Spread ripples.

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In a world where you can feel small and anonymous, never forget that you can make a difference. The little kindnesses you put out in the world inspire other such acts and so on and so on, rippling ever outward. Those ripples together make for a kinder gentler world.

In the video below, watch how the kindness ripples through a community and consider how you might add your own kindness ripples into your day.

 

The joy of it all.

joy

Oh, to be a kid, before we’ve learned to wear masks and tamp down our emotions to keep from looking silly. We’ve mastered the art of staying calm when really we want to grab someone and spin them around in the air because we are so happy to see them, or to guffaw at a joke or funny thought, or to just break out in dance walking down the street.

We are so civilized.

But sometimes, maybe, it’s nice to be like this dog and just let someone know how you feel:

That’s wearing his heart on his sleeve, isn’t it? But life’s short; what’s the point of hiding our joy?

Sing your song.

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They say there is an African tribe where, when a woman is pregnant, she goes into the jungle with the other women of the village, and together they pray and meditate until they discover that child’s song.When that child is born, the community gathers to sing his song. And at each of the major stages of his life, they will sing his song–as he becomes a man, marries, and finally as he meets death to accompany him on the journey. When that child commits an anti-social act, the community will not focus on or be fooled by the mistakes or the dark, broken or ugly places within him but will gather around him in a circle to sing him his song, for the answer is not punishment but to remind him of his true identity, his unique place in the community.

This is such a lovely picture of service and community and being seen and valued as a unique individual. Many of us long for that place. But in this world in which we find ourselves, often we don’t know our song. Or we sing someone else’s song. Or our song is drowned out. Or we are too busy, distracted, or afraid to sing our song. Or, frankly, we just mouth the words.

Today, make sure to sing your song. It’s not about whether you sing on key or whether your song is ready for a band tour. It’s about authenticity and offering the gifts that you uniquely have to offer. Sing away, little bird.

Giving up control.

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We want to support the people we love as they go through difficult times, but how often does that support turn into telling them what to do or criticizing them for what they’ve done? How often does it make our loved one feel smaller or shamed or detached? What message does our trying to control them or the situation send them about our confidence in their abilities to handle the curve balls that life throws at us all?

In this powerful column on the concept of holding space, Heather Plett explains how we can show up for the people we care about without controlling them or the outcome, how our presence can be constructive rather than destructive, how we can offer support in a healthy way. She learned these lessons from Ann, a palliative care nurse who helped her deal with the challenges of her aging mother’s impending death. Here are Heather’s eight take-aways:

  1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom. When we were supporting Mom in her final days, we had no experience to rely on, and yet, intuitively, we knew what was needed. We knew how to carry her shrinking body to the washroom, we knew how to sit and sing hymns to her, and we knew how to love her. We even knew when it was time to inject the medication that would help ease her pain. In a very gentle way, Ann let us know that we didn’t need to do things according to some arbitrary health care protocol – we simply needed to trust our intuition and accumulated wisdom from the many years we’d loved Mom.
  2. Give people only as much information as they can handle. Ann gave us some simple instructions and left us with a few handouts, but did not overwhelm us with far more than we could process in our tender time of grief. Too much information would have left us feeling incompetent and unworthy.
  3. Don’t take their power away. When we take decision-making power out of people’s hands, we leave them feeling useless and incompetent. There may be some times when we need to step in and make hard decisions for other people (ie. when they’re dealing with an addiction and an intervention feels like the only thing that will save them), but in almost every other case, people need the autonomy to make their own choices (even our children). Ann knew that we needed to feel empowered in making decisions on our Mom’s behalf, and so she offered support but never tried to direct or control us.
  4. Keep your own ego out of it. This is a big one. We all get caught in that trap now and then – when we begin to believe that someone else’s success is dependent on our intervention, or when we think that their failure reflects poorly on us, or when we’re convinced that whatever emotions they choose to unload on us are about us instead of them. It’s a trap I’ve occasionally found myself slipping into when I teach. I can become more concerned about my own success (Do the students like me? Do their marks reflect on my ability to teach? Etc.) than about the success of my students. But that doesn’t serve anyone – not even me. To truly support their growth, I need to keep my ego out of it and create the space where they have the opportunity to grow and learn.
  5. Make them feel safe enough to fail. When people are learning, growing, or going through grief or transition, they are bound to make some mistakes along the way. When we, as their space holders, withhold judgement and shame, we offer them the opportunity to reach inside themselves to find the courage to take risks and the resilience to keep going even when they fail. When we let them know that failure is simply a part of the journey and not the end of the world, they’ll spend less time beating themselves up for it and more time learning from their mistakes.
  6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness. A wise space holder knows when to withhold guidance (ie. when it makes a person feel foolish and inadequate) and when to offer it gently (ie. when a person asks for it or is too lost to know what to ask for). Though Ann did not take our power or autonomy away, she did offer to come and give Mom baths and do some of the more challenging parts of caregiving. This was a relief to us, as we had no practice at it and didn’t want to place Mom in a position that might make her feel shame (ie. having her children see her naked). This is a careful dance that we all must do when we hold space for other people. Recognizing the areas in which they feel most vulnerable and incapable and offering the right kind of help without shaming them takes practice and humility.
  7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc. When people feel that they are held in a deeper way than they are used to, they feel safe enough to allow complex emotions to surface that might normally remain hidden. Someone who is practiced at holding space knows that this can happen and will be prepared to hold it in a gentle, supportive, and nonjudgmental way. In The Circle Way, we talk about “holding the rim” for people. The circle becomes the space where people feel safe enough to fall apart without fearing that this will leave them permanently broken or that they will be shamed by others in the room. Someone is always there to offer strength and courage. This is not easy work, and it is work that I continue to learn about as I host increasingly more challenging conversations. We cannot do it if we are overly emotional ourselves, if we haven’t done the hard work of looking into our own shadow, or if we don’t trust the people we are holding space for. In Ann’s case, she did this by showing up with tenderness, compassion, and confidence. If she had shown up in a way that didn’t offer us assurance that she could handle difficult situations or that she was afraid of death, we wouldn’t have been able to trust her as we did.
  8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would. Holding space is about respecting each person’s differences and recognizing that those differences may lead to them making choices that we would not make. Sometimes, for example, they make choices based on cultural norms that we can’t understand from within our own experience. When we hold space, we release control and we honour differences. This showed up, for example, in the way that Ann supported us in making decisions about what to do with Mom’s body after her spirit was no longer housed there. If there had been some ritual that we felt we needed to conduct before releasing her body, we were free to do that in the privacy of Mom’s home.

That #4 is a tough one, yes? We want to be important; we want to save the day; we think we know best. But giving others a safe place to find their own path forward empowers them to meet future challenges with resilience and courage. If they are dependent on us and our ‘wisdom’, they may not trust their own abilities. And, let’s be honest, do we really have all the answers anyway; isn’t life surprising and full of struggles that we don’t anticipate fully? Don’t we all need to develop the resilience and courage to respond to these challenges?

For more on Terry Crews and the background of the powerful quote above, including his conclusion that we can evolve and change and do things better, go here.

Leaving the world a bit better.

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We all want to succeed, but what is the metric for measuring whether we’ve been successful? There are so many. Money, status, power, bucket lists, fame, travel… but what of the little things? Are you successful if you have enough money to buy a small country but no one to love or trust? Is it success if you are famous but lonely? If you have power but wield it to cause pain and misfortune to others, how can that be considered success? If you’ve traveled the world but not been truly present anywhere, does that count?

Perhaps true success at this thing called life is as simple as Emerson’s thoughts above. To leave the world a bit better, to ease the burdens of others, to look for and bring out the best in others, to do no harm. These all matter, maybe not in measurable concrete ways, but in ways we can all feel and appreciate if not count. More important, these are all things we each can do. We have the ability to be successful beyond our wildest imaginings.

And don’t forget to laugh often and much. Finding the joy and not letting it slip right past you undetected is important, too.

Count your blessings instead of sheep.

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When your weary head fills with all the things you need to do or all the things that have gone wrong and keeps you from sleep, consider instead your present blessings. Let the negative thoughts drift from your focus like clouds blowing across a starlit sky, and turn your attention to the things you are grateful for, right here, right now.

For inspiration, consider this poem, Three Gratitudes, by Carrie Newcomer:

Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I’m grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight, and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father’s good health,
My daughter’s new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The stories you told me,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.
And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,

Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.

 

Pleasant dreams.

Be amazed.

amazement

When was the last time you were amazed? Maybe it’s time to look around you and marvel. The complexity, the beauty, the interconnection of all things. The realization that all this amazingness swirls around you and in you and through you every second of every day. That you live and breathe it, that you are a part of it –both inside as something to be marveled at yourself, and outside as something to behold the beauty and majesty of it all and marvel. And then love it all intimately despite the vastness.

Sorry. Not sorry?

goodapology

Some apologies make things worse. They don’t feel like apologies at all. They feel, instead, like just more hurt. Other apologies acknowledge the wound and help it heal. What makes the difference?

In When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love, Gary Chapman (of Five Love Languages fame) and Jennifer Thomas suggest that a true apology must have six characteristics:

Expressing regret–It’s important for an apology to be for something you did or said.  The more specific, the more it acknowledges the harm caused, the better. “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive,” doesn’t really feel like an apology because it is just restating some perceived flaw in the victim and isn’t focussing on anything you did wrong. Even if the harm was wholly unintended, when your actions cause another person pain, an apology is warranted. It goes to the very essence of the apology: I did not mean to hurt you.

Accepting responsibility— Yes, the pressures of the world can sometimes lead us to get wound up and stressed and to hurt other people, but that does not make it the world’s fault. We control ourselves. We are responsible if we act badly. Blaming the boss, the dog, the economy, the other drivers is deflecting. Apologies for the state of the world or all its ills will not feel like a real apology to the person you lashed out at. Apologizing for losing your temper or not considering the effects of your actions will.

Making restitution–“How can I make it right?” are powerful words. It shows an acknowledgement that what you did caused someone else harm. Maybe you can’t make it right. Maybe you can never make it right. But listening to the victim explain the damage is a powerful step forward in the process. Listening here is key–no justifying your actions, no quarreling with the facts, no defenses, just listening to the other person share their perspective. If there is something you can do to make things better, do that thing.

Genuinely repenting–If you are truly sorry, and have listened deeply to the pain you’ve caused, you will not want to cause that person pain again. You will stop causing the damage. You will want to change. Maybe you will need to write down the steps you want to take to prevent causing further harm. Maybe you will slip up and need to start again. But the most important thing is that you will try to not do this again. Otherwise, are you really sorry?

Requesting Forgiveness–“Can you forgive me?” are powerful words. They show you care about the relationship. They show you understand you did things wrong. They show you are not in control of the relationship.

Everyone messes up. Not everyone takes responsibility for messing up. When we do take responsibility for the harm we’ve caused, it may strengthen our relationships and help them grow stronger. Trust can reenter, fostering healing.

Randy Pausch, the author of the quote above, gave a powerful Last Lecture before he died young of pancreatic cancer. His timeless words can teach us all a lesson about life and living.

Good fences make good neighbors?

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So much divides one person from another. Some of these things are walls we build ourselves. What does it take to unite people rather than divide them?

Take a minute to watch this delightful video of a boy and his neighbor dog overcoming the fence that divides them.

 

 

What can we do today to build bridges?

 

Be the crane.

protect

Where would we be without people who passionately care about others, including those beyond their immediate circle? Who will protect the vulnerable, the voiceless, and the overlooked? Who will speak out on behalf of Earth herself?

We protect the things we love. When we see a hurting world and people, maybe we need to broaden our love.

Take a minute to watch this remarkable video of a father crane protecting his young from an alligator.

What a beautiful metaphor this father crane is for us: yes there are alligators in the world; they come in lots of shapes in sizes.

But let’s hear it for the cranes.