This is the ninth of 10 posts I’m writing about how to combine gratitude and compassion for a happier life.
This series was all sparked by a remarkable finding from brain research as expressed by Dr Amit Sood of the famous Mayo Clinic:
“Because of the way your brain works, the pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness itself.” – Dr Amit Sood
This insight has really made me think about so many aspects of my life.
How can I implement this in practice to turbo-power my happiness? How can we all?
I love these questions! Let’s dive-in!
I’ve come up with a simple 4-part framework for combining gratitude and compassion, and I’m sharing how to do that using 10 different examples in 10 posts. In each post I focus on a different area of gratitude as a jumping off point.
This week my gratitude reference point is Silence…
Silence soothes me. Silence helps me find my center. Silence shows me what I need to let go of, and what’s worth hanging onto.
When my life gets overwhelming, crazy, and too much is going on all at once I can get over-stimulated. Silence is my antidote.
For me silence can take lots of forms. It can be meditation. It can be walking. It can be listening to music. It can be cleaning up the house.
The key is that I stop talking, and I focus on listening.
That’s what I mean by silence – not that there is no sound, just that I stop adding to it. When it comes to listening, I do two things with my internal mind chatter:
This witnessing function is something that can’t be gripped to tightly, or it then becomes a participant in the thoughts. Can you practice allowing your witness to see the thoughts as they go past, without jumping onto the train of thought itself?
I really like the train analogy here while practicing silence. When you find you’ve jumped onto a train of thought and are “thinking” it… just notice that and jump off again, back into witnessing. Let that train leave the station.
Some other helpful guidelines for a silence practice:
The longest time I’ve stopped talking for was about 2 weeks. It was amazing. I’ve done 7-10 day stretches as well, a couple of times. But even one day of silence I’ve found, can be very powerful.
It’s amazing what happens when I stop talking and stop participating in conversations. Soon enough I stop replaying the conversations of that day, or the day before, in my mind. All that chatter starts to wind down. And when it does, then I can hear what’s sitting underneath the chatter.
Quiet helps me gauge the state of my inner voices.
I can hear what I’m telling myself – about my life, about my sense of self, about whether I feel I’m good enough. When I shut up for a while and listen, that’s when I can really hear my own ‘self talk’. It’s hard to hear it over the din of constant conversations… even though it’s always there in the background.
I can tell you that the first time I got quiet and really listened to my self-talk, I was shocked. Shocked at how mean I was being to myself. Shocked at how much of my inner dialogue (or monologue, I suppose) wasn’t even my own… how much was just regurgitated phrases and beliefs that I’d picked up from others along the way, mostly in my childhood. I was shocked at how old, out-of-date and downright inaccurate my inner script was.
That was enlightening.
It was through silence that I began to know myself and what I truly want. What makes me feel truly alive… instead of the script of ‘shoulds’ that I had taken on from my conditioning. It was through silence that I learned I could change the script. And it’s through silence that I know I can find my center again if I get lost.
We so easily get fixated on jumping in and DOING things to improve our lives. But I find that it can be more powerful to peel things away. To stop. Be still. Be quiet.
My best self is in there ready to come out. And my worst self too. Silence helps me acknowledge everything I’m carrying inside, and choose: who do I want to be today?
I’m grateful for the gifts of silence.
We live in an amazing world. A world of polarity and diversity. Full of the labels we place on things like the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the crazy, the sane, the silly, the wise, the mean and the kind.
This creation is full of noise and chaos, yet it’s all emanating from a place of pregnant silence and infinite possibility.
Accepting the state of polarity, the existence of constant duality in the world is kind of essential to our peace of mind.
Duality is the nature of this realm. Up means nothing without down. Hot is not hot without the sensation of cold to compare it to. Attaining wisdom is a journey out of ignorance. In this world of duality, we have a tendency to judge and place things on a scale of right and wrong.
What if we stopped doing that?
When we fight against what IS we create a state of anxiety and discord in ourselves. When we rail against the existence of darkness, we deny ourselves the experience of light.
I know this, I’ve even been blessed with some direct experiences of it… and yet I forget. Daily. Like everyone who isn’t fully enlightened yet, I forget.
One of my favorite quotes by the Sufi poet Rumi is:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
I often get angry at injustices and rail against the way things are in the world.
I’m not saying that the answer to that is to do nothing. Be silent. Sit in a dark room. That’s not the kind of silence I’m talking about!
If someone is suffering, I believe I have a sacred duty to do what I can to help. At the same time, I often can only help in proportion to my own spiritual capacity to do so. That means that strengthening my spiritual capacity (working on myself) is incredibly important if I wish to be of greater service to others.
This is where compassion comes in. It is said that once enlightenment is attained, all that remains is an unbounded compassion for all beings.
I’ve found that if I focus on compassion and compassionate actions, if I focus on doing what I can, in this moment, to help, to be of service… without losing myself or abandoning my own needs… and I avoid feeding feelings of anger about injustice (essentially railing against the inherent duality of this realm)… then I’m actually much more effective.
Instead of just looking at what’s wrong and being angry, if I accept the situation as it is and focus on what can I do to help, being mindful with that, then I can remain more peaceful through the process. I can still access silence on a daily basis, I can engage the witnessing, I can work on my awareness, practice staying in my heart-centred-ness, I can remain open to guidance… and that way I end up being a better instrument of change.
This is based on a Buddhist practice called Metta. It involves imagining sending ‘loving kindness’. What’s that? I imagine it to be like the feeling you get from a loving, nurturing hug.
Firstly, for all the times in my life that I’ve gotten angry about the state of the world, I send loving kindness to myself. For all the times that I allowed my anger to consume me, so I really had no energy left for positive or meaningful service-based actions… I send loving kindness to myself. For all the times that I have tuned into the noise so much, and participated in the endless chatter of my mind to such a degree that I could no longer even think clearly or tune into my own heart/soul guidance… I forgive myself and send loving kindness to myself for that.
(The practice of compassion always begins with the self. If we can’t practice self-compassion then it’s going to be very hard for us to have compassion for others.)
Secondly, for all the people I love, respect, and admire: I send them loving kindness for all the times they got sucked into noise and chaos, into judgement and anger, into the ‘busy-ness’ of life without respite. And for the times when they did not feel worthy or able to allow themselves some space to access quiet, solitude, silence and peaceful reflection… or if they don’t even know how… I send them loving kindness.
Thirdly, for all the people I don’t know who may be struggling in this way… I send loving kindness. For all the people I do know but don’t have much of a relationship with, who may also be struggling with this… I send loving kindness.
Fourthly, for all the people I know who actually irritate me, or people that I’m currently having issues with, whose loving guidance may also be struggling with this… I send them loving kindness.
What can I do this week to put it into action? How can I express my gratitude for the gifts of silence, while at the same time practice compassion for myself and others who struggle with the noise and chaos of duality?
This week, I pledge to take time to be quiet. To meditate. To write in my journal. To reflect. To witness my thoughts.
On the compassion side, I pledge to accept what is, to avoid spiraling into judgement and anger about what I feel is ‘wrong’ with the world, and instead look at what I can do to compassionately serve others. To humbly serve that which seeks to become. Including my own Self.
What can you do to combine gratitude and compassion this week?
Let me know in the comments if this post has helped you!
To YOUR Abundance,
Julie Ann Cairns