Archive

Tag Archives: Kindness

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

“Assuredly, I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” ~ Matthew 25:40, New King James Version

It’s my left ankle.

When I was visiting my sister, I went for a jog on a favorite trail near her house. I don’t run often but I do love to go out in the woods and dart around between the trees. The trail is uneven and rooty so I should have known better, I should have walked instead of run but I didn’t. And a couple miles out, I twisted my ankle. Of course I did.

Oh my ankle, I thought. It’s been weak since college. Silly ankle, there weren’t even any roots where I fell. Oh ankle, I said, you’ll be fine.

I walked for a few steps then ran the rest of the way home.

I did put ice on it but not for very long. I took some ibuprofen but not consistently. I rubbed some arnica on it but hours after it happened. I took yoga the next day. I didn’t really give my poor ankle much attention or care.

 “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, New International Version

Nearly 19 years later, what I remember is how kind he was to the waitress.
When we went out for the first time in January 1998, I had been on my share of restaurant dates. In my time, I’ve gripped my chair and swallowed hard while dates treated wait staff with superiority, curtness, impatience and even (I shudder) ridicule. Mostly, though, my experience had been that waiters were treated as though they were invisible.

I remember other things from our first date, of course. I remember what I wore (black turtleneck sweater and jeans), where we went (Mono Loco before it was only tacos), what we drank (that amazing hibiscus tea) but what has stuck with me after all these years is that he was kind to the waitress. He offered a friendly smile and gratitude. He saw her.

Verily I Say to you, That inasmuch as ye did so to one of these my little brothers, ye did so to me. ~Matthew 25:40, Aramaic Translation

I am neither a church goer nor Bible reader but Matthew 25:40 cuts straight to my heart. The truth of this: however you treat the least of these, so you treat me. YES. THIS is the measure of any person, group, organization or country. Not how much money they make or the awards they get or the number of followers they have. Nothing is as great a measure of character than how they treat the least among them.

If an executive treats the boss with cooperative respect but doesn’t acknowledge the maintenance team when she passes them in the hall, that says something about her.

If a congregant offers the worship leader compliments while he complains about the difficult and talkative octogenarian who sits in the front pew, that says something about him.

If a company pays executives high salaries but the hourly employees minimum wage, that says something about the organization.

If the richest corporations and individuals get tax breaks and access to political leaders while the poor, immigrants, minorities and the environment get less and less support every year, that says something about the country.

Look at any individual or group and ask how do they treat the least powerful among them. The answer to that will speak volumes. It will tell you everything you need to know about who they really are.

kind without caving BandW cookieOur culture loves black and white.
Just watch a mainstream movie.
Or listen to a politician.
Or a lawyer.
It’s all either/or, good guys/bad guys, with us or against us.

Black and white can feel easier…but it’s not the way things are. Movement and life are not binary code. They are gray and messy and both/and.

What feels right is both: soft and strong. Kindness without caving.

Have a conversation with someone who is both clear and kind, both strong and compassionate. Even if you disagree, it feels good to be with both.

Seek that sensation in movement, action, and words.

(Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness grounded feetAll movement requires stability. The body must be grounded somewhere in order to create flexibility, strength, mobility, agility … anything.

Stability is sometimes described as energy moving out from center in all directions equally. (Nice, but a little all-over-the-place and counter-intuitive.)

Grounded is sometimes described as planting and rooting down into the earth. (Physically understandable but gets a little heavy.)

What if I get grounded and stable through clarity and simplicity? Focus on clear and simple, and the body finds its stability.

But true stability does not come with harshness. Be kind, too, with that simple clarity.

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

diegos gift alden in glasses“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sliding on his new glasses, Alden was amazed how clear the world actually was. He’d never known things to be anything other than fuzzy and more than a little confusing. It felt good to be able to see, but now Christmas vacation was over.

The very idea of returning to his second grade classroom in his new frames left him anxious and edgy. He hated getting teased, and somehow it was always he who was in trouble when he lashed out. He half-heartedly lobbied for one more day at home to postpone the inevitable torment, but his mom and dad were having none of it. “Besides,” they said, “you look great.”

Dragging his feet down the second grade hall, half-hiding behind his dad, Alden could see his classroom door. Out of it hopped Diego, with his stout body tucked into an oddly mismatched outfit. Diego grinned wide when he saw Alden.

“Wow, Alden,” crowed Diego, “What cool glasses! Those look awesome! Hey everybody, check out Alden’s cool glasses!”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Half way through a 90-minute hot yoga class, things can feel pretty bleak there on my sweaty little mat. The humidity feels like a sopping hot blanket on my skin and in my nose. Even if the hot room if is full of yogis practicing with me, I sometimes feel alone.

Resting on my belly, I deepen my breath to slow my heart. My towel smells sharp of my own body’s ammonia. With my face turned to one side, I can actually watch a drip of sweat slide down my nose and vibrate there as I exhale.

“Can I do this today?” I wonder. “Do I have it in me?”

As we return to this tummy-down position between the poses, I feel Lizzie (or Sara or Amy or Julia or on my birthday, Severine and on one heavenly occasion, Kirk) walk to the back of my mat. She gently taps the bottoms of my feet with hers, and then smoothly and firmly spends 20 seconds walking on my feet.

20 blissful seconds.

I could weep with gratitude. It feels good physically: an island of pleasure in the midst of this challenging experience. But more than that, I feel supported, acknowledged, cared for. Lizzie’s foot walking says, I’m here with you, we’re in this together, it’s okay. Sweating in the hot room with no one saying a word, I feel loved

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s life and work were acts of love – even in the face of bitter hatred and legal discrimination. In both his words and in his actions, over and over, he and his courageous supporters chose love over hate.

If you have it in you to lead a movement, if you have the courage and the vision to step forward and show us the way, please, by all means, do it. But don’t think for one second that leading a national non-violent protest is the only way to change the world. Each of us has enormous power to change everything with acts of love.

How many times have you thought something positive about someone but didn’t say it? Your words, like Diego’s, have the power to turn a moment from one of fear and apprehension to one of love and belonging. Your actions, too, can serve to connect and support rather than separate. A smile, a kind look, or a touch on the shoulder (or on the feet!), can make a positive difference that reverberates out further than you can imagine.

We never know the burden that others are carrying, but rest assured that they are carrying something. Choose words and acts of love to ease it. And while you’re at it, speak kindly and act kindly to your very own self. You deserve your love as much as anyone.

Happy MLK Day, everybody.

MLK w quote

Even when I want more love, often when faced with hate, anger, or fear, I bring hate, anger, and fear.

Anyone who hurts is hurting.  The dog may bark and seem dangerous, but her leg is in a trap.  Suddenly, we see why she snarls.

Think of that dog when someone hurts you (or YOU hurt you).  When you are harsh, your brain wants you safe.  So ask “What else can I do to keep me safe?”  (Listen to Kristin Neff’s talk in The (FREE) Compassionate Brain series!)

Meet shortcomings or unskillful actions (yours or others’) with love, not hate.

MLK w datesDarkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  — Martin Luther King, Jr.

For a dozen years, I lived and drove in Boston.  The city’s twisting streets, heavy traffic at all hours and impatient, angry drivers are all notorious – and with good reason.  One afternoon, I was driving from Boston into Cambridge with my beloved friend, Joni.  We were going to a new gourmet store to buy something extraordinary (cheese, probably) and I wasn’t sure where I was going.  As I hesitated at an intersection, the car behind me honked hard and insistent.  I immediately felt embarrassed and upset.  I continued on and another car nudged out of a parking space hoping to merge into the flow of traffic.  I honked nastily to keep her back.  Joni laughed and looked at me, “What are you doing, silly?” she said.  “You just honked at her because somebody else honked at you.”

It seems obvious, doesn’t it?  If there is a dark place that we want to be lighter, we bring light to it, not more darkness.  And yet when there is hate or anger or fear, so often what we bring is more hate, anger and fear.

We see this everywhere:  in politics, between countries, between siblings, in marriages, and inside ourselves.  One side is angry or hateful and the other side pushes back with more of the same.  It’s an ancient response from our threat/defense system and ultimately, it doesn’t serve us.

Anyone who hurts is hurting.  Over and over, I’m struck by the truth of this.  If someone hurts you, it is because they, themselves are hurting.  Tara Brach, psychologist and Buddhist teacher, uses the image of coming upon a snarling, snapping, growling dog.  Our first reaction is to pull away, thinking this is a wild and dangerous creature.  Upon looking closer, however, we see that the dog’s leg is caught in a trap.  Suddenly, our response changes entirely to one of compassion, care, and a desire to relieve the poor creature’s suffering.

The next time someone honks at you in traffic, or speaks to you harshly, or even guns down dozens of elementary school students, think of the dog in the trap.  This perspective doesn’t make the hurtful, hateful actions right, but it gives us an understanding that is far more skillful than hating them back.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”― Gandhi

The place to start, of course, is where you are.  In your own skin.  In your own head.  I know that I spend a startlingly large amount of time each day judging, criticizing and chastising myself within the confines of my own noggin.  How could I miss that appointment?  Why did I say that thoughtless thing?  Why did I have to eat all of Kate’s chia seed cookies?  In some way, I think that if I stay on myself, keep the bar high, keep cracking the whip, then I’ll get better, be kinder, act smarter.  But imagine a close friend or a beloved child committing the same infraction.  Imagine them missing the appointment or eating the cookies.  What would you say to them?  Do you really think that harshness will beget happiness, or that relentless criticism will lead to love?

There is neuroscience that explains both our tendency to be hyper-self-critical and why self-compassion works to ease the suffering.  I notice something about myself that I don’t like (it could be anything from the shape of my thighs to the way I spoke to my teenager) and I react with anger or fear that awakens our threat/defense system.  The amygdala, in an effort to keep me safe, fires and shifts me into the lower, limbic brain to attack the threat.  The problem is that the threat is me!  So a more skillful approach is to ask “What can I do other than being harsh and critical to keep me safe?”  (Rick Hanson led an amazing series of talks last fall called The Compassionate Brain.  The sixth talk in the series was with Dr. Kristin Neff who is an expert in self-compassion.  She talks brilliantly about this phenomenon and how we can address it skillfully.  The series is free and I recommend it highly.)

This week, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we will play with moving with kindness and compassion.  This is an internal, personal practice that I can feel in my body.  When my eyes are soft and my hands are receptive, it is a way of being kinder to myself.  When I meet my shortcomings or unskillful actions with the recognition that I’m hurting in some way, I can recognize that I need love, not hate.  Only light can drive out darkness.  Only love can drive out hate.  And we have to start where we are, with ourselves.

May you be safe and well,

Love,

Susan

“Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do.” ~ Khalil Gibran

Sometimes, I feel stingy.  I imagine myself, Scrooge-like, hunched over my desk with my hands clenched, unwilling to let anything go.  My stinginess can come up around anything – time, objects, food, attention – and I can feel it in my body when “The Stingies” come on.  I feel it as a tightening in my stomach and tautness in my muscles, as if I’m ready to pounce on someone who wants what is mine.  Buddhists call it grasping:  holding on to something – an object, an experience, a person – and not wanting it to change.  And the only antidote to The Grasping Stingies, is to let go.

Years ago, I visited a teacher friend in San Francisco.  It was summer and I was shocked at how cool it was. (I had forgotten Mark Twain’s quote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”)  As soon as I arrived, I realized that I hadn’t brought enough clothes.  My friend offered me a jacket to use during my stay.  It was lovely:  a black suede softness that was as buttery on the inside as it was on the outside.  All week, I gratefully buttoned it around me as we walked in her neighborhood or sat in sessions in an over air-conditioned hotel.  At the end of the week, as I handed it back to her, she shook her head and said, “It’s yours.”  She insisted despite my protestation.  Her lending of the garment alone was an extraordinarily generous act, but to give it to me?  The grace and ease with which she let go this lovely thing stunned me.  And I have never forgotten it.

I have no idea how my friend felt about that black suede jacket.  She may or may not have loved it. I’ve never talked to her about her gift (except to thank her afterwards) so I don’t know how it was for her.  I do know that when I think of something I have and how it would be helpful/appreciated/enjoyed by someone else, my mind will sometimes pop in and tell me that I can’t let that go because I need it or might need it or want it or love it.  This is a black suede jacket moment:  a sure sign that I need to let it go and release my grasp on it.

In the Kalil Gabran quote above, generosity can been seen as self-sacrifice – causing myself suffering so that another may feel more ease.  And yet, I’m wondering if that is really the meaning of the words.  Perhaps the external circumstances are secondary to the internal benefits of offering true generosity.

In this first month of sabbatical, I’ve felt The Grasping Stingies come up around a whole host of things:  my schedule, my Nia practice, my studies, my time with people, my time alone.  This week, I experimented with offering myself or another generosity:  a gift, a meal, time, attention.  What would be a generous thing to do/give/wish for myself or another?  Generosity creates a softening in my core almost immediately.  A sense of expansion and breath comes in where before I had been tensing against the letting go.  Even if it’s not a black suede jacket, offering myself and others generosity heals ME.

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.  But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” ~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta

A friend (not the Black Suede Jacket friend, another one) has recently started offering workshops about one of her passions:  healthful cooking.  I’ve seen her do this work (and tasted the yumtastic results!) and she is spectacularly talented both in her presentation and her skills.  But she shared that she was shy about letting people know about what she was doing because, in so many words, she didn’t think it was “all that.”

I have observed in myself and others, that it is often amazingly easy to discount that which we do well or easefully.  If it comes naturally to me, there is some sense that it isn’t much of an offering.  “Oh that,” I say.  “That’s nothing.”  Because it is easy for me to give or do, somehow its value is diminished in my perception.  The fact is this is the farthest from the truth.  That which we do well and with ease are often called our “gifts.”  I believe that they are gifts that we, ourselves, have been given, and also gifts which the world needs us to give.

Right now, think of something that you do well and easily.  Whether you’ve been trained formally or not.  Whether you learned it recently or have been doing it your whole life.  Imagine yourself doing it.  See yourself clearly, and notice how you feel.  Do you shrug and say to yourself, “Meh.  No big deal.”?  Whether it is your ability to balance a checkbook or tell a joke, repair a damaged heart or split a log cleanly down the middle — do you feel the fullness of that gift, or do you undervalue it?

Part of generosity is offering what we can do best and most naturally (even if it’s after years of training and hard work).  So this week, notice what you do easefully and naturally (maybe without even thinking about it) as a skill, a talent, a gift.  See if you can recognize that doing that skill is an act of generosity to the ocean of all of us.

%d bloggers like this: