Looking back with kind eyes

Inclining the mind towards what is good in our lives instead of dwelling on past misadventures is so important for our mental health.  As I reflect on the past year in terms of learning and teaching mindfulness, I owe a large amount of gratitude to the growing community of people with whom I share this life and work journey. I find myself both humbled and grateful for the gift of teaching mindfulness and the opportunities that continue to arise without forcing or rushing.  

There is much research done on the physical and mental health benefits of practising gratitude, including reduced stress levels, improved sleep and enhanced relationships. Gratitude is something that can develop as a by-product of mindfulness. It begins as an intentional practice, for example, keeping a gratitude journal or jar, in which you note all the things you are grateful for every day, even on those days that this feels hard to do. When practised regularly, gratitude has the potential to grow into a ‘felt-sense’ within the body.  

Looking back at our year offers us an opportunity to take stock and practice gratitude for all that we have.  This is the time of year when we naturally begin to hibernate a little, a traditional time of reflection and turning inwards. Allowing ourselves time to reflect with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for any gifts or opportunities received and any lessons learned is time well spent and so valuable for our personal growth and contentment. Equally valuable is the practice of directing self- compassion inwards for any difficult times, losses or disappointments experienced during the year.  

It is possible that a review of the year may prompt some of us to ruminate over past events. Rumination is that habitual pattern, often strongly developed within us, where we repeatedly go over a past event or decision we made, perhaps wishing things were different, or that we had dealt with situations more skillfully. There are many ways, however, to view the same situation and having too rigid a mindset can be very limiting.  

Can we begin to soften the way that we view ourselves?  Choden, a tutor with the Mindfulness Association, recommends looking back “with kind eyes” at any mistakes we have made or at any sense that we have failed in some way. It is ok to be wrong or to make a mistake. We can learn to accept our vulnerability, imperfections and mistakes as part of being human.  

Until we learn and grow in self-awareness through mindfulness, we can take comfort, as I did, in the statement “it’s not your fault”. I clearly remember hearing these words at the first weekend of my mindfulness training and how they resonated, shifting something in me and allowing me to move forward in my life.  

Mindfulness helps us to step fully into our lives and to take responsibility for how we live them, being fully accountable for our actions as an adult.  Of course, being accountable for our actions may immediately induce feelings in us of having done something wrong!  Remember though, that accountability also means acknowledging any opportunity we had to do something good for ourselves or others along the way.  

So, as well as taking stock of where we might have gone wrong during the year, we can also mentally note anything that has gone well for us and really begin to appreciate the good in ourselves. This may need some practice, as it does not come naturally, but we can slowly learn to recognise and value our own goodness in a grounded and authentic way.  

Take a few moments to reflect on some of your own qualities, as well as the people, places and things in your life that you are grateful for and see how it feels in your body. Can you make gratitude a regular practice in your everyday life?

A weekly drop-in mindfulness hour runs on Tuesday mornings from 9.30-10.30am upstairs at Market St Clinic, Skibbereen (beside the bus stop) €10. 

Monthly mindfulness workshops will be run on Saturday, November 9 and December 7 from 10.30- 1pm. Booking is essential, as places are limited. €30.

For more information on future workshops and courses call Susan on 087 2700572 or email: susanoreganmindfulness@gmail.com.

Susan O Regan

Susan O'Regan teaches mindfulness and self-compassion courses and workshops in West Cork.

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