Kissing Cousins: Gratitude & Compassion

Originally posted in December 2015. I’m re-running it for Thanksgiving week!

There’s a lot of talk about gratitude these days, and I’m all for it. Nothing feels more blissful than having your heart swell up every time you count your blessings: the people you love, the life you live, singing birds, gurgling babies, wildflowers, wind chimes, pink skies, you name it.

But we can’t always get there right away. There are days when ego might have a death grip on us. We’re nursing a wound, replaying an unpleasant memory, rehearsing what to say the next time we see someone who has gotten our goat, stressing about finances, or reflecting on our problems and thinking “why me?”

In those moments, our minds can be spinning like a hamster on a wheel. If we try to make a mental gratitude list when we’re in that state, there’s no telling what that rodent might do.

We all have minds that spin off-course, and it doesn’t make us any less conscious or spiritual. It just means we're human. What makes us conscious is how we respond when we notice we’re entangled. And whenever I see that hamster churning, my go-to practice is self-compassion.

In The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield outlines a three-step process for thought transformation (see ch.19).

1.      Recognize the thoughts that cause suffering. When we allow our minds to stay in a negative place, that’s the energy we bring to our interactions with others. As a result, our relationships suffer and we do too. We must first be aware of this phenomenon.

2.      Hold that suffering with compassion. If we reprimand ourselves, we only suffer more. Instead, we train ourselves to hold our entangled minds with love. We take that hamster off the wheel and gently stroke its trembling body. We give it some milk. We sing it a lullaby.

3.      Replace the thought with something more loving. Here are some mantras I use: “May I accept myself just as I am, with a heart of compassion.” “May I see light and love in others and myself ."

When I really commit to that practice, I can get back on the gratitude wagon within hours or even minutes. My perspective widens, and I’m walking down the street reveling in wildflowers and pink skies again. Compassion and gratitude go hand-in-hand. They’re kissing cousins.

If you’d like to bring more compassion into your life, here are some resources:

* Dr. Kristin Neff is a leading psychologist on self-compassion. Her website has practices and guided meditations to get you going.

* My guided meditations: “Compassion as the Bridge” and “Compassion for Challenging Emotions.”

* Even your kids can learn self-compassion! Check out this post by Dr. Shilagh Mirgain. It ends with gratitude!

And so does this one. My gratitude to all of you for reading. Be well.

Christina McMahon is a writer, energy healer counselor, and meditation teacher. Her passion is supporting others to open up their hearts to the sacred partnership they desire and deserve. When you subscribe to her blog, you'll receive a free video training series, “The Sacred Love Sequence: A Step-by-Step Guide to Calling in Your Sacred Partner.”