Empathy, and what a facial taught me about “I have love in my heart for you and also for me.”

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

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.”

 

 

Finding the Beloved as the Wheel Turns, with Some Resistance, into Fall #LettingGo #healing

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The air is thick with the dying breath of summer. It is holding on before its final surrender. For several weeks, it seemed as though fall had arrived early. Heralding its victory over the fiery season by banishing the heat in mid August. Today, though, it has made a retreat. Or has it asked summer for one final chance to play the game, knowing that it will soon be declared the victor, once again?

This inevitable dance of the elements cycles with the ever-turning wheel of life. Our bodies spin with the seasons, and we can resist or we can give way to the spiral journey. I am not sure I could live comfortably without the outer world mirroring the inner. My body is used to the seasons. I was birthed in the element of earth, but water is where I find home. Winter always calls me back to the inner, but before it does, I must heed the gifts of the seasons that come before it.

Summer’s abundance can overwhelm those that are comfortable in stillness, yet it can also spur us into action. The embers of stagnation are stirred back to life as new growth moves its tendrils into the light. The kinetic energy is fired up and things get done. This summer, I passed the days carting teenagers around, teaching a couple of yoga classes, and working on our home and gardens. I made eleven photo albums. Memories of every family trip we’ve taken outside of New Hampshire are now nestled into the shelves in our living room. I also painted. And sanded. Ten doorframes and six doors that were once stained a deep brown are now brightly donning one layer of primer and two of paint. There is a palpable shift in the energy of our home. And in me. Darkness has moved out of the comfort of shadows.

My birthday arrives in the final weeks of summer, at the time when school starts up again and there is the return of routine. I don’t actually like my birthday. It’s not the getting older that draws reluctance and melancholy, but rather the memory of rejection. Each year, at this time, I am reminded of my yearning to be beloved.

I felt the pull of fall early this year, around the same time its breath of victory filled the air outside. Before my birthday, I dreamt of levitation. The weightless freedom of no gravity. I lifted my body with ease off the ground, and brought others up with me. One by one, I felt their weight before I urged its release. “See,” I told them, “how easy it is to let go.” Earths, by nature, care for others more than their selves.

When my birthday came and went, I realized I had not let go fully of the weight that would be free.  I recalled the frog from the same dream, and how it had clung to my skirt like a parasite. Transformation is often sticky. We must remove the glue from the habits that hold us down before we can lift those wings into a new realm of living. We must understand that only we can choose the release. That we must die to the old to give way to freedom.

The pictures I have from my birthday don’t reflect the day after. The mourning that came after the heavy weight had settled back in. They don’t reflect the struggle with rage and grief as the old pattern tore free in a messy release.

We like to see the beauty of fall, forgetting it is also ugly. Summer’s flames burn the leaves into brilliance before they curl into brittle shades of brown. The last of the ripened fruit that is not consumed for nourishment and more growth, turns mottled and moldy as it slowly decays back into the ground.

The return to Earth to be re-birthed requires a decay. The transformation of what once was must give way to what will be. The seed that comes forth from the decayed body of the fruit does not see the light that it reaches for. It simply trusts that it is there. It knows that one day, as it is feeding and growing, it will break through the darkness to feel it.

Yesterday, I had a woman I barely know over for tea. During our conversation, she told me that when she looked at me she could see the beauty of the work I have done to heal. So I told her about my birthday. Not to refute her, but to show her that I am not done yet. That perhaps I never will be, at least in this life. This is, after all, why each of us are here. To walk the wheel in the spiral inward, back to the light that we are. We might walk it in spurts. We might linger long in the shadows, but the wheel, like the seasons, will keep urging us to turn into the return.

My new friend also told me she could tell that I loved myself, a reflection of this inner work.  It is not easy, always, to be our own beloved. To truly love the dark and the light. It is, though, necessary. We can search endlessly for our ideal of the beloved outside of us, and to hope to be beloved by another, but the one true, complete beloved, must always come from within.