In my world, judgment and gratitude cannot, by their very nature, co-exist.
I cannot be grateful for my body and judge it at the same time. I cannot be grateful for my mind and simultaneously condemn it for being too busy. I cannot be grateful for my eyesight and criticize my need for glasses. I cannot be grateful for being a woman and revile the hot flushes coursing through my body. I cannot be grateful for my friends and family and berate them for not getting in touch more often. I cannot be grateful for my work and complain I have too much to do.
I belabor the point because judgment, self-criticism, and self-condemnation once ruled my life. There was little space for inner peace, self-kindness and wholehearted gratitude. Now, with a self-compassionate lens, even in writing, there is warmth and understanding holding the contrast.
I have enjoyed a gratitude writing practice for nearly twenty years. I remember in the early days I would collapse into bed after a challenging day with my young sons and drag my negativity bias (that would be raging with exhaustion) back to balance. I would scan my day for anything I could be grateful for, to drown out the noise of all the internal complaining and resentment that would have built up during the day.
Being a control freak of magnitude, having two little boys close in age who loved to bounce and explore, (read not sleep and make a mess) I found it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I could not keep on top of things. Even getting the washing up done was nigh on impossible some days. I would berate myself and chastise my inability to keep my cool, when, for example, Oliver just wouldn’t eat his dinner after I’d taken a great deal of effort to prepare something nutritious (like a ‘good’ mum does).
My gratitude practice was a life saver. I didn’t realize until I took the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) course that I was offering myself a true gesture of self-kindness and self-compassion. I took myself out of judgment mode, gently into the moment and moved into my heart. I found things to be grateful for. I warmed myself up by remembering the sweet smile Oliver gave me as I made funny hair with the play dough.I remembered Dominic’s excitement as our elderly neighbor Ernie, invited him in to choose a choccy biscuit from his special tin. I breathed in a sigh of gratitude as I recalled the delight we all had feeding the squirrels in the park that day. The negativity and tension that had built up in my body – usually about my inability to be a good mum, (a perfect mum) would begin to dissolve as I returned to love through gratitude.
Fast forward a few decades and I still write a page of gratitudes before bed. I rebalance myself, come home to my heart and rest in the warmth of my appreciation for what is.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.” Marcus Tullius Cicero
When writing something on gratitude for the CMSC blog, I noticed the immediate pressure I began to impose on myself. Now, if I was writing to a friend, there’s no pressure, no self-inflicted burden to “get it right,” to meet expectations or, let’s be honest, try to exceed them! This is where the Mindful Self-Compassion course has taken my Gratitude Practice to a whole new level.
I now have the skill to “notice” what I call “Crusher” (my critical voice) bearing down on me. I now have the proficiency to catch myself at this old, habitual game. Better still, I am blessed to have the ability to invite “Booster” (my compassionate voice) into my awareness. Do I still have the desire to create a praiseworthy piece of writing? Yes, of course! However, I have the grace of self-compassion to hold my “need to prove” and thus soften around the edges of my tendency to strive.
“The root of joy is gratefulness.” David Steindl-Rast
Wow, how did I get to be so lucky? MSC has turned a rich and meaningful Gratitude Practice into a bountiful source of joy and appreciation for my life and myself. My far-reaching self-compassion lens offers me the opportunity to embody all three components of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness.
Mindfulness – I not only bring awareness to my moment-to-moment experience (rather than just reflecting), I bring a friendly awareness. Gratitude suffuses my everyday living. There is a friendliness, an allowance for what is, and a spaciousness for whatever is showing up (ease or difficulty) that I can embrace with compassionate gratitude.
Common Humanity – Who knew I wasn’t alone?! Who knew?! I thought I was the only one feeling like a fraud, pretending I had my s**t together, while struggling to get through the day. I could not have imagined that the compassionate act of validating and acknowledging that others struggled just like me, could liberate me from my “soap opera” as James Baraz calls it. This in itself brings a wellspring of gratitude as I write.
Self-Kindness – I consider myself a kind person. It’s my core value. However, I was only living a half-life, as I was not providing this kindness to the warm-hearted woman in the mirror. To be able to receive kindness from my own precious heart, well that is truly miraculous. Gratitude is one of the best and most valuable gifts I could ever give myself. And with self-compassion as my companion, I can genuinely receive it now too.
Most importantly, I am grateful for the tough stuff. After years of practice, I am blessed to be able to access the “gift” in the “brown stuff.” As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus…”
Watching Dominic as a little boy finally fall to sleep in the hospital bed after hours of screaming in pain was heartbreaking. His eczema was so severe he was being treated for burns. It was gratitude I reached for in the middle of the night, as I curled up on the window seat by his bed and began listing everything and everyone I could be grateful for in that moment. I fell asleep in the arms of gratitude. A mother’s worst nightmare, witnessing her child suffer immeasurable pain without being able to soothe him, was comforted by gratitude.
I feel it is a gift indeed, not only for myself, but for my clients and my MSC students, that I can access the “gift”, the silver lining, of a situation with such ease. When teaching Mindful Stress Management in a high security prison, I would challenge the men to find the gift in their situation. They would always protest: “Er no Miss! There are no gifts being locked up behind bars in this dump!” “Look again”, I would urge, and with practice and a willingness to open their hearts, sure enough, they would discover the gifts. Prison was often a refuge, a safer place than on the out. Prison meant they could receive the help they needed for their drug addiction.Prison meant guaranteed meals. Prison ensured they had access to education and resources they otherwise would not have. Suddenly prison was a gift, and they were grateful.
The silver linings are ever present, but it is often very hard to see them without the lens of self-compassion. The warmth, the open heartedness, the peace that blossoms when self-compassion is your guiding light is limitless.
“Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you.” Eileen Caddy
There is so much more I could say about gratitude, but I will close with this: Gratitude is contagious. Gratitude feeds itself. The more we share, the more we have to share. Gratitude helps us open and embrace the present moment. It is the embodiment of loving, connected presence. And loving, connected presence is the quintessence of gratitude.
Let us celebrate our moments. Whether perceived as good or bad, each moment is an opportunity to be grateful. Gratitude is a wise and expansive teacher. Let gratitude guide your way.
P.S I’m so grateful for MSC! To say it has changed my life is an understatement. I’m grateful to CMSC for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. I’m grateful for spell check (to soothe my perfectionist) and the incredible thesaurus that helps me find just the right word to express myself!
I’m deeply grateful for all my teachers, especially my greatest teachers: my sons, physical pain, my father, and Crusher.
Thank you for reading to the end! I am grateful for you.
I wonder, what are you grateful for?
Learn more or register for an upcoming Live Online Mindful Self-Compassion (LOMSC) course.