to explore other options and ideas and make friends with women that they may never otherwise have come into contact with. At women-only retreats, women find it easier to share : their lives, their burdens, their frustrations, their fears…and for some reason, working with the horses, sharing the fear (of the horses, yes, but also of failing or looking ridiculous) and overcoming it together, binds women in a way that it does not bind participants of both sexes.

For some reason or other, many women are attracted to the mystical beauty of horses and many yearn to experience that mysterious connection that they have only read about in books or seen in films. I think it is easier for them to benefit from all the horses can offer in the presence of other women. Women and horses are a magical combination, with endless possibilities and opportunities for personal growth.

Quoting Empowered Women

A small silence followed my impassioned discours, while my friends took their time to digest this. Yes, they can see where I want to go with this, but the details need more discussion, they have a few concerns. Maybe I could get the rather attractive son of the house to bring over some more wines for them to try first? I could not resist quoting Margaret Thatcher at them, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman !” and went off to find the daughter of the house, who would know much better what sort of wine other women would like.

I am a great believer in the motivating power of quotes. I am going to choose a quote to base my retreat on. Here are a few of the options I am considering:

“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back. I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.―Malala Yousafzai

“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.” —Melinda Gates

“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible, and when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.” —Amerlia Earhart

In the adjustment of the new order of things, we women demand an equal voice; we shall accept nothing less. -Carrie Chapman Catt

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” —Madeleine Albright

“I’ve never met a woman who is not strong, but sometimes they don’t let it out. Then there’s a tragedy, and then all of a sudden that strength comes. My message is let the strength come out before the tragedy.” ―Diane von Furstenberg

“A strong woman understands that the gifts such as logic, decisiveness, and strength are just as feminine as intuition and emotional connection. She values and uses all of her gifts.” —Nancy Rathburn

Women Raising their Voices

I rather like the Madeleine Allbright one, about women having a voice. In the day and age we live in, women have an (international) voice more than ever before – we can say what we feel on Facebook, Twitter, on our blogs, our websites, in public, through art, on forums etc. We are starting to make ourselves heard. As Amy Jo Martin says,”Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.”

My friends finally, just before the poor designated alcohol-free driver arrived to take us all home, ended up giving their blessing to my new project, but with one stipulation and one question. The stipulation was that I do an « open day» on one or both of the weekend days before of after the retreat, as a One or Two Days Retreat » so that women who live nearby can also attend – obviously, they would not want to stay over – and the question was, « What are you going to do with « Himself » ?

I think I’ll suggest that he goes on a wine tasting tour of the Loire Valley.

Guided Personal and Professional Growth – Reformed MD, assisted by six talented Horses, hosts Stress Management Mindfulness Meditation Workshops in the south of France

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