Category Archives: Compassion

FINDING THE GIFTS

March 24, 2020

SEARCHING FOR TREASURE IN THE DARKNESS

“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”
~ Mary Oliver ~

To say we live in troubling times is a bit of an understatement. The world as we’ve known it seems to be ending. I can’t help but consider that that may not be such a bad thing.

Primarily I’m hearing reports that people are maintaining their sense of humor in the face of the spreading Coronavirus, reaching out to one another with compassion, and mostly cooperating with what needs to be done to slow this modern day plague. But I’ve also heard reports that gun sales are climbing. Liquor stores are considered an essential service on par with grocery stores and the shelves are emptying. Some of us are suffering an economic crisis —  our paycheck is gone, we don’t have any savings, our small business is tanking, we can’t pay the bills, and our kids are home from school and need supervision to successfully navigate distance learning. I guess that’s why the beer is sold out.

Yep, it’s really scary. And I’m not even talking about the possibility of getting sick and possibly dying. We are trying to cope in a world we never imagined. Living in the middle of what for some is a nightmare from which they can’t wake up.

As challenging as it may be, this is a time that calls for each of us to shift our focus as best we can away from fear, away from the anger that is churned up as our bodies and minds are flooded with stress.  Fear and rage and frustration are not going to solve our problems. Certainly violence will not. But holding an energetic resonance with hope, with gratitude, with Love, all attributes of the heart, will allow the creation of peace. And in a state of peace and gratitude we will discover solutions. We will increase our compassion quotient (CQ) — our capacity to act in service even when it may not offer any immediate or visible benefit. [Key phrase: may not immediately offer a visible benefit.] There will be a benefit. Gandhi suggested that we as individuals and cultures must align our “hands, head and heart” and ultimately learn to lead with the heart. Here’s a chance to do so on a global scale.

With change comes chaos. With great change, expect great chaos. Anyone who’s deep cleaned their closets knows this. Anyone who’s built a house knows this. Any woman who has borne a child knows this. Our world is in chaos — from the political systems and indeed, all of our “systems” all the way to the suffering our Earth is experiencing. The old ways are being shaken to their core — and something new is trying to be born. The only way we can diminish the pain of moving through this time, even if only a little, is to look for the treasures hiding in this darkness. To seek the gifts that this time offers. To notice the little blessings that daily surround us and offer gratitude.

Let us discover the gifts hiding in plain sight, and bring forth treasure from this darkness.

I invite you to begin posting on your social media platforms the blessings you note, the gifts you find, the treasures you discover. Let’s create a great light to counter this darkness.

 

LOVE: THE BREATH OF LIFE

March 9, 2020

WE ALL NEED TO START BREATHING

“It’s the type of love that says ‘I believe in you.’ It’s the type of love that says, ‘You don’t have to be like this.’ Not the love that’s like ‘I just want to hug you.’ It’s the love that’s like, ‘You’re going to be better! And I’m going to stand here until you get better. I’m not going anywhere. That’s how much I love you. I’m not going on to buses. I’m not going to lunch. I’m not. I’m going to stand here and wait for you to do better and be better because I love you.'”     Mauri Melander Friestleben — about loving students

Love them first. This was the directive at Lucy Laney at Cleveland Park Community School in North Minneapolis under Ms. Friestleben’s leadership. “What if we all did that?” she asks us in the Kare11 documentary Love Them First.

And I ask the same question.  Whether we are their teachers and educators, their care-givers, their probation officers, the police driving through a neighborhood full of youngsters who live in homemade war zones, what if our first response to children and youth was to breathe deeply and love them first?

How would we need to “see” these young ones regardless of their exterior behaviors?

How would we need to view ourselves in order not to have their negative or disrespectful behaviors trigger our self-defense system?

I have been providing support services to several teachers in some notoriously dis-regulated third grade classrooms. The goal is to re-create the environments of these classrooms into healthy, thriving learning environments. I have been teaching the teachers the necessity of shifting their culturally inherited punitive mindset to a mind that is set on always honoring the dignity and value of each child. I teach that while we must hold firmly to the expectations and boundaries that  provide the structure in which we can all be together in a good way, we must also support and nurture our students at all times. That means we support them in taking responsibility and making amends for harm they have caused as well as supporting them through their very real crisis and stresses.

It always sounds so good in theory. The teachers never disagree with me. But then, here I am in this third grade classroom early on a Monday morning to facilitate a discussion Circle with the students. After 15 minutes and three attempts to get them to come and sit down quietly in Circle, we finally succeeded and were able to begin. They did well listening to each other without interruption or side-comments or total disregard for what was happening for about 10 minutes. Then it slowly began to unravel so I cut to the end and closed the Circle.

I watched how the teacher, who is young and only a few years into her career, handled the constant inattention and commotion. She uses affirmations, encouragements, call & response, all good things to settle them, redirect them, provide positive affirmation to those who are trying to pay attention and learn. I also see that she is stressed. I am surprised that she hasn’t just blown up!

But I also noticed that there did not seem to be an emotional connection between the teacher and the students. It seems on the surface that she is regarded as just another tiresome adult who they have to endure. Across the city at another school with another equally chaotic third grade, I sense a similar attitude.

I’ve sat with a Circle of teachers who have actually cried because they are so stressed and unhappy and finding it impossible to “reach” these children, none-the-less teach them.

So how does someone like Ms. Friesleben inspire an entire staff to so thoroughly love their students that it transforms an entire school? How is their love different? How come they are effective and the classes I’m observing never seem to be out of chaos for more than a few moments at a time?

I believe it begins with us. Do we love ourselves? Do we see the light within us? Are we gentle and compassionate with ourselves, while also holding ourselves accountable to make right any mistakes we’ve made or harm that we have caused? In other words, are we doing our own work so that we are able to receive love, and allow love to flow through us to others? “Love your neighbor (others) as yourself” is a tenet of most spiritual traditions/practices. So, it begs the question, how can we fully and freely love another if we don’t love ourselves? How can our self-defenses not be triggered when we are treated disrespectfully if we have not done this work within us?

And then, can we truly see the divine light within each of our students? Do we look deeply into them and see what they’re not saying? Do we believe in them? I mean, not just cliches we might parrot — but really believe in their inherent worth and goodness, in their potential?

Something else that Ms. Friesleben says:

“There is a level of investment that comes at a cost. Because when you choose to press into that, you do get great outcomes from kids, you do. But [to do that] you also [must] choose to press into the pain. And for some people it’s too much. But it’s worth the cost because the return on your investment is pretty powerful.”

They are worth the cost. So, let’s all take some deep breaths and remember that even as we are surrounded by the air we breathe… we are surrounded by Love. It is the Breath of Life — the breath of the Universe, the breath of the Creator. It’s the type of love that says, I believe in you. It’s the type of love that says you are worthy of love, you are valuable, and you have something important to give to the world.

“No child should feel locked into a box that they can’t fight their way out of. It is our job as grown ups to find the keys and open them up and open the box and say “Fly!” “Breathe!” “Live!” “You will NOT be confined to a box. Not on MY watch!” Mauri Melander Friestleben

WE THE PEOPLE…OF NO ACCOUNT

April 28, 2018

WE ARE THE HOPE LEFT IN THE WORLD

“I had forgotten how much light there is in the world, till you gave it back to me.”   Ursula K. Le Guin,  A Wizard of EarthSea (1968)

My eyes came to a halt on the page. I closed the book upon my finger and sat, with tears trickling down my cheeks, so grateful for those who have brought light and beauty into my life the many times when I have despaired that there is any hope remaining; hope that the world might be whole again; hope that I can make any difference.

“The great and mighty go their way unchecked. All the hope left in the world is in the people of no account.”   Ursula K. Le Guin, The Finder (2001)

I went for a walk. I sat and watched the Spring-thawed creek tumble happily over the boulders and brush, freed at last from Winter’s grip. I have felt like one “of no account”. And in terms of society, I suppose I am. Of no account. I have not done anything spectacular. I am an unpublished writer. I am an unemployed teacher. I am a very quiet activist. I’m a bit of a recluse.

But again and again I have been brought back to this: That simply BEING here in the world matters. And if I am willing to allow the Light that is in me to shine, if I am willing to keep on the journey that allows my heart to be open so that Love and Grace can easily flow, unrestricted, uninhibited into and through me, radiating beyond my physical space into the world… I am nourishing life. If I take deeply to heart that words matter — that there is great power in words — that all things are created through our words — if I consciously and diligently choose words drawn from love and not from fear — I am creating life.

“You can’t hide true power. Not for long. It dies in hiding, unshared.”     Ursula K. Le Guin, The Finder (2001)

I began to scribble in my journal…

“Why do I hide? What Fear drains away the energy to act, to do that which I set out to do? Is my small act of kindness or my words on paper so insignificant that I shouldn’t bother — an insignificant drop of water? How many times over how many decades now have I heard that we are powerful… that we hold the Creator inside? That the power to create worlds lives in the cells of our bodies?

We are not, I am not without power. Love is not powerless against Fear and all that Fear spawns. What is intolerable is that I listen to the Lies and shut down; hide.”

And so I call gently to my Self… come forth again. Just Be, today. Just Be Grace.

And I call gently to you, as well. Just Be, today. Be kind. Be Grace. Be Light.

“Fear lives in the head. And courage lives in the heart. The job is to get from one to the other.”    Louise Penny, The Long Way Home

 

THE MONTH OF DEEP DARKNESS

December 10, 2017

WISHING YOU A KIND AND QUIET DECEMBER…

…She closed her letter with this wish for us. The words jumped off the screen and lodged themselves in my heart which for days had been stressed, angry, afraid, and lost. Really lost.

I have only written two or three blogs this year. A handful of journal entries. Maybe a writing exercise here and there. What writing I did was mostly focused on writing  curriculum, powerpoints and handouts for the classes and workshops I led, working with educators examining Restorative Justice in Education.

The nature of my work calls me to invite, encourage and sometimes challenge educators to engage in self-reflection and to embrace some deep changes of heart and mind. I cannot do this if I am not regularly looking at the issues in my own life that obstruct or waylay my ability to remain in a heart and mind-state of kindness,  compassion and peace. I have to live very present, releasing resistance and fear, and embrace the Courage to live honestly, and to engage in the change that our world so desperately needs.

As the months of 2017 rolled along, everything seemed to get harder. By August, I was dissolving into tears at the slightest provocation. It became more and more difficult to even read the headlines in the news, none the less the articles. Never-the-less I was scheduled to lead three significant workshops in August. One of them was for 40+ school administrators looking at the attitudes and practices of Restorative Justice in Education — why they make sense and have the ability to transform school climate.

But in September I had no contracts. No longer distracted, no longer having to put one foot in front of the other no matter what I felt like, I rapidly unraveled.

I was lost. Angry. So very, very angry. Some days I didn’t even know what I was angry about. I wanted to climb out of my own skin. I found myself envying my dear mother who just turned 90 and probably won’t have to endure this world too much longer. The darkness was so heavy, I could physically feel it squeezing my chest and churning in my stomach.

I said to my husband, “Imagine if someone was incessantly running their nails down a chalkboard and no matter what, the noise won’t stop…that is how I feel inside my skin.”

Some days were better than others.

One day I was driving my mother to her eye doctor appointment. All day I had felt like a hurricane was battering my insides. It was violent, unrelenting, loud and screaming. But on the outside, as always, I was trying to smile and be cordial and do all the right things. It was exhausting.

On my way to pick her up I’d thrown an SOS out to the Universe…and now, as we drove down the road, a Bald Eagle flew over, briefly following my car… then moving on. In the Indian world of Animal Medicine, this is significant. It indicates that our prayers are being carried to the Creator.

And nearly every day since, some help has come including the quiet kindnesses of my husband and a homeopathic remedy called Rescue Remedy for fear and anxiety! (btw, it works!)

But most of all, this lovely closing wish in a brief note:  Wishing you a kind and quiet December.  In the moment that I read it, peace flowed over me, head to toes, and then began to fill me up on the inside.

It is the darkest month of the year. And given the state of the world, and the headlines in the news each day, it feels like the darkness is so deep that whatever light exists is obscured by deep fog. Even so, everywhere I go there are bells jangling and lights and sales and crowds… And I repeat to myself my new mantra:  a KIND and QUIET (i.e. PEACE-FILLED) December).

Slowly, I feel this heaviness lifting. I offer gratitude for the Light and goodness that is shining in the Darkness. I stood by the stream that tumbles down the bluff behind my neighborhood the other day, marveling at how during this monochrome time of year the water gets to do art. The ice forming along the edges and over the rocks; amazing, beautiful art that will be different tomorrow and the day after.  I released my heavy heart and all my worry and fear and rage into the stream and let it be carried away. And the water reminded me that “resistance is indeed, futile”. That the key is allowing the flow of my life, honoring my life.

I didn’t blog this year in part because I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to be able to write what would bring joy, and courage, and strength to my readers. I wanted to write something funny.

I had so little of any of that to offer.

But now, in the darkest month of the year, during the deepest darkness we have known in this country in a very long time, I offer you this little sip of hope; this little sprinkle of joy; this small peace: please create a kind and quiet December. Do what you need to do to make it so. Maybe if we all would be kinder to ourselves, we could be kinder to our partners and to our neighbors and to the tired clerk at the store. Maybe if we took the time we need to just stand quietly under the trees, or next to the frozen stream, or looking out over the city from the hill — the screaming inside the cells of our skin would stop.

No matter what those who currently hold power do to this world, there are people to love. No one can prevent us from practicing kindness, or choosing gratitude and joy. No one except for ourselves. Myself.

Wishing you a kind and quiet December. Wishing you a year filled with kindness. And may Peace fill up the space inside your bones.

 

 

TO MY VALENTINE

A LETTER TO MY SIX-YEAR-OLD GRANDSON

February 7, 2017

Dear Morgan,

I suppose your class is beginning to talk about Valentine’s Day. You’re probably seeing lots of heart decorations and valentine cards and candies in the stores. Some people think the whole idea of having a special day to celebrate love with flowers and cards and candy is ridiculous. Some people think its pretty cool. I always liked Valentine’s Day because my birthday is the day before so my birthday parties were always full of valentines.

But what the heck is this day really about?

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, Emperor Claudius II ruled Rome. He was nicknamed Claudius the Cruel because of the cruel ways he abused his people and for the many wars that he started. Because of him, Rome was fighting so many wars that Emperor Claudius couldn’t find enough soldiers to fight for him. He blamed this on the idea that men were refusing to join his army because they did not want to leave their partners or families. So Claudius decided to make it illegal to get married and have a family. The people were afraid of Claudius, so no one stood up to him.

Except for a Christian priest named Valentine. Valentine was a kind man. He felt great compassion for people who were suffering because of the cruel Emperor. He helped them in any way that he could. One of the things that he did was to secretly perform weddings for people who wanted to be married. Eventually the Emperor found out and had Valentine arrested.

There are many legends about the things that happened while Valentine was in prison. One story says that he healed the blind daughter of the Prison Guard. Emperor Claudius had Valentine killed on February the 14th in the year 273. Because of the stories of how Valentine demonstrated love and compassion despite the cruelty of Claudius, the tradition of “Valentine’s Day” got started. It has evolved through the hundreds of years since he died to what we know today.

I like the story of Valentine. I like that this day is about Hearts. Morgan, did you know that every single person in the world has 2 hearts? There is the one we can see which is the heart that pumps the blood through our body. If that heart stops, our body dies.

But deep inside that heart is another heart–one that doctors cannoheart-of-lightt see with X-rays or surgery. It is made of pure Light–and inside this Heart is our True Self–some people call it our Soul, or our Spirit. It is the part of us that lives forever, even when our body can’t live anymore.

The love we feel and the love and kindness we share with others comes from our second heart, our Heart of Light that lives quietly inside the big one that is pumping our blood. When we talk about “opening our heart” to care about someone, or to forgive someone, or to be kind to someone–it is this Heart of Light inside us that we are opening.

This Heart of Light cannot die, but its light can grow dim. Think about when your Daddy builds a fire in the backyard. If he puts a lot of wood on the fire, the fire gets big and bright, right? If he stops putting wood on the fire, gradually the fire gets smaller and smaller until there are just some glowing coals of burnt wood left.  This is what can happen to our loving Heart of Light. When someone is kind to us, it is like putting a log on the fire. We feel loved and we feel warm inside. The light in our special heart burns brighter.

But, when someone isn’t loved very well the light in their heart can get very small. If someone is bullied and hurt, they might close off this special heart. They are trying to protect themselves from feeling the hurt. If they do this, their special heart can grow hard, like a lump of charcoal. They might become mean and angry, or very depressed and lonely. The love in their Heart of Light will become just a faint glow among the coals.

So what does this have to do with Valentine’s Day? I like to think about all the little valentines we give our friends and family and the special people we love as a way to say, “Hey, I know that you are special! I see the Heart of Light inside you. You are important and valuable. You are loved.” And our message is like a little stick placed in the fire to make it burn a little bigger. Our message makes their Heart of Light shine a little brighter.

This day is a reminder to us to keep our Heart of Light open so that kindness and love can come into us. When our Heart of Light is full of love, we can be kind and loving to others. This special day reminds us to keep filling up each other’s hearts with love. Just like putting wood on the fire. Valentine’s Day reminds us of a man who was willing to be compassionate and kind and to help people, even when a cruel Emperor tried to make it illegal to love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet boy.

Love,

Nonna