Here’s an appreciation-enhancing tool that I use with patients, a relaxation-gratitude mash-up I call: Thank You, Maui.
It uses the stress management technique of visual imagery, with a focus on a location you are thankful for. The environment you imagine can be anywhere you find peaceful and pleasant. Somewhere you are grateful for and want to remember.
For me? My happy place: Maui, Hawaii—one of the most gorgeous places on Earth I’ve had the privilege to visit. It was profoundly relaxing to sit on the beach and just watch the water there. Azure blue waves rolling in, one after the other. I’m truly thankful I had the opportunity to experience its stunning beauty.
When will I return to Maui? Not sure honestly. But I know I can feel Maui’s calming charms and be grateful for my memories of it—every day if I want to. No flight necessary.
Convenient, stress-reducing visual imagery just takes closing your eyes and picturing a relaxing scene in your mind. Some patients choose to visualize being on beautiful trails in the woods they are thankful they’ve walked, looking at snow-covered mountains thru the windows of their warm cabins in winter, or at home in their favorite comfy reading nooks they treasure.
Where is your gratitude and peace-enhancing place? Whatever location you select, think about what your five senses would encounter there:
You can take as long or short a time exploring your imagined, soothing scenario as you’d like. Do whatever works best for you. Many patients find quiet spots to sit during lunch breaks or at the end of the day to mentally enjoy their own versions of Maui they are grateful for. It helps them slow down, exhale, take a few minutes for themselves—and facilitates refreshing feelings of calm, gratefulness, and happiness.
Here’s a sample using Sandy Neck Beach as the cherished, relaxing locale:
“Thank You, Sandy Neck”—4 Steps To Relaxation & Gratitude
Step 1: Find a comfortable, distraction-free place to sit. Close the door. Turn my phone and all electronics off or to silent. It’s just for 5-10 minutes or so—I can do this.
Step 2: Take time to breathe. Breathe in for 4 (slowly count 1-2-3-4 in my mind as I breathe in through my nose), hold for a mental count of 4, and then breathe out through my mouth for a slow mental count of 6. Repeat two or three times.
Step 3: Go to Sandy Neck Beach in my mind. Close my eyes. Picture my beach—what I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. First, I see the familiar, wooden Sandy Neck sign. As I walk toward the sand dunes, I can see the awesome Atlantic, an expanse of dark blue in front of me. I hear the rhythmic crash of the waves on the shoreline and seagulls flying high above me. I smell the salty ocean air and taste it faintly as it reaches my lips. I stand in front of the sea, taking in the scene. I feel myself relaxing, letting go of all of my tension as I squish the cool, wet sand between my toes. I stroll further down the beach and then sit on the soft, light cotton blanket I brought. I enjoy the quiet stillness. No one around. Only a few outlines of people walking along the shore in the far distance. I stay here awhile, watching the water ebb and flow, and savoring the feeling of warm sunshine on my body. I am deeply relaxed, peaceful, and content. When I’m ready to depart Sandy Neck for now, exhale and slowly open my eyes.
Step 4: Feel relaxed and grateful. Give myself a minute after finishing my imagery. Notice feeling more calm and refreshed. Focus on how thankful I am to have this beach in my life. Recognize that not everyone has such a special place to enjoy. Think about how I’ve benefitted from having Sandy Neck to visit and to visualize. Appreciate how relaxation and gratitude feels. Mentally or out loud say: I am grateful for Sandy Neck.
AWARENESS: Where is your “Maui”? When did you first go there? Why is it a place you are grateful for? In what specific ways is it meaningful or memorable? How might you or your life be different if you had never experienced your “Maui”?
ACTION: Practice “Thank You, Maui” at least one time this week. Use your “Maui” as the peace-promoting location in your visual imagery to relax and feel gratitude.
Before you start your actual practice, it may be helpful to think about and plan: Where is a comfortable, quiet place I could sit undisturbed? What time today or during the week would be most convenient? When I imagine my “Maui,” what things might I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch? (You can also record your description of your “Maui” and listen to it during Step 3 to enhance your relaxation.)
Review the sample steps above to remember the components of the practice. When you are ready to start your imagery—notice how you feel before you begin. Then, notice how you feel after. Do you feel more relaxed? More grateful? Is there anything you would do differently next time to improve your experience? Adjust as needed.
Remember you can use the power of your imagination and your five senses to help you feel better any time you want. I call it: “Going to Maui in my mind.” Create a name to honor your special place—and then visit frequently. Enjoy!
“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”—Rumi
“We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.”—Thich Nhat Hanh