Be kind.

kind

As we bump and bustle our way through life, we often don’t notice other people much, maybe never pause to wonder what they may be going through in life. Usually they are just the person in the way, or the one in front of us in line, or the one who is doing a dismally poor job of getting our order right. But if we could step back and see their interior lives, we may get a whole lot of patience in a hurry. Everybody is carrying a load of some kind. Everybody hurts.

Or, as Jon Pavlovitz says in this insightful article, everybody grieves:

If we could keep this reality in the forefront of our mind as we make our way through the hustle and bustle, we would be gentler, kinder, more patient. And that would do a world of good for our weary world.

Don’t miss the joy.

penguinjoy

We generally find what we look for. We are good at it, and that skill helps us to recognize that one face in a sea of faces, to ferret out clues at a crime scene, to heed the landmarks that lead us home. But when we are trying to process a barrage of information coming at us all at once and trying to make sense of it without being overcome, we need to look for the unexpected things, the startling things, the beautiful things. We need to seek joy.

In his Book of Delights, Ross Gay goes on a mission to write about something delightful, everyday. And, while he initially thought he would have to scrounge for delights, after a bit of practice, he learned to find them everywhere. The delightful things were abundant and overflowing. More important, those delights made him realize how interconnected we are and that we are caretakers, each for the other. In a world that can seem cold and callous, we are generally good to each other:

I suppose I could spend time theorizing how it is that people are not bad to each other. But that’s really not the point. The point is that in almost every instance of our social lives, we are, if we pay attention, in the midst of an almost constant, if subtle, caretaking – holding doors open, offering elbows at crosswalks, letting someone else go first, helping with the heavy bags, reaching what’s too high or what’s been dropped, pulling someone back to their feet, stopping at the car wreck – at the struck dog, the alternating merge, also known as the zipper. This caretaking is our default mode, and it’s always a lie that convinces us to act or believe otherwise – always.

As we scrounge for our delights, we begin to see them all around us–the groceries grown and harvested for us to enjoy, the clothes crafted and sewn, the traffic signs to keep us safe, the laughter of children, birdsong, smiles from neighbors, our dog eager for her morning walk. As we notice those delights, we metaphorically feel the embrace of a larger community and feel the joy from being lucky enough to be right here, right now, plop in the middle of the mystery of it all.

The anonymous gift.

angeldoor

There is something about an anonymous gift that brings special joy to both the giver and the receiver. For the person getting the gift, it makes you feel like the whole world cares, that around any corner is the person who cared enough to make your life special. And to the giver, it strips off all the status and pride and self-satisfaction you may get from a public gift and, with the lusciousness of a secret, fills you with love and gratitude that you are in a position to make a difference.

Consider this delightful story about a somewhat anonymous giver, call him George Walker, and his gift to a young boy in the Philippines.

“Dear Timothy, 
I want to be your new pen pal. 
I am an old man, 77 years old, but I love kids; and though we have not met I love you already.
I live in Texas – I will write you from time to time – Good Luck. G. Walker”

Now, after President Bush’s death, we have learned that he was George Walker, but look at how much joy is in his writing when it is semi-anonymous. He is embracing the true spirit of giving.

For more on anonymous giving, take a look at this feature I wrote on anonymous giving filled with inspiring stories.

What are some things you might do anonymously to spread your love?

 

Give yourself.

give

How deeply can we say Yes to life, to each other, to our common good? It’s easy to hold back, to give our money but not our hearts, to temper our enthusiasm, to stay aloof, to protect ourselves from being hurt. But is that why we’re here? To stay safe? When we give of ourselves, we listen with our whole hearts, we reach out to others, we spread joy. And our ability to do those things does not run out. Love expands when it is shared.

Moving past the past.

past

We cannot fix our pasts. That’s a hard truth to accept, so we spend a lot of time railing against what happened, wishing it had been different, ruminating over the details. But the past cannot be cured– We made that mistake, we had those parents, we encountered that trial, we suffered that loss. Whatever it is. It happened. It’s true. And now it’s part of our past, a part of us.

We cannot make changes to the past. Pretending it never happened may only serve to bury the hurt just to have it pop up unexpectedly later when something triggers a memory. Glossing it over or telling ourselves we’re fine, may cause wounds to fester.

There are many things, though, that we can do with our unpleasant past that can help. We can grieve the relationships we wish had been better. We can offer ourselves the nurturing we may have craved. We can learn from the mistakes we made. We can look for ways to reach out to and support others going through similar hardships. We can look for the positives that came from the bad situation. We can give ourselves permission to heal. We can forgive.

And we can focus on the present, where we have the ability to act.

Do not lose heart.

heroism

It feels like we have fought this battle before. Why won’t it go away? Why are we here again?

Perhaps it is as simple and complex as that there are epic forces of good and evil alive in the world. Evil, whether in the form or racism, misogyny, selfishness, and so on, keeps coming back, even when we think progress has been made. That is the nature of the world we live in.

The answer: to keep flooding the world with good, keep fighting the good fight.

Do not lose hope.

Giving up control.

control

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.

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.

Going counter-culture.

dalai

Is kindness passé? Patience out of date? Love revolutionary? In today’s world, these virtues seem counter-culture. People are quick to be mean, impatient for their own way, and blinded by hate. The loudest rant dominates over the considered opinion.

In this commencement speech, Jake Tapper urges the graduates to be kind, to shy away from meanness, the easy and lazy option:

How can we go that extra distance to show up in this world as kind and patient, to refuse to meet meanness with meanness, but instead with the loving response?

The littlest heroes

burdens

There are the larger than life heroes who accomplish monumental things, and then there are the everyday unknown heroes who may be even more inspiring if only we knew their stories. They are just like us, regular folks, without a forum or bankroll, doing their best to make the world a better place for all people.

Consider 4 year old Austin Perine. He has made it his mission to feed the homeless. (And inspired Burger King to offer him $1000 to do it!) He does it because ‘It’s just the right thing to do.”

His motto is simple: Show Love.

 

That’s a mission we can all get behind: Show Love.