My housemate and friend, Michael Hollingworth, has a tried-and-true way to help you when you’re feeing down. I asked Michael to share the practices of ‘gifting’ with you here. You might want to store these practises in your meditation ‘tool box’ to bring out as needed.
Michael is a mindfulness meditation teacher, former yoga teacher and long time practitioner. He and I collaborate each January to put on an ‘Intensive’ week of mindfulness and yoga.
How to make your dog happy
Do you have days on the mat when every Down Dog really feels like a downer? When you’d probably fall out of head stand if you even felt like doing one? When the others in the yoga class are just intrusions on your space, who defeat any attempt you might make at empathy, let alone generosity or compassion?
Here’s a small formula for when your ebb is getting low: give yourself away. Well, if not yourself, give away a bit of whatever you’ve got.
An inspiring model for this is presented by Prof Barbra Fredrickson, a leading researcher in positive psychology, in her book called – yes – Positivity.This is what she suggests:
The Five Gift Day Challenge
Set yourself the challenge of giving five gifts, or performing five new acts of kindness, on a single day. Aim for actions that really make a difference and come at some cost to you, such as donating blood, helping your neighbour, or finding a better way to help an ailing person manage their pain or difficulties. Gifts might also include money, time, energy, or goods or resources. Be creative and thoughtful. However, don’t make the tasks so hard that you pull back: it is better to make small gifts than not to give at all.
Although some gifts or kind acts may need planning, make a point of carrying them all out on a single day. At the end of your day take stock. Notice the feelings that you experience… Consider making the Five Gift Day a recurring ritual, perhaps once a month or once a fortnight.
But wait, as they say. There’s more…
Long before I met Prof Fredrickson (on one of her visits to a happiness conference in Sydney), I encountered another giveaway phenomenon: the website 29 Gifts . This works on one simple principle: Give one thing away each day for 29 days. The 29 Gifts project and community were started by a 33-year-old woman who one month after marrying was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This was how she responded. And this is what she recommends to her followers:
Give one thing away, each day, for 29 days. Why? Because to see your world change, you have to DO something to change your world. Change the world by changing your own.
Miraculous happenings are reported to occur in the course of the 29 days. As Andy Warhol is reported to have said: They always say time changes things, but actually you have to change them yourself.
So if your dog is down, take your pick. Fill one day with giving away five gifts if you’re feeling down. Or take on the full catastrophe, as Zorba might have said: put in 29 days giving one gift every day.
Your dog will certainly pick up its act, perhaps stand up on hind legs. Or maybe even stand on its head…