I watched the movie Miracles from Heaven yesterday and it was a heart warming true story of an unexplainable miracle in one family’s life. Christy Beam, the mother of the very sick child portrayed in the movie, reflected at the end of the movie that miracles are happening every day of our lives, we just so often miss them as our faith is challenged, particularly in a serious crisis, but also as we deal with smaller day to day challenges. When someone is blessed with the wonder of a mind-boggling true miracle, it can generate a strong connection or reminder of the power of embracing magnanimity in your life.
Magnanimous comes from Latin magnus “great” and animus “soul,” so it literally describes someone who is big-hearted. A person can show that over-sized spirit by being noble or brave, or by easily forgiving others and not showing resentment. It implies superiority, and is something you should say of others rather than of yourself. Being magnanimous doesn’t require doling out tons of cash—just being an understanding and tolerant soul will do the trick.
Christy Beam witnessed the miracle of her daughter being healed, defying all rational understanding by her medical team, and in the process she had her faith in herself and the goodness of people and their quiet generosity renewed. She is now inspiring others, including myself, who reflect on her powerful message as you leave the stillness of the theatre.
Edward P. Sri writes in one of his dissertations that “striving for greatness is at the heart of a virtue called magnanimity which means ‘greatness of soul.’ This is the virtue by which man pursues what is great and honorable in his life, even if it is difficult.”
St Thomas Aquinas describes it a stretching forth of the mind to great things. The magnanimous person seeks to do great acts, things that are deserving of honor. Magnanimity is often lived—in quiet, simple ways off the radar screen of most of the world. The person who daily endeavors to be a better spouse, parent, friend or the chooser of forgiveness when situations appear to call you to judgement, is truly seeking greatness of the soul.
Quite incredible power behind this one simple word. The opposite side of the coin is called “pusillanimity,” which means “smallness of soul.” This is when a person shies away from noble, arduous tasks because they can be very demanding and seek to stretch you beyond what you feel capable of. You settle instead for the path of least resistance, opting for whatever is easier.
We all sometimes think that we are not capable of doing great things and lose the awareness that usually the people, the message, the support is presented to us in a myriad of forms to help us take each step forward. These are the many “little miracles” that Christy Beam describes at the end of the movie, explaining that as her anger and resentment, mainly towards God subsided, she was able to see and receive all of the many ways that she had been held throughout her family crisis by the undeniable, synchronistic events that were offered from loved ones and complete strangers. Sometimes, being magnanimous is simply a call to letting go and an invitation to practicing compassion.
Dr. Cynda Ruston developed a model called G.R.A.C.E. for bringing compassion into your interactions with others, sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances, and its five elements can support a new approach for each of us when you find yourself embroiled in pusillanimity.
They are to:
1. Gather your attention: Pause, breathe in, give yourself time to get grounded. Invite yourself to be present and embodied by sensing into a place of stability in your body. You can focus your attention on the breath, for example, or on a neutral part of the body, like the soles of your feet or your hands as they rest on each other. You can also bring your attention to a phrase or an object. You can use this moment of gathering your attention to interrupt your assumptions, expectations and judgments to allow yourself to relax and be present.
2. Recall your intention: Remember what your life is really about, that is to act with integrity and respect the integrity in all those whom you encounter. Remember that your intention is to help others and serve others and to open your heart to the world. This “touch-in” can happen in a moment. Your motivation keeps you on track, morally grounded, and connected to your highest values.
3. Attune by first checking in with yourself then whomever you are interacting with: First notice what’s going on in your own mind and body. Then, sense into the experience of whom you are with; sense into what the other person is saying, especially emotional cues: voice tone, body language. Sense without judgment. Open a space in which the encounter can unfold, in which you are present for whatever may arise, in yourself and in the other person. How you notice the other person, how you acknowledge the other person, how the other person notices you and acknowledges you…all constitute a kind of mutual exchange. The richer you make this mutual exchange, the more there is the capacity for unfolding.
4. Consider what will really serve the other person by being truly present and letting insights arise: As the encounter with the other person unfolds, notice what the other person might be offering in this moment. Draw on your expertise, knowledge, and experience, and at the same time, be open to seeing things in a fresh way. This is a diagnostic step, and as well, the insights you have may fall outside of a predictable category. Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly.
5. Engage, enact ethically: Then end the interaction and allow for emergence of the next step appropriate to each situation.
Being magnanimous holds its own magnificence, which is what we are each here to experience if we choose greatness. Nelson Mandela once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”