Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bags of Love

These are the bags Jeffery chose for me. Jeffery is one of my favorite Whole Foods friends. At the end of the checkout station, sits a box of reusable grocery bags. The bags come in several different color choices and each display a different word. From my viewpoint, I only see the colors, not the words. Jeffery looked at the bags and carefully selected this bag from the line up and said, “How about this one?” I said, “Wow, a perfect choice.” Then he packed the love bags and carried them to my car while he explained to me his girlfriend is upset with him because she doesn’t understand why he loves to work so much. He carefully put the love bags in the trunk of my car, hugged me, and rushed back to work. Oh, and Jeffery is also an individual with special needs. I am pretty sure whatever his needs are, they pale in comparison to what he gives to this world. Jeffery chooses love and serves others. Jeffery is our teacher and we are his students. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Compliments Heal a Broken Heart

I am the first to admit I posses a tendency to fall prey to weakness. I, especially, struggle when it comes to gossip, trash-talk, and judgement. I hear the painful words of gossip leave my lips and hear my head scream, why, why, why do you need to say what you just said. And, then, I spend the rest of the day or week or month reliving my moment of nastiness. I vow to change my voice and, in many different ways, I try to stop this habitual pattern. I make rules I must follow, like a forty day abstinence from any and all gossip. Or a rule that insists I correct a nasty and unnecessary thought by changing the bad thought to a good and kind thought. I am better, but I can’t seem to entirely kick the habit. 

All of these take-downs manifest in a variety of words and thoughts. Competition and judgement and beliefs and politics all feed this kind of negativity. I learned it is still trash-talk even if I think I am very, very right. I don’t have a clue why another person believes or feels or acts they way he does. I don't know his hurt or his hard. Placing any kind of judgement on him, no matter how right I feel, is unnecessary and completely not helpful to progress; of any kind. Everyone thinks differently. Everyone comes from a background or situation or life experience that is entirely his own. It is, simply, not my job or place to judge or even have an opinion. Kindness outweighs rightness every single time. I wish I could embrace this idea every moment of every day. But, alas, I am human. Even though I try and focus on the kindness part, I still mess up, a lot. I still engage on a level that makes me feel small. I feel small because I tear someone else down. My own words cause the smallness, not the other person or people or what ever injustice occurred. I create the icky feeling all on my own.

After another failed attempt at eliminating this destructive vernacular, I decided I was due for a change in my approach. And just like I usually do whenever I can’t figure out a solution, I headed to my meditation space, lit a candle, got on my knees, and asked for help. I sat in silence for quite some time. And because prayer and meditation aren’t magic, I didn't hear a loud and booming voice calling me or offering a profound answer, I only felt calmer. I only felt a bit of peace. However, this peace and detachment leads me to a path of clarity.  And in this cleared space, I washed the dishes and I thought of the hens

These girls, and their entire family, mom, dad, and brother, are poster people for positivity and love. Their positive energy is so palpable, so enveloping, it overpowers any space in which they reside. A friend of mine, unknowingly, regularly visits a local juice bar and the youngest hen, Bridget, waits on him and prepares his daily juice order. Bridget told me she recognized this friend, but was unsure if he knew who she was. The last time she saw him was several years ago. At a recent dinner with friends, I mentioned to this friend that Bridget works at the juice bar. His face lit up like a bright star on a dark night. He shared he had no idea this was the same Bridget he knew as a much younger girl. More importantly, he continued describe Bridget’s energy and smile and kindness. She lights up the room. She’s magnetic and I just feel better after I see her. His words were unsolicited and came purely from his heart. And just like my friend, when I think of these girls, the hens, I feel the exact same way. I feel better after I am with them, all of them or just one of them. 

I finished the dishes and created a plan. Instead of trying to eliminate my bad habit, I chose to work to create a new habit. When I first enter the hens home or they come into my home or I run into one of them while she is running, I am always greeted with a heartfelt smile and a compliment. They never fail to find one nice thing to say to me or anyone. If a person comes up in conversation at the dinner table, one of them always chimes in with a kind thought or story about the person. Their words are never fake. Their words are never malicious. Just kind. Always kind. And I figured, if these girls are a good decade younger than I and can muster up such kindness, I certainly can give this whole compliment thing a try. Instead of finding fault in another, I vowed to find one kind and loving compliment to extend. Even when I am alone and angry and hurt, I remember the hens, stop my mouth, and say something kind. The funny thing is, this method works really, really well. It causes me to step back from my internal madness and focus on what is right, what is good, what is the darkest of moments.

Insecurity, hurt, envy, anger, and competition bring out the worst in us. When we engage on this level of pain, instead of making ourselves feel better, we just add to our own misery. What we water grows. Rather than healing ourselves and exorcising our pain, we end up hurting and causing more hurt. We, not only hurt ourselves, but we hurt others. No one wins and we are left with scars of shame and pain and fear. 

Love isn’t born from anger. Love doesn’t blossom out of resentment. Love is born from kindness and forgiveness. Love is finding what is right and good, in all situations, especially the ones we don't like. When we decide to focus on the ninety-nine percent of what isn't right in our lives...what isn't going our way, what didn't turn out how we hoped, the fault in how another responded to us or behaved towards us...we slowly begin to learn love lives in that one-percent that is right and good and deserving of a compliment. This one-percent not only deserves a compliment, but a compliment said with a kind smile and an open heart and an energy that lights up the room. What we compliment in another doesn’t just end with our friend who hurt us. It grows and flourishes and flowers; wrapping its vines around all of us. Building each other up, genuine kindness, and seeing the good makes us all better. 

Once again, I am the first to admit this practice of finding the sparkling one-percent isn’t easy, especially when my heart is broken and hurt and in pain. But, I will still try. I will still try  because I like to give compliments. I like to build up, rather than tear down. The big secret I learned is this kind of true generosity doesn't make me feel all dark and twisty inside. It actually makes me feel good and whole and worthy. And when I fail, I will try again. I will forgive my weakness and continue to extend the compliments that build this foundation of love. I will continue to try, not only because living with a generous heart and spirit is the only way to truly live, but because love and kindness are the only antidotes to a bruised and broken heart. We all need to heal and the healing begins with us.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Joy and Pain, Pain and Joy

After years of avoidance, I slowly began to accept my physical vulnerability. Along with this acceptance, I soon learned, to live fully, I must also work to accept and live from the vulnerability of my heart and my soul. When I live in and from this space of vulnerability, both on the outside and the inside, my heart opens wider and my soul digs deeper. This tender space of vulnerability can be painful and it can be joyful. 

When I first started to really practice the phrase, you need to feel it to heal it, I felt, well, awful. All of my not so delicately contained sadness, grief, guilt, anger, and hatred boiled to the surface. The ferociously bubbling water seeped out of my eyes and I continued to wiped the hot and salty tears with tissue, after tissue, after tissue. I knew I needed to feel the pain. I knew, in order to survive, I had to scream until my voice grew hoarse. I knew my dark pain needed to leave my body to make room for any shred of light trying to get inside. Over time, this pain release practice became easier and easier. I became a survivor, instead of someone struggling to survive. Now, I readily identify the lumps in my throat and let them rise and then pass. I practice not bottling up my sad and scary emotions. I even set aside a bit of time each day purely for these tears. And now, after some work and time, I’ve grown accustomed to healing the feeling of pain.

What I, apparently, am not so great at feeling, is joy. I know this sounds a bit funny because I make a practice of noticing gratitude and joy. At night, I record moments I am grateful for, and moments where I noticed joy. I assumed I was doing okay with the whole joy thing. And then this past week happened. This past week of nothing really that bad at all happening happened. I woke up one day to a broken air-conditioner, called my sweet friend, Trey, for help. He ran over right away. My house was cool again in twenty minutes. My wheelchair needed some repairs, but they were easily fixed. Towards the very end of one of our walks, Belle and I ran through a downpour of rain to make it to the car. We were soon dry with a quick wipe of a towel. Nothing bad. Nothing to cry over. But, instead of just simply feeling peaceful and like the flow of life was working with me, I, continuously, felt this giant ball of emotion just sitting in my chest. A few of the days, my eyes felt so heavy, I chose to lie down in my bed for a bit. My eyelids, giving into their weight, fell shut and instead of inducing sleep, they began to weep. Each time this happened over the course of the week, I cried about five minutes and the ball of emotion was gone. I felt infinitely better and far more energized. I bounced out of bed and continued with the day. As this habit started to increase, I also started to wonder what was happening to me. I searched my pain, my fears, my sadness, my anger, trying to find what was new, what was lurking and masking itself as healed. But none of my explanations or reasons seemed to be the culprit behind the new and sudden tears. Anxiety set in and I began to worry.

While I was in this heightened state of emotional awareness, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and noticed a post by Glennon Melton at Momastery. The post was a picture of two words, SACRED/SCARED, that’s it. I looked at the words for a long time. These two words were calling me to pay attention and so I did. And as I stared at them, that ball of emotion crept back up and transformed into more tears. Only this time, I knew why I cried. I wasn’t crying tears of pain all week; I was crying tears of joy.

Emotion is emotion. And I have learned, emotion finds its way to the surface, whether I want it to or not. Emotion, in whatever form, isn’t something I can suppress for very long or keep down without much effort. If this emotion isn’t felt it builds up a pressure that will eventually cause an explosion. 

Recently, I experienced and lived many moments of joy. However, instead of feeling my joy, I escaped into my survivor mentality. I built a fortress to keep too much joy at bay. I decided if I refrained from feeling too much joy, I might not feel so sad when the pain visited again. But just like the pain, the joy will eventually boil over and spill out of my eyes. This method of controlling joy, simply doesn’t work. And in this moment of realization, I found this presumed dichotomy of pain and joy  to not really be that polar opposite at all. Joy lives right along side pain and they work together. By opening my heart at all, I am exposed to both joy and pain. Joy and pain show up, in tandem, when I  watch a baby sleep, or love another person, or fall hard for my dog. There is so much joy to be found in all three of these things, but also so much pain from the fear of losing them. And as tough or practiced as I may be at the pain part, I can’t fully live unless I allow both the pain and the joy to enter. Just listing my moments of joy doesn’t mean anything, if I can’t feel them. There isn’t any other way. I have to feel it to heal it. And I have a bit of a suspicion, the more I practice actually feeling joy, the more joy might show up and ask me to dance.

Vulnerability isn’t about just feeling my pain or knowing my weaknesses. It is also about softening my heart and allowing it to fill with a little bit of joy; even if this allowance of joy makes me vulnerable and scared. Joy is scary because it recognizes a moment when everything is okay, better than okay. A moment where life is lived and it feels really, really good, almost sacred. A moment that can’t possibly live next to all of the pain and fear, but it does. And just like the pain, joy has to be felt. Joy is the light that guides the pain out of the darkness. 

Photo from Glennon Doyle Melton at Momastery. #CarryOnWarrior