As we approach the obligatory day of gratitude in the U. S., some of you may not feel particularly grateful. I understand. I faced an entire decade of challenges when my heart wasn’t overflowing with gratitude. I just wanted it to all go away.
There are countless reasons why you might not feel grateful at the moment:
- Chronic illness
- Non-stop pain
- Personal loss
- Financial woes
- Relationship blues
- Difficult family relations
- Incurable illness
- Feeling overwhelmed by world catastrophes
- Worry about the environment
And that’s just a glimpse of the possibilities because life is not always easy.
Consider a Dose of Self-Compassion
What can you do if you don’t feel particularly grateful even if it is Thanksgiving? I suggest starting with a well deserved dose of self compassion.
Now, some people might consider this a “pity party.” But personally I don’t like that phrase. It’s too reminiscent of “stiff upper lip,” which sounds more uncomfortable than brave.
How can it help to deny your suffering? If someone else had the same despair, your heart would naturally go out to them. So why shouldn’t you care for yourself too as long as it doesn’t become an unhealthy self-obsession?
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the depth or pain of your challenges, and take time to cultivate compassion for yourself. In fact, this is the way to gradually heal your mind and heart, regardless of whether externals change. It took me ten years to finally accept my own suffering, but I finally did. So I know you can too.
How to Cultivate Self Compassion
You can learn how to practice self compassion with this simple preliminary practice of giving and receiving on the breath from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. First, find a quiet place and allow your mind to settle for a few moments.
“For the purpose of this exercise, divide yourself into two aspects, A and B. A is the aspect of you that is whole, compassionate, warm, and loving, like a true friend, really willing to be there for you, responsible and open to you, without ever judging you, whatever your faults and shortcomings.
B is the aspect of you that has been hurt, that feels misunderstood and frustrated, bitter or angry, who might have been, for example, unjustly treated or abused as a child, or has suffered in relationship or been wronged by society.
Now, as you breathe in, imagine that A opens his or her heart completely, and warmly and compassionately accepts and embraces all of B’s suffering and negativity and pain and hurt. Moved by this, B opens his or her heart and all pain and suffering melt away in this compassionate embrace.
As you breathe out, imagine A sending out to B all his or her healing, love, warmth, trust comfort confidence, happiness, and joy.”
Just be a receptive vessel, allowing yourself to be filled with whatever quality or comfort or kindness you need. You might find that difficult at first. Trust me. Moving through this discomfort forms an essential part of the healing process.
By practicing compassion for yourself first, you’ll gradually heal your own pain and suffering. Then gratitude will become a more realistic proposition. And, in the process, you’ll uncover and strengthen the love and compassion that lies within you.
In fact, you’ll begin to see that you’re not alone in your suffering, which breaks your heart open in the most magnificent of ways. We are never alone in our suffering. Just look around and you’ll see we all share the same sufferings. Realizing this, you naturally begin to extend your heart to others. And, life can suddenly have a new meaning and purpose.
You deserve your own compassion as much as anyone else. I hope this simple practice of self compassion will bring you a moment’s relief from your pain.
Do you feel comfortable feeling compassion for yourself? Do you ever sit down and give yourself the space to do so?