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For over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfilment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behaviour, psychology, and keys to their empowerment. His training methodologies are the result of over a decade of coaching and education of thousands of students around the world. Join him on the “DTPHD Podcast” as he explores deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life. Subscribe now.
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About Stefan Ravalli:
Forever studying masterful humans and the art of service the world over to bring their practices to our (sometimes “service-deficient”) culture, Stefan Ravalli combines all that with his expertise in meditation, mindfulness, and communication/listening to raise the game of service professionals – and anyone looking to upgrade how they connect with others (and themselves). Learning meditation was a game-changer for Stefan. It gave him the inner strength to be his unique self (without the negative self-talk!), connect with others better, and live a healthy happy life. Meditation also makes you realize your potential and gives you the fearlessness to pursue bigger and better things you never thought possible, so Stefan left a leadership role at a high-profile bar/restaurant to India to teach meditation. After doing that for years and deepening his tea ceremony practice, Stefan realized that the art of service was the richest path of self-cultivation available to him. Serving anything anywhere was the best way to apply and accelerate all the upgrades he got from meditation. So he started Serve Conscious to bring these tools and practices to anyone where service is part of their life – to awaken us to the power of service as a means of growth and self-mastery.
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1:04 How is gratitude a practice?
4:00 How gratitude affects your other life goals
9:08 What is the difference between process orientation and goal orientation, and why does it matter?
16:30 This happens when you are grateful for the things you have now
19:13 The key connection between gratitude and the vantage point of trust
24:23 How to turn anger into something positive
27:18 The importance of acknowledging and appreciating the emotions we feel
32:15 How psychological healing is related to being grateful
37:00 The power that comes from appreciating your life
40:08 How to practice gratitude in your life
Gratitude Drives Out Fear w/ Stefan Ravalli
Truth, love, and the good. Here we go.
Stefan Ravalli: Alright, welcome everyone. My name is Stefan. I’m the host of The Serve Conscious Podcast, and a meditation mindfulness teacher, and conversation starter. And today, we’re going to be talking about gratitude, the power of gratitude, and how it’s not the fluffy-duffy, huggy-kissy practice that you think it is. It is a way into the driver’s seat of your life. And I’m joined today with my friend and co-host David Tian.
Dr. David Tian: Yo, what’s up? So yeah, I’m David Tian. And for the past 13 years, I’ve been helping hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries attain success and happiness in love and life. And I’m a dating coach, relationship coach, and a therapist. And I also have a podcast, the DTPHD podcast, the Man Up podcast. And I’m very excited to work with Stefan here on the Tenshin Mindfulness project we’ve got going here. And yeah, we’re going to talk about gratitude. You want to start us off, Stefan?
Stefan Ravalli: Let’s talk about it in a way that suits how I like to look at these practices. Because gratitude is a practice. It’s not just something that we’re hoping for, and it’s not just something that we wait to just descend upon us every time life is working out exactly as we want it to. It’s like, “Oh, I’m grateful because I got the promotion I want, because I finally scored the girl I want.” Or you getting what you want. You need to learn gratitude that is resilient, meaning you know how to look at every situation gratefully, because you know it’s going to be delivering value. Maybe not value you’ll see here now today, but value that will serve you. And the more grateful you are for it, the more you’re able to see its transformative power to improve your ability to be skillful, effective human being with greater self-awareness and self-knowledge. That’s every situation. Every situation can teach us more about ourselves.
Being grateful for that, even in moments of hardship, because hardship can actually teach us the most about ourselves, that is when you are truly empowered. You’re truly now living your life with authority rather than just reacting to it and waiting for everything to be good, for when you’re “yes” to life because everything’s good. Well, you’ve got to learn how to say “yes” all the time.
Dr. David Tian: Yeah, and one of the things about gratitude that I had to learn the hard way is, gratitude is easy to do when you get something that you want like you were saying. So most people are grateful, it’s easier for them to be grateful, when they get the job promotion or they finally get that goal they’ve been working so hard at. But also, many people put off gratitude. They put off feeling good. They put off feeling happy or whatever it is that they want: joy, love, whatever it is, even just contentment. They put that off until they get something.
And that’s often a result of an upbringing that is fear-based. It’s an upbringing that has a lot of worry and concern, that if you aren’t tense, if you’re not beating yourself towards the goal, so like literally, maybe even physically applying discipline to yourself to get you that goal, if you don’t do that, if you don’t use these violent means on your psyche and maybe your physical body to get you to those goals, then you won’t get them. That’s this fear-based type of upbringing and education system.
And as a result, people don’t allow themselves to feel grateful. And the gratitude practice for me changed when I realized I couldn’t wait for the “once a year” type of goal. A lot of these people who have goals also have big, long-term goals like the big, hairy, audacious goals that they trumpet in business, in management consulting. And those, if it’s big, and hairy, and audacious, it’s going to be a goal that you probably won’t reach for like 5 years or 20 years. So, you’re not gonna be able to celebrate and be grateful until you’re old and grey, and that makes for a really crappy life.
And the gratitude practice for me changed when I realized I’m never actually going to enjoy those big moments if I can’t enjoy the small moments. And if I can enjoy the small moments then everything in life changes. In fact, the motivation and impetus to attack the bigger goals completely changes once you’re grateful for what you have in the moment. And it can start with something as simple as being grateful for the clean air you breathe, if you breathe clean air. The clean water you can drink, the four limbs that you have if you have four limbs, the family members who love you and you love them who still are alive; being grateful for the park that you can run in and so many other things.
You just think about these things. I just need to just look around at the life I’ve created and be grateful instead of worrying about: “Why didn’t I meet that goal, my writing goal from last week?” And getting really worked up about it in this kind of way of beating up the psyche to get to the goal, rather than being grateful and having that push you towards your goal.
And Tony Robbins talks about this, the difference between push and pull motivation, that so many of us rely on this motivational – I just flipped it around but it’s the same idea – that we rely on just using this kind of pushing like, “I got to get this thing done” or “Things aren’t gonna go well”, that kind of energy which is very common in university and high school, around the all-nighter subculture that I was definitely in at the end of every semester. I’m like, “We gotta get this done or I’m going to fail!” kind of thing.
And then actually applying the right way to view your goals in life as being something that pulls you forward, so that even if you – you don’t actually have to apply a lot of willpower discipline to it. It just pulls you forward, and that starts with gratitude. And another thing that gratitude will do, so just moving on to this next point here, speaking of Tony Robbins. I also learned this from my own Robbins coaching, training, is that gratitude drives out fear.
And I started with that as saying so many of us grew up in an education system or an upbringing that used fear as a way of propelling us to accomplish goals. And it’s a crappy life, and we rely a lot on fear. And fear sucks. Like, being in the state of fear is awful. And so many of us rely on that. We’re afraid of not meeting the budget. We’re afraid that if we don’t take this job, we’ll be out in the streets or whatever it is. Fear, fear, fear. And fear drives us to look for certainty and security.
And gratitude – so if you want to get out of fear, so hopefully you’ve discovered that that’s kind of a shitty way to live, and you want to get out of it, but you’re like, “I don’t know how to get my mind off of the thing that I’m afraid of.” Because it’s sort of like when you’re driving and you want to avoid something, and you just keep staring at the thing you want to avoid, you’re gonna end up hitting the thing you want to avoid. But it draws you in because it’s the thing that you’re focused on. You’re focused on the target or the object of your fear.
And the way to take your mind off at the first step, one of the most powerful steps, is gratitude. When you’re in a state of gratitude, there is no place for fear. And if you can start every day with just being grateful for the things, the simple things, the plain things, the ordinary things in your life… And so many of us have those things that we can look around and find. If you can start with those, then your whole life transforms. Just from a very simple, short, quick practice to just frame your day, to start it off with.
And one other thing, and I’ll hand it over to you, Stefan, is there’s a realization that when you read history – if you think about history at all – you realize that almost all of our modern comforts were invented in the past 100 years. And human beings have been around for, well, depending on where you cut it off at the homo sapien or whatever it is, hundreds of thousands if not millions of years.
And for hundreds of thousands of years, Homo sapiens, there have been probably the same proportion of happy Homo sapiens as miserable ones, and that happy Homo sapiens were able to be happy in a mud hut, without running water, or electricity, or all of these modern comforts. And we think, “Oh, if I just make an extra $25,000 this year, then I’ll be able to be happy, then I can be grateful for that.” Not realizing that none of these modern conditions were actually required for that state that you’re looking for, of contentment, or joy, or whatever it is: that positive state that feels good.
And that you can have that just with a flip, flipping that switch in your mind, like just switching your perspective and being grateful for what you already have.
Stefan Ravalli: Loving this. Wow. There’s so much to talk about here, but first wanna mention that it’s hard not to, once again, bring up process orientation versus goal orientation. And most of us are wired to only be grateful for the goal, as you were talking about. Because the goal’s the dopamine hit. The goal also is fitting this sort of narrative that we’ve built up in our heads, that this is the thing. And once we get it, that’s the only time to feel content and satisfied. And this actually gets conditioned by our entertainments.
And this has been talked about since the 80s, since George Leonard wrote Mastery. He said all of television entertainment is built around peak experiences, hitting the peak, hitting the climax, getting the attainment. And it’s not built around showing us the joys and wonders of process. But that’s a very Western construct as well. If you look at Eastern entertainments, like stuff from Japan, it’s about finding joy and reverence in the moment, like the films of Yasujiro Ozu. Some European films are like this too.
And you’ll watch these films, you’re like, “Oh, these are not so exciting. Maybe, you know. It’s not hitting us with the dopamine of tension and suspense, action and drama. But if you are physically in the space that these movies want to put you in, you would feel a wonder and an appreciation for everything around you. And that’s what we’re looking for in our lives. We’re not looking for a cinematic life, because the cinematic life is only one good moment, a build-up to it and then a drop off after. You want a whole, stable, continuous feeling of being glad to be here, right?
And that means not feeling like you’re lacking anything. And that’s what’s really powerful about gratitude, is that it completely changes your mindset. Because as soon as I started using gratitude practices, I realized that the whole time, I hadn’t been thinking about what I value. Most of my mental energy was formed around just looking at what I lack and looking what isn’t there that somehow should be there, because I thought it should be there.
And me feeling like nothing was good enough because it didn’t have this piece in place or that piece in place. And yeah, many of us believe we need this to drive us. We need the sense of lack to drive us, this sense that things need to be better, this restlessness that maybe drives innovation or drives financial success. But I will now challenge you to try being driven by a sense of fullness and abundance, by looking at what you value and building from there, by looking at what you already have and building from there.
Because that is the only way to know yourself knowing yourself. Knowing yourself is not knowing what you lack and what you think should be there that isn’t. Knowing yourself is looking around at all the things you appreciate. That will show you what you truly value, and that will show you what you truly have to work with. Start there. But we should later get into starting to value the things that you normally wouldn’t, but start by valuing the things that are easy to, and then that’s a platform to build into valuing the things you had been otherwise rejecting.
But you probably have something to say about this. I’m going to pass it over to you.
Dr. David Tian: One step at a time. Just going from delaying your gratification at the end, which might be 10 years from now, and then moving into just finding the things in the here and now that you can actually be grateful for, and realizing that there are many, many, many of them that… And then just the idea of the motivation for achieving goals. One thing that I discovered that really switched things for me in school… So, going from a B- GPA at my first semester at McGill, where I did my undergrad, to an A and an A+ graduating GPA was: One of the important principles was to realize that we’re all motivated to do something.
So, you might hear about kids in school just being flagged for having no motivation, but we’re all motivated to do something. It’s just not the thing that the school wants us to do. I know a lot of guys who are motivated to play video games. Like, they’re really motivated on that. We might be motivated to watch porn. You’re motivated to do something, it’s just that the world right now or the economy is not set up to reward you for doing that thing, and that causes frustration, but there’s something you want to do.
And as the world changes and as it has since I was a kid in high school, and seeing now you could make millions of dollars being a professional video gamer, and that maybe when my kids, and definitely by my grandkids’ time, video gaming or watching other people play online games will probably be more popular than actual physical games… Seeing that, like, “Oh, it was true. That principle that we’re all motivated to do something.”
And if you can just use your creativity to figure out how to monetize that, I mean, look at my job now. It’s a miracle that I look back at what I was doing in the academy as a professor, looking basically at that time as a 20-year-old trying to figure out, based on the majors available to me, and my current interests and things like that – I didn’t do well in sciences in university. I did do well in high school in them, but it was sink or swim, it had 700 kids in the freshman chemistry class, and I sank.
And then just looking at, “Okay, what’s available to me? History…” That sort of thing, right? And then thinking, “Okay, based on what I’m decent at and don’t hate, what kind of job could I get out of it?” And the only thing that came out of it – well, the thing that was the most obvious was to be a professor. Because if you do all this book learning, there’s not much more you can do beyond that. There are things like strategy consulting and so on, but just like really traditional fields. And this was in the mid-90s, right? So, that’s how old I am. And in the mid-90s, we didn’t have the internet. Netscape had just begun. It was Windows 95. There’s so much in the modern world that people take for granted now didn’t exist back then.
And it was an amazing thing because I was just thinking like, “Okay, what am I actually motivated to do?” And it turns out that now, my job for the past 15 years comes out of this thing that I was really motivated to do but I didn’t know how to monetize. And I didn’t even think to monetize it, which was figuring out my social life and dating life, coming out of a divorce back then. And that turned into a sideline hobby thing because of the internet and things like WordPress blogs.
And then that turned into a really fun career for several years actually just being in bars and clubs, and giving seminars in the evenings. And now, it’s turned into life coaching and this therapy training that I’m doing and giving out therapy now. It’s an amazing thing. If I followed what I was forcing myself to be motivated to do, then I would never have pursued any of this. I would not be living the way I am now.
And so, one of the greatest things about gratitude is, when you start to be grateful for the things that you’ve got now, it opens up so many new possibilities that weren’t even on your radar before. And now, I’m moving into being grateful for things that fuck you up or that you think are horrible. And it’s tricky because it’s – as you go there, even from a therapeutic perspective, you end up trivializing other people’s pain. Like, hey, look on the bright side of things. You just lost your mother, hey, look on the bright side. Your kid was raped and killed, hey, look on the bright side. You can’t do that. Right?
So, we’re not you, whoever’s listening, and you might have whatever pain you’re feeling and have your trauma, and all of those are valid. All the pain there is valid. We’re not saying to be grateful for the evil that was a result of that. But what we are saying is almost… I’ll just share from my perspective then it’s easy. So from my life, you may not think that there’s much difficulty in my life, but every major turning point of a new perspective, new approach to things, even these career changes I was just mentioning, were the result of great failure. Like, failure to the point of – this is my goal that I was working on for years, and I failed at it, or it just blew apart or just fell apart.
And then what do I do now? And then thinking it’s over, and actually becoming suicidal several years ago as a result of my narcissistic goals completely crumbling in front of my eyes and not knowing where to go. I’m thinking, “It’s just going to be hard work from here on out.” And I already achieved everything I wanted, so why do all the hard work? All I’m gonna do is all the hard work and just get back what I already had. What’s the point of that? I already had it. Getting to the point of gratitude required this realization, that every major change in your life, to get outside that paradigm, to get outside that box, requires the destruction of the current paradigm.
And when that happens, you don’t know where the new paradigm is. So, I’m 43 now. So, having several of these life-changing turning points where it’s just complete chaos. Like, I don’t know where the center is. I don’t know where up is and down is, and I don’t know where to move forward. But just staying in this holding pattern of waiting. And in the meantime, just looking for everything. I’m just keeping my eye open and saying yes to all these different things that my friends or mentors are suggesting, and just seeing what happens.
And just realizing that these – the thing that’s going to come next is something that I don’t know yet. So, knowing that you don’t know it. And then being grateful that this is happening because a big transformation is around the corner. And it’s what I call the vantage point of trust. I’ve done a podcast with Henry Chong on that topic: choosing to trust.
Choosing to trust in the process that you may not know what good could come out of it, but trusting that there will be good that will come out of it, or that you’ll finally be able to see the good that is coming out of it, taking that trusting vantage point then sets you up to actually see it. So, if you understand the science of the reticular activation system, the RAS, you know that there are thousands, if not millions of things, that we in our five senses could attend to right now. But in order to survive, we have to hone in and focus in on a very small subset of those. And that’s how our brain has been wired.
So, the thing that you don’t know is the thing that you’re ignoring. And if you take that vantage point of trust, then you can stay open to wherever that inspiration will come from. And it’s very much connected to the starting point of gratitude.
Stefan Ravalli: Alright, yeah. You’re talking about a really core mindfulness principle too, which is about awareness. And a lot of people think mindfulness is just being aware of more, or noticing more, or just being present. Well, what does that mean? Because there’s an infinite amount of information you can take in. So, it doesn’t just mean higher quantity. There’s another level of intelligence that kicks in there.
And actually, in the yogic traditions, they call that viveka, a Sanskrit word for discernment, which means knowing what is important, knowing what’s most relevant right now that needs to be attended to rather than just getting pulled around by endless amounts of sensory information. And this is important. Openness is really important. And most people, that’s a core thing they need to work on because most people are not open. They’re tethered too hard to one singular thought or idea that they’re getting pulled towards.
Openness is good. But also, once you’re open, there has to be a readiness for the right direction, for information that is the most important, more important than all of the other information that’s coming in that needs to be attended to, more important than the static coming off of the TV. That’s a terrible example. No one has TVs with static anymore. I got to come up with better sensory examples that are more timely. But you know what I mean. The static coming off of your computer screen, which doesn’t come off of your computer screen.
Anyway, there has to be a certain movement in the right direction. And that’s an availability for that. Now, gratitude comes in here because the power of gratitude isn’t just simply being grateful for big, broad, abstract things. Like, I’m really grateful that the Earth continues spinning around the sun and doesn’t get incinerated by it. You could say that, sure, great. But gratitude for really, really specific little things that are special to your life and your present experience, that is what can really enliven your experience and really bring your attention into greater discernment so that you can see what’s truly important to you in the moment.
Whether it’s a meditative practice, you can say, “I’m grateful for food, I’m grateful for my friends, I’m grateful for my family.” Or you could say like, “I’m grateful for this particular experience I had today that gave me this particular information.” And if you had a difficult experience today, let’s get into talking about having difficult experiences. Because you said a great thing about not dismissing them and just saying, “Oh, let’s see the positive in it.” That dismisses the pain. You can’t dismiss the pain. Pain is real, pain sucks. Pain really is unavoidable. It’s an unavoidable aspect of being alive: feeling pain.
And trying to avoid pain is going to lead to suffering. And we talked about this in the last episode. Suffering is just resistance to pain. Now, if you want to experience pain in a way that doesn’t give you suffering, have gratitude for what it’s potentially offering. That doesn’t mean dismissing and saying, “Let’s see the positive.” Let’s experience the pain and experience what it might be telling me.
For example, if I’m feeling deep sadness, that means that I should probably shift my perspective and understanding to fully let go of something, to fully embrace change. That’s what sadness is often telling us. Or if I’m experiencing rage, like anger, it’s a really good time to straighten up your shoulders and say, “What is it that I feel is being violated right now?” What do I value that I’m feeling is being infringed upon, and is it really being infringed upon? And then, in that moment, you can be really grateful for your anger because you’re learning about what you value. I know we can reject anger and say, “Well, I’m just being a jerk right now. I’m feeling pain right now.”
Anger often isn’t pleasant, and it clouds us, and it throws us off track, and makes us throw energy around recklessly. But when you take an experience of anger and say, “I’m having an experience right now that is bright, and powerful, and indicative that something is very important to me. Let’s pay attention to what’s important.” And you’re able to be grateful, say, “Thank you, anger.” This is what I do. It sounds kind of kooky and can be used in a weird way, but I recommend trying this without sarcasm. Like, without a hostile tone. And so, this is what I do when I have an experience that I don’t like.
And this also especially includes when other people trigger me. So if someone triggers me, I say thank you to them internally. Not externally, that’ll be weird and confusing for them. Internally. “Thank you for showing me something about myself.” And if I’m feeling an emotion, I say thank you to that emotion for doing your job, for having me understand the boundaries I’ve set out for myself, and that they can potentially be violated. And that’s all you have to do. Really, gratitude is saying thank you for something for doing its job, and not swatting it away saying, “This doesn’t fit my idea of what peaceful and happy looks like.” No, peaceful and happy means you have a table where everyone’s invited.
And every time they show up, even if they’re causing a ruckus, you thank them for attending because they probably have something to offer. And when you do that, that experience will more likely show you what it has to offer. Does that make sense?
Dr. David Tian: Yeah, that’s deep. In IFS therapy, we use the term appreciation. I don’t know if there’s some difference in connotation between being grateful and appreciating. There’s a lot of overlap. One of the tenets of IFS therapy and any kind of multiplicity therapeutic approach, like Gestalt’s or even Jungian, is the understanding that all of our parts have positive intent. Like, we always keep 1% of psychopaths – perhaps it doesn’t apply to them – but for everyone else, even these emotions, the part of you that is feeling the anger is feeling that way because of a good reason.
And trying to just repress it isn’t going to do you any good in the long run, and especially, but even in the short term. And instead, it begins with appreciating that the positive intent of that part. There’s a good reason why it’s sad, that part is sad. And if you stop and pause and get to know that part of you that’s sad, it will, over time, reveal the reasons for it and then you can go from there. So yeah, starting from a place of appreciation of all the parts, all the emotions that you have. They’re all there for some good reason.
Usually, it’s having to do with protection. It’s trying to protect you in some way. Sadness is – that one’s pretty more straightforward. That was more straightforward. But anger and things like that, and any kind of emotions – the emotions that people generally don’t like actually puzzle me. Because the more I get into therapy, the more I like all the emotions, so even sadness, it’s a real high. Like, I know some people get so sad and down that they just want to end it. I was there before, and it’s just a different perspective that it can then become something good because the sadness will cause tears. You think, “I could cry forever. I’ll just never stop crying.”
But I challenge you to try that. See how long you can keep crying. Eventually, your physical body will stop and then it’ll take a break. And then maybe at some totally random time, like in the middle of a business meeting, you’re going to start crying again, and that’s alright. Just go run off, excuse yourself to the toilet, to the bathroom, and cry your eyes out in the bathroom stall, and just see how mature the people are around you when you come out with your red eyes. And this is good. This is life. You are now living.
And so many people treat themselves – I have a whole series of podcasts on the robot, how people treat themselves like robots. This is like coming out of the Industrial Revolution, we’re just cogs in the wheel. And right up through the 80s, people just get a job – especially the toxic masculinity view of life. Like, get a job, toughen up, don’t show emotions, don’t even bother having emotions besides happiness and just simple ones. And maybe the only weird emotion is anger that’s acceptable. And then get a wife and kids, a white picket fence, and you’re done. You should be happy. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but that’s not actual human life. Like, that’s something that a Sim could do. There’s an argument whether we’re actually Sims.
But anyway, so the emotions are the whole rainbow of these. And if there’s a good reason you’re sad, maybe somebody you love passed away and you miss them, that’s a good thing. That’s honoring them or whatever it is in your life. Some horrible tragedy happened to you and you need to process that. Let that out. This is part of the healing process. I fucked up my knee a couple weeks ago and it became infected, and it’s fucking painful, and I know that the pain – especially when they clean it, like, when good stuff is happening, they go in there and they clean it, and then they put this antibiotic cream and it burns. That’s good. I’m like, “Yes, it’ll get healed now!”
It’s just a different perspective. The one example I use, the roller coaster. So many people pay – well, you’re going to move to Disneyworld area soon, so many people pay a lot of money, and they line up at Disney for three fucking hours to go on a roller coaster. And there are people who are deathly afraid of these things. That’s the exact same external stimulus, and it’s just the perspective that they bring or the interpretation they bring to the physical event. And it’s the same when it comes to processing these painful emotions.
No emotion is actually going to be painful. Feelings are painful, like if I were to cut you open, the physical sensations, what psychologists and philosophers call the phenomenology of the thing, is going to be processed by these nerve endings. But then the suffering, the attendant suffering beyond that, is processing this as a thing that’s bad, as a thing to be avoided that you don’t want. And it’s just the same as going on a roller coaster. If you say, “I don’t want this.” You’re going to have a horrible time and maybe throw up. But if you say, “Oh yeah, my god!” And you embrace it, and the example that my friend who brought this up, who is deathly afraid of rollercoaster before, had this little trick in his mind where he leaned forward on the handlebars and pretended like he was pushing the rollercoaster.
And now that he had this little semblance of control, he was able to enjoy it and to let go. He needed that little bit of illusion of control. And whatever it is for you to realize that however long it takes as well for you to heal and get to that point, these emotions that many people consider to be painful are actually very cathartic. Catharsis is a great word for this because the good stuff comes towards the end of that cycle and then it happens again like waves.
Just like surfing a wave while you’re waiting for the wave to hit you, it sounds very exciting. And then when the wave first hits you, it’s like this boom, this is – and then while you’re riding the wave, then it feels really nice. And it’s good to think of emotions as these waves. They’ll come and go, ebb and flow. And the thing to do if you want to heal is to ride them. And I guess we’re going back to gratitude, to be grateful for every single one of these. Because this is what makes life worth living.
Otherwise, you might be wishing that you were actually an android that could just remove the emotion chip from life, and you could think perfectly rationally like all of the – this is the old modernist fantasy that created the first Star Trek. So, I’m referencing a bunch of Star Trek things with emotion chips. And realizing that this is what makes life worth living: these messy emotions.
I guess, one thing I wanted to just mention before I forget is: You were saying about the gratitude of looking for the specific, to be as specific as you can when looking for things to be grateful for. And one of the things that really changed my life was meditation by Sarah Blondin where somewhere towards the end of it – I can’t remember which meditation it was or the name of it, but it was definitely by Sarah Blondin – and she mentions this line, to be thankful for the simple, the plain, the ordinary life I get to live.
And being around achiever energy all my life and having these achiever and intellectual parts in my brain and my mind, always worrying and telling me, “I got to get on this and be on schedule for this.” Rush, rush, rush. Get it on schedule, go, go, go. All of that being in ambition, trying to create a great life… And so many of my clients and people who seek me out, when you ask them, “What’s your goal?” There’s like, “My goal is to make an extraordinary life, a legendary life.” I use these terms because I actually have a course called Legendary, but “the legendary life. I want people to speak about me in the history books.”
And I totally get that. That was a goal, that type of thing, that type of thinking which I now call a type of narcissism. Deep. I was deep in that in my 30s. And I missed out on all this great living because I was aiming for this amazing life, instead of realizing, as I was getting to that point with the history books and the mud huts, is that you’re going to live your 80 years. For me, it’s already halfway done. And at the end of it, you’re lying on your deathbed and you’re looking back on your life. You’re not going to give a fuck about that year that you finally earned enough money to get that Lamborghini or whatever stupid ass 20-something goal you got.
You’re not going to care. What you’re going to care about is who you loved, and who loved you, and those simple moments of tenderness, of vulnerability, of connection. And you can lead a completely amazing, simple, plain ordinary life in the sense of – you’re not making millions of dollars. No one’s writing about you in magazines and newspapers. When you walk down the road, no one’s adoring you and wanting your autograph, or whatever else narcissistic thing people think are the only things that will fulfill them. You have a loving spouse, you have kids who love you, and they will admit it when they become more mature, and you have these tender moments, and these specific times of vulnerability, and love, and joy. That’s when you look back on your life what you will remember.
And that’s all that actually matters. The simple, the plain, the ordinary and embracing that. And that’s all that we need. All of the other stuff will just fall away when the time comes, when it really matters. None of those other things actually mattered. So yeah, throwing that one out there: simple, plain, and ordinary.
Stefan Ravalli: Powerful stuff. Alright, I guess we’re getting near time. So, I want to maybe end with talking about a couple of useful practices. We’ve already talked about a few. There’s one I wanted to mention. But before I do, I really wanted to expand on that point. And in fact, your point may be exactly the way point into my practice that I wanted to discuss. You’re talking about people like wanting to have this legacy. They want to rise to greatness. They want to be admired, essentially. They want to others to look at them with admiration. Being famous can’t happen in a vacuum. It means there’s a certain amount of applause they’re getting from everybody that will probably give them a high.
But if you want to be admired, what should you do? Appreciate your life. People admire those that appreciate exactly where they are. In fact, a tractor fields will go out that draw crowds that say, “What’s your fucking secret?” When you are absolutely joyous about what you have right now, whatever amount that is. And that is often what has created cults of personalities around spiritual teachers.
Pick one. Start with Jesus if you want to go with a western-friendly one. And scores of Eastern teachers that had physically nothing but looked like the richest people on Earth, and emanated wealth that Kings never felt, even though they had all the material possessions they can imagine, and had all the socio-economic power they could imagine. They didn’t have true power, and that is the power to truly appreciate your life. Appreciating your life is power. It’s what everyone is striving for: being cool with everything. It’s a hilarious paradox.
We strive, and we strive, and we strive, only to finally feel appreciative of what we already have. And so, that will lead me to a practice that I like. It can be done eyes closed, eyes open. It’s simply a workshopping of yourself where you think, “Okay. I’ve got nothing.” Let’s say you wake up tomorrow and you are homeless. Like, no house. Like the clothing on your back, perhaps. You’re looking around the world, and let’s say the basic necessities of life aren’t exactly a worry. Let’s say you’re somehow able to keep yourself fed, but you don’t have any of the stuff you normally have. Where do you want to put your energy?
What matters to you, and what are you happy to have? First of all, looking around, what do you like? That’s the first thing to think about. What can you appreciate about the world that you’re in? And then what kind of work do you want to do? And this goes back to that point you were making earlier about how we were perfectly content, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of years ago, with simpler lives. So, imagine that simpler life, and that will bring your mind into the essence of what you truly value about being alive. And that will make you feel full and powerful in ways that aren’t dependent on external, physical material possessions. That is true power.
True power is not needing anything outside of you in order to feel like you have agency. You can enjoy your life because you’re totally autonomous. You’re a self-generating machine of affirmative living. Alright, I’ll pass it over to you. What do you have for practices and action modes for gratitude?
Dr. David Tian: Oh, yeah. Well, people can start very simply with just taking this one called the five-minute app or something. I’ve got the exact name of it, but Tim Ferris has written about this, and it was developed by an acquaintance of mine. And you just download it. It’ll prompt you with three questions. You can do a morning and then an evening one. And you just write it in. You just journal it. I think it’s five-minute journal. And they’re going to prompt you on what you’re grateful for and just write them in there.
And then you’ll see… It’ll be saved for you so you can look back on them. And that’s an easy way to go because it literally takes five minutes. You can even do it in one minute. But I’ve actually worked it into my meditation. So, over the years, I’ve tried lots of different meditation styles, and formats, and so on. And at the moment, for the past year, year and a half, I’ve always worked in somehow a moment to go in into mindfulness and try to be attuned, try to get my senses heightened while my eyes are closed. So, it shuts down one of them.
And then from there, tuning into three things in my life happening right now that I can be grateful for. And then one of them always tend to be a person or persons, and then I try to just send that gratitude. In my mind’s, it’s sort of like this laser beam out to the people. So that maybe if thoughts, or things, as ancient Chinese believed, it will somehow reach them. So, I’m directing it and it’s just fun to do. And it’s a great way to start or end my 20 minutes in the morning.
So, I usually do that one in the morning, and really simple. So it’s literally, “Just think of three good things that you’d be grateful for in your life right now.” And then just incorporate that into your meditation time. That’s been great for me.
Stefan Ravalli: Wow, the five-minute journal is an app. I do it analog. Of course it’s an app. I mean, I thought to myself, “This must be an app.” But I like writing in a book right now. But I like the idea of an app, because the app can give me a nudge to do it if I haven’t done it. I think with gratitude, we need a nudge sometimes.
Dr. David Tian: Yeah, and the prompts. It’ll prompt you to think of something, yeah. Journaling is just great even just from a therapeutic perspective. There’s been plenty of evidence that shows journaling is very helpful. So, whether you do it old-style pen and paper or on an app, I highly recommend it.
Stefan Ravalli: Yeah, make it a practice. Start and end your date with gratitude and you’ll be happy. Everyone is saying that now. We all want to be happy or at least enjoy life. That’s a general human drive. And if you ask a lot of spiritual teachers, okay, what should I do? How can I take my happy pill? There is no fix , but…
Dr. David Tian: The worry from the achiever side is, if I’m happy with what I have now, then I’ll have no motivation to drive and do this hard work, and pull the all-nighter to get the next thing. So, that’s why this is like, if you just make it a quote card for the people who actually need it the most, who have a lot more to be grateful for, because they have achieved so much, they’ve created all of this stuff that they don’t even appreciate… It doesn’t hit home yet, so you have get that context of the motivation and where that should come from, and flow, and so on. Which we just did in this podcast that went over time.
Stefan Ravalli: Of course it did. And this should be another episode actually, talking about striving versus contentment. There is tension between those two which is a very powerful place. But I can speak from experience, when I brought gratitude into my life. I mean, I’m definitely an achiever. I never stopped. Bringing gratitude in my life, in terms of my general motive to work, all that really shifted was me not wasting energy on stuff that was invaluable to me. But the energy doesn’t dissipate, the energy to keep doing. In fact, I got more energy because there was more to appreciate and more to put my motivation and aspiration into.
Dr. David Tian: Even from the sports perspective, if you got a player who really loves the game and is just super happy to even be playing and loves it, and just can’t wait to hit the field, versus the guy who’s like, “Oh fuck, I got to do it again. Alright, fine.” Who’s going to be able to last the whole season? Who are you going to put your chips on? It’s just obvious, but so many people have been burned out, especially as they get into their 30s in jobs that they picked because it was safe. This is their normal mode of being, kind of miserable. I don’t even realizing it because it’s their default. So, starting with gratitude would shift them out of that. And yeah, can’t recommend that enough. We’re going to end off here, and thanks so much for listening and watching. Stefan, how do they get a hold of you?
Stefan Ravalli: Check out serveconscious.com. That’s my core project right now, which seeks to bring meditation and mindful practices into service life, professional and personal, but definitely start with professional. And then bringing service principles into everyday life; how to serve what really matters everywhere. How about you?
Dr. David Tian: You can find out about me at davidtianphd.com. You can find out about our project here, Tenshin Mindfulness, at tenshinmindfulness.com. This is where this is going to be posted. You can learn more about us as well on that site. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.
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