As I thought about what to write for this week’s practice in conscious living, I found myself pondering the painful lack of empathy, kindness, and care that seem to characterize our human family’s interactions in my country. It has been quite disheartening to watch people focus so fervently on their own well-being and self-interest. For just one example, to know that countless people are currently losing their homes because they can’t afford rent due to the pandemic is heart-breaking. It’s as though we forget that we’re all in this together and that nothing happens in isolation or outside our collective social life.
This week’s practice may feel heavy if you choose to do it, but it also is a heart-opening and heart-expanding practice. Empathy requires our heart perception, even when it’s painful to go there, as it opens us to an awareness of the experience of others. Deepening empathy also deepens our sense of connection and belonging to a larger community of being. It expands our sense of identity beyond our personal self.
So, for this week, I invite all of us to deepen our experience of empathy. This means being able to imagine how something feels to someone else, to imagine how we would feel were we in their situation. For example, notice how you feel when you imagine that you don’t have enough food to eat today. Or that you are saying goodbye to your home and have nowhere else to go but out on the street.
Empathy can expand to include our other-than-human family, as well, and our earth environment as a whole system. For example, empathy might extend to polar bears who find that their environment is changing so drastically that starvation is a constant possibility, an ever-emerging reality.
Here’s a brief practice focused on empathy and it draws from the Buddhist practice of metta or lovingkindness.Read More “855th Week: Cultivating Empathy”
Walking in Central Park a few days ago, I found myself deeply nourished and uplifted by the return of the green and by the powerful wind that accompanied my walk and workout. Again and again, my eyes were drawn to the green, to the beauty of the trees again filling out their leaves, creating patterns of light and shadow that have been missing over the winter season. And, the wind brought with it a sense of invigoration that was, in its own way, quite delicious.
At some point along the way, I also noticed a trumpet player who competed with a singer who has a weekly gathering of children on Saturday mornings. Fortunately, the sound of the trumpet didn’t overpower the singing and guitar playing of the entertainer and his class of young ones. Then, I also noticed the ever-present helicopters that hover over the park these days as a tourist activity, usually beginning sometime around 9am, taking away the silence that is so precious here in the city.
What struck me most is that these sounds didn’t seem to take away from my deep enjoyment of the return of green and the beauty of the tall trees all around me. This got me to thinking about how important it is to notice where our attention is absorbed, where we focus and what we notice. Even though the sounds were obvious, they weren’t in the foreground of my awareness and I also noticed how my lack of irritation allowed both the trumpet and the helicopters to slip into the background. There have been mornings where these kinds of sounds seem to pierce through my wish to drop into silence or into awareness of the beauty around me and irritation takes the place of pleasure. Today, for whatever reason, it was powerfully clear to me that my focus of attention allowed for the pleasure with no hint of irritation.
For this week’s practice, I invite you to pay even closer attention to what you focus on, where you place your awareness, and what you choose to notice. I could have shifted into dwelling on the helicopters or the trumpet and that would have created a whole different quality of experience. Just as I couldn’t make those situations go away, notice how it is when you are faced with something you can’t change but where you can shift your focus of attention to something else. It might be noise, a smell you don’t like, disruption of some kind—anything that might normally create irritation or some other reaction in you. Then, notice what happens if you shift your awareness to something that inspires, nourishes, or pleases you in some way.Read More “833rd Week: Where We Place Our Attention”
For many of us, the idea that we can’t truly love others until we love ourselves is a long-standing piece of advice. Lately, I’ve been hearing more about self-compassion and the research being done on it and its companion, self-kindness. When I heard someone talk about self-kindness, I began to think about how readily we will, at times, treat ourselves in ways we would never imagine treating someone else and that got me to thinking even more deeply about the importance of self-kindness. I also got to thinking about how, when we are accustomed to treating ourselves with compassion and kindness, we are more likely to automatically express these qualities to others.
Without question, most of us walk around with a certain degree of negative self-talk going on, even when we don’t pay much attention to it. Developing a habit of orienting to self-compassion and self-kindness asks us to pay attention to our self-talk and intervene when we discover that we are treating ourselves in unkind ways, replacing critical or negative thoughts with those that reflect active expressions of self-compassion and self-kindness.
One of the things that helps support being kinder to ourselves is something I’ve written about before—the inevitability of our wholeness and the foreground/background dynamic that unfolds in our process from moment to moment. When we can accept that we have a wholeness that contains everything a human is capable of expressing or doing, we can recognize that our ongoing practice can be one of noticing how we move through the world and then learning ways to bring into the foreground of our experience those qualities and states of being that reflect and express compassion and kindness.Read More “901st Week: The Importance of Self-Compassion and Self-Kindness“
I recently saw a brief video about a man in Brazil who, through his focus and efforts over many years, restored a rainforest to an area that had lost its vegetation and water. As I watched the video, it reminded me of something that many people think is only fantasy but that, for me, is an ever-present reality. In my mind, this man was guided by Nature’s Intelligence to plant vegetation in a process that spontaneously returned water to the region where he lives. Here’s a link to his brief, inspiring documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndWyBU9mWlM
The other thing this video brought to mind is how powerful one person’s daily commitment and activities can be. During all the years this man planted vegetation on his land, his neighbors didn’t understand why he was doing so, and yet—through his persistence in heeding the call he felt from the land—he restored an entire ecosystem one small act at a time. For me, this speaks to the ways in which each of us can play an active role in caring for, and restoring, our world. Read More “722nd Week: One Person Can Make A Difference”