See your inner beauty today and express the unique gift of you...
"In the story of the Ugly Duckling, when did the Ugly Duckling stop feeling Ugly? When he realized that he was a Swan. Each of us has something Special, a Swan of some sort, hidden inside somewhere. But until we recognize that it's there, what can we do, but splash around, treading water? The Wise or Who They Are. They work with what they've got and do what they can do." Benjamin Hoff
See your inner beauty today and express the unique gift of you...
In positive psychology, forgiveness is a character strength that supports the virtue of temperance (www.viacharacter.org). In our day-to-day lives, the idea of forgiveness can take on different meanings, and be fraught with unhelpful notions of what forgiveness is, what it entails, and what it might mean for the person extending forgiveness and for the perpetrator.
The academic literature on forgiveness demonstrates that it supports well-being and clearly sets guidelines as to what forgiveness is and what forgiveness is not: Forgiveness is voluntary, it is a process (there’s actually stages of forgiveness and therapeutic approaches that focus on the processes), does not include condoning, excusing, and/or the necessity of reconciliation (check out Thomas Freedman and Robert Enright).
Considering forgiveness on a philosophical and spiritual level, there’s a teaching in the Bhagavad Gita--echoed in other texts of both Western and Eastern traditions-that introduce the qualities of courage and love: “If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred.” (BG 14). As I am in conversation with this idea of love in return for hatred, I ask how would one know she/he is loving-or at least moving into the quality of love?
One possible first step in the process, might be to engage in a mindfulness-based practice that supports acknowledgement and soothing of the pain resulting from the perpetrator. Start with noticing the thoughts and the feelings in the body. Pain, confusion, abandonment, fear, anger, constriction of the throat, chest, fists may all be present. Mindful self-compassion practices (Check out Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer), and RAIN practices (Tara Brach) can guide this process. Once our own pain of the situation is encountered, recognized, and soothed by our own process in the cradle of self-care, self-compassion and self-love, we can take additional steps to touch the aspiration of loving the person who has objectively transgressed our personhood, emotionally or physically, on any level.
Two practices that can be helpful in this regard is to do intentional acts of love in honor of the person (donations, kind notes to people, visits or assisting a sick person, any small or large act) can all be offered for the goodness of the person who has hurt you. The only person who will know this is you, or your therapist, or an intimate, if you so choose. The loving acts may include an intention that somehow there would be an awakening for the person, or that they would show kindness to others and not treat others the way that they treated you. Loving-kindness meditation practice (check out metta meditation) can also be helpful. Succinctly, it involves envisioning the person with the qualities you desire for them: love, safety, kindness, compassion, peace and/or any quality that is most immediate in your sit. You can experiment with imagining you're breathing your breath of compassion and they're receiving it and it is imbued in their being. It’s important to note that if this practice is too activating, stop and return to self-compassion and/or compassion for others for which a neutral or positive feeling is found. (A mindfulness-informed therapist or teacher can help with determining if this practice can be helpful and/or best utilized within a framework that can allow for processing and/or grounding/calming through other somatic and therapeutic practices with a trained practitioner or in a group).
As we think about forgiveness and its relationship to love, one might ask if loving the transgressor is desirable. This is a question only you can answer. If you feel a greater lightness, energy, flow, and deep knowing in your spirit that love is being asked of you, you will be led to the right practices, people, groups environs that support you. Along this life long journey of loving well in the most difficult situations, It’s important to keep in mind that love is a process, it doesn’t require reconciliation and/or engagement with the individual. And, that we may move in an out of the feelings, that our aspiration and will may be more or less salient at times. It’s all ok. Setting intentions, providing gentleness with oneself, and doing small acts of love when possible-for oneself and others-support us in touching LOVE, feeling our humanity with softness, and sharing in the humanity of others.
"Nobody sees a flower-really-it is so small it takes time-we haven't time-and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for a moment." Georgia O'Keefe
Won't you allow some time for wonder today? You might find something wonderful there.
This “Wonder Woman” was a lot less glamorous. She wore no makeup, and most days, had her hair pulled back in a bun. In all my years, I never saw her in pants: She wore dresses-just below the knees. Much like the rest of her, she didn’t want to draw attention to herself. Her ways were those of modesty in presence, and generosity in heart, care and love.
“Wonder Woman” had little formal education in the “old country,” and when she came to the U.S. in her thirties, she learned to read, write and speak her third language, English, with diligence and pure force of will. This was a gift because many sought her company, I believe, because she was gentle and affirming of others, and could listen well.
When “Wonder Woman” wasn’t with “Tarzan,” (the love of her life!) or sharing recipes, creating something delicious for us with other family members in the kitchen, she could readily be found in the garden, tending to the fig, apricot, apple, other fruit trees, rose and flower garden. Mom seemed to get such joy out of feeding others, entertaining and did it with such ease. We had such a large extended family and I can’t figure how she would create so many different dishes for tens of tens of people just like that. As I was a vegetarian, she took the extra care to create special vegetarian versions for me of whatever she was making for everyone else. In those days, food was not just physical nourishment, it was her way of gathering us, and implicitly, a celebration of- and will to-life itself, in the microcosm of a meal.
“Wonder Woman” taught me a lot about day-to-day living in those ordinary moments; and, even though she held a tangible sadness (the weight of burying two children), I am in awe of how she loved, forgave and cared so deeply about people. The deepest teachings have been more salient as I’ve journeyed through my own life and family history, and uncovered aspects of her own, which help me understand how she might have made sense of her world, what she might have tried to create for her family.
Heart is what she offered in affirming others. Heart is what she extended in pure acceptance, which seemed so natural to her. Heart is what she spoke in progressive views way before her time and no training in multiculturalism. Heart is what she demonstrated in forgiving. Heart is what she created in the spices, flavors, textures of food, life, surroundings! No doubt, heart carried her sorrow, embodied her, and plunged her into Life and depth to love so well.
Dad would call mom Wonder Woman and me and my sister were “Wonder Girls.” Today, would have been Mom’s Birthday and as I think about her and her teachings, I’m asking myself what part of heart can be more fully developed along my Wonder Girl to Wonder Woman journey at present. In mindfulness, we can set intentions and provide offerings for our efforts along the way. We can do this in honor of someone, a group, a cause, a particular situation, quality. This can enhance practices. Is there an intention that comes to you through someone, something, that may be calling to you to put in motion building upon your life-force?
In her 2011 interview with Vincent Harding, a civil rights activist who helped develop with MLK Jr the application of nonviolence to civil rights struggles, Krista Tippett explored the question of how to be democratic, how to continue to “form a more perfect union” as our Preamble declares.
Commenting on MLK Jr’s approach, Harding provided inspiration and guidance on “Living into a more perfect union:”
…For instance, everyone near him knew that he took very seriously this traditional, beautiful terminology when he said that what he was seeking was not simply equality or rights, what he was seeking was the creation of “the beloved community.” He saw everything that crushed against our best human development and our best communal development, like segregation, like white supremacy. When he moved to break down those laws, those practices, he was doing it not simply as an act of civil action, but a deep spiritual responsibility. People like Jimmy Baldwin and others, Malcolm for a certain time, couldn’t imagine how Martin could see those possibilities. But I think he was seeing it because he was looking with an eye that was deeply filled by love and compassion and that eye opens us up to see many things that might otherwise be missed.”
How might encountering our societal injustices and inequities today with an eye of love and compassion open us to seeing more fully the humanity of each and every human being, the elements within institutions that might be preserved, those that need to be imagined anew, and create an ethos to support and live the beloved community? What practices, conversations, teachings, dialogues, policies, laws, acknowledgments might help us in advancing a more perfect union for our time? I watched the documentary Good Trouble, about U.S. Representative John Lewis today and it was deeply inspiring! He, too, lived fearlessly with a nonviolent approach to social change. This sagacious leader asks that we “put on our marching shoes,” “vote;” and, echoing and invoking sentiments of the beloved community, he proclaims: “We’re one people, one family. We become the essence of the beloved community.”
It seems to me that we are being led in a deeper, more profound and responsible way to be and create spaces of nurturance, of honor, of Life...
“Hesitation and restraint make altruism and kindness possible.” June Jordan
On good days, we can see how awareness and/or self-restraint in our words, actions, facial expressions can provide an opening to kindness. It’s in the moment when someone has hurt us-with or without intention-and we hold our words, we listen more generously, we soften our gaze, and we trust that these small gestures will be of enormous consequence in bringing us closer to our true selves, and thereby also seeing the true self in another. Here, kindnesses grow...
"...In the final analysis, it would seem that our support is being placed with the unpopular ancien regimes, which seem to rebound to our detriment, rather than with the people and their nascent forces. To choose to buttress the collapsing ancien regimes is to choose to ally oneself with the forces of yesterday in an effort to impede the advancement of the forces of tomorrow..." John Duncan Brewart, June 1960
My father wrote these words in relation to international events back then, for which he made comparisons to the French Revolution of the eighteenth century and Iraqi Revolution of 1958, the bloodiness, political aspirations and reactions. Today, had my father been living, we would be celebrating his birthday and I would likely be sitting with him and trying to make sense of events of our day. As I sat in conversation with some of his writings, I was thinking of the pandemic and protests against racial injustice, and felt the above excerpt is germane to both.
The particulars of our social revolution are different on some level, and the forces for change are not so nascent, : Economic, racial, gender, and other social justice issues related to inequity are rather tangible and enduring. Even with some improvements in policies over the last sixty years, what we see today is a result of insufficient policies and widespread and growing disparities. To what extent will our approaches to societal ills today, advance or impede the forces for tomorrow? The forces of "the people"...
No doubt, standing in solidarity in mourning Mr. George Floyd, among others, who have lost their lives to racial injustice, is a small way of "advancing the forces of tomorrow." As we stand (through vigils, peaceful protests, ongoing collaboration and discussions in our communities) we take steps to decrease the likelihood of complacency, of "rebound to our detriment." We need not focus attention on the minority engaged in violence. We stand tall in peaceful expressions, giving life-force to the vitality and truth of dignity, and the value of all life!
The upheavals of the pandemic are also inviting awareness at the deepest levels of needed changes in economic/healthcare/educational structures, which can protect, preserve and advance life for all. I imagine wise solutions might be generated from a diversity of thought, ideologies and hopefully, emerging systems of ideas that bring forth strengths from the past, address injustices, and formulate completely new ways of thinking about the challenges, the assumptions, and solutions. (I find the work by Stephen Dinan Sacred America, Sacred World particularly compelling in outlining ways to collaborate across political orientations.)
In positive psychology, civic engagement is a quality that supports the virtues of justice, courage and love. Is there a way(s) you can engage civically in an effort to create a world that is HOME TO ALL? Is there a cause(s) that speak to you and might nudge involvement? Homelessness, antipoverty, immigrant and refugee rights, criminal justice reform, GLBTQIA, environmental...Sometimes, we can begin with a donation of money, and other times, we can begin with a donation of time in helping on some level, raise awareness or even more tangible efforts.
"You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait. You need not even wait, just learn to become quiet and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet." Franz Kafka
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks
As I’ve sat with the realities of the pandemic, moments have emerged which brought forth such a sense of heaviness, of sadness, of utter confusion and disorientation to what I saw before me, what I read, what I heard from others: Tragic losses of lives and livelihoods…aloneness…smiles masked.
A couple months into this pandemic, these moments still visit me. But, they’ve also brought some beautiful guests. Some of these guests are familiar to me and have sat with me throughout the years in times of both joy and some deep sorrows. Others feel as though they are more luminous versions of these familiar guests, almost like grandfathers/grandmothers of Life itself…Kind eyes, deep wisdom felt in weathered age.
These gentle and wise teachers have unmasked and unveiled the ways my ego, my pride, my self-will, had distanced me, in subtle ways, from myself and others, when there was no lockdown. They’ve facilitated a “life review” of sorts, and asked me to be gentle, to be kind, to listen with the fullness of heart they were offering me.They've visited old flames, mistakes I made, unwise and foolish choices. They've touched the love I've known: from parents, family, friends, and old flames. They've taught me to listen to the past...some of the ugliness and her beauty as well. They beheld these moments in sacred embrace: Generous love, forgiveness and possibility for myself, those closest to me, and some aspects of our world.
Is this ecstasy? I don’t know. But, I do know I want these grandfathers/grandmothers of Life to continue their visits to me. Whether they’re with me in a sit at home comforting a part of self that can feel wounded, hurt or misunderstood in a moment; or, if they come in a flash of lucidity on a perceived enigma, I welcome their teachings, their love, their ease of acceptance.
And, their visits may not be limited to solitary moments of stillness: They can have a felt-sense presence in a group Zoom in which another person shares a vulnerability, a kind thought or insight; or, they can appear as something far more mundane and just as lovely: Looking out my window and noticing all the verdant shades before me, reminding me to go outside and use my legs, my eyes…the gift of my physicality, for this day-I'm alive! I have health...in body, in mind, in spirit.
Is this ecstasy? If in ecstasy there is surrender to what is, then I ask for more moments of this kind of ecstasy. A desirable surrender to a fuller, more open heart…a human heart that learns to surrender and transmute some of the challenges of life to gifts that are generative to Life, for and from each of us-in our own, unique way.
If this pandemic has activated memories, lovely and not so lovely, they are all invitations to experience and receive "guests." Some of these guests may feel uncomfortable; some may feel familiar. It's okay, welcome them to your table, break bread with them, and before you send them on their way, honor the messages they've given you. They may return; they may not. It's all ok, and exactly what it is...
As we "retreat" in our homes this month, may we find and touch many moments of blessing.
Blessing by John O'donahue
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
As we turn inward, engaging in mindfulness practices, we learn to more generously respond with compassion to ourselves and others.
Our sitting practice can attune us to physical sensations, at times heightening them, which can be applied to mindful meals, movement, sound, etc. During our meditation practices, we can also notice and observe how sensations in the body (an itch in the ear, tight shoulders, for example.) can arise. Much like our thoughts, they may come and go. When they linger there, they can hold a message for us (constriction can be indicative of anxiety/trauma/stressor); and, they always invite choice: 1) We can halt the reaction to move/adjust/change it, breathing into it and observing it dissipate, 2) we can breathe into it, notice no change, sit with the discomfort and notice the body as a whole or 3), we can, with intention, respond to it, adjusting our posture/itch/etc with observance and intentionality.
This practice of sitting with discomforts, choosing responses in mindful practice, without a need to immediately soothe/react, provide a felt-sense of helpful responding to life's pulls and discomforts. They also help us more compassionately respond when we notice a reaction (in ourselves and/or others), fully aware that in the next moment, and in the next, another choice is offered. When we can acknowledge, integrate, and move through our less wise choices (reactions), we move to greater wholeness, freedom and acceptance,
Our sitting practice can also support internal sensing, which further support humility and compassion. Here, we more keenly understand that what we/others "see," "touch," "taste" "feel," "hear" are partial glimpses of experiences/"truths"-in that moment. And, what's going on "out there" is nicely intertwined and reflected in with what's going on inside. Distinctions, categories, separations of ourselves from aspects of ourselves and/or others make less sense and are untenable.
."...take a month and show some kindness
for the folks
who thought that blindness
was an illness that
affected eyes alone.." Maya Angelou
Nadia Brewart, Ph.D., is a student of life with an insatiable curiosity about what it means to be human, amidst encounters with the human condition.