Mindful Parenting: Failure, Compassion & Growth

If we can hold our anger, our sorrow, and our fear with the energy of mindfulness, we will be able to recognize the roots of our suffering. We will be able to recognize the suffering in the people we love as well. Mindfulness helps us to not be angry at our loved ones, because when we are mindful, we understand that our loved ones are suffering as well.

~from Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hahn

As I sat to meditate this morning, I read these wise words with an open heart and mind. I immediately relived my “blow my top” interaction with my 9 year old son this morning as we feverishly tried to get out the door on time. Like many parents of school aged children, shuffling kids to school can be an intensely frustrating experience. Every morning I set the intention to be patient and calm. Well, I FAILED!

As my son spent 30 minutes “brushing his teeth” and I saw the time ticking away, my patience wore out. I did not practice R.A.I.N. (which I just shared at a mindfulness workshop I facilitated) where you basically pause and check in with one’s self so to choose how best to respond; in other words, I was the antithesis of mindful. Instead, I succumbed to my habitual reaction to feeling out of control. I yelled. I yelled loudly (sorry neighbors) and used a profanity (so uncool and such a bad example!). I did not hold my anger with kindness. Instead, I threw it at my child’s face. This is NOT how I want to respond, especially to my beautiful child.

On our brisk walk, we both apologized to each other. I told my son that my mean and aggressive response was not his fault; it was mine. Regardless of whether we will be late for school, he does not deserve to be treated this way. I further explained that this is not how I want to react and that I will continue to practice patience and pausing – being more mindful of the experience. I also shared that I am no longer going to nag him, that he can come up with ways to help himself stay attentive to the time. We will have a brainstorm session this afternoon.

Reading the words of Thich Nhat Hahn reminded me to bring a compassionate heart and mind when interacting with my son. “[W]hen we are mindful, we understand that our loved ones are suffering as well.” My son was suffering this morning. I am well aware of his dislike for going to school, especially these past couple of days when he has been “spoken to” by his teacher for chatting with friends. I am also clearly aware that my nagging is adding to his suffering. While I can model how to take responsibility for our reactions every time I fail as a parent, I know that every time I react harshly my son hears a negative message about himself. This is NOT what I want my son to believe about himself nor about our relationship. I want him to believe he is a good and caring person and that I am too.

Part of practicing mindfulness is cultivating this skill of holding our own suffering with gentleness and kindness. When we do this, we can then see our loved one’s suffering and respond compassionately to them. This requires us to develop an openness to recognizing our own suffering with nonjudgmental acknowledgment. This, as Sharon Salzberg* writes, “creates a bit of peaceful space within which we can make new, different choices about how to respond to something like anger.” How do we cultivate mindfulness and compassion so that we can bring it into these moments of intense frustration? Meditation!

Meditation is essentially training our attention so that we can be more aware – not only of our inner workings but also of what’s happening around us in the here and now. Once we see clearly what’s going on in the moment we can then choose whether and how to act on what we’re seeing.

* Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation

So I sat this morning and practiced lovingkindness for my son, for myself, and for all parents. My intention is to engage mindfully with my son, and when I fail (as I will because I am human), I can bring compassion to this failure and begin again. Each time I meditate, however, I am increasing the chances that I will respond mindfully rather than impulsively.

May we hold the failures of our parenting with compassion and continue to learn and grow. This is what I call mindful parenting and our children are our greatest teachers.

If you are interested in guided compassion meditations, please check my Guided Meditations page (updated often).

My Mindful Journey of Weight Management

Friday 1/11

Writing this post is very uncomfortable for me, but I was inspired by someone for whom I have a lot of respect and is sharing her weight loss journey online. I read her online journal today – the day that I have vowed to take back my health and lose this weight for good.

Now it’s not just about the weight per se – a little over two years ago, I lost about 45 pounds, which was incredibly challenging, and have mindlessly gained back 20 of those pounds – it’s about my habits of mind. Weight management has been a battle of mine since high school when I developed an eating disorder. Some might even say I still have an eating disorder as I have gone up and down for my entire adult life. While I am happy to say that I no longer hate my body (thank you compassion cultivation), I still have a lot of conditioned responses that need unlearning for me to truly manage my weight in a healthy and sustainable way. This is the point of this post – how my meditation practice has uncovered past trauma that appears to be a key catalyst to my eating disorder as a young adult and how the mindful practice of letting go and RAIN will support me in times of craving.

While I do not want to get into the specifics of the trauma I experienced when I was 12, I know that my body shame and anxiety is connected to this experience. Yes, the women in my life were always dieting and in fourth grade I was called stupid names like thunder thighs and buffalo butt. As my body changed during puberty, I felt uncomfortable because I did not like people staring at my breasts. I still don’t like it. No one taught me to embrace and love my body, but I think that was just the culture in which many of us grew up. While I felt the social pressure to be skinny, I believe the deep disgust I had for my body was a result of this traumatic experience. Knowing this helps me to comfort that wounded child so that I can let go of the residual effects of that experience and free myself.

As many of my previous posts have shared, my journey to live my life mindfully and compassionately is an everyday practice. Through this practice I have come to befriend myself and become more attuned with my body and mind. Developing the skill of nonjudgmental awareness has been key to releasing myself from the chains of shame, defensiveness, guilt, unworthiness, etc. While they still show up, I am not constrained by them. The stories I used to tell myself are no longer being told; and if an old narrative is heard, I am able to hold with loving awareness and let it pass. This has opened my heart and mind to seeing my true nature, my goodness and worthiness. I have been able to peel away so many layers of self-hate that have manifested in certain behaviors. As my struggle with weight management reveals, I still have more to peel away.

And so this is where my weight management is going to be different from the past – I must address the mindless relationship I have with food. Today, I meditated using two meditations focused on letting go – one by Tara Brach and the one I recorded (much of it comes from Jack Kornfield’s book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace). I chose to focus on my dysfunctional relationship with food. After sitting, I felt a sense of efficacy, that I can finally let this go – over time, of course. With that in mind, I went to the mall to get an outfit for a friend’s party. I do not like shopping because it forces me to see the truth of my weight, but I am letting go of my disappointment with gaining these 20 pounds so that I can enjoy an evening out. When I saw the fat that was regained as I tried on clothes, I recognized my disappointment, allowed it to be there without the story or judgment, investigated it with gentleness (noting that I was heading down the path of believing I was a failure once again) and nurtured myself by reminding myself that my weight does not dictate my worthiness and that I am not a victim of my dysfunctional relationship with food. This is the process of R.A.I.N. on the go. I noted too that letting go of my disappointment will serve me in staying the course of weight loss and then sustainable weight management.

Sunday 1/13

It has been almost two days since I began drafting this post. I have formally meditated on letting go of my dysfunctional relationship and setting the intention to be mindful of my intake. This does not just mean the amount or type of food I am ingesting, but becoming aware of my unmet needs that lead me to the cabinets in search of food or to take seconds of a meal. This is where the true change resides. Since Friday, I have paused before eating and asked myself to what is this food serving? Is it for survival? Is it for comfort? What am I eating for? If it is for comfort or some other non-nutritional reason, then I investigate a bit further and see what other choices I can make to address the unmet need. I admit that this is challenging because it requires me to consciously pause. Just like when we sit and meditate, our minds wander and we forget what we were focused on. So, just like in meditation I bring my attention back to my intention and begin again.

WE CAN ALWAYS BEGIN AGAIN! The most important behavior for me right now is to rejoice in my growing awareness even when I forget. Because when I realize I have forgotten, it becomes another opportunity for me to become more aware and the chance of remembering next time is increased. Becoming disappointment in myself opens the old storybook of shame and unworthiness. Self-compassion is a critical practice in my weight management.

Kristen Neff, an expert on self-compassion, defines it as three elements: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.

Looking at weight management through the lens of self-compassion I can see all three components.

  • Mindfulness – becoming aware of what and why I am eating.
  • Common Humanity – knowing that I am not alone in this journey of weight management; hence, I am sharing this with you.
  • Self-kindness – treating myself as I would a friend who is struggling; bringing a loving awareness and presence to my unmet needs so that I can deepen my understanding and make healthier choices.

As I put one foot in front of the other along this journey, I hope you too can feel empowered and efficacious along your own journey. I will periodically update this post with my experiences and resources. Please reach out to me to share your story or write in the comments below.


May we have the courage to set our intention and rejoice in what we learn along the way.

Everyday Kindness – Tools for Continued Cultivation

Kindness is Free
Photo taken in Laguna Beach, CA

Last year I wrote a post about Growing Kindness in our Families and Classrooms, which focused on tips for creating an Acts of Kindness Calendar with children.  In an effort to build upon this post, I have created both a set of Every Day Kindness Cards and Calendar to be used for both adults and children (of all ages). My intention is to support the effort of many to draw our attention to the value of continued cultivation of kindness.

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as quoted by Aesop   Free printable

We all have the capacity to be kind, and we see it in action when interacting with our friends and family.  As our world feels increasingly divided and negativity abounds, we can pause and set a daily intention to engage in a deliberate act of kindness. There is growing research that shows the individual and communal effects of cultivating the habit of kindness. Here are a few resources sharing the science:

I know I am not alone in my belief that kindness needs to be valued more in our society. What we do not always consider is that kindness is a practice, one that is worthy of becoming a habit. For kindness to continue to seep into our psyche so that it becomes our “go to” response, we must make it a habit. This requires daily practice. As we purposely intend and practice responding to life with kindness, we experience a profound shift in our perspective. We begin to increase our sense of common humanity as we decrease our tendency to engage in “othering” (for deeper exploration on this term check out Tara Brach’s talk & the article The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging). The invisible walls that separate us fall away and we begin to see the basic goodness of those around us in spite of our disagreements. We begin to feel many positive emotions such as joy, contentment, and resiliency. As this wall fades away and our kindness guides our behavior, we are better able to connect, communicate, and create a peaceful society.

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While it may seem impossible for a card deck or a calendar to change society, micro acts of kindness do have ripple effects. Try it out and see what happens. At the end of the day, we can sit quietly with ourselves, with our family or co-workers and share how it felt to engage in this act and what this experience revealed to us. One of my hopes through the use of these tools is for us to notice the multiple acts of kindness happening around us all the time, and giving voice to it. Hey, that was thoughtful of you to hold the elevator. I saw someone let a car move in front of them even though it may have slowed the driver down. Wow, that stranger’s face lit up when I look in her eyes and smiled as we passed on the street.

As we engage purposely in acts of kindness, we not only plant the ever so important seeds, we begin to see the flowers blooming. This not only fills us with hope, but feeds our motivation to continue to choose kindness, especially when we are feeling stressed, angry, frustrated (insert any negative emotion). Please share these tools with others. This is my act of kindness today, and may it inspire you, your family, your classroom or your workplace to grow a culture of kindness.

Kindness Tools

These tools can be used individually, as a family, in classrooms or after school program, and even in the workplace. Any day can be adapted to fit your specific life situation. These acts are merely suggestions. Choose a card from the deck in the morning or check the calendar. Make sure to share your experience with others, and be kind to yourself if you are unable to complete this act – take a moment to reflect on a way you were kind or if you saw someone act kindly.

Calendar

The calendar can be downloaded as a Google Doc. For PDF click Every Day Kindness Calendar

Card Deck

Includes 28 acts with 2 blanks (total 30) for you to come up with your own. There are no dates and are not in any particular order, so these can be reused each month and chosen at random. The cards can be printed on paper and cut out, or you can print them on business cards using Avery product 8371.

If you would like me to print and send you a deck for free, please go to contact me and enter your address in the comment section. I ask that you share your experience with the cards in the comment section below.

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A Thanksgiving Meditation: The Gift of Giving & Receiving

Gratitude is, first and foremost, a way of seeing that alters our gaze.
~ Robert Emmons, Gratitude scientist

For many people, the holiday of Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate the joy of connection. For some people, this holiday may bring up stress and anxiety.  And for most, it is a combination of both. Cultivating gratitude is a beautiful and meaningful way to harness the joy of this holiday while calming our nerves.

Dr. Robert Emmons, a gratitude scientist, describes gratitude as having two components: affirmation of goodness and acknowledging where that goodness comes from. The benefits are many, such as magnifying positive emotions, blocking toxic and negative emotions, increasing self-worth and resiliency.  We sure can use these benefits at a time when our world continues to feel divisive and unstable.

This Thursday is a day of opportunity, a day to cultivate a grateful heart for ourselves, for others, and for this world.  In preparing our hearts and minds for this opportunity to experience connection, love, and kindness, I share with you this 28 minute Thanksgiving meditation. This meditation begins with a focus on the breath, then a loved one/friend, then ourselves, and then our Thanksgiving table.

Find a quiet spot to sit and allow yourself to connect with the moment, with the joy this holiday can offer, and with the gifts you give and receive through your open heart.

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Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

 

How to Cultivate Compassion in 12 Words

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
~ from Mary Oliver's poem Sometimes

How does one cultivate compassion? Why should we even bother? Mary Oliver answers these questions in just 12 words. If we read between the lines we will find the beautiful gifts we give and receive from compassion cultivation.

Instructions for living a life:

The word cultivation, according to vocabulary.com, means “the process of fostering the growth of something” and “socialization through training and education to develop one’s mind or manners.” Throughout our lives, we develop relationships with ourselves, others and the world.  We are socialized by our experiences in so much that we often develop habits that close off our hearts and increase our suffering. While we will always have pain and suffering, as this is the human condition, through the deliberate act of cultivating compassion we can re-train our minds (neuroplasticity!) to relate to our experiences with loving awareness. We can grow compassion!

Viktor Frankl writes, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our growth and freedom.” Let us choose a compassionate response, to live a life that cultivates love, kindness and humanity. To do so, we must take steps to cultivate compassionate thoughts and actions.  It takes seeing the weeds of destructive habits, gently pulling them out, replacing them with seeds of compassion, and watering daily so that they may take root and grow. This is compassion cultivation –  instructions for living a life –  and the gifts are bountiful.

Pay attention.

This is the essence of mindfulness, to be present in the moment. Meditation is a means to nurture such attention. Jack Kornfield describes meditation as being “able to stop and listen to the music of life with a sense of reverence, connectedness, and awe.”

Learning and practicing to pause, to be still, to be in the moment, is such a gift in this world of constant to-do lists, smartphones, and the physical and emotional demands of our hectic lives. Even more than ever do we need tools to help us slow down, take a break from multi-tasking so that we can connect to our inner selves, to our loved ones, to our world. Often we are doing something other than tending to the parts of ourselves that are in need. It can be scary to pause; it can be quite vulnerable for some of us. Self-compassion is most crucial when we are afraid of feeling exposed, especially to ourselves. 

Meditation is a gift we give ourselves, a form of self-compassion. While there are many forms of meditation, I have found compassion and loving-kindness practices to be profoundly influential in supporting my capacity to trust that my heart can handle all that life offers. These practices help us to see our innate goodness that no one can take from us. We begin to see the goodness in others too, even our adversaries. Practices of compassion cultivation, whether it’s through meditation and/or daily actions are the sun and water that support our growth in living a loving and compassionate life.

Practice: Try to notice someone you would otherwise not really “see” and contemplate just like me, this person wishes to be happy, loved and appreciated. See the effect of this small shift in perspective. 

 The act of paying attention can go deep and wide, encompassing not just ourselves and our families, but the broader world. Engaging in compassion cultivation is a robust daily action, fostering an unconditional friendship with ourselves, and our ability to see others through a lens of empathy, kindness, and genuine humanity. 

Be astonished.

Compassion cultivation is like putting on 3D glasses. The beautiful and uniqueness of life jumps out at you. The world is an amazing phenomenon.  It is so easy to take things for granted or get caught up in our bubble. We are all weathering this life; we are not alone in our ups and downs. When we cultivate compassion, we are growing roots of appreciation for life in its many forms. The leaf with the rain drops sitting on the sidewalk as we rush our children to school catch our eye. We appreciate the sound of the wind through the trees and hear the truth that we are interconnected. We are grateful for someone holding the door for us. When we are suffering, we are more likely to be open to receiving the hug or the hand. Cultivating compassion nurtures our astonishment with all that is within us, surrounds us and connects us. This fills us with joy, hope, and happiness.

Practice: Pause throughout the day and recognize the simple everyday joys, and let this fill you with warmth and appreciation.

Be astonished with your capacity to live wholeheartedly. We all have value and something to offer this world. This truth can get covered up with layers of destructive conditioning like shame.  We are bombarded with messages that we are not good enough, worthy enough, happier enough. We are enough just as we are in this moment!

At first we may not even know what we offer, and once we do it may look different than we expected.  As we pay attention, nurture a loving awareness, we begin to take off the layers of protection and truly see ourselves. People who cultivate compassion tend to become less critical and more forgiving of themselves, happier, and better able to pull themselves out of oppressive feelings like anxiety.  We increase our resiliency, increase our acceptance of ourselves and others, and increase feelings of gratitude. 

Practice: Every day, list up 3-5 things for which you feel grateful.  After a week, take notice of its effect.

Tell about it.

We embody what we practice. And this speaks to people. As I began to engage in compassion cultivation practices, I started to notice more acts of kindness. I began to share my gratitude with others, including strangers. Tara Brach shares, “The greatest gift we can give someone is to mirror back their goodness.”

Practice: Next time you see someone act thoughtfully or kindly, thank the person.  Pay attention to the person’s body language, facial expressions. Pay attention to how it makes you feel.

As we grow in living compassionately, we tend to notice rather than ignore suffering including our own. We show up more for ourselves and for others. The words that come out of our mouths tend to be more loving and caring. And when they are not, we provide ourselves with self-compassion and forgiveness so to become lovingly aware of the suffering that underlies those thoughts and actions. We become more forgiving of others as well because we understand that one’s unskillful response is due to an underlying unmet need, one that we can be compassionate towards.

We show our care and concern for those suffering in different ways. Right now, can you think of one thing you have done within the past week that shows your care and concern for someone or a group of people? Can you think of a situation where you received care and concern from someone, possibly in an unexpected way? How did this affect you?Rejoice in it! Speak about it! Keep doing it!

These are the instructions for living a compassionate life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

The Mountains Are Calling: Come Nurture Courage, Compassion & Connection

The moment I drove onto Mount Desert Island in Maine, the home of Acadia National Park, my entire body tingled with the excitement of seeing and experiencing nature’s beauty and the challenge of exploring her varied terrain in hiking boots. So far this summer, I have explored three National Parks.  And I am so grateful!!!IMG_20180725_091920388

At each trail head, I took a breath and wondered –  what will nature teach me. Each experience making my way up and over mountains, scrambling over rocks and streams, walking through trees and wildlife habitats, illuminated nature’s power to cultivate courage, compassion and connection.

Courage

In Acadia National Park, where my family and I have camped for the past 11 years, I feel completely at home. Each year as our children (now 11 and 8.5) have gotten older, my husband and I take longer and more difficult hikes. This summer I felt compelled to get down and dirty with nature. We took 4-6 hour hikes where we had to climb over boulders, pull ourselves up or slide down to get to a level terrain. To embark on each excursion took a lot of courage (and preparation). Kids and terrain are unpredictable.  Yet, I knew we had to be fearless in order to have an intimate and transformational experience with nature. Watching my children embrace the terrain courageously, especially during moments of potential danger, and take the lead at different times, left me in awe of them. Now when they become fearful, I can remind them of the courage they had to hike the mountains in Acadia.

 

I felt most courageous when I hiked the Beehive in Acadia (without the children, at least this time around). There was a warning sign, which I had never seen in Acadia. Letting nature have my back, I pushed through my anxiety and relied on my experience as a hiker. While I am not a rock climber, this hike is probably the closest I’ll ever get. Pulling myself up using irons rungs and walking on the edge of cliffs to get to the top and view the beauty of the Atlantic was worth every bead of sweat and every palpitation of my heart.

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Beehive Trail, Acadia

This hike awakened my courage!

An even more beautiful example of courage was watching my 69 year old mother (who is not a hiker!), complete a trail in Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains. In spite of the humidity and bugs, she put on her sneakers and persevered to complete each trail. It takes courage to push yourself outside your comfort zone. This is how we grow.

This is the courage that nature cultivates. Explore National Parks.

Compassion

Compassion is to be aware of suffering, feel empathy and be willing to act to relieve that suffering. In Acadia, every time I felt that the hike we chose was too long, the beautiful sound of song birds filled the air. This happened at least three times. It was as if no other sound existed (the woods can be very quiet) and the birds were speaking directly to me. “You can do this. Keep going.” The melodic sound soothed my suffering. I felt held and guided by nature’s love.

Such a love, supported both my children and I when they were resistant to hiking. At one time or another, one of my kids was unhappy and complaining at the beginning of a hike. Knowing that I could not flee from the situation and that I needed this child to walk over challenging terrain, I flexed my compassion muscle. I practiced just being present with my child who was experiencing an unpleasant time and allowed the love of nature to soften both of our hearts. This was not always easy as I had to give up control of how I wanted to “experience” this hike. The embrace of nature opened my heart so that I could be compassionate toward my child. Teaching my children how to embrace their connection to nature as a way to soothe their suffering was a deep insight we all shared. Eventually, each child let go of his or her resistance and embraced the hike, which always ended with a high-five and a smile.

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I am filled with deep gratitude for these experiences. Also, I have more of an appreciation for the suffering nature experiences all the time. The history of these parks reveal that people a century ago knew the power in the beauty of these parks and the necessity to protect it.

They are sanctuaries that need our compassion. Support National Parks. 

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Connection

Hiking with others can be an intense experience. With courage and compassion comes connection. One reason people hike is to connect with the earth and its magnificence. There is undoubtedly an existential element to exploring nature’s home.  Another reason is to connect with ourselves and possibly our hiking partners.

One of the reasons I adore camping and hiking in Acadia is because it has become a family tradition. We have this experience that we will all carry with us and that forever joins us together. As my children develop lives a part from me, we will always have Acadia. My 11 year old asked if she could keep camping with us when she is older. This warmed my heart. When her and I hiked alone in Shenandoah National Park, she talked about us coming back together as a bonding experience. She felt nature’s power to connect us.

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Hiking requires a degree of cooperation and collaboration whether it be with nature or with others. The challenge to complete each hike required us to work together. Sometimes you have to wait when other’s are tired. You have to be supportive when other’s are struggling. You have to pause and take in the beauty that surrounds you. Nature does not always give you a choice! When hiking in Shenandoah, a deer walked right toward us without hesitation.

 

We are without a doubt connected to the earth and to each other. Exploring these National Parks has reminded me of our interdependence. We are never alone and thus our actions have a ripple effect that we often may not see. If we listen, nature calls to us, reminding us that we are courageous, that it is within us to reach out and connect with a compassionate heart.

May we open ourselves to the beauty of life
and push ourselves outside our comfort zones
so together we can grow our voice.

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Lovingkindness Notes – Opening Our Hearts

Posted next to my front door is a postcard I received from attending a retreat led by Sharon Salzberg. The postcard reads, “Do a simple act of kindness everyday.” I placed it here so that I have the constant reminder to choose kindness, to embody it, to live it.  As I have spent these past few years growing kindness within, I have come to understand that practicing kindness, to cultivate it, is a courageous and deliberate intention. One way to cultivate kindness is through meditation, specifically lovingkindness meditation.

A Guided Lovingkindness Meditation (11 minutes)

Taking even just a few moments to sit in stillness and send lovingkindness to ourselves or others alters our neural pathways.  Over time every moment or minute of practice builds a momentum that shifts our habitual way of interacting, reacting and responding to our daily experiences. It improves our well-being overall.  Lovingkindness practice is a beautiful and tender way to open our hearts so that we can embrace our lives fully and become more resilient in scrambling over the rocks (or boulders) that are on our path.

Lovingkindness is a practice in treating ourselves with kindness, gentleness and acceptance just as we would a close friend. It is a practice that nurtures our capacity to support ourselves when we are in need. Furthermore, it connects us with others in the same way as it nurtures our common humanity. We become more likely to see another  with empathy and compassion rather than with judgement and separateness. This becomes particularly clear when we are interacting with or reflecting upon an experience with a person who is difficult or challenging for us, especially one who triggers our defense mechanisms. Lovingkindness is a practice that builds our inner strength, our resiliency. It is a practice that I have found personally transformational.

In an effort to spread and cultivate lovingkindness practice, I began sharing notes of lovingkindness in public places including social media with the #lovingkindnessnotes. I was inspired by a story from Tara Cousineau’s book The Kindness Cure: How the Science of Compassion Can Heal Your Heart & Your World. She describes a woman who was receiving cancer treatment and began leaving inspirational post-it notes on the wall in the changing area. While she never knew the impact it had on the other women who came into contact with the note, she and her children (who participated in crafting the notes) were filled with joy.  This mother’s small act of kindness in fact was a daily cultivation of compassion, empathy and kindness for her and her children! Crafting my own lovingkindness notes over these couple of months has increased my joy, resiliency and consistency to act compassionately and kindly.

To take my small act of lovingkindness a step further and to support your effort to nurture a loving and kind heart, I have created a deck of  lovingkindness notes to be used either as a daily, weekly or as needed inspirational guide. Click here to order a deck.

Also, I have recorded a 5 minutes lovingkindness notes meditation to support your practice using one or more of the cards. You can focus on lovingkindness for yourself, for a loved one/friend, for a difficult person, for a stranger, or for a community.  Click here for the meditation You can begin today by using one of cards from the slideshow below.

Also, go to my guided meditations to find additional meditations. I add new ones periodically.

Growing Kindness in Schools

“You clearly have the capacity to be kind,” my 5th grade daughter’s principal reads from his moving up ceremony speech. “Yes!” I wanted to stand up and cheer. Kindness is a capacity, a skill, that we can cultivate and strengthen through practice. Children learn early on the value of kind thinking and actions through watching and mimicking others. So if kindness is a capacity we can cultivate, then how might we grow kindness in schools?

First, growing kindness in schools requires deliberate action on the part of the adults leading the school. When listening to the principal’s speech I didn’t just hear a school leader wishing the children luck as they moved up to middle school. I heard a principal encouraging young people to believe that kind behavior has a powerful positive effect: “Continue to take good care of one another, it will take you farther than you can imagine.”

Growing kindness in schools takes leaders who prioritize it’s cultivation and ensure it becomes a central part of the school’s culture. Before this can begin to happen, school leaders must believe that practicing kind thinking and behavior can benefit their students just as much as reading, writing and math practice. When we put school leaders in charge who not only focus on growing students’ academic capacities but their social-emotional and relational capacities such as kindness, we begin to see school culture shift from a competitive-me focused to a cooperative-we focused. This shift is important if we want children to become up-standers. Also, this shift in school culture is important in nurturing ethical behavior.

Growing kindness is not some nice idea that we put aside when we want children to achieve. Becoming a kind person is an achievement worthy in and of itself. As we grow kindness for ourselves and others, we become more resilient, more hopeful, happier, and able to handle stress and anxiety more easily. Our children need to learn how to engage with others with whom they may disagree or see as different than them. Growing kindness helps us view everyone as humans who just like us want to be happy and (you fill in the blank). We can treat people kindly without agreeing with them or condoning their unfriendly behavior. Growing kindness supports our common humanity which supports a more compassionate and inclusive community.  I have become an advocate for prioritizing the growing of kindness in schools. Are you with me?

Here are some ways schools and parents can support growing kindness in schools:

  • Hire school leaders and teachers who prioritize cultivating kind thinking and actions. These leaders and teachers can be seen modeling and teaching a kind mindset through their interactions with each other, with their students, and how they support students’ positive relationships. This mindset should be supported through professional development. Click here to read my post about developing caring relationships in schools.
    • Parents, if your child’s teacher exemplifies this priority, write a note to the principal sharing the impact it has had on your child. This positive feedback supports the prioritization.
  • Schools can use curriculum specifically focused on growing kindness. Random Acts of Kindness Foundation and Action for Happiness has tool kits and resources. They can integrate elements of these resources into daily lessons and units. (Keep an eye out for a blog post about this specifically.)
  • Classrooms can create their own kindness calendars as a way to practice skills on a daily basis. Practicing kindness is like going to the gym. We build muscle memory and these behaviors become integrated into our neural circuitry.
  • Middle and High Schools can join programs for support like the Making Caring Common Project that has teamed up with the KIND Foundation to create the KIND Schools Challenge. 
  • Schools can team up with parent organizations like the PTA to create a #GrowKindness initiative. The PTA can support parents’ efforts to grow kindness in their families, bringing the school-home connection (worthy of it’s own blog post).
  • Create a Kindness Wall. Each school can designate a space, have some art students draw a mural and provide access to sticky notes where kids post acts of kindness they witnessed, received or enacted. These notes can be shared on the school’s and PTA’s social media pages to highlight and promote this practice.

There are numerous ways schools can grow kindness. There’s not one right way, but there is a CHOICE. I was inspired by my daughter’s principal’s speech. It showed all the parents attending the moving up ceremony that this administrator has chosen to grow kindness in his school. I am excited for my son’s experience when he enters this school next year. And I plan to do as much as I can to support this principal’s efforts.

May we  as parents, as teachers and as school leaders
find the courage and motivation
to work together in choosing to grow kindness in our schools.

 

Celebrating Connection: What Grannie Taught Me at Her 100th Birthday Party

Throughout history, the image of a grandmother has been one of a wise old woman who holds the family together while teaching important life lessons. At least once a month I can be heard saying, “As my grandmother says, ‘Put up or shut up.’” Yes, my grandmother taught me to either do something or simply stop complaining. Or, she just said this mantra so much that I internalized it as the Grannie proverb.

My grandmother, to whom I call Grannie, is a small tough Italian lady. She has inspired people, motivated people and cared for people. She has been through numerous wars, presidents, cancer, the death of both her husband, son (my dad) and her best friend/sister. She was alive before television! Yet, like all of us, she is not without flaws. I say this because it is easy to forget that those we look to for guidance are human too. They need and want love and happiness just like us. When we see their flaws with compassion and empathy, we can love them and forgive them more easily. This strengthens our connection, which supports our sense of belonging (a feeling many need so desperately these day).

In preparing to attend Grannie’s party and visiting with her more recently, I have spent time reflecting on my relationship with her and how it has influenced me. Now in reflecting on this past weekend where many people came together to celebrate Grannie’s 100th birthday, I am drawn to the quote that encapsulates the mission of this blog and my work as a developing compassion teacher.

May we relinquish the belief in our separation
and find the courage to connect with a compassionate heart.

This weekend provided many people the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and friends. Some of us let go of the pains of the past, embraced the moment of celebrating life, and took a step toward a future of forgiveness and acceptance. Seems like a deep experience for a birthday party, but this was not an ordinary experience. When a matriarch turns 100, one soon finds out the broad impact she has had on people’s lives and the connections she’s nurtured. Children of her former neighbors calling your grandmother Granny Grace is a testament to her positive impact, to her natural tendency to care for others. Our world needs more grandmotherly people like Granny Grace. Observing these interactions helped me to reconnect with Grannie, to let go of any suffering that lingered, and to appreciate the climate of joy our gathering created.  

My grandmother’s personal and caring relationships with every single person that attended has connected us all in some way. Grannie unknowingly orchestrated our common humanity.  Just like me, Grace Duart has affected your life. This forever joins us in such a way that we can see and appreciate each other. This was not just a 100th birthday party, but a day to rejoice in our interconnection. Thanks, Grannie!!

I was filled with the joy of connection that I felt compelled to speak with a woman I have found terribly annoying in past years. I listened with compassion as she shared her recent struggle with work. Relinquishing the superficial barrier I put between myself and this woman supported her need to be seen and heard. Flexing my compassion muscle opened my heart to more experiences that day. I reconnected with my second cousin. I rejoiced as my daughter forgot her fear of performing and played happy birthday on her trumpet in front of everyone. I witnessed significant others being introduced for the first time and embraced with hugs and acceptance. And this day became an important moment in my sister’s recovery. We all had something to gain and to give–we (re)connected not only with others but with ourselves.

To witness my grandmother’s joy and the wide smiles of all the guests touched my heart in such a profound way. Grace Duart opened everyone’s heart last Saturday and our (re)connection filled them with hope. Thank you, Grannie, for giving us yet another life lesson: Connection to family and friends is our lifeline to happiness and to experiencing love and acceptance. May we relinquish the belief in our separation and find the courage to connect with a compassionate heart.

May We Be Patient: Finding Compassion for Our Inner Sisyphus

Patience and I were enemies for most of my life.  Like many of us, I wanted things done yesterday. I wanted to achieve my goals without much effort. I wanted. I wanted. I wanted. NOW! And when “now” did not happen, I felt like a failure or was disappointed or criticized myself harshly.  Patience is truly a virtue, but living with patience can feel more like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the mountain only to lead to an adult tantrum. I WANT THINGS THIS WAY NOW! (insert your own screaming voice.) It’s ok to admit it, we all have been there at least once in our lives. In a culture that promotes instant gratification, it’s a challenge to embrace patience. Nonetheless, patience is fundamental to our well-being.

It has taken me most of my life to stop fighting with patience and begin to view her as a loyal friend. She now takes the lead most of the time; yet, truth be told, there are still times I overrun her. Hey, we are human; it’s ok! This is where mindfulness and self-compassion have come in handy. I’ve learned ways to coach myself, to be a friend to myself, when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious or controlling. May I be patient. More often than not, I recognize when I am experiencing impatience (via mind-body connection thanks to meditation) and attempt to ground myself through the skills of mindfulness and compassion that I practice daily. (To dig deeper into developing these skills, check out Tara Brach’s discussion of RAIN.)

Patience and CCT

In thinking about how to encourage people to take the CCT course I’ll be teaching in the fall, the phrase a practice in patience comes up repeatedly. While cultivating compassion is a true act of courage and deepens our connection with ourselves and others, it illuminates the undeniable role patience plays in our general well-being, and specifically in our growth as compassionate and loving beings.

In thinking further about this phrase, a practice in patience, I remembered a poem I wrote almost 20 years ago entitled “Curse of Sisyphus.” The poem depicts my frustration and desperation in finding contentment in life and truly accepting myself, but never seeming to achieve it. Near the end of the poem, I plead with Sisyphus to tell me how to end my suffering.  

Here I go again trekking up to the peak
Only to see the rock roll down to the
Mountain’s feet.
This time I demand Sisyphus to explain his
Laughter making ripples in my blood.
Tell me, tell me, tell me what I don’t know.
“Wipe the illusion from your eyes,” he advises me
As we descend to the valley,
My perpetual state of mind.

With two hands cupped around his mouth,
He hollers to all the people descending their own peaks,
“It is when you cease anxious seeking that you shall find peace.”
“It is when you cease anxious seeking that you shall find peace.”
“It is when you cease anxious seeking that you shall find peace.”
His echo returns three times singing:
And things will happen.
And things will happen.
And things will happen.

While I understood in my early 20’s that grasping anxiously to my wants and to my unrealistic image of happiness was causing deep suffering, I did not know how to help myself shift out of the myth of Sisyphus. I was stuck pushing the rock up the mountain only to watch it fall back down again. Patience was the least thing from my mind. I needed to take action; yet, I kept trying so hard to end my suffering that I suffered more. Sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it? Yet, this is our common experience. This is the illusion! It has taken me almost 20 years to learn how to shift my understanding of and change my relationship to suffering.

Pema Chodron writes, “Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening our hearts is a work of a lifetime.” Patience is the work of a lifetime. Finally for me patience has become a guiding light encouraging me to accept that human beings are beautifully flawed, experience unpleasant feelings and thoughts (i.e., suffering), and attaining a state of constant bliss and contentment is impossible (and, brain science supports all of this!).

Patience, nurtured through meditation and compassion practices, can strengthen one’s capacity and courage to be with suffering, to relate to one’s suffering and others’ suffering with tenderness, empathy and compassion. Overtime my suffering has lessened in its intensity as my response shifts from fight or flight mode to patience and compassion. This has helped me become more present, loving and supportive of others, even strangers and challenging people in my life. 

It is when you cease anxious seeking that you shall find peace…And things will happen.

Learning to be patient is in itself an act of patience. Sounds paradoxical, but it is a truth that I have come to know. Even in something so simple like breathing through the anxiety of awaiting a response to an important email, we cultivate a sense of patience which has a significant effect on our well-being. Cultivating compassion through meditation and daily mindful practices (as taught in the CCT course) supports my life-long quest to step out of the myth of Sisyphus and nurture an authentic, meaningful and fulfilling life. This journey began as a practice in learning to be patient, which I did not realize at first. Now, this journey is guided by such patience. And things are happening!

Let me end with this brief compassion practice: Take 2 minutes to sit quietly with your hand over your heart and your eyes closed. Breathe in and out at your natural pace and repeat silently these phrases:

May I be happy.
May I know peace and joy.
May I be free from fear and anxiety.
May I be a patient friend to myself.                                                                                                   

Feel the tenderness of your touch as you say these phrases. Allow yourself to experience the true meaning of these words as you breathe in and out.

Any time that you feel like you’re overrunning patience, repeat these phrases and focus on your breath. This small act can shift your thinking, calm your nervous system and nurture your heart and mind.

May we be patient as we embark on living a meaningful and fulfilling life. May we experience compassion for our common inner Sisyphus.

Please click here to learn more about the CCT course that I will be offering in the fall.