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Kindness

In December, my father-in-law died. He was both an accomplished and warm-hearted man who loved babies and hated sour things. He was deeply loved by his big family and his small town. He is sorely missed.

He had been declining for some time and on Thanksgiving Day we drove to Minnesota to say goodbye. Less than three weeks later, we drove back for the funeral. It was a sad, exhausting time. And yet, when I think back, all I can remember is the kindness.

My husband’s enormous family is the biggest bundle of gracious welcome and care that I’ve ever been part of. The whole town of Roseau, Minnesota offered a flood of generosity in the form of food and hugs and cards and words and presence. When I returned home, feeling bruised and foggy, my people – friends, colleagues, students, everybody – were easy with me, gave me space, cut me slack, and were just so kind to me. I was and am grateful beyond words.

A month or so later, I came across this wonderful essay by John Pavlovitz, “Everyone Around You is Grieving. Go Easy.” He describes what I experienced better than I ever could. I hope you’ll read it. It reminded me how held I felt by my family, my community and even by strangers and what a difference it made.

As the months slide by, it hits me every once in a while. I’m in line at CVS and I wonder what weighs on the young person with the tattoos and piercings behind the register. In traffic, I wonder what the bearded trucker is worried about. I see hospital helicopter fly over the house and wonder about the person inside. I remember sometimes that everyone around me is grieving, but not as often as I wish I did.

Not long ago, I came across this extraordinary video about empathy made by the Cleveland Clinic. I have watched it over and over and I sniffle my way through it every. single. time. And it inspires me to remember. Please please be brave (if you need to, grab a tissue) and watch it.

This is Memorial Day. Unless you come from a military family or you’re a politician who needs a photo opp laying a wreathe on a soldier’s grave, most of us see this as a day off, a day for picnics, and the unofficial start of summer. This year, my invitation is to see this as a day to remember that everyone is carrying something, everyone has lost something, everyone is grieving. Go easy. Go gentle. With everyone you meet. And with your own sweet self.

Have a Happy – and Gentle – Memorial Day.

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When I say the word “kiss” what comes to mind?

Do you think of what you gave your grandmother?
Do you think of what you give your child?
Do you think of what you get from your dog?
Do you think of what you get from your love?

What if you expanded your view of kiss?
What if you thought of your touch as a kiss?
What if you thought of your gaze as a kiss?
What if you thought of your breath as a kiss?
How could you move and think and speak like a kiss?

Can you let yourself kiss the world and (and this is important) be kissed by the world?

Rumi’s poem is the kiss I long for. Let’s move into that kiss this week.

Some Kiss

There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of Spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl
to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild Darling!

At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face into mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language-door,
and open the love-window.

The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.

NOTE: If this illustration and focus look familiar, it’s because in December, I wasn’t able to teach to this focus due to unexpected travel. So we’re coming back to it.

Ponder this for a moment.

Nature and experience (and last week’s focus!) show us that everything is connected. Nothing exists in isolation. The body, mind, and emotions are the same. They are all energy in different forms. And they are utterly and inextricably interconnected.

Not long ago, I was running late to teach class and I was all up in my head about what I was teaching and would I be able to pull it off and how I really needed to stop rushing around and how I wished my low back would feel better than it did.

As I slid through the employee breakroom to clock in, there was a basket I’d never seen before with an Alice In Wonderland sign on it:
Inspirational Words ~ Take One.

So I did.

It said, “Your body hears everything your mind says.”

Of course. I know this and I forget. My body is always doing its best for me. Like a loyal and kind friend, it is always doing whatever it can to support me. And it believes me. It believes everything I say.

So if my mind says, “I don’t like the way you look” or “my stupid old low back” or “I hate my knees/thighs/skin” my body hears it all.

If I say out loud, “I’m not angry” when my body knows full-well that I am, what can result but confusion?

If I think, “everybody moves better than I do” or “I am the oldest/fattest/most injured person here” or “nobody is suffering the way I am” or “nobody is as crazy as I am,” my body believes the illusion of disconnection.

If I think, “oh sweetheart, you’re doing great” or “I can feel that you are suffering. What do you need?” or “you have a beauty that no one else has,” how does that feel in my body?

The practice is to pay attention to what my mind says and ask:
Is that something I want to say to a loyal, supportive friend who unconditionally loves me?
Is that what I want to say to a friend who believes everything I say?
Every. Single. Thing.

NOTE: Due to unexpected travel for a family funeral, we never did get to dancing this focus. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to it.

Ponder this for a moment.

Nature and experience show us that everything is connected. Nothing exists in isolation. The body, mind, and emotions are the same: utterly and inextricably interconnected.

Not long ago, I was running late to teach class and I was all up in my head about what I was teaching and how I really needed to stop rushing around and how I wished my low back would feel better than it did. As I slid through the employee breakroom to clock in, there was a basket I’d never seen before with an Alice In Wonderland sign on it:

Inspirational Words ~ Take One.

So I did.

It said, “Your body hears everything your mind says.”

Of course. I know this and I forget. My body is always doing its best for me. Like a loyal and kind friend, it is always doing whatever it can to support me. And it believes me. It believes everything I say.

So if my mind says, “I don’t like the way you look” or “my stupid old low back” or “I hate my knees/thighs/skin” my body hears it all.

If I say out loud, “I’m not angry” when my body knows full-well that I am, what can result but confusion?

If I think, “everybody moves better than I do” or “I am the oldest/fattest/most injured person here” or “nobody is suffering the way I am” or “nobody is as crazy as I am,” my body believes the illusion of disconnection.

The practice is to pay attention to what my mind says and ask is that something I want to say to a loyal, supportive friend who unconditionally loves and believes me?

At the heart of the practice of Nia is the principle of awareness. We pay close attention, we invest ourselves in witnessing how we do what we do so we can make conscious choices rather than be carried along by habit.

It is a powerful practice that has served me well for nearly two decades.

I have always thought of awareness and the witness as being objective, non-judging, almost clinical. This is important for seeing things as they are.

But last weekend, at a Mindful Self Compassion workshop with Laura DeVault and Sharon Beckman Brinley, they introduced the idea of Affectionate Awareness. What if I observe myself with both objectivity and kindness? What if I see what is so with tenderness? As if I was observing a close friend or a child? 

Take a moment and think of a time that a friend came to you with a difficulty and they were suffering in some way. Think about how you spoke to them, what tone you used, what your posture was. Then think of a time that you were struggling or that you messed up or failed in some way. How did you speak to yourself?

Imagine for a moment, saying what you say to yourself to your friend. The thought of that took my breath away.

The practice of Mindful Self Compassion is based on the work and research of Kristin Neff and it is full of eye-opening and heart-opening practices. And if you, like me, thought that it all sounds like unicorns and rainbows and that there is really important work that needs doing and other people are suffering more than you are and you don’t deserve this kind of work, think again. MSC is a courageous choice to feel your suffering and others’. It can shift not only your relationship with yourself and those around you, but can shift the discord in our communities and the world.

Learn more about Dr. Neff’s work and the practices that can support you whenever you need them in this Google Talk and her TEDx Talk. Her book on Mindful Self Compassion is here.

Breathe deep and offer yourself some Affectionate Awareness.

 

heartful-action-111816“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. ” — Maya Angelou

heARTful is a word I made up to mean awareness from and leading with the heart. heARTful Action posts focus on how to stand up and create a culture of health, inclusion and kindness. heARTful Action posts are calls to love warriors everywhere.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, there can be no denying that these are turbulent, uncertain days. After a week of reading and listening, I see that I have been both blind and deaf to the suffering of vulnerable populations and passive in my social engagement. I’m sharing what I’m learning as I open my ears, eyes, and heart, and offer practical, tangible ways that you can do your own heARTful action.

Today, two things to play with:

(1) Make It Personal

It can be easy for me to get carried away in what is important to someone else, so it’s worth taking the time to make it personal. Think and feel about what matters the most to you. There are endless projects and programs that could use support so pause and check in with you.

First, ask yourself, “What’s the biggest YES for me?” Ask yourself what is most important to you: you can use it as a contemplation or conversation question or do some free writing/journaling to see what makes your heart pound.

Then ask yourself, “What do I desire?” When we resist or fight against something, that energy only causes the situation to perpetuate, but when I ask, “What do I desire?” a creative space of possibility opens.

Once you’ve considered these questions, do your best to write a single sentence that describes that which is important to you and what you desire to create. Here’s mine:

I desire to live in a thriving culture of kindness, inclusivity, and health that fully recognizes the interdependence and interconnectedness of everything.

What’s yours? Please share it in the comments below or on the heARTful Action Facebook page (or both!). Then, as you choose where to put your time, energy and money, align it with your purpose.

(2) Campaign of Kindness

Most days, I’m a damned cheerful thing but when I’m feeling stressed or upset, I tend to fold in and close down as I move through my day. In alignment with my purpose statement, I know that it is important to me to live as kindly as I can even when I’m feeling down or discouraged.

I’m calling it my personal Campaign of Kindness and I’m doing my best to do the kindest thing I can in every situation. This may mean thanking the people folding towels or smiling and looking directly at the cashier at the grocery store. It may mean reminding a friend that their feelings matter and that I am there for them. It may mean calling my congress folk when something fishy is happening. Lately, it may also mean letting myself sit on the couch with the cat for a while or or finding time for yoga even when I’m busy or having another cup of tea instead of rushing back to my computer.

As you move through your day, what is the kindest thing you can do?

BONUS:

Here is a helpful resource to help navigate sticky situations of unkindness and disrespect.
Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry (Abridged Version)

EXTRA BONUS:

Join us online in the heARTful Action Facebook group! It’s a place to share ideas and intentions and to gather support and colleagues in the actions that you want to do. All are welcome (Charlottesville or no).

art-in-action-the-least-of-these-101016

Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

“ ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” ~Matthew 25:40

When it comes right down to it, Matthew 25:40 is the litmus test for me.

How a person, a company, a congregation, a country treats the least among them reveals everything about character. And while I can see how corrosive it is when others treat the powerless poorly, I don’t always recognize when I do it in myself. Treating my most vulnerable, least powerful parts with anger, callousness or by ignoring them is equally revelatory about me.

Here are 4 ways of looking for and connecting with “the least of these” in yourself. First, give yourself a few minutes to get quiet. Sit comfortably somewhere where you can be undisturbed for a while and take a few breaths to let thinking and doing settle down.

1. The Least of the Body

Scan your body and notice the part that is giving you the most sensation or presents itself as needing the most healing right now. It may be the place of a recent or past injury. It may be an illness or disease or where the repercussions of habitual movement gather. Whereever the place is, first notice how you feel and talk about it. Are you impatient or frustrated with it or do you ignore it? Then spend some time sensing this part of you directly without story or judgement. Simply notice the direct sensation without adding anything to it. Be open to feeling what it most needs. From there you can make a choice about how to respond.

2. The Least of the Mind

From the same quiet place, notice the lines of thought that feel difficult or that drain you in some way. Notice what Jason Mraz calls the “thoughts that do not make me strong” and which ones are predominant right now. You might be worried about something or angry about something. You might have a recurring cycle of thinking about your circumstances (or job or children) or you may have thoughts that circle around fruitlessly in an obsessive cul de sac.

Then notice thoughts about those thoughts. Do you get exasperated with yourself for thinking like that or do you just buy into the thoughts and see them as true? Separate the thoughts from the thoughts-about-thoughts and inquire what the “thoughts that do not make me strong” need, what would ease them. Sometimes just paying attention and being kind to the worried or frightened part of you who is thinking this way can ease the relentless thought flow. Other times, realizing that it only hurts you to worry or stew in your own angry juices can help to disentangle from the “not strong” thinking.

3. The Least of the Emotions

Not long ago, I was with a friend who was telling me about a difficult situation at home. With fire in her voice, she detailed the thoughtless things her partner had done and then she stopped abruptly and said, “I should just not get angry.” I wished for her and for all of us that when painful or vulnerable emotions come up that we can treat them gently and give them attention. Ignoring feelings only pushes them underground to resurface in unexpected and often unskillful ways. Giving them our awareness and tenderness can help get to the root of them and allow them to heal.

4. The Least of the Spirit

When my spirit is hurt and limping along, I often can’t quite identify what’s happening. As Avicii sings, “I didn’t know I was lost.” This is what it feels like when I lose touch with awareness: I’m lost but I don’t know it.

One way I can tap into how my spirit is faring is to ask myself about my aliveness: do I feel alive and engaged with my life and the world? I might well be angry or passionate or afraid of things that are happening but if I also feel alive, my spirit is likely doing fine. On the other side, my life might be fine on the surface with the kids’ lunches getting packed and the calendar full of events and the work getting done but if I also feel numb or disconnected or even dead inside, it’s likely that my spirt needs tending. Rather than poo-pooing the feelings, ask what would wake me up? What would help me feel more alive?


Once I am more connected to my relationship with “the least of these” in myself, I can open my awareness to how that manifests in my relationships with others, and what groups I want to invest my energy in. When connecting with a community or business or political party, one question I always want to ask before I join them is, What do you do for the least among you?

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