Tag Archives: Personal

Compassion is Still a Practice

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. If I want to change something in my life, I change it regardless of the time of year. That’s why I’m writing this post.

Over the weekend I sifted through some old writing and reread my post on compassion  from May 2015. While I previously committed to practicing compassion to myself and those around me, I’d forgotten the journey I took to get there. I’d forgotten the finer points of the thought process that helped me understand what it means to be a kinder, more compassionate individual. Rereading that blog post reminded me and I’m glad it did.

Reflecting, I think I’m more judgemental than I want to be. While there are definitely  circumstances when passing judgement on another person is appropriate, there are likely many more when it is not. Anything that qualifies as gossip almost certainly falls into the latter category. There are few things we can unequivocally determine about others, yet we are quick to draw conclusions that may be dangerously inaccurate or at the very least, misguided. Those conclusions affect our actions towards others or our thoughts about them, often to the point of never attempting to know or understand them. The mere thought of engagement with someone we have condemned becomes abhorrent and inconceivable. This then leads to a breakdown in social relationships, an unwillingness to step outside of our tight circles, and a refusal to hear or recognize perspectives that might differ from our own. We are uncomfortable admitting that whatever we heard might be more complicated than we initially thought.

This is what happens when we are quick to appraise others, especially those we don’t know. We smile knowingly at those in our confidence and say things like, “I’m in no position to judge but. . . .” We admit to knowing that we don’t have the knowledge or understanding to say what we’re about to say.

And then we say it.

I’m guilty of this, too, which is why I’m writing this post. The next time I catch myself (or you catch me!) beginning such a sentence, I’d like to stop with, “I’m in no position to judge.” And then I’d like to take a moment to think about what I want to say. Maybe there is nothing to say, which should be the end of the conversation. I expect this to be the case rather frequently.

As I wrote nearly two years ago, I believe we need to accept Matthieu Ricard’s explanation of ignorance as “the mental confusion that deforms reality and gives rise to an array of mental obstructions such as hatred, compulsive desire, jealousy, and pride”. We need to accept that ignorance causes suffering and suffering causes harm. From there, we have to accept that people who do harmful things are suffering in some way due to ignorance, due to mental confusion. When we approach others and their actions already knowing that the actions are a mere glimmer of what might be happening internally, it far easier to approach other people mindfully, thoughtfully, and compassionately. It is far easier to extend a hand in love, kindness, and generosity to help them return to a place where the inner confusion and turmoil do not take such a hold.

This way of seeing others, truly seeing and not just looking at or looking past, paves the way for dialogue and understanding, essential aspects of building a better and more peaceful world. Though I firmly believe this, I’ve been negligent in my practice of compassion because I often find it challenging. I tend to feel emotion very intensely and can be uncomfortably reactive in my thoughts, though that’s now much rarer in my actions and behavior. I’m much better at keeping the thoughts to myself than I used to be but I’d like to grow stronger at tamping down the thoughts as they begin rather than letting them flare until they burn out.

Compassion is a practice. It is ongoing. It can hurt, it can heal, and it will wax and wane as we work at it. But it will ultimately get easier and hopefully become a deliberate habit. I have a renewed understanding of this. Practicing compassion is necessary if we are to create a better, more peaceful world. Simple as that.

If I believed in New Year’s resolutions, I might put this one aside for next year. I might brush it off as something to do someday but not quite today. But I don’t, which is why I’m writing about it tonight. Life is about getting better daily and this is one way I’m trying to do it beginning right now.

Love people. Cook them tasty food.

Today was the kind of day that I describe as quiet but very, very loud. Quiet because I didn’t venture more than a few kilometers from home and loud because my thoughts have been racing. There aren’t many days like these.

It’s the end of the calendar year, which means that nearly every conversation I’ve had over the last few days has led inevitably to a discussion of who’s staying or going at work. Who has resigned their contracts, who has decided to move on at the end of the school year, who’s attending which job fair, who has signed up with which recruitment agency. Who’s moving on, adventuring elsewhere, pursuing different dreams.

Even though they’re commonplace and repetitive, these conversations leave me very sad because saying goodbye is hard, and it doesn’t help to think that it’s six months away.

I went for a run today in the rain – on purpose. I figured that if I was going to cry, I might as well do it when the sky was crying, too. But I ended up laughing because I was squinting to see, jumping to avoid puddles, and absolutely soaked about two minutes in. And while laughing, I realized that I had a choice.

I could be sad because people were leaving, or I could be happy for the times we’ve spent together, the ways we’ve known each other, the laughter and ideas and conversations that we’ve shared.

And I realized it was okay to feel sad, but that the sadness would never be stronger than the joy I have felt around the friends that I’ll be sending down new roads when the time comes. Basking in that joy is what allows me to feel sadness and that’s okay, too.

My mum has a dishtowel that aptly sums up my philosophy towards the people in my life. “Love people,” it says. “Cook them tasty food.”

I’m bringing gingersnaps to work tomorrow.

Dance Class

I grew up dancing. I started in dance classes when I was three, competed for a few years in elementary school (think: sequins, makeup, anxious mothers fluttering around), taught dance in high school, joined a dance troupe the first or second week of college, took a ballroom dance class for credit. In addition to ballroom, I’ve danced ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip hop, and modern.

And then I stopped.

I guess other things took priority. At first I was a new teacher and grad student, and then I started spending a lot more time running or working out at the gym. I started doing yoga instead of dance because I could follow videos on YouTube and it seemed like less of a commitment when I was trying to write a thesis.

And then dance just melted away. It became this thing I had loved and had done – past tense. As years passed, apprehension and ego took over each time I thought about trying again. What if I’d forgotten everything? What if my feet slipped out from under me? What if my legs got twisted around and I turned the wrong way? What if, oh gosh, what if I was bad?

This was a concern because I used to be good, good at tap in particular. What if that was no longer the case?

But I knew that I missed it. I’d taken my dance bag with me to multiple countries and let it sit in the back of the closet, a not-so-gentle reminder of a love I’d let lapse.

Back in September, I took a step towards a new thing by starting meditation through a program at school and I learned, actually learned, what I tell my students all the time: It’s okay to be inexperienced. It’s okay to ask for clarification or advice or express uncertainty. Meditation reminded me that we all start somewhere and that it’s okay to start over.

So just last night, I took my first tap class since college. I will admit that I was nervous. I slept fitfully the night before and woke up early with a hint of anxiety just under my sternum, which is usually where I find anxiety when I (mindfully – thank you, meditation) probe for and analyze it.

But when I walked out of class, I felt like I was flying. I’d forgotten a lot but there were more steps that started to come back to me. I’d forgotten to keep my knees bent and toes pointed outwards. I’d forgotten when to shift my weight to the opposite foot and I did get twisted around a few times. But I remembered the three distinct sounds of a riff and how to spot a turn (on my right side, at least). I remembered flaps, shuffles, cramp rolls, and the ball changes that go along with them (at slower speeds, anyway).

I’d forgotten that dance is why I never used to paint my toenails and that it consistently leaves me with a high beyond anything running usually accomplishes. I’d forgotten that I used leave class laughing, testing out steps on the sidewalk, silently chanting the rhythms we’d been practicing. I’d forgotten why dance had been a priority for so long and I’m still not sure how I lost it.

I could not be happier to find it again.

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