Recently I experienced some conflict with someone in my community and I was surprised. Surprised at the extent of their suffering, and surprised they had not contacted me to resolve the problem. One of the tools that helps me greatly, especially when I experience all sorts of confusing emotions, is to practice Loving Kindness meditation.
When we are able to wish someone well, in spite of having a different perspective or viewpoint, seeds of empathy are more likely to be planted and grow. Even if the conflict isn’t resolved in a way we would like, we can cultivate a quieter mind, therefore increasing the likelihood we will choose healthier responses. That’s the bottom line for any meditation practice; being in relationship with others, with self. How are we supposed to live in community when we are are knotted up in a wad of tangled emotions? As a coach with an wholistic approach, one of the things I do best is help clients identify emotions in order that they more easily create goals, make plans, and take action. One of the definers of a healthy life is healthy relationships, along with social support and a sense of belonging and purpose. Therefore any practice we can cultivate that sows ease of mind and body is worthwhile. Check out this article about science behind Loving Kindness. Finally, an article by renowned author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. I hope you enjoy, and make sure to give yourself a big dose of loving kindness. Self-compassion is an essential element of this practice.
How does kindness shown to you by another change your perspective? One of the biggest gifts we can give is simply offering our presence. In The Sun My Heart, Thich Nhat Hanh writes “Even if you spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in your family, nothing you could buy them can give us as much true happiness as your gift of awareness, breathing, and smiling, and these precious gifts cost nothing.”
Here are ten simple ways to bring awareness into the day.
Notice the breath in belly and ribs, in and out
Scan your body from head to toe
Look up at the sky
Make eye contact with the person speaking to you
Notice your emotions with a light touch
While doing simple repetitive tasks, breathe
Eat a meal and invite the nourishment in all your cells
What if we noticed the good more often in others at home and work, rather than punishing the bad? It’s a radical notion to some, I know. My husband and I are raising two puppies, sisters in fact. If there’s any evidence of our patience, or lack thereof, in the world it’s been manifested in recent weeks. On the other hand, it’s provided an incredible opportunity to reflect on what’s working really well with each, and both of us, what’s not working so well, and loving each other in the midst.
Veterinarian and dog behaviorist Ian Dunbar has a lot of information on the web. It’s all relevant to our lives with dogs, and each other. I found this one particularly compelling because of the human relationship message at the end. Watch this 11-minute video and contemplate how you might bring more of this noticing the good into your life.
When you want to shift a familiar practice or discipline into a deeper or somehow refreshed experience, simplicity can be a friend. For example, if you like yoga, have you taken your mat outside? Mats are adaptable just like choices. We can wipe them off, wash them, spritz them, learn from them.
Our regular habits may serve us well and be of great value to overall well-being. Even in the midst of established habits, we may begin to notice that enlivening the practice or discipline feels important.
Here are some simple ways I’ve found helpful in this rejuvenation process that may provide an element of jaw-dropping effectiveness.
Consider your established habit. What is that one foundational thing that you might be a little bored with or seems a bit stale? What do you know about you and this habit? Write this down.
What would it be like to take your practice to a new location? If journaling or writing is important to you, go to a public place, sit down and write. Seasoned author Natalie Goldman of Writing Down The Bones suggests this and other strategies for combining accessible, mindful ways to write.
Ask a friend or someone you’d like to know better to practice this established habit with you. Perhaps a walk in the park, neighborhood, during lunch? Inside your office building for 15 minutes? Would you enjoy writing or journaling with another? How about asking a friend to a public yoga event? Give yourself permission to get creative. Being in community with others is life sustaining. Be bold! Just ask.
What if you practiced the same habit a different time of day? If you meditate, what would the benefit be of practicing before bed instead of morning? Or, at lunchtime to pause and refresh? What if you made yourself more comfortable while meditating, such as sitting on a pillow?
What do you notice about the season of year and this habit? Each season brings new opportunities, schedules, people, and themes. Some of us may feel more energized in autumn, for example, and want to surge into new areas, while others want to more firmly establish roots in an area they have wandered away from in the summer months. Cultivate ways to pause and notice your emotional and physical landscape.
What are your needs in the areas of rest and rejuvenation? If restoration seems what the body needs that day, how about reclining on your back for 5 minutes while putting your legs up the wall rather than a more vigorous yoga practice? Often, the only thing that keeps us from being flexible with our established habits is beliefs about “what counts”. In other words, why wouldn’t it “count” as yoga to lie down with feet up the wall? Who is evaluating this, anyway?
It’s amazing sometimes how we can get out of the rut back into a new groove by staying with the familiar in a new way. So mix things up, get curious, experiment, invite others. See what tiny shifts build memories and motivation, create community, positive emotions, inspire you to learn, and develop new structures that support you.
My husband and I recently traveled to Belize with a team of youth and adults from our church. Our primary mission for the week was to run the fifth season of a summer camp for approximately 125 local children, ages 5-12. Our community relationships there are established and deep. I knew we would be leading sports, music, arts and yoga. My particular “job” was teaching yoga to the children for several hours a day. I knew the yoga team members, one well, others a bit. Initially, my heart wasn’t clear on what the mission was. I went on faith, with a love of yoga, my church family, anticipation of being with the children there in Belize. I returned home with a bounty of appreciation for our Belizian community, a love of teaching yoga to children, and much more. Days later, the children’s faces, smiles, hugs, and playful yoga postures float in my consciousness. I can’t wait to go back next year.
Faith doesn’t necessarily mean religious faith. According to a preliminary Google search, the word describes trust, optimism, belief, conviction. Faith provides a compass throughout life, a thread of understanding and knowing who we are. Faith illuminates the values that guide us, the principles, passions, and interests that are often non-negotiable. Faith anchors us to hope, hope propels us to action, small steps give us more hope and faith.
Listening to our truth promotes faith in ourselves and what we offer the world, how we are of service. When you are off course in life, ask yourself, what or who am I being true to? What step will allow me to pivot towards my course?
Who might you reach out to this summer to renew faith in yourself? What are you involved in when faith is most alive in your life?
Sometimes, we can take who we are with what we know and go ahead anyway
Each day presents us with avenues to practice relationships.
In this video, Dr. Helen Reiss of Harvard Medical School uses both the concept and acronym of empathy to bring attention to specific behaviors we can develop. She uses compelling stories and research to illustrate why this emotion is vitally important to our species. As humans, we are lovingly dependent on one another to provide social bonds. Our lives are constructed around relationships. Our companies, businesses, schools, and houses of worship are built on relationships. We certainly know what causes our greatest stress on the planet….relationships! On the other hand, when we choose to really meet another, we may receive them as if for the first time.
Here is a breakdown of how Dr. Reiss views the behavioral and intentional practices we can foster.
E is for eye contact M is for the muscles of the face, which display our emotional state P is for posture. What’s our body saying? Are we open or closed? A is for affect, another word for the emotional “weather” we are showing T is for our tone of voice H is for hearing, really tuning into the person in front of you, without judgement Y is for your response
My addition to “E” in empathy is the word energy. When you speak with someone in person, or even over the phone, or a video conferencing platform, what energy do you convey?
What’s important to you, about empathy, this summer?
Relationships are the fabric of our lives. Some would say a mirror of our lives. Today I’m inspired by my college friends. What do you see in the mirror? How would you like to be a better friend? What does this mean to you?
Who provides joy and support in your life? Who do you give joy and support to? How might you build this?
Some thoughts from others:
We take care of our health, we lay up money, we make our roof tight and our clothing sufficient, but who provides wisely that he shall not be wanting in the best property of all–friends.–Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is no physician like a true friend.–Anon
The support of one’s personality is friends. A part of one’s self and a real foundation and existence.–Katherine Butler Hathaway
My friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privleges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation.–Helen Keller
Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.–Jane Howard
Now that autumn’s around us a bit, and even the insects are singing a different song, why not turn to growth or renewal? The season of fall marks beginnings and ends, as all seasons do, really, yet in the U.S. we are moving into the academic year. With our youngest launching to university any day now, this theme is particularly on my mind. My theme is “full house”, not “empty nest”, because this is a transition, not a syndrome, I believe. As challenging as it seems, what if we considered these not-so-easy yet normal, and yes, even celebratory moments as something that’s not about us, but someone’s else’s accomplishments, dreams and aspirations?
So, here’s the image I have. Strong green plant, firmly rooted in what seems like an unlikely medium…sand. Vibrant, growing, both green AND brown. Often transitions or even gaps we sense are confusing, and unclear. So, what is a meaningful step you can take this next month to owning your life, your health, and claiming some vitality for you and therefore those you serve and love?
Like the “green” movement, aren’t we each renewable and sustainable in our own way? What will you recycle this fall?
On Election Day, considering one’s attitude seems especially relevant. Even though this statement may apply specifically to politics, we can also consider our outlook in general. I was reminded of this yesterday while listening to a wise courtroom judge talking to parents and their new drivers. He quoted a University of Notre Dame official who mentioned attitude determining how well we complete our endeavors, despite depth of talent.
What is attitude, anyway? For example, when you look at this photograph, what are you aware of? The horse could be considering a few of these, depending on posture:
I’d rather be in that field over there.
This fence is hemming me in.
Thank goodness for this awesome tree I’m standing under!
If I get up my courage to neigh, I bet my friends will trot over!
What do my ears say?
Am I putting my best hoof forward?
Hey, where’s my hay?
What do I see?
What’s that smell?
Where are my feet?
What do I like about this fence?
Who do I want to play with today?
What am I inviting?
Hey, who’s gonna bring my water?
What a fantastic patch of grass I’m on right now.
I feel strong!
I’m a horse. How great is that?
What do you stand for today? How can we invite, not fight ourselves and others? Observe animals. They’re good teachers.