compassion

I see you.

If the greatest human need is to be acknowledged, it's no wonder the greatest human fear is public speaking.

Asking for what you need or to be seen and vulnerable and face rejection? Yeah, right. No thanks! It can feel terrifying to put yourself out there, even if it's what we most crave and need.

And that's where most of us spend our whole lives--in that balance. Waiting or wondering for how to make things different. How to put ourselves out there and be seen so we feel acknowledged.

It may be even harder for those of us who were born lucky enough to face significant adversity, like I was. I say lucky because it's my opinion that facing adversity is a gift. It's a blessing. It's how we nurture resilience and become gritty to overcome the challenges of life. If we have enough tools and resources, adversity is great. Without enough of what we need, adversity is...not so great.

Ironically, more resources doesn't always make it better. Sometimes, the more privilege we have or are given in our family unit or in society, the harder life's challenges actually can feel. When things come easy to us, anything HARD feels HARDER. But when hard is what you know by default...you get what I'm saying. What are your particular circumstances? Have you ever stopped to consider this?


Being seen and acknowledged and valued is essential to our survival. Lots of people want to pretend they are beyond or above it but there's probably something else going on with those folks. This primal human need to feel connected and be acknowledged is why social media is a hot damn mess and also why the news can be so hard to stomach right now because we see so much invalidation of human lives in so many different ways. It can trigger this feeling in us like, "whoa. Look at the lives lost. Am I even valuable?"

When we see this all day, every day, we can feel overwhelmed. Human beings treating other human beings unkindly is nothing new but the news and social media makes it seem bigger and worse right now. I try to keep perspective on it based on what I know from my days teaching Social Studies.

In those moments when we feel overwhelmed, when the compassion fatigue sets in, it may help to just start with seeing yourself. My inner child cries out to be seen especially since my relationships with my family have changed and I don't have their presence or support. To be honest, this isn't anything new and based on our differences, it's something I've come to accept. I'm learning to be ok with things as they are because I trust it's for the best. But the primal need to be seen and acknowledged is always there, in all of us. And one thing we can do in each moment is say, "I SEE YOU."

I did this on my morning walk and was surprised how quickly it worked to calm my anxiety. To hear my own voice acknowledge my own presence, it was like a magic spell! I thought how long I've walked around with this solution and didn't use it!

I encourage you to use it.

And you know what else? I see you. I see your attempts to improve your health. I see how you're trying to make the world better. I see how you're working hard to get by. I see how much you do for your family. I see how you're seeking to understand people who are different than you.

I see you.

I SEE YOU.

Being seen helps us relax and feel connected. It inspires and encourages empathy, which is the cure and antidote to what's affecting human beings right now. We're working this out and it's messy and complicated and it's probably going to get worse before it gets better.

If you want to help in a way that really works for you and others, you can start being seeing yourself and acknowledging what you're doing to make things better or worse.

Focus on the positive.

Choose one thing to improve.

Go from there.

Who Are You/I To Judge? Learn To See People Like Trees

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I saw this post on a friend's facebook wall and was reminded of my greatest challenge and greatest work. I read it and thought, "yes. This is right. I need to do this more. I think people need to do this more."

It was especially poignant because I've been feeling my inner critic, my critical mind as Pema Chodron calls it, sort of taking over the joint lately. I know it's because my own life is in such constant and furious transition; change is so good and can also be such a challenge. I get those feelings out, in part, by displacing frustration, anxiety and feeling a lack of control via my biggest vice: judging. Judging people, judging society, judging myself--harshly. I see this happening all over facebook and hear it in the words of others more clearly, perhaps because I'm increasingly more aware of my own habit of doing it.

When we judge ourselves and others, we lose connection to them. We lose compassion for self and the beautiful imperfection of each person. We lose sight of the truth that we are all miraculous works in progress, each trying to get through a day doing our best with the best we have.

I was born and bred to be a judge. My mom passed it down from her mom. Perhaps my great-grandmother was a judge, too. I didn't know her. It's probably a safe bet.

But I grew out of it for a short while when I was in the company of a wonderful community in my early twenties. There wasn't much time or need for judging because I was surrounded by love and fun and joy in my career and my relationships.

Then, I fell in with a crowd of some fierce judges. They used the guise of "social justice" as the validation but the tone and tenor of their thoughts, words and actions were undeniably clear: JUDGMENT. Hanging around that scene nurtured what was already a really bad habit of mine so it probably wasn't an accident that I "found" that community. I must have had more work to do on that part of myself.

For years, I justified my behavior of harshly judging and criticizing others' thoughts, words and actions because that's what everyone else was doing. We rationalized the behavior and enabled it in each other. The lessons I learned about difference were framed with the message of suffering as a victim. I was taught that differences meant someone lost and someone won. I learned that it was my job to suffer because others were suffering. I learned to take a back-seat and speak up for people instead of encouraging them to find and use their own voices.

All of this has merit, but it was a flawed philosophy. It's true that I learned a lot about identity and perspective-taking and privilege, but I came away from that community more damaged than healed and it's taken me years to see it and come back from it.

I keep quite a few of those folks on my newsfeed to remind me of how far I've come and how far I have yet to go.

Judging ourselves and others is a habit. It's pervasive and rooted in my own self-esteem and self-confidence. The saying goes, "we judge in others what we don't accept about ourselves." I'm judging myself right now for sharing this so openly and honestly. But what bothers me more about this social media thing than the false sense of connection with each other, is the false sense of identity people present. I'd rather be inspiring from a place of honesty than a false pretense.

So, I am integrating the best of that old philosophy I was taught into a new model. I am learning to see people like trees, as Ram Dass says. Seeing them for the ways they've been shaped and molded based on what they've endured---but not judging them for it, because the judging won't change anything. Loving does.

I am practicing this, especially when feeling most triggered, most frustrated and most disempowered in my life. I want to practice doing the best with what I have and what I've been given and inspire others to do the same, even though we are given and have different things.

I am learning to see myself like a tree, shaped by periods of brilliant light and perhaps a lack of nutrients at certain points but standing strong, despite.

 

Guerilla Tactics to Build Love and Community

guerrilla or guerilla (ɡəˈrɪlə) — n 1. a. a member of an irregular usually politically motivated armed force that combats stronger regular forces, such as the army or police.

I just left my appointment at Fenway Health. It's an important appointment.

If you noticed I've been posting a bit less frequently and with less detail, you are one observant person. If you hadn't noticed, that's cool, too. It probably means you're focusing on your own life--as well you should be. ;)

I've taken the past few months to take time for myself and work all this out on the inside. This was new for me; in the past, I externalized a lot of what was going on in my life with anyone (and everyone) who would listen. This time around, I chose a select few--mostly notably my incredible team of supporters at Fenway Health in downtown Boston--right by Fenway Park.

The love and support I've received from the most unlikely folks--have proven one thing to me: love is a choice. It's a decision people make to either offer or withhold. We all intentionally decide to create the space, open up the conversation, persevere at the relationship or shrink from all of this.

We all have this ability in our lives---for every single person and creature in our lives, every minute of every day. The extent to which we meet our own expectations, is the impact we choose to have with the time we have.

Most importantly--we will do this on our own timeline. In our own way. And it will hardly ever align with the expectations we hold for each other.

I've been the recipient of strangers in my life, some were even acquaintances, bestowing tremendous amounts of kindness, compassion and COURAGE in my general direction for most of my life, but specifically the past few months. These are people who are really stepping outside the lines of what they know, what they've been told is right or real or normal or popular. And in the process, they are helping me in ways that can't be measured.

I wondered, as I left my appointment today, how could I ever repay these people? How could I possibly create a dent like they have in my life? Simply by being "nice" back?

Perhaps.

Perhaps I could do more.

I left that appointment and wandered around REI. Then Best Buy. I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket--didn't know how much I had left on it. It was a hefty surprise gift and I had used some of it on DVDs. It's safe to say, I'm obsessed with films. I brought some choices up the register---and recognized the person there. He was cordial, just as he was last time I happened by mid-morning on a weekday. The place was quiet. Not much happening. Rihanna's "Where Have You Been" thumping in the background--(I need speakers like that in my home someday...)

And he rang me through the transaction. Asked me how my day was going. And it stopped me. That long list of thoughts running through my head, lists to check off, concerns and worries, plans, apprehensions--self-absorption--it all dropped away. I was only present with one thought: he is really doing a good job at his job. He is trying to provide good customer service. I took note of his name: Robert.

And then I smiled, interacted with him--I flashed an even bigger smile when I realized I was getting 3 awesome films and only owed 3 dollars and 8 cents.

He said, "have a great day" and then helped me validate my parking ticket--with great eye contact and simple directions.

Stop and take a moment here: how many times have you gone through a similar experience and had someone on the other side behave like you were an annoyance? How many times has it been you acting that way--either as the customer or the service provider?

How many times, I wondered, has this guy been rewarded for doing his best--when no one was watching? I decided, today was the day that he'd know someone was watching.

I walked over the Customer Service and had to wait in line but it made me enjoy the anticipation even more. When I stepped forward, I knew I was doing something so rare that it literally gave me goosebumps. The customer service rep looked at me, and I said, "can you do me a favor? Robert over there--the past few times I've come in" and her face fell--I knew what she was expecting---is that what WE ARE ALL USED TO? Negativity and complaints?!---I continued, "he has been amazing, his customer service is impeccable." She smiled tentatively. "I've worked retail, I know how hard it can be--to get lazy and think no one notices. Can you do me a favor and give him something special to reward him?" She said, "wow. Thank you, I'll go tell my manager and give him a hug."

I repeated myself, "he really deserves something awesome. He is a rockstar."

She said, "thank you. I will make sure he does."

I walked out, watched the back of his head--giddy with the excitement of what was about to happen to him, knowing I'd never know the details--but that I had been a part of something good coming his way.

Please do this today. Fight the convention of our days--the rhythm we all get into that makes this world a difficult place to live, quite often. Use querilla tactics to create space, and give love and build community like the people I've mentioned in this post. Do the irregular thing. Step outside normal to combat the stronger force of policed hate and separateness that we all experience every day.

Like the people in my life who have been bold and brave and made space for me where I didn't think it could exist.

Like the person who planned two ways to celebrate her colleague in a span of 3 seconds--and one included a hug!

and me, who intentionally chose to celebrate a total stranger--because I wanted to pass on the good feelings I had.

How can you do this today in your life?