Dr. Alex Gard, PhD, LMFT
The Power of a Non-Contentious Heart
The practice of gratitude and forgiveness are interrelated concepts that often get separated as if they exist independently of one another. I have found, time and time again, in the course of my life and in the work I do with my clients, that these two concepts are essential and necessary to living a life that is fierce, wholehearted, and purposeful. The practice of gratitude and forgiveness are at the center of a non-contentious heart. And they are just that, they are practices. We cannot artificially or forcefully forgive, nor can we be passive when it comes to practicing gratitude. Forgiveness is not something that you choose once- it’s something you choose constantly; it is a daily and deliberate choice. I have found that a grateful heart is often a forgiving one, and in the same way, forgiveness can awaken our sense of gratitude; they are reciprocal and reinforcing.
A contentious heart is one that harbors anger, resentment, jealousy, fear, hate, and negativity. A non-contentious heart is one that breeds compassion, understanding, courage, perseverance, and true joy for others. Those with a non-contentious heart are not free from suffering, but they have a different relationship with their pain; they choose to not be defined by it. Both gratitude and forgiveness help to make this possible. Below I will describe some of the benefits of these practices. (There are many more, of course!) You will notice that some of the benefits overlap, and that is due to the fact that gratitude and forgiveness often go hand in hand. I will then give some pointers on how to begin implementing these practices into your daily life.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
It helps us to stop dwelling: Dwelling is costly and exhausting! It keeps us stuck in our negative emotions, which only perpetuates more of what we don’t want.
It strengthens our relationships (with ourselves and others): Forgiveness creates room for possibility. When we don’t forgive, we close doors that have the potential to enrich our lives.
Forgiveness shifts our energy and focuses on what really matters: Through forgiveness, we gain clarity, we take the energy invested in holding a grudge and can place it into rebuilding, into compassion, into understanding.
Helps us to respond rather than react: Not forgiving keeps us connected to pain and negative emotions. When we are in this place, we tend to not respond with thoughtfulness or courage; we react out of a place of hurt and fear. This is so limiting, and there is so much more to life than that.
Allows us to experience empathy: An entire blog series could be devoted to empathy, but I will briefly say this, forgiving people are also empathic ones. Empathy is what makes forgiveness possible.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Helps to re-energize our faith in life: When we stay focused on what we don’t have, or what we are lacking, we pour our precious life energy down the drain. Gratitude helps us to re-energize and focus on the multitude of blessings that surround us.
Takes us out of self-absorption: When we are not actively practicing gratitude, it’s easy to lose sight of how we impact others. Practicing gratitude allows us to step into a more empathic relationship with the people around us.
Helps us to respond rather than react: When we are in a place of gratitude, we tend to have more thoughtful responses, as opposed to emotional-based reactions. Gratitude helps us to respond with thoughtfulness and courage as opposed to fear.
Allows us to make room for what really matters: Gratitude frees us from focusing on the small stressors in life. When we aren’t in a grateful mindset, small stressors feel like avalanches. A truly grateful heart is not shaken by these things, but is able to handle them and respond to them.
Here are 4 pointers on how to begin living more intentionally, with gratitude at your center:
It starts with awareness. Remember, this isn’t a race, there is no finish line. Begin with noticing your inner dialogue, check in with yourself throughout the day. Are the messages you are feeding yourself negatively? If they are, interrupt them by shifting your focus to something you feel truly grateful for. This can be extremely powerful. If you notice your inner dialogue and it is positive, pay attention to how it makes you feel. Allow yourself to stay in that place for an extra few seconds. How is this different than the times you feed yourself negative messages?
Set an alarm. A great idea a client of mine had recently was to set an alarm on her iPhone that reminds her to re-center. She sets this alarm to go off during her morning routine. I love this idea and you can incorporate it in so many ways. It could be an alarm in the morning, or multiple times throughout the day, that literally interrupts the daily grind and forces you to focus for a minute on gratitude. The alarm itself could be a reminder, or you can set your reminder with a specific message. This can be extremely grounding, and can really help to shift your perspective.
Re-Engage in practices that make you feel truly joyful! This can be cooking, exercising, writing, connecting with friends, etc. Be intentional and make time for this! Your heart needs it. When we fill our emotional cups we only have more to give others.
Begin and end your day with a gratitude or forgiveness mantra. This can be an opportunity for prayer or meditation; whatever helps to realign you with what really matters. (This link has some great forgiveness and gratitude meditations: jackkornfield.com) Do this for five to ten minutes every morning and watch and see how these small shifts transform your day, and over time, your life!
These practices are more than techniques or tactics, they are a way of being and knowing the world around us. When we are able to make this constant commitment to live in gratitude, we begin to radiate something magnificent. Call it positive energy, call it calmness, call it what you like- but gratitude and forgiveness are at the center of this contagious energy. I leave you with these words:
“In our hardships, we discover the courage not to succumb, not to retreat, not to strike out in fear and anger. And by resting in a non-contentious heart we become a lamp, a medicine, a strong presence; we become the healing the world so dearly needs”. –Jack Kornfield
If you're struggling to let go of the past and forgiveness, contact Alex Gard, LMFT located within the beautiful Bayview Therapeutic Services offices to schedule a session at 954.391.5305. Alex provides individual counseling for adults and teen counseling in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.