The Cycle of Gratitude and Compassion
I have been thinking a lot about the twin virtues of gratitude and compassion lately, and have just realized how tightly coupled these two feelings are. They are two sides of the same coin and by opening yourself to experience one more deeply, you expose yourself more fully to its mate. It is a cycle we can set in motion!
With my departure from Microsoft, I have felt a great upwelling of gratitude for my time there and for the relationships I developed. Similarly, when my husband suffered a cardiac arrest several years ago and everyone was so generous with their time and help- the gratitude I felt was nearly crippling in its brightness. To some degree I had to protect myself from being overwhelmed by it- how does one repay the debt of a life saved or sanity preserved? Gratitude is beautiful, even in its definition- “the feeling or attitude of acknowledgement of a benefit that one has received or will receive.” It makes you feel peaceful just contemplating it- no wonder so many forms of meditation and religion devote large amounts of time to fostering a consistent awareness and commitment to that sense of gratitude- it embodies he sense of Wonder.
Lately, I have noticed an expansion of my feelings of compassion as well. This is not to say that I was not a compassionate person already- I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, which not only means you can read my emotions but means that my heart is easily accessible for bruising, squeezing, soaring, touching, exciting, or otherwise moving in some way. There have been times when I have feared that I feel *too keenly* the suffering or challenges of those both close to me or far away. Like so many others, the Boston Bombings and the deadly plant explosion in Texas left me feeling sad and angry, and like I couldn’t take a deep breath because of the ache. Compassion is an active emotion and virtue- you feel moved to *do* something because of your feelings.
Compassion can fuel that feeling of gratitude- setting in motion one of the most fundamentally virtuous cycles I can imagine. I wish we could set this flywheel spinning within people like a virus of compassion and gratitude would surely wipe out many of the ills around the world.
There may be a humble way to start this flywheel spinning- do it for yourself! We so seldom think about feeling compassion or gratitude for ourselves. To some degree it’s an anathema to us- it invites reflection and stillness, and people today like to keep moving, as if we are fish and needed constant movement itself to deliver us oxygen. Even our connectedness pushes us to move. Maybe we need to do a little more of the stay?
I have begun trying to apply these feelings to myself, but it’s hard. I seem programmed to be critical and striving, but even this little bit of distance from the frenetic pace of work, has given me the chance to consider this virtuous circle within my own life.
And as a parent, a mom with two brilliantly sparkling, inquisitive, magnificent little people in my house; little people who also happen to be maddeningly independent, challenging, passionate and often righteous in their belief… now is the time to feel that compassion for myself! I am trying to be grateful for this time, the time to work on me, the time to develop these muscles.
How many girlfriends have I bent the ear of, talking about my shortcomings as a mother- times I have yelled or been to quick to overreact to some infraction. How much time have I spent berating myself for the sin of not knowing what to do or to learning as I go, though there are times when my learning curve seems remedial at best (oops, there I go again…) So- I am trying to let go a little, slow down a little, feel some compassion for the “humanness” of me. When I do this, I can feel the gratitude well up, and I can feel a sense of peace slide a little bit closer.
My goal for the next few months is to really focus on this sense of inward compassion and gratitude. It’s a new challenge, a little bit scary, and a lot outside my comfort zone but I am determined to try and look forward to seeing what benefits my family and I reap from this effort. I invite you to join me in this effort… and I’ll keep you posted.
As always please share or comment, if you feel moved to do so! I appreciate your support!