Compassion, Kindness and Gratitude

By Susan Cass

These are challenging times for our country, and the constant news cycle, divisiveness, and negativity affects me more than I’d like it to admit. In my search for some inspiration and greater peace of mind, I picked up A Path With Heart, by Buddhist author Jack Kornfield,

In it he writes “…when we allow ourselves to contain all things, both light and dark, we come to a sense of peace. This is not the peace of denial or running away, but the peace we find in the heart that has rejected nothing and that touches all things with compassion”.

Well into my adult life, I tended to see the world more in black and white terms, with a few shades of gray. I judged everything as either good or bad, light or dark. As time went on, I came to accept that all of us contain both sides. Carl Jung would call our darker nature the shadow – the parts of ourselves we’d rather not identify with. Our shadow, however, can become our teacher if we have the courage to see and work with it with a sense of compassion, and learn what it has to say. Unable to truthfully see and accept the whole of ourselves, we tend to project what we don’t like onto others.

When I am feeling relaxed in my own skin, accepting of my own faults and shortcomings, I find I can more readily accept others for who they are. They, in turn, can then relax as trust builds and our connection strengthens. This, I believe, is the inner work we are called to do. It helps to heal not only ourselves, but our families and communities as well.

One of my mentors, Sister Donna, was fond of saying, “Unhealed hurt people, hurt people.” I realize I can only do so much to change the political environment, but what I can focus on is becoming more aware of what I am contributing to the current atmosphere. Am I being soft-hearted and kind even to those who I completely disagree with politically? Can I find something in another that leads me to a place of compassion, or am I just adding another angry voice adding to the current cacophony?

In life, we sometimes imagine there are enemies in the world around us. The following story is a beautiful Native American illustration of a spiritual warrior’s approach to these lurking enemies.

A Cherokee elder was sitting with his young grandson.
The old man says “Inside of me a ferocious war is taking place between two wolves.
One is full of malice, envy, resentment, anger, and discontent.
It lies and cheats and is filled with pride.”
His grandson listens intently as he continues.
“The other wolf is full of joy, love, peace, hope, kindness, generosity, and gratitude.
The same kind of battle takes place within you and every individual”.
The young boy’s eyes grow wide as he asks, “Grandpa, which wolf is going to win?”
The grandpa looks kindly into his eyes, smiling gently, and says “The one you will feed”.

Which wolf are you feeding today?

May we feed the part of ourselves that brings us to greater compassion, kindness and gratitude.

Susan Cass is a Spiritual Director on staff at The Claret Center and a student at The Jung Institute in Chicago.