Since the writing of my last post, my thoughts have turned often towards empathy. And, specifically, how our world seems to be starving for lack of it. It is not that it is gone entirely. But it has become endangered, and more so in certain areas of the globe than others. I live in one of those areas.
In many Scandinavians countries such as Denmark teaching empathy in the classroom has become a normalized part of the curriculum. The results are obvious: less bullying and more compassion. Happier students and teachers. It simply makes sense. Although we consider ourselves a progressive country here in the US, we are often slow to follow progressive-minded methods of educating our children. We are a country founded upon colonialism. I live in a place of stolen land build upon the backbones of slaves. Children are taught to strive to their highest ideals, without too much regard for the child that may be struggling beside them. Here, we still cling to the notion that the more successful you are in life, the happier you will be. Yet, our standard of success is still measured in the highest GPA, the number of goals scored, and the most money earned with the highest educational degree. I know plenty of people who are not happy and can click off all of these boxes.
So what is missing? We can look to places like Denmark, or we can simply look inside and around us. We need not travel across the globe to realize what is lacking. We are a nation of souls starving for love. Not just for ourselves, but for each other. And many of us, I suspect, do not even know how much we hunger for it.
Yesterday, I treated myself to a facial. It was the first one I have had in my 46 and a half years on Earth. Not because I cannot afford it financially, but because I never before allowed myself this gift. Last year, like this year, my husband and children gifted me a certificate for a Spa. Last year, I gave my certificate to my daughter.
I rationalized the reasons why. She was struggling with acne, and I knew how hard that struggle could be for a teen. I told myself I didn’t really need any of the services the spa offered, and if I could gift my daughter with one of them, I would. You might say I responded to my gift, in part, with empathy, but at the cost of the self. Maternal guilt had replaced self-love. I struggle with giving my children what I never had, as many parents do. Perhaps you will understand why when I take you with me to yesterday.
Despite this, I have been working on a personal vow this year. There is a mantra that plays from the muffled speakers inside of my mind. Sometimes it is loud. Sometimes it is soft. Its words are, “I am worthy.”
Yesterday, I entered the doors of the spa alone. For the past year, I had visited several times, with my daughter and/or my son. But never just me. It was my turn, and no guilt followed me inside the room where I was met with the promise of an indulgence that had been gifted to me.
I was nervous at first. I wasn’t sure what to do with the wrap, and got it all wrong. No big deal. It was soon in its rightful place around my shoulders. A pillow was slipped under my knees and I lay back upon a bed that felt like heaven. Blankets nestled around me as an almost hot and moistened towel wrapped my face.
I began to sink into bliss. Soft hands lathered with warmed oils moved rhythmically down the sides of my neck and onto my shoulders where they found my knots of tension, pressing gently into surrender. Although the hands that touched me barely knew me, they felt like love, and I was over-whelmed momentarily with the impulse to weep. I thought of my mother. I thought of my children. I thought of all that my body longed for, and what I never wanted my children to miss. This body that still remembered the last embrace of her mother, years ago. A mother who had pulled tight with a desperation for my love. My body still remembered who she had chosen, long ago, to give her love to. Not to herself, or me, but my stepfather. Long before she decided never to hug me again because she wanted to believe I had written her a hate story instead of a love story. Yet, I was being reminded, in that moment on the massage bed, that I was still worthy of receiving love.
It is not easy to give when we are not used to receiving. And as I lay there on the table, feeling the foreign hands of love, I realized what a gift I had been given. The woman who had been scheduled for my facial held an innate ability to heal and give. Her nature was compassionate and maternal, and I had no doubt she had both an empathic and empathetic soul. She didn’t know my history. She didn’t need to. She simply read my body’s needs.
And as I lay there, receiving, I thought of my children. No wonder, I thought, they both love coming here. Even though they are teens, and no longer run to me for hugs, their bodies still hunger for the touch of love. They need it, as we all do. And sometimes we need an excuse to receive it. With a twinge of remorse mixed with guilt I made a vow to hug each of them more. Adolescent indifference would no longer be an excuse. Their bodies need the regular touch of love. As all bodies do.
When I began to teach yoga to young children, I worried about how to respond to their touches. Children, by nature, are tactile beings. They use touch to figure out the world, and themselves. They also use touch to express love, and I didn’t want to shy away from their expression of it even though I live in a culture that is riddled with fear around touching a child in any way that can be deemed inappropriate. Hugs can be forbidden. Yet, I knew there is more damage that can occur if a child hugs you and you don’t hug her back. They learn through our actions, and I am discovering that I want them to know that they are loved above all else. That it is okay to give me a hug and I will return it with as much love as they gave to me.
It occurred to me this morning, as I was thinking about empathy and children and what the world seems to hunger for, that perhaps I had a new mantra to share. The word “Namaste,” used so often in yoga, is often translated, “I honor the light in you that is also in me.” This phrase is more easily understood by older minds, and I have not quite found the words to replace it. Until today. The simplicity of the solution, I realized, is not just in the replacing of the word “light” with “love,” which is what I have done before, but in the emphasis that this love is ever-present. And that it is for you, and also for me. And so, I think perhaps we will share these words upon greeting and parting:
“I have love in my heart for you and also for me.”