Last week when I was in my hometown, I happened to visit the bank where I had my first account. As I entered pushing the creaking door, walking past the security guard who presumably was sitting on the same chair that used to be there even 20 years ago, a cloud of nostalgia descended on me. Nothing had changed with respect to the physical set up of the bank. Every inch of the office remained the same as it was in two decades ago. Surprisingly most of the employees also remained the same, only age had caught up with few of them.

Looking at the Demand Draft (DD) counter and Mrs Khanna (name changed), I was reminded of the day 17 years ago when I along with my aspiring engineering friends had queued up for preparing DD’s for payment of initial rounds of admission. The anxiety, the chaos, the frustration of long waiting time that I had experienced for those 2-3 days was beyond the stress what I experienced in doing the engineering itself.

“Once I complete my engineering, I will come to this very branch and open a privileged customer’s account so that I need not deal with this silly queue’s and long waiting times” I cribbed to my friend then.

When I sat down near the DD counter, I started looking back at how much had changed in my life, how far I had moved on from the time I started visiting this place for my education related paperwork. Going to the bank as a teenager was a good exercise for some hypothetical financial goal setting. I recalled how I used to dream of having a certain amount at a certain age in my bank account. Dreaming about money is one thing that nobody needs to teach you, it comes effortlessly.

On further contemplation, slowly, a feeling of gratitude started to sink in me. I may not have everything that I wish for at this point in life, but of the things that I have, for most of them, I have much more than what I had wished for.

I once read “Gratitude turns what we have, into enough”. That is exactly what I felt at that moment, a feeling of contentment, a feeling of fulfillment. On detailed reflection I realized, I had ticked most of the boxes that I wanted to as a teenager, in some cases I had exceeded the originally set expectations.

Reflection of thoughts is not just an act, but an art, an art which I think everyone must learn. There is a famous quote from William Hart Coleridge who was the first Bishop of Island of Barbados

“There is an art of which every man should be a master, the art of reflection. If you are not a thinking man, to what purpose are you a man at all? “

Reflection of past is an exercise that one must do time and again. On the face of it, this may not look to be a good idea, to dig into one’s past, but take some time out to sit down and reflect on your journey in life. It helps to put things to a perspective; it gives a sense of contentment if done properly.

Throughout our lives we are busy setting goals/targets for ourselves on what we think we should have or achieve. Once we do that, we spent most of our time chasing these targets. The sad part is, in our desire to achieve our set targets we miss the very moment when we have achieved what we had set out for. Even if we do realize them, the sense of accomplishment is very short lived due to our distraction towards the new goal that has clouded our thinking. We had already changed the milestone by the time we reached the one we initially set out for.

Gratitude and the art of reflection 2

The Infinite Loop of Goal Setting

The outcome, we end up living life in an infinite loop of goal setting and working for the goal. We miss the important part of enjoying the accomplishment and expressing our gratitude for it.

When we actually get into the mode of looking back at our accomplishment, that’s the time when Gratitude kicks in. Gratitude not only helps us in building a relationship with the nature (Read God / Almighty) by a way of thanking but we also get to know ourselves better.

We should also spend some time reflecting on how we did it. This exercise of reflection helps us to know our pattern of approaching a goal, it helps us to deconstruct our own operating model. Even better, next time while we are working towards a goal, we actually have an old accomplishment to look back at, especially when we have our backs to the wall. Reflection of thoughts in difficult times, will help bail us out from the convolute of negative thoughts and we will manage to find positive inner strength to climb another steep hill on our journey.

Adding a sense of gratitude during reflections makes the act even meaningful. If you know how to thank and whom to thank when you have accomplished something, you surely know how to ask and whom to ask for help when you are stuck.

There are few ways one can do the Gratitude exercise along with reflection of one’s past that I have found useful.

The Gratitude Walk

If possible, take some time out to visit the places from your past. Especially those where you spent time with desire burning in your heart and raging determination in your head. Might sound cliched but places where you really struggled it out. (if you find it difficult to recall such a place then surely your life has been a cakewalk) For e.g : Visit the old town or place where you studied as a teenager, given that most of the people move out from the place where they do their high school or bachelor’s degree. Try to recall your aspirations, your goals that did not let you sleep when you were young. The coveted job that you were after, the salary that you wanted to earn, the places you wanted to visit in the world. Now try and answer yourself how you have done against those goals.

If you sit down to assess against your dreams and goals from a decade ago, you would observe that you have actually not done that bad. For some of your desires, you would be happy that they did not actually materialize because with maturity you realized that it is not something you would have wanted (eg : Getting married to that girlfriend in college, just kidding).

Once my maternal uncle was driving me in his car through the narrow roads of my grandparents’ hometown.

“With the grace of God, I am driving this car on the same streets where I used to walk barefoot as a teenager because we did not have enough money to buy slippers”, he said with a smile of contentment on his face.

That sums up the whole exercise of expressing Gratitude via reflection.

Journal Revisit

If you had the habit of writing down a journal then you have a very potent tool to do this exercise of reflection. I have read in many books and from motivational speakers that maintaining a daily journal is a good exercise for many reasons, one of them being to build relationship with oneself. It helps to keep track of one’s progress in life.  If you have been practicing this for few years now, try to turn those old pages. By maintaining a journal and reading them back at a later point, you yourself are the witness of your own story. Longer the time gap you pick up, more the probability of you getting the sense of contentment.

Gratitude Meditation on Black Lotus

This is something that I have been practicing for last 1 year. The commentary of meditation is outstanding. It will hit the right notes, will get you in the right zone, and the feeling of gratitude will just flow. My favorite stanza of the meditation is as below

“Gratitude is the mother of happiness. While I may not have all that I wish for, I still have plenty to be thankful for…………. and when I am grateful, I am at peace.”

I would not spill beans any further on this. Try it to experience the bliss.

While I understand for few of us life is indeed a struggle, but for most of us it is just a perception of incompleteness that we have created around us. By the art of reflection, we give ourselves some time to face the truth that has been hiding behind our never-ending desires.

Mix the art of reflection with gratitude and you have a wonderful dessert to be savored on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

So, what are you waiting for, I have put the recipe on the table, the ingredients are hidden in your kitchen, take some time out and make your own dessert!

Reflect and Rejoice!

Rajesh Kodukula