I don’t know about you, but sometimes our world’s biggest challenges feel less like opportunities to me and more like reason to either weep and gnash my teeth, or turn the other direction completely. La-la-la, can’t HEAR you!
I’ve done both at different times in my life, and while I think there’s a time and a place to grieve deeply, to sit with overwhelm, and to focus our attention only on life’s lovely, beautiful things, I think there’s also a time and place to look squarely at huge challenges – long enough to grow trust in the midst of them.
Huge challenges don’t always mean global ones. They can be within your own being, your own household, or your circle of friends. But huge challenges ARE global, too, and sometimes our personal traumas and despair are healed and tended by a closer look at these broader issues and the hopeful, trust-inducing work people are doing in the face of them.
Today I’m joining a wave of awareness, sweeping across the web, for a trust-kindred organization called Girl Effect. The focus of their work is girls in poverty and the drastically different paths girls’ lives can take depending on their access to education, their ability to choose when to marry, and their freedom from HIV.
If words like “poverty”, “HIV” and “access to education” tend to make you turn away or go numb – both natural, normal responses – chances are your heart is troubled deeply by them. Chances are you don’t know what to do about their implications and/or feel the challenges of your own life so acutely that you see zero psychic or emotional or financial reserves to pour into thoughts about girls in the developing world.
And that’s okay!
But I’ve been thinking about The Girl Effect and wondering whether the hope and transformation that’s generated by it might actually connect with you deeply – connect, actually, with the very deepest fears and wounds that you carry.
What if you watched this video not as a distanced observer, but with an eye for the ways that you are like the 12-year-old girl in it? What if you watched it as a metaphor for the poverty (emotional, relational, financial, parental) and stuck-ness you feel in some area of your life, and the trajectory that would unfold for you naturally were nothing significant to change?
You know that fear, right?
And what if you watched the alternative trajectory the 12-year-old girl takes as one that’s actually open for you? – not necessarily her literal trajectory, but the broader one of possibility, of choices, of passing on strength and trust and hope to those who come after you?
The Girl Effect is not only some distant magic.
It’s also about you.
(If you don’t see the video above, click here to watch.)
If you’re moved by what you’ve seen – for its own sake, or by the ways you see connections with your own life and wishes for hope and opportunity – consider exploring more at girleffect.org.
Giving to this organization or spreading word about it could be a conscious ritual you create to honor your wish for hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges – within your own self, in your life, or in our broader world.
Every act of trust, every ritual we make to say “I choose hope” matters. Every one of them shapes our world.
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Bloggers across the world are talking about Girl Effect today. Go here to see what other people are saying. Deep bows and thanks to Tara Sophia Mohr for her work to start and continue this wave.
If you’re new here, welcome! I post articles once each week that explore trust, and how to nurture more of it. Signing up for my rss feed is a great way to get a feel for what happens here. I used to devote each month to a different theme, so if you’re interested in seeing those themes and an annotated page of articles for each one, click here. Again, my warmest welcome!
Sometimes your ego is ready for a good challenge – is all chipper and open-arms about uncomfortable conversations or your growing awareness that you’re scared of something – maybe the very thing you’re most wanting or needing to do – and are finding every reason to stall instead of doing it.
“Bring it on!” your ego says. “I can take it!”
And with the onslaught of that discomfort or that deepened awareness, your ego stands up, flexes, and muscles you off to new and wonderful places.
Sometimes, though – okay, maybe lots of the time – your ego has much less spunk. It feels more like a weary, wounded animal.
Like…for instance…mine right now. The very challenges that start the Rocky theme song going on my best days are leaving me rocking this week, hugging my knees.
So what to do on weeks like these?…especially when there’s still work to be done and checking out completely isn’t an option.
I get this image in my head of lists. Running lists, almost like ticker tape, of all the things that could help:
A cleaner house
A cleaner desk
A cleaner head space…
Which really all sound like this when I’m feeling this way:
Get your act together!!!
Not so trust-inducing, right?
And then this other image comes to mind of those little stickers given at American polling places that say simply, “I voted”. Only in my vision, they say things like, “I chose self kindness,” or “I put my arm around my f*$%ed-up-ness and walked lovingly like that for a while.”
Wouldn’t that be cool???
I see so many warm looks of knowing in that scene – person to person. High fives, too.
So if your ego is feeling weak right now, and you’re tempted to respond with self condemnation, or your numbing-out habit of choice, or by drawing up personal marching orders or referencing self-help articles or buffing up your to-do lists, maybe you…maybe WE…could consider something much more gentle, and ultimately, more conducive to the natural growth of trust.
Maybe we could do something completely counterintuitive in the face of our own glaring weakness and try some small act of celebration – a lighted candle, a container of berries all to ourselves, a paper crown created for our head – to honor the steps we’re trying to take – even if only on our good days – into trust.
Because they matter. Every single move into trust matters. All of them till and feed and shine warm light on trust’s soil.
Me? I’m going to go crack the cover on the first for-fun book that I’ve opened in nine months. I’d love to hear what small act you might choose!
If you’re new here, welcome! I post articles once each week that explore trust, and how to nurture more of it. Signing up for my rss feed is a great way to get a feel for what happens here. I used to devote each month to a different theme, so if you’re interested in seeing those themes and an annotated page of articles for each one, click here. Again, my warmest welcome!
Sometime last summer I admitted out loud what had been a secret wish for a long time: I want to hike.
I’ve always felt like a hiker, despite my near complete lack of practice at it, but decided it was time to actually live into myself (so to speak :).
So I bought a pair of hiking shoes. And the thrill of it! They could have been the wrong size, for all I cared, as I walked on clouds from the store to my car. I was pursuing a dream! (The sketch from this post came straight from this experience.)
I bought a little book of local trail descriptions, too, and embarked the very next weekend on our family’s first hike.
And it was fantastic! I smiled the whole time. Even as I noticed my knees aching by the time we returned to our car, I felt that delicious YES of taking action on something I KNEW I loved to do.
My knees felt worse the next day, though, and it became clear that I couldn’t run OR walk for exercise that week.
By the second hike, I quietly admitted that steep declines aren’t things my knees handle very well.
By the third, that carrying kids makes everything worse.
By the fourth, that even a light backpack isn’t a good idea to carry, so far as my knees are concerned.
And as time has marched on, and my knees have made their presence known increasingly – with and without hikes – I’ve had to admit to myself that this dream I have of being a hiker can’t pan out according to plan. The full-length dream includes backpacking some day, which I know is completely out. But even the shorter version, where I’m on first-name basis with the staff at REI, am familiar with all the trails within a 2-hour radius of home, and have friends whom I’ve met hiking, too: not going to happen.
I can walk gentle slopes, holding a water bottle and a granola bar.
And while I know this is FAR more than some can do, I feel grief in it. Grief in a dream that felt so long in coming true, and then so HERE, so NOW already, and then so quickly out of reach.
I wonder whether you have experiences like this, too, tucked into the edges or smack at the center of your life. Moments where the soft filter of a dream gets pulled away and you find yourself squinting at a much starker view of what can, or more truly cannot happen with your body – not now, not ever.
Can trust find a place alongside of us there? – right there where light glints off impossibility? Where the bodies we have and the bodies we hoped to have diverge in our minds for good?
I think it can.
This ritual holds space for that possibility.
A Ritual for Growing Trust
Alongside Physical Impossibilities
Quick note: The examples I use for this ritual come from my dream of hard-core hiking. I want to honor the fact that this dream, while real, and a loss that I grieve, is a much less “core” dream about physicality than I imagine many of us have – core in the sense of touching deeply on our most tender, vulnerable spots. Dreams related to our gender or sexuality, to childbearing, and to a basic minimum of health or pain-free living feel deeper to me, somehow, and I hope that this ritual can hold space for trust in relation to those just as much as for the dreams that lie closer to our surfaces.
Part 1: Putting a Dream to Rest
Dreams that can’t be fulfilled are painful enough as it is, but when we carry them around with us ongoingly, treating them as though they’re still alive – or should be – the pain they cause us stays fresh, the wounds they create in us open. This first part of the ritual is designed to honor the real death that occurs when a dream can’t be fulfilled and hold space for grieving it.
Clarify the dream that cannot be fulfilled. This may be a no-brainer in your situation, but it may not be readily understood (I hadn’t realized, for example, that my dream of hiking actually involved an increasingly rigorous regimen, culminating in backpacking and friendship circles connected with the sport). Take some time to get clear about what it is you had hoped could happen, and write this down. Make edits until you feel a sense of completion about what you’ve named. Copy your final phrase or paragraph onto a strip of paper.
Name your feelings around the death of this dream. These can be feelings you felt weeks or months or years ago when you first realized this dream couldn’t be fulfilled, or feelings you feel today, or both. Apathy and numbness count as feelings, too! Write these down on a strip of paper, too – or an entire page or more, if it takes that much space.
Honor your feelings around the death of this dream. Find some way to communicate to yourself and your feelings that you see them, and respect them. Find a little bowl to put your description of them into and light a candle reverently next to it. Float a flower for each one in a bowl of water. Collect pebbles to represent each of them and keep a little jar for them on your window sill. Whatever works as a mean for you to say and see visually, “I feel these things. I grieve.” If your feelings are primarily numbness, this deserves honor, too. Your psyche is protecting you against pain.
Find an object to represent your dream. This needs to be something you can literally bury in the ground. A rock will do. Or a leaf. A flower. Or it could be some human-made thing. If you’re a person who really likes metaphors, make sure your object connects meaningfully with your dream, such as the particular shape or color of a flower or stone.
Identify a plot of earth where you can put your dream to rest. Ideally, this will be a location you can return to if/when needed, and out of reach of pets or children’s digging plans. If you live in a high rise or a complex without a suitable spot, find a special place at a park or even the yard of an understanding friend. Somewhere away from the city or at a vacation spot works, too. Close to home is not essential.
Lovingly put your dream to rest. Dig a hole big enough to hold your symbolic object and your written description of your dream. If you want, wrap your symbolic object in your dream’s description before placing it in the hole. Cover them up, letting yourself feel whatever you feel. If you feel nothing much at all, that’s fine, too. If you come from a religious tradition with clear rites or rituals around death, consider whether some or all of these might work right here, as you put your dream to rest.
Honor whatever feelings arise, over time, in relation to your dream. This might mean repeating step three above, and/or returning literally or in your mind’s eye to the place of your dream’s burial. Sit at the site and cry if you need to, even months or years later. Place flowers of remembrance there – again, literally or only in your imagination. Or even as a center piece on your own dining table! Done with true intention, these moves of honoring this death and the feelings it evokes can be powerful and healing, no matter how literal the action taken.
Part 2: Welcoming Rebirth
In the very same world where death and loss and disappointment abound, metaphors and experiences of life and rebirth do, too. I think of the mythical Pheonix, of the cross and resurrection, of night turning to day, winter to spring, seeds losing their lives in order to sprout and grow a hundred new ones. The second part of this ritual is designed to hold space for new dreams to get born out of the grief and “ashes” of the one you put to rest. It’s not about replacing your old dream, as that one can’t ever be replaced and needs to be honored in its own right.
Get more deeply curious about the dream you already put to rest and identify the values at the heart of it. My dream of hiking involved a number of values: nature, and my wish to not only see and appreciate more of it, but to actually move through and past my fears of it and the discomforts that often accompany it; community; and physical fitness. Write down the value or values you see at the heart of your old dream.
Consider this value or these values to be like seeds. And take one of two actions with them:
If you’re ready, be an active “gardener” with them, consciously cultivating a new dream (or dreams) that incorporates one or more of these values. For me, this might mean identifying all of the local trails that are designated flat or easy, and getting to know every one of them personally. And inviting friends along! It could mean joining some sort of nature club in my area, or hanging out at REI more often, making a point of asking questions of the staff and learning anecdotal things from them about bugs, snakes, or trails in my area. Maybe there’s a nature photographer whose work I could fall in love with. Or ten! Maybe there’s a poet whose nature-inspired work I could use for meditation – or better yet, could sit in nature somewhere to read!
The point here is not to try to grow a dream that looks almost like the old one (though this could potentially work, too), but rather to cultivate dreams that allow the values at the heart of my old dream to be expressed.
If your values include things like youth, strength, beauty, and parenthood, you may need to explore some redefinitions at this point. Strength doesn’t always have to be physical. Youth can be a frame of mind. Beauty can come in so many forms that have nothing to do with the way Hollywood defines it. Mothering and fathering can happen with people that are not your parents or children by blood.
If you’re not ready to do something so active about growing a new dream, consider writing your values down – the ones you identified at the heart of your old dream – and placing this list somewhere where you’ll see it from time to time. Seeds don’t always need active work to start to grow, and you may discover a new dream sprouting in you, with time, where you least expected one to grow.
Regardless of the active or passive approach you take to cultivating your “seeds”, take some moments each day, or even once each week, to open your heart to a new dream’s rising. Out loud, or just inside yourself, say something like, “I open my heart to a new dream and to the joy of its fulfillment.”
If your grief about the old dream is still too great to say something like this honestly, you may have more grieving you need to do before anything else. Grief is important, transformational work, so consider space for it every bit as essential to your future joy as any kind of positive thinking could be. Maybe your repeated line could be something like, “I honor my grief.”
In my mind, and in my heart, the two parts of this ritual seem like they need each other. Like even if they don’t happen in quick or close succession, each alone isn’t fully complete.
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I’d love to know your thoughts on this – regarding this ritual, but anything beyond it, too. Have you had experience with the grief of unfulfilled dreams? Have you discovered helpful…or not-so-helpful…ways of responding to it? I’d really love to hear.
This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view and peruse past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
I’ve been thinking so much about coming home to my body since writing that last post, and have decided I want to get super practical with this one. Sometimes a-ha moments are best incorporated into our lives slowly, even subconsciously, like a feather floating effortlessly down from the sky.
But I’ve found that sometimes my biggest epiphanies need to be given weight and feet. Something to make them tangible and to communicate to my whole self that I’m taking them seriously.
So in the interest of consciously connecting with my body, and the groundedness and integration and trust that makes possible, here is a list of things I plan to do. I’ll write them in the imperative, in case any of you wants to join me in trying them, too.
Rituals for coming home to your body:
Sit and notice your hands for 10 whole minutes. Notice if they remind you of your mom’s or dad’s. Think back to childhood, remembering activities your hands helped you do, and let your memories move through your life up to the present. Consider how important your hands have always been to you. Consider doing this exercise with your feet, too.
Write down a list of important things that have happened to your body. Traumas, injuries, surgeries, births, miscarriages, ecstasies. Honor this list in some tangible way: lighting a candle for it; bowing, literally toward it; setting it on a table or shelf or dresser top with a bouquet of flowers to symbolize its honor and importance.
Pretend your body has languages that speak in the form of tensed muscles, knots, aches/pains, feelings of pleasure. If you could translate these to English (or whatever is your mother tongue), what is your body saying to you right now? What might it have been saying repeatedly for some time? Write these messages down and give them an internal bow of respect. Consider whether you want or need to respond to them in some other way.
Write down a list of your body parts, starting with your head, and moving down to your feet: hair, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, neck, shoulders, back, chest, stomach, pelvis, legs, feet, etc. Next to each part, write 5 words that you associate with it. These may be adjectives, feelings, or even names of cities, events, or people that have some significance to that part. Ponder the thoughts and feelings each list of words evokes.
Write a letter to your body. Talk about whatever comes up as you sit to write: grievances, apologies, observations, advice.
I wrote a letter like this yesterday and the lovely soul sisters at 3 Sisters Village have posted it today as part of their summer series, Books, Bodies, Banter. I hope you’ll go read it as inspiration for your own letter writing, and while you’re there, check out the wonderful, trust-nourishing work that Monica, Tammy, and Melissa are doing.
Are there actions you’re taking or have heard about others taking to connect more consciously with your/their bodies? I’d love to hear your ideas!
And if you try any of these things, I’d love to hear about your experience with them. I’ll report back on Facebook as I do #s 1-4, and hope you’ll feel free to share there or hear, too. I truly am interested!
Here’s to your body and to you finding it to be an ever more safe, hospitable home!
This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
I’m not sure how representative comments and emails are of the total readership of a blog, but I’ve gotten enough of both this month that say some version of, “I’m not very good at asking for or accepting help,” to want to think more deeply on this topic.
Specifically, I have in mind a ritual that focuses on 1) getting us conscious of where we are on the “able to ask for and accept help” spectrum, and 2) moving us in the direction of “able” on that spectrum. (If you aren’t familiar with the concept of rituals, read this post for an introduction to the way I use them at this site.)
I wrote earlier about there being seasons or specific life arenas where rejecting help in favor of stepping into our own power might be the Big Lesson we need to learn. But even if that is our current lesson, being capable of accepting help when it’s actually appropriate feels like an important life skill to have. Our peace and well-being (not to mention the peace and well-being of those around us!) and even our very lives, sometimes, depend on it.
So here it is:
A ritual for receiving
This ritual can be performed in 2 minutes, or much, much longer, depending on how meditative you want to or can be with it. And like meditation, practicing this ritual on a regular basis, rather than as a one-time deal, will broaden and deepen and strengthen its effects.
Find a time when you can sit quietly, alone. Depending on your life circumstances, this might be during your prime time of awakeness and receptivity, but it doesn’t have to be. This can be done in bed as you awake, or at night as you move toward sleep. It can be done in your car as you wait for your kid to emerge from school, or as you gear up for or cool down from exercise.
Open up your left hand and place it on your lap or the floor or bed next to you with the palm facing up.
Relax your hand in this gently open position. Feel the weight of it against the floor or bed or your knee. Feel your fingers not working to stay open, but curling gently and without effort toward whatever could be placed on your palm.
This hand is like a baby too young to have learned fear: open and receptive to the help it unabashedly and appropriately requires. Babies, like adults, are physically, emotionally, and psychologically incapable of doing many things.
This is the way of things. The way of being human.
Feel this as you feel the weight of your gently open hand.
Sit with your awareness of this for a few moments.
With your left hand remaining where it is, and in the same open, receptive position, shift your attention to your right hand.
Place this hand on your lap or the floor or bed next to you and let it take the shape of the level of receptivity that you feel you have right now to help – whether to help in general, or specifically in one area of your life where you’re feeling stuck.
For this ritual, don’t consider situations where you know you need to do something yourself. The receptivity in focus for this ritual is receptivity to help that you actually need – appropriate, necessary, life- and trust-promoting help.
Maybe you know right away that you aren’t open to help at all. Your hand could be a tight fist, and even be faced down to the floor.
Maybe you know you’re sort of open to help, but have lots of resistance to it, too. This might be an almost-fist, or a hand open slightly, but with tight fingers that cannot bend any further out or close in around and make use of whatever might be offered.
Maybe you feel lots of ambivalence both ways, and so have a soft, open hand, but it’s placed downwards to show the mixed messages you sometimes give to people about your openness to receive from them.
Whatever the case may be, form your right hand into the shape of your receptivity right now to help.
Shift your attention to both hands, now. Notice the differences between the two. Sit for a moment with your awareness of these differences.
Slowly shift the shape of your right hand to be a mirror of your left. As you do, imagine something real shifting inside of you. Imagine the parts of you that have become rigid and resistant to help; the parts that have come to associate neediness with being annoying or obnoxious; the parts of you that are convinced that loser = someone who can’t _______ on their own (“do life” might fill this blank for you, but things like “publish a book” or “get the house cleaned” or “land a job” could, too): imagine these parts of you softening and relaxing and becoming just as shameless as a small babe in need. Just as shameless as that open left hand.
Once your two hands are resting open, just alike, give a small internal bow to the changes that just took place in you. Lean into the possibility that this ritual is actually more than just symbolic, and has already moved you in the direction of the receptivity you know you want or need to nourish.
If you know you are resistant to help or even just ambivalent about receiving it, consider practicing this ritual daily for a couple of weeks. If your right hand continues to start out closed or tight or facing down through those weeks, consider making this a more ongoing practice. Turning our attention onto any internal thing initiates real changes in it – and all the more so if we apply intention to that change. So if you make a daily habit of noticing even how closed you feel toward help, my hunch is that your closedness will inevitably soften over time.
Bonus action: Watch for opportunities throughout your day(s) to ask for or receive help. Where appropriate, see if you can take one or more of these. Notice if this becomes easier over time, and what this does to the quality of your inner world.
If you try this ritual, I’d love to hear about your experience of it!
And whether or not you do, I wish all of you who struggle to ask for or receive help a real transformation on this front. A real conversion to a deep and powerful knowing that needing and asking for help are not signs that you’re defective, but rather signs that you’re wonderfully, beautifully human.
This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Help (description here). Click here to view past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
Tending trust has become an enormous part of my life this year. I spend hours at it every day – in the work I do here, and also in my offline world. Sometimes as I’m driving, my head in the clouds of a trust-related thought, I get this flash of awareness that most, if not all, of the people in the cars around me couldn’t care less about this topic that’s become such a pivot point of my universe.
And I wonder whether that thought can be the start of an important perspective shift for all of us.
Starting new things is often the equivalent of putting whatever thing you’re starting under a microscope and then gluing your eyes to that microscope for so long that you begin to forget that you aren’t seeing more than a fraction of our world. The people who share your intrigue with this thing that you’re starting can also become your entire social habitat, and their support, criticism, expertise, successes, and failures your benchmarks for determining how you feel about yourself and the things that you do.
I think this is true whether the new thing you’re starting is life without someone you love(d), a project, a hobby, a business, or a stint overseas.
There are two sides to this thought, in particular, that I think are worth exploring:
1. The thing on the stage of your microscope is only one of many captivating things in our world.
This thought has the potential to remove a whole pile of stress that can accumulate from seeing your thing as the only thing in the world worth doing. Your success or failure at it – no matter how famous you are – is not something the bulk of the world cares or even knows about. Even if there’s a part of you that wants the whole world to applaud your successes or support you in your failures, my guess is your psyche and soul will breathe an enormous sigh of relief to know the whole world isn’t watching.
2. The thing on the stage of your microscope is every bit as world-changing as the thing on someone else’s.
I wish I could say “world-changing for the better”, but I don’t believe that’s true. I mean world-changing in an absolute value way. We’re all connected. And this means that if you’re spending all your microscope time pouring over the latest TV Guide, our world, and therefore my life within it, is going to be different than if you spent your microscope time creating art or writing books or raising kids or writing health care reform. The time you spend at your microscope, though unheeded by the masses, is participating in the creation of our world.
Both points bring to mind the Buddhist meditation where you choose one of two things to reach the same place of enlightenment: shrink yourself in your mind’s eye to become a speck of dust in our vast, expanding universe OR expand yourself in your mind’s eye to encompass everything there is. Both take you to a place where ego is irrelevant. Where jealousies are moot and failure impossible. Where judging down on other people makes just as much sense as judging up on those who’ve achieved or enjoy some measure of success.
What if, as you go about your business of microscope viewing, you consciously lift your eyes from time to time to absorb a broader view? What if you imagine your microscope, and those of the billions of others on our planet, like lighted tea lights: bright, unassuming, equal for their size and weight.
What might this do to the fears you experience around this new thing you’re beginning?
This month’s theme at Trust Tending is starting new things (description here). Click here to view past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
I look with horror at what’s happened and happening in Japan, searching for clues that can lead me toward trust. I can’t ever trust that earthquakes won’t happen again, of course, or that tsunamis or other natural forces won’t again devastate masses of our planet’s life. At this writing it looks as if radioactive fallout will be part of many of our imminent futures.
I want to trust, however, that it’s possible to see devastation like this with compassion and strength, neither depending on sure-fire rescue/protection/healing-the-survivors missions in order to have hope, nor going limp and despairing in light of how small I feel in the face of such tragedies and the surety of our earth – and likely my own self – enduring many, many more of them.
I want to trust, too, that there’s a view, an outlook, that neither minimizes suffering, nor makes it out to be the last word on what really IS.
And I want to trust that suffering is and always can be more than awful. More so than a nevertheless or any platitude about the value of suffering could ever convey. Part of some kind of whole that is deeply, inexplicably good.
Here’s a ritual that, for me, is a path toward this kind of trust. I created it for myself, and offer it with those like me in mind: people more than a step removed from the heart of the devastation, but who are nonetheless moved and stricken by what has occurred and aware that no one is exempt from experiencing future disasters comparable, in some way, to these.
No magic bullets here. Just a pathway that’s taking me in a good direction.
Water Bowl Stones
A ritual for responding to natural disasters
This ritual is designed to do four things:
Raise consciousness about what it is we’re actually feeling in response to natural disasters. Sometimes free-floating, unnamed, and often conflicting emotions are our greatest source of fear, and our sense of trust rises dramatically just by naming what they are. Naming our emotions is also an important step in knowing what, if anything, to constructively do about them.
Reduce feelings of smallness, helplessness, and detachment from any ability to help.
Clarify the work that is ours to do and consciously leave the work of others for them to do.
Give a tangible, visual metaphor that anchors the points above in our active memory.
This ritual can take half an hour or much more, depending on how much reflection you want to put into it.
Find a bowl – preferably one that you like – and fill it half way full with water. Imagine that this water is the common human experience, and thus a symbol of that which holds and connects our species. A unitive force.
Set this bowl on a table or the floor, and sit in front of it for some time of reflection.
Begin by getting mindful of the water as a symbol. Imagine the ways that this force, this common human experience, is pulsing in and around your veins as well as every other human on this planet…including those in northern Japan, and all the folks who listen to news about what’s happening there.
All of us know life’s joy. All of us know pain.
All of us are intimately acquainted with fear and
all of us hope for greater reasons to trust.
Next, with pencil and paper in hand, take a few minutes to answer the following questions. Be as brief or as detailed as you wish.
What feelings am I having in response to what happened in _________? (This week, that blank would be Japan. Other weeks, other devastated places.)
In what ways do I connect compassionately with others? (This can feel out of left field, but connects deeply with the second goal above.) “Others” can include your connections with plants and animals, and be as close-in (your partner or dearest friend) or as broadly encompassing (relief and human rights work) as you wish it to be. The idea is to honor the ways that you already connect compassionately in our world and to see these connections, in light of the bowl of water in front of you, as inextricable parts of a broader story of connection.
What is my heart nudging me to consider doing? This doesn’t mean in response to Japan necessarily, but it could. Just neutrally, what has your heart been nudging you to consider doing recently? This is a chance for you to get more clear about the work that is yours to do right now and to release the work of others for them to do (including, sometimes, relief work in places of recent disasters).
It could be that your work IS to respond practically to what’s happening in Japan – by offering money, prayer/meditation, time, or other resources. If this is true, what an important thing to name! Naming it might be a doorway to an important new life-season for you.
It could be that your North Star has been beckoning and beckons still for you to take some other heart-felt step, though. This is a chance to get conscious of what that call might be and to release all other callings to the people to whom they rightfully belong. (And by calling, I don’t mean something inherently huge and beyond your four walls. This could mean getting your finances in order; spending more or less time with your kids; buying some art supplies; simplifying; etc.).
Once you’re done reflecting, try to write or circle a word or short phrase for each of your responses to make them easy to count.
Here’s my list of emotions for the first question with my circled words in bold. Your list, of course, would include responses to the other two questions as well.
Fear: I feel afraid of natural disasters harming me or people that I love. I don’t want to travel to places where they’re likely to happen, and hate the fact that I live right on top of where a massive earthquake is predicted to happen in the near future. I feel afraid of nuclear contamination and cancers that can grow in response to it, too. I don’t want to suffer their effects or have to watch others suffer them, either.
Horror: I feel horrified as I see what people have and are suffering in Japan. It feels too much. Too awful. To gruesome. Too terrifying.
Grief: I grieve that anyone has to suffer anything at all, and most acutely the suffering that’s being experienced right now in Japan.
Numbness: Sometimes I just don’t care or think about Japan at all. Sometimes I read a headline about it and brush past it like it’s nothing. Sometimes I avoid the headlines because I don’t want to think about them at all.
Relief: I feel lucky that I haven’t had to endure anything remotely like this and that my loved ones are not in Japan.
Anger: Life feels so unjust. I’m angry at the apparent inequity in the way suffering is spread across our globe.
Guilt/Shame: I’m not clear which one of these I feel, but there’s something here about the way I tune suffering out a lot of the time that feels shameful or wrong. There’s something here about me feeling embarrassed about taking my own life and struggles so seriously – how my hardships seem ridiculous when compared to what others are facing right now.
Aliveness: though I’m not yet sure what my practical response to Japan will be, I feel more acutely aware this week of my presence on our globe, and the many opportunities I have to participate in healing and nourishing trust.
With list in hand, or simply with the number of items on your list in mind, take a walk somewhere where you can collect one small stone for each item on your list. Be as symbolic as you wish to be in this – grabbing any stone you see to reach the right number, or mindfully choosing certain sizes or shapes to match each item on your list.
Return to your bowl of water and mindfully place each stone into the water, taking some moments to consider what each one represents. Notice the way each stone makes you feel as you place it into the water. Notice the way the water surrounds it. Consider what you’re seeing as a small representation of something vast – billions of people feeling their feelings, knowing their fears, observing suffering, hearing the nudgings of their hearts.
Consider the ways in which you, immersed in this water, heart and mind full of images of nature’s fearsome ways, are
uniquely positioned to follow your one heart,
connected to every other human, near and far,
responding compassionately to others on the planet,
honoring the full range of emotions in you.
Leave your bowl in a place where you will see it regularly, and give it a small, internal bow when you see it there, and whenever you think and feel about Japan (or whatever natural disaster is in focus for you now).
This month’s theme at Trust Tending is nature. Click here for a description of the theme, and here for a working list of themes in months to come.
This whole month at Trust Tending has been focused on love. I’m not sure about you, but for me, maintaining that focus post-Valentine’s Day has felt a bit like holding a tough yoga pose: the far more natural instinct is to shift to something easier. Something like slippers and sweats after a day in fussy clothing (or after an early February dripping with hearts and sweets and sentimentality…).
I’ve been learning something this month, though, that makes that very analogy – the one of a tough yoga pose – perfect, and altogether trust-inducing, for love.
Historically, I have been both slow to trust and enormous-hearted. I haven’t trusted easily, but once I have, I’ve TRUSTED. Which of course has set me up for enormous disappointments, since TRUSTING – expecting a person or thing to forever be everything (and more!) you want them to be – isn’t fair to any person, place, or thing. Buddhists say all is in flux, and I really think they’re right. People and things will change – will evolve and devolve, will delight and disappoint, will prove more predictable and more puzzling than ever we imagine they can be. And, given enough time, our perceptions of them will change, too.
So the disappointments that my TRUSTING caused made me guard my heart more and more carefully. They made me assume that soft-and-unguarded-heartedness were actually synonymous with naivete, at best, and stupidity in all other cases. A set-up for being hurt and scandalized, both.
I’ve had a slow dawning this winter, however, of a radically different view of soft-heartedness (the flux strikes again!), which crystallized during my interview with Rachael Maddox. Rachael and I were talking about how to move from being hurt and holding a grudge to a place of softness again toward the person (or, I might add, group or institution or divinity) that did the wounding (that segment of the interview begins around the 9:30 mark). And at one point we asked the question: How does it feel to hold the grudge? Does that feel better than the alternative?
Something about asking that question ran cracks through the wall I hardly knew I’d constructed around my heart. It introduced into my understanding of love a brand new possibility that changes so much for me: maintaining a soft heart, no matter what, because it feels better than the alternative.
But this isn’t just any sort of soft heart. To go back to that yoga pose analogy, there’s a lot involved with this one.
Here are some things that this type of soft heart isn’t:
An expectation that the person or institution you’re directing it toward will be safe or trustworthy or kind.
A type of payment that obligates the recipient to be grateful or respectful or soft-hearted back.
A willingness to be used or walked on.
A free pass for the other to treat you poorly without consequences or tension being held right back by you.
A force field that keeps you from getting hurt or disappointed.
A numbing out or suppressing of your anger or frustration.
And here are some things that it is:
An intentional and repeated holding down/peeling back/unbuilding of the wall that instinctually wants to form around your heart when you’re hurt or afraid or angry.
A visualization, repeated often (as necessary!), of your heart being soft, open and receptive.
An awareness that all people and all institutions will disappoint and frustrate you. Period. If they haven’t yet, give them time and they will.
In light of that awareness, a shrinking back of judgment, condescension, and feelings of indignation when a person or institution angers or disappoints you. (Of course! This is one of the things that people and institutions do! I have and will do these kinds of things, too!)
An acknowledgment of life’s perpetual flux, which can include the surprise of something or someone who has hurt you changing, growing, evolving into something new. And your perceptions of them, too.
A visceral remembrance of grudges you’ve held in the past, of times when your heart was closely guarded, of times when your heart itself felt (or still feels) like a fist: tight, rigid, ready for a fight. And a growing ability to compare what those things feel like with the feeling of a soft, unguarded, receptive heart.
I’m not sure how to express the profundity of this pose. How much it changes how I feel toward other people. How much less dependent it makes me on things outside myself to get to the kind of inner peace for which I long.
This heart? This unguarded one that can say no and that hurt me and I can’t let you do that around me again in the very same breath as I love you and I’m open to hear what you think; this heart that can beat freely and unscandalized in the face of meanness and hostility; this heart that requires no apology or promise of change to stay open; this heart that begins to “get”, in an ever deepening way, what compassion is, and love, and being truly, deeply at ease: it feels so good. Almost too good to be true, but for the fact that I’ve been feeling it a lot this month. Practicing the pose. Testing it out in a number of relationships and discovering – to the surprise of the parts of myself that have always advised more, rather than less, bricks to be added to the walls around my heart – that instead of opening me up to greater hurt, it’s actually healing my greatest hurts. Instead of making me more vulnerable to life’s inevitable punches, it’s giving me a kind of suppleness and flex and strength, that can handle life’s punches far better than any wall or tensed-up fists-up ever could.
My TRUST, with its all-or-nothing, ultimatum-laden graspingness is turning into a deeper, more open-handed trust as I practice maintaining this natural, unnatural pose. Me, who, truth be told, has never tried yoga once.
If this is your first visit here, welcome! I hope you find something useful on these pages! The Featured Posts section in the sidebar and these sketches are both great places to get a feel for what this site is all about.
Also, I’m honored to be featured at Zen Family Habits today with a post about a book that changed my life (you don’t have to be partnered, married, or with kids to connect with this book, too!). Zen Family Habits is a sister site to Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits, and a really wonderful resource for practical, hope-filled articles related to all things family.
*For an introduction to this category, click here.
It’s been a long day for me. A long few years, really. This parenting gig is more of a challenge than I ever imagined it would be. And when sleep is getting chopped up by it and by my sense of calling to and love for the work I’m doing here, it only gets harder. I find myself ashamed and disappointed, on one level, by how exhausted and sparkle-less I often feel, and by the ways this effects my cushion for dealing compassionately and humorfully with normal 3 and 5-year-old behavior.
All that to say, I’ve been planning to write up a ritual tonight that focuses on loving our bodies more, as shame around our physical selves is such a deep shadow around our ability to love ourselves and others well. But I think I need to expand this ritual to include other aspects of our beings, too, including the parts of us that are exhausted and beaten down and wishing we could somehow “rise above” more often than we do.
So here goes:
Picture a part of yourself that you find hard to love. Maybe it’s your skin, your breasts, your cellulite, your wrinkles. Maybe you’ve never liked your hair or the shape of your ears or the size of your belly or thighs. Maybe it’s every fat cell on your body, or a cancer you want to survive.
And maybe, like the paragraphs earlier describe, it’s a quality that’s been with you for some time: the way you get cranky on too little sleep, or depressed, or nihilistic. Your tendency to fear a certain thing. Or everything. Your biting sarcasm. Your self that rages at people that you love, or withdraws from them, or shuts completely down when connection and closeness are what you want most of all.
Whatever it is, imagine that part of yourself as somehow floating a distance away from yourself. You might need to personify it to make this work, so maybe you picture your exhausted, cranky self that has a hard time going to bed early even when she knows she needs to (a-hem) as an actual character, complete with crazy hair, baggy eyes, and an unbecoming expression. Maybe you picture your own thighs this way. Or your nose, or that mole on your forehead.
If personifying doesn’t feel right to you, you could imagine that part of yourself symbolically as a colored ball.
Okay, so you’re picturing this part of yourself that’s hard for you to love floating some distance from your body.
Now imagine that part of yourself completely surrounded by love. Don’t worry – you don’t have to be the one extending the love; that very thing is what’s so hard, right? Just imagine that part of you being surrounded by the purest sort of love you can dream up.
Maybe you can even imagine a love so pure that there isn’t any judgment in it whatsoever. There’s no edge of sternness at what you’ve done or not done to get this part of you this way. There’s no assumption that this part of you should have been different or otherwise or nonexistent. There’s no vicarious shame at how ghastly or unappealing this part of you is or expectation that you repay any of its kindness.
All there is is complete acceptance, warmth, and compassion.
Imagine this love like a warm cloud around the part of you you find so hard to love. Picture this cloud whatever color feels most safe and love-like to you. And imagine your unlovable part softening and leaning into this embrace – smiling or actually crying at how good it feels to be loved, how odd and unexpected and unasked for.
Now. Whenever you feel critical of or impatient with or downright nasty toward this part of yourself, take the pressure off yourself completely to love it at all. Don’t even try.
Just go back to your image of it being held by a love that you’re not personally generating – a love you’re only imagining is there at all.
And go back to that image.
And go back to that image.
And go back to that image.
And go back to that image. Whenever you’re damning or wishing that part of you away, go back to that image.