As we all carry on wrestling with keeping a safe distance and trying to find some “normal” in our lives, the notion of our interconnected ness is front and center. After all, sharing airspace has become a matter of public debate, personal anxiety, and for some, a death sentence.
In the yoga classes I attend and teach, we end our practice with the sound of Om, as a reminder that we are all interconnected. Never has that seemed more relevant.
If you stop to consider the effect of your choices, it’s humbling. For example, rushing to arrive somewhere you cut another driver off. It’s frustrating to that person, and they become agitated and pass that agitation on in their own driving. Or you stop to hold the door for someone else and they thank you in a way that makes it clear they appreciated the gesture. They go on to have a better day, thinking better of the world.
The real impact of the effect we have in our moment to moment way of being is felt by those closest to us, though. The person closest to you is your self. Starting there, showing yourself gentleness and kindness, is the key. If you speak to yourself the way you would speak to a person you care tenderly for, that kindness will empower you to offer kindness to those around you.
I notice when I am hard on myself I extend that same kind of expectation and judgement to the people around me. Not surprisingly that does not encourage harmony. So I’ve spent time over recent months trying to change that habit of mind; I’ve tried monitoring my thoughts and words, practicing gratitude, and meditating. All of those things are helpful and encourage calm. But the thing that really works is speaking to myself with kindness and then harnessing that same kindness when I speak to others.
I don’t know if that sounds hard to you but I found that it IS hard. We are so good at being our own critics that we usually don’t speak to ourselves with kindness. When I first tried it I didn’t know what to say to myself. Really, I had nothing nice to say? Nope. I couldn’t think of anything. So I wound up beginning with a loving-kindness meditation. That started the ball rolling for me.
As part of that meditation you have to extend wishes for well-being to yourself, those you care about, others that are not close to you and finally, you have to wish a “challenging” person well. Not surprisingly this was hard and I nearly lost interest in the practice because frankly it’s not fun to wish the challenging person I was thinking of well. HOWEVER, one of my yoga teachers, Jeff Convery at the Yoga Exchange Holliston, once suggested that we spend time on the first part – wishing ourselves well – for as long as that felt right, before moving on.
I embraced that advice with fervor, wishing good things for myself during meditation like a champ. May I be healthy. May I experience peace. May I be happy. May I feel safe. May I feel nurtured. May I feel supported. May I be healthy, peaceful, happy, safe, nurtured, supported … over and over. The outcome was that I felt healthier, more peaceful, happier, safer, more nurtured and supported (Go figure). And I had a lot more kindness to offer to other people, thanks to generating some for myself. True Story.
I’m still working this whole new way of talking to myself. I am no less ready to speak my mind if I feel someone has been thoughtless or impolite. But I think being kind to myself takes practice and is like a muscle — it performs better with practice.
Consider how your own mood, your words, your actions affect you and everyone around you and then tell yourself: may I be happy. May I be safe. May I experience peace, may I come into a giant inheritance. You can skip that last one if it’s too much.