Gratitude & Compassion
Humanity as a whole needs a breakthrough into the contemplative dimension of life. This is the Life at the heart of the world. There the human family is already one. If one goes to one’s own heart, one will find oneself in the heart of everyone else, and all in the heart of the Ultimate Mystery. —Thomas Keating
About a year and a half ago, I was traveling to central Pennsylvania to visit my mom. While riding in the car, I was listening to a podcast entitled, “Harnessing the Power of the Heart,” given by people from Heart Math Institute in California. I was utterly riveted to every word and amazed at how this resonated with my experience. The scientific research of the heart they were sharing validated all that I have been learning, practicing and living in the contemplative path.
This talk inspired me to engage an online course with Heart Math. I would like to share two qualities from my yearlong study that have new depth and meaning for me: gratitude and compassion.
Appreciation or gratitude is one of the easiest qualities of the heart for most of us to feel. People of any age can identify at least one thing for which we feel grateful, like a person or pet, or beautiful place or something that we enjoy. Scientific research shows that as one feels gratitude, sinks into the heart and genuinely feels (not thinks) gratitude, one becomes coherent, or aligned; body, heart, mind and spirit all are in a flow. How often our founder, Tilden Edwards, invited us to sink into the spiritual heart and be receptive to that flow, that divine presence within. A way to increase and continue that coherence is to radiate gratitude to everyone around me, all of creation, the whole planet. Especially when feeling stuck or distressed or anxious and wanting to return to a life-giving centered flow, I can return to gratitude as a way of being in the flow of life. Although I had been cultivating gratitude for many years, this gave me new access to its incredible power to join the divine energy within me that is always present and available.
Another aspect of this quality of gratitude is to appreciate myself. This has been such fun and even surprising as I practice this. As I sink into the heart, let my breath move through the heart, and feel appreciation for qualities within me—like generosity, courage, kindness, compassion, joy, calm, enthusiasm—I feel a deep sense of my unique belovedness. It really nurtures the feeling, the sense of my being in the image of God, embodying these attributes. This wellspring of care and love for myself then overflows to everyone around me. I honor myself for who and all that I am contributing by being me.
The other quality that has new meaning is compassion. Even though I have been cultivating compassion over many years, I saw how powerful it is to feel it often throughout the day in the midst of a variety of life situations, especially the messy or confusing ones. I found that compassion is a quality that can hold a great range of experiences without having to judge, fix or change anything. It allows all to be, even what seem to be opposites, with great tenderness and care. Because there is no need to label or judge or understand, I can hold all in wholeness or connectedness and feel that tender warmth and care. When I do this, I often experience change or a shift in me. I see things in a new way or I feel more accepting of myself and others, or I can just let life be as it is. I love to practice this around a world situation or something I really care about and want to change. As I sit with something that feels really disturbing and unfair and even wrong, I can feel compassion for myself and others, which can move me into alignment and then awareness of what is true and how to proceed in peace. This self-compassion then can overflow to others as I hold with tenderness and care the suffering, loss or conflict with others or situations in the world.
The connection that has been so profound for me with gratitude and compassion and the contemplative life is that the practice/feeling of these two qualities can bring me back into my heart and allow me to be aligned with my deepest desire for God and for being love in and for the world at any time. Although I often revert to figuring out or resisting or wanting to understand my reality, this way of being in the heart leads to authenticity and joy and often a whole new way of looking at life.
I feel grateful even as I share all of this with you, and I feel the flow of life and goodness. I am reminded of Anthony de Mello’s words: “There is no sweeter prayer than a grateful heart.”