Monday, April 3, 2017

An inquiry about kindness, derived from a random act of unkindness

I really like the word kindness.  Not just the word itself, though it is a fun word to say aloud and even write.  I really like its’ meaning.  Kindness:  The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.  It’s a word I’ve been pleased to experience much of the time.  I appreciate it in whatever form it comes from…. personal exposure, friendly anecdotes and voyeuristic sightings, through to various other creative means of story-telling.  To me kindness is inspiring, enjoyable, and comforting.  It can be welcoming, surprising and entertaining.  What I have noticed most about this standard recently is its’ alarming decrease since last November’s presidential election in the US.

Much has occurred over the past few months that has caused me to pause, mouth ajar. Though where I finally hit the straw that broke my personal camel’s back was when my friend relayed an incident within the past month.  She witnessed a random act of way-more than unkindness in midtown Manhattan. In what appeared to have occurred in the proverbial blink of an eye was one Caucasian woman running up to a Muslim woman and pulling her hijab off.  This was extraordinarily unsettling for me to hear.  My friend and another went over to the woman after this attack and asked if she was all right.  With dignity she replied yes and relayed that “this happens all of the time” before her voice broke in distress.   As I tried to make some type of connection or sense of this ,my own highly sensitive nature kept coming back to the fact that in its simplest form it was an abrasive lack of kindness that I couldn’t and, frankly still cannot, comprehend.  But, really, that is putting it mildly.  For these last several weeks,   I have been haunted each time I thought about it.  And I’ve thought about it a lot. 

To have such a vehement disrespect for another’s difference. And, even more so, to have a desire to cause such hurt and shame and violation…where does it come from?

When someone reaches out, in prejudice, and feels that they somehow have a right to cross over into someone else’s personal space in such a way as to demean, it is many things, for sure.  At a very holistic level, through my wellness and yogic and—at this juncture—living life “training” I believe it is evidence that this person does not feel whole.  When we don’t have the self-respect to honor ourselves fully—owning our shadows, inconsistencies, emotions—and FEARS—it is challenging to provide that to others, especially those who appear different from us.  It’s sometimes easier to treat others better than we treat ourselves, particularly when our own self-hate rears its’ ugly head.  However at this level of disregard, when it moves into the space that causes a scene such as this one to occur, lashing out toward someone else seems like a better answer than lashing in toward ourselves, which also doesn’t work.  This is a possible explanation but in no way an excuse and, sadly, no way a solution.

This next inquiry is not rhetorical. Is it possible and plausible to ask ,before things get much more out of hand, what might it take to go forward—not further backward—and simply be kind to one another?



Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Garden of Patience, Presence & Inspired Thinking

What brings you inspiration? I was asking this question of myself as I raced to plant some flowers early a few morning’s ago, before the sun came up over to the side of the house where the deck is located. Summertime and all that it brings--the ability to walk outside barefoot, hear wind chimes making music with the rustle of the trees; longer days, the ability to float in a pool or play in the waves at the ocean—is inspiring to me. It brings me so much joy and a clear space to both relax my nervous system and fire up my creative spirit. Gardening, though, doesn’t normally fall into my general Top Ten list of warm weather activities. Though I suppose it is beginning to rate somehow and somewhere for me today, as I am devoting a blog post to it.

Now, I love flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits. I love indulging in the harvest and I have a deep appreciation for sitting next to a space where peppermint and basil are growing and flowers decorate with abundance. It’s getting the aforementioned to grow and tending to the many needs these living, growing creatures have throughout the season that tends to roadblock me some.

For example, I had a little “incident” last week with some sunflowers I was working on growing from seeds. (Before I go any further I want to state that last year at this time I planted both tomatoes and sunflowers from seed—the first time ever—and I was successful. Whether it was beginner’s green thumb or not, I did it so I actually have proof that it is possible. Just sayin’.) When it came time to water, I had gotten lazy. While I usually first take recycled water that collected in the tub in the dehumidifier, put it in a metal sprinkler can and water ,on this particular morning I just poured the water from the tub on to the beautifully early sprouting sunflowers. And then I walked away. Several hours later I came to admire the sprouts that would miraculously grow to be my very favorite flower. To my horror they were now horizontal, uprooted and laying in mud. Horrified that I murdered the sprouts, I went into immediate denial, walking away and adding insult to injury, let the soon-to-be dead sprouts fry in the sun. I wish I could tell you that I was kind and compassionate with myself. To anyone else I would have likely said, one of many things that would have held the space for the potential of quick redemption and comfort. I went directly to “Bad Mela!” Not-very-inspired….or kind.

After I moved through bad-you-woe-is-me, I reached out to two friends who happen to not just have green thumbs but, really, green skeletal systems. I believe one was a flower in another life and the flower kingdom would welcome her back in a heartbeat. The other is the poster child for co-creation and I’m convinced could build a breathtaking garden in a garbage can.

The friend who I believe is part flower, said it seemed as if it was about looking at things another way, upturning and upheaval for something different and working with what is, The flowers had a message for me. Wow. Kind of like being in an inversion in yoga, it’s interesting to look at stuff from a different angle. The other friend simply asked why I just didn’t put the sprouts back in the earth, at the time of the drowning, so that they could continue to root and grow. This floored me. I never thought of that, as I heard the first friend’s message in my head, once again, about looking at things another way. That might have been inspired thinking but it was out of my realm on the fated day the sunflowers died. I wasn’t able to see past my own story, and mine didn’t have a happy ending.

So, this morning when I asked myself about inspiration, I was actually putting an additional three sunflower seeds into Mother Earth. These sunflowers take about 70 days to grow. So, I’m excited, hopeful and, yes, even a bit inspired to see what might occur by late summer as I tend to my garden of presence and patience along the way.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Accountability Buddies

I have this amazing dog, who at 13 ½ years subscribes to the older and wiser school of thought. As he gets older, he seems to get wiser when it comes to me. Or, at least I think he does. Here we are in the middle of February, definitely poised into the flow of the New Year. And, what’s the one thing I made a promise to do more regularly that I have totally and absolutely negated until right this very second? Writing regularly is the clear intention that I made myself, him, all my guardian angels and spirit guides and even a few patient and supportive friends as the New Year ball dropped. So on this cold Sunday afternoon, when I’m preparing to settle in to watch a movie in my cozy living room, Troy Alexander Stevens decides to stare me down. He knows that enough is enough and if he doesn’t take a stand yet another day will go by keeping me from my main portal of communication, the one that will be moving me forward in a more brilliant light. He’s my accountability buddy.

Now, you might think that what I have here is simply a vivid imagination. However, I attempted to distract myself not once, but twice, in the half hour since the first stare down. There were dishes in the sink, you see. And, really, how am I supposed to concentrate on writing with dishes screaming at me from the kitchen? Then, there was the chicken. Truthfully, with me, many stories begin, end or feature a climatic bridge involving a roasting chicken in the oven. Troy loves roasted chicken. However that is another story for another day, save to say I had to get the chicken in the oven—for him—and, well, you know, that took a little time.

But, now, here I am writing. And Troy seems pretty darn happy about it. He continues to stare at me, lounging with comfortable ease from one of his two beds, this one just a few feet from where I’m typing away. His big brown eyes lock directly into mine and his ears are back, in relaxed satisfaction. Never mind watch dog, I have an accountability dog and I’m really happy about it.

We all need support in order to achieve our dreams and since one of mine involves writing at its’ epicenter getting down to it regularly is the task at hand. The human spirit is so interesting. While we often have our eye on the prize, taking the steps to walk right over and claim it takes a recipe comprised of intention, spirit, discipline, fervor, with a sprinkle of courage in there too. We’d likely fly right over to it, if we would just manage to take those first few steps bringing momentum and eventual fluidity.

The distractors, stories, excuses and drama that take us away, rather than closer, to our truth, authenticity, fun factors, exciting endeavors and dimensional adventures are our security veils. The irony is that we are protecting ourselves from, well, ourselves. Are we really that scary?

Who is your accountability dog? The one who doesn’t bark but gently nudges you with his wet nose into the direction you need to be guided. The one who sits and gently holds the space for you to step into it, hoping you’ll eventually get up off the sofa and get down and dirty on the floor to play. The higher self may say “Someday I’ll be able to do this all on my own.” Maybe that’s the goal. Or, at least, that’s the story being believed today. But until we get to that higher self- place, having an accountability buddy—whether it be of the two or four legged variety-can lead us forward with momentum and community. Achieving goals that are close to our heart don’t necessarily need to be all alone endeavors. I learned that in gratitude today. Thanks, Troy!! 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Why Not?

I recently walked by a woman leisurely reading a pop-culture magazine as she gently sat in a white wicker rocker moving slowly back and forward. It was on a particularly hot afternoon during the July heat wave. It wouldn’t have been something to even note except for the fact that this scene took place in an outdoor furniture display area at the supermarket Stop and Shop. Her shopping cart was patiently parked about a foot away in recess from the initial task at hand. The scene caused me to grin and I next stopped to congratulate her on her brilliance. With the heat it made perfect sense to spend some time reading in an air conditioned setting. She explained that as she walked by pushing her groceries the display looked so inviting that she thought, “Why not?” I was inspired by several elements of this scenario. First, that she was able to be so in the moment that she temporarily divorced herself from the task of grocery shopping to indulge in some rest and relaxation. Second, she gave herself something she needed and wanted without stopping with excuses as to why she shouldn’t go forward with it. Third, she didn’t care where she was, who saw her or how it might look. She followed her feelings, took care of herself and reveled in self-care in a way that was with effort, yet effortless. The episode was the ultimate example in the FUN of self-care. Not everything needs to be planned out and orchestrated to the ninth degree. Bravo to being present, indulging in some rest and relaxation and just stopping long enough to be a human being instead of a human doing . After all….why not?!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A whole different world right in front of my (our?) eyes

A few weeks back I was out of town visiting friends. I awoke before them and, although I’m a tea drinker in the morning, I wanted to make coffee for them so it would be ready when they got up. I looked in, what I believed to be, all the usual spots where people might store coffee: the cupboard above where the coffee maker sat, the cabinet underneath, the refrigerator and the freezer. Feeling perplexed I then, I thought, very systematically, looked in every kitchen orifice I could find searching for anything that resembled coffee. I wasn’t dramatic. I felt I was being present and thoughtful—both in the endeavor at hand and in my intention. I failed at the task at but decided to relax in the semi-confusion of it. I let it go. About an hour later when my dear friend awoke and I found her in the kitchen—making coffee, I told her that I had wanted to prepare it but failed to find where they stored the coffee. She just looked at me in the way she has since we were both 13 years old and I told her that the only way I was allowed to go out and watch the 8th grade basketball game (a very cool thing to do when you are in the 8th grade, by the way) is if my father attended with me. (Not so cool, in case you were wondering.) I guess the look is a combination of compassion, incredulousness and semi-shock. Then she responded to me that the coffee was stored directly next to the coffee maker, in a tall, white canister that is (clearly) marked with the word: COFFEE. Things like this happen to me more than I’d like to admit. I tend to be better at the challenging, not-so-right-in-front-of-my-eyes stuff than, well, the obvious. For years I’d beat myself, get immersed in the embarrassment and laugh it off with others, but deep inside actually feel shame sprinkled with some anger toward self, and humiliation too. The practice of ahimsa—Sanskrit for non-violence-is the part of my yoga practice that has provided me with the biggest shift, because it’s the biggest challenge. It starts with non-violence toward self. Just like trying to find the stash of coffee, being really kind to myself and having compassion around learning me—what makes me tic and currently do things as I do them—might be right in front of me but seemingly beyond my grasp. While I would immediately want to relieve the suffering of someone else, I would marinate in my own angst over something I did or didn’t do…for hours and days. Through my practice , I slowly learn there is room for all the feelings to process through and even some room left over to hone the gift of my own sense of humor, allowing me to laugh over me and what’s obviously right in front of my eyes…that sometimes I just can’t easily see. I learn my own true nature circumspectly, and that’s okay. Everyone has at least one story, just like mine. And I know from the work that I do that many are also not so kind to themselves as they maneuver through a situation. In the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, he writes in the second chapter, sutra 35: “In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease.” If each and every one of us started to be kinder and gentler with just ourselves right now, what might the world feel like a month, year and decade from now? Is a whole different world right in front of our eyes…there for the taking, with jut a little more humanity to and for ourselves? An extraordinary and non-rhetorical question to discuss with further practice.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sufferin' Succotash

I pushed the wrong button on my TV remote recently and the screen went haywire. I lost the signal, couldn’t get the screen to stop jumping or the snow to leave the monitor. So I turned off the set. A few days later I turned the television back on and the problem was still there. A few hours after that I tried again, thinking that the situation was going to change from the minimal and repetitive action I was taking. It didn’t.

As I mused about this later I found humor in both my level of denial and the fact that even though I intellectually knew that I was going to have to do something different in order to get a different result I kept hoping the problem would rectify itself with, well, the push of a button. (And believe me I pushed every one of them on the remote and within me.)

To see my own pattern of behavior is a good start. But the bigger question that comes to mind is how long does one have to live and play in suffering before you really do something about it?

I pondered this as I raced to the train station for the third time in as many weeks. The train I often take to Manhattan was changed to a 10 minute earlier arrival time. I needed to do something different in order to not miss the train. For those first three tries, I attempted: driving faster, running over to the track once I parked the car, and stressing out considerably. In addition to this doing nothing for my adrenal glands, the train pulled away from the station without me.

As I sat in the depot, waiting for the next Amtrak coach I thought of an Einstein quote noting the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Then, what came to mind as I began writing this post is a teaching in the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, that has to do with avoiding pain that has not yet come. Basically, the choices that we make for ourselves can have some effect over whether we are in a state of happiness or suffering.

Well, I had demonstrated the suffering mode over the course of nearly a month with the train and over a week with the television. Then one night as I was setting my alarm thinking about the dreaded race to the tracks the next morning it dawned on me that what I hadn’t yet tried was setting my alarm 15 minutes earlier. In that true Thomas Edison light bulb moment I avoided pain that had not yet come. I caught the train and let go of the suffering. And like what happened when I (finally) called my TV satellite provider and they walked me through the necessary steps, I re-booted my system to create a shift.

So, as we are still in the month of January, here’s to a new year of new shifts!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shopping Time

Not being a “shopper” when a friend asked me to go with her recently when she wanted to get a bathing suit I was intrigued. You see, it was during the first week of August and we were in Manhattan.

Even without the shopping gene I knew from years of living in the Big Apple that when you go for retail therapy in August it is not bathing suits that you find gracing the clothing racks, it is sweaters, in autumn hues.

However, I am a huge believer in possibility. So, I happily followed along excited to see what we might find. As we stepped into the retail outlet my eyes immediately went to the large round table with the orange, taupe and brown sweaters on it, stacked in all their “Fall-will-be-here-in-a-heartbeat-glory.”

My friend, unmoved by the cool-weather fare surrounding us, sweetly asked the shop clerk if there were any bathing suits she could look at. He said no. They were gone now. Never mind that it was mid-way between Fourth of July and Labor Day, 80 some-odd degrees and sun blazing outside. If she wanted to look at bathing suits they could be viewed on line. Ah, on line where you can literally, virtually find anything at any time.

Now my bone to pick with real time and how it relates to retail time is not news. It’s something I’ve written on, well, time and time again. While I love that it’s easy enough to go on line and purchase a bathing suit it is still a wonder to me why they can’t hang around the stores until Labor Day. Really, they don’t take up half the space of the sweaters.

In a true practice of mindfulness we stay in each moment because, really, that is all that is. To think toward the rust-colored turtleneck then has my mind move to the fall wellness programs I haven’t yet chosen dates to run; the time when my flip flops will need to be placed in the back of the closet, and, well, soup, among other things that begin to swim through my head. Not the kind of swimming I want to be doing during the first week of August.

Do I really believe that the decision makers who wheel away the bikinis, tankinis, halter and strapless one-pieces will suddenly do an about face and keep the beach attire around with the outdoor furniture, citronella candles and grill utensils? Well, maybe. Hey, I said I believe in possibility back in the beginning. So, I’m putting it out there into the cosmos for some others to ponder too. I’m also making the commitment to keep present within myself noting the pleasure of walking barefoot in the grass, floating in a pool and reading outside among the sounds of the cicadas—all because it is August. Being in the moment during the moment will make summer last just a little bit longer. THAT I’ll buy.