“I have been interested in compassion my whole life. In my childhood, I was at the receiving end of other people’s compassion…In my professional life, serving the Dalia Lama so closely, I have had the privilege of witnessing, from the front seat as it were, what it means for someone to live a life with complete conviction in this defining human quality we call compassion.”
-Introduction, Thupten Jinpa in A Fearless Heart
On the receiving end of compassion – awww. it’s so easy to forget how often we are on that receiving end, to instead collect injustices, isn’t it? To narrow our attention to the ways that places/people/circumstances/weather isn’t measuring up to our created expectations. Yet, as Gandhi reminds us:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
So instead of spending these minutes telling you about my own list of current grievances (have you seen all the people blowing through stop signs recently and what is going ON with the news?! – phew), let’s discuss some simple tools for growing our own gratitude in this moment, recognizing all the moments we are on the receiving end of compassion.
- Play A Few Degrees of Thank You
Oh yeah, that’s right. Bringing back the old Kevin Bacon game – at my most mindful, when I say thank you for the bread, I go out a few more degrees. Thank you to the farmer for the flour, thank you to the sun for the warmth and to the rain for the hydration, thank you to the engineer who designed the farm equipment, and out and out. Thank you to the driver who delivered the bread, thank you to the person who brought it to this table, thank you to all the hands who touched a piece of this humble bread from its beginning as a small seed to its place in my hands. It’s dizzying how interconnected we are.
- List Out Your Grateful Things Daily
We do this at dinner. We list out a few highlights from our day, a few lowlights from the day, and finally what we are grateful for. You could do this in a journal, in a morning prayer or meditation, even as you wash your hands each day. Today I’m grateful for this fresh cool air I breathe, for the hot water in my shower, for the woman who stopped her car to apologize after she almost ran us over, for this moment, doing what I love.
- Thank You So Much For Everything, I Have No Complaints Whatsoever
Did you ever hear the joke about the man who went to a divorce attorney? The lawyer said ‘Wait one month, pretend your wife is everything you ever wanted and you are happily married, then come back in a month and we’ll do the paperwork.’ The attorney called a month later to follow up, husband said ‘what are you talking about? I don’t want a divorce, I’m happily married!’
I went back and forth about adding this last tip, I think I’m concerned I won’t explain it well in written form. The idea comes from a Tara Brach telling of an old Buddhist story. Briefly, it is a tool for opening your heart, in the moments of deepest frustration, try a silent prayer of ‘thank you so much for everything, I have no complaints whatsoever.’
It sounds counter intuitive, it sounds odd or sarcastic. I thought so too. AND when my daughter was lying in a parking lot sobbing and I was eyes-aching tired and so hungry, some shimmer of grace nudged me to whisper “thank you so much, I have no complaints whatsoever.” I deal in suffering, I hear stories all day of the ways we break wide open with pain. And that whisper smacked me like God’s fly swatter. She was alive, she was screaming her rage with healthy lungs and we were standing next to a car full of groceries I could pay for without blinking. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR EVERYTHING, I HAVE NO COMPLAINTS WHATSOEVER.
Wishing you a week of gratitude, love, and a little ‘thank you for everything’,
Warmly, Dr. Kerry