Forgiving Is a Process

I love learning about words—their meanings, where they come from, how we use them. But sometimes I wonder if I missed a pivotal week in school where the vocabulary list included words like love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

I’d heard these words held aloft as aspirational signposts since my first Sunday school teacher explained the Golden Rule. I’d even, on more than one occasion, had the experience being described by each of these words.

But the concepts themselves remained abstract and intangible to me most of the time. I knew they were real, but often it felt like I sometimes feel when passing through business class on the way back to coach. Someone else got to sit in love and compassion while I grudgingly wedged myself into acceptance and tolerance, wondering how exactly one gets access to those roomier seats.

Because these words are, well, words… I had assumed they had clear definitions. And if something could be defined, then it could be gift wrapped with a bow and neatly filed on my shelves of understanding, ready to be taken out when needed.

However, when I found myself in need of compassion, I’d take the box off the shelf and it would be empty. I’d think to myself that I know kindness would be useful in this situation, but I seem to be fresh out and don’t know where to get more.

I felt locked within an intellectual fortress, forbidden entry into the garden of good feelings and betrayed by my reliance on reasoning.

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5 Things You May Not Know About Your Breath

breathe_horizontal-AThankfully, we don’t have to think about breathing to make it happen, or most of us would have given up the ghost long ago. But thankfully, too, when we want, we can consciously control our breath to encourage healing in our body.

I recently took a Feldenkrais workshop about the neck. I hoped the gentle, mindful exercises of Feldenkrais would offer some relief from a neck injury that was making life relatively unpleasant.

To my surprise, we spent most of the afternoon doing breathing lessons. Through the focused, deliberate attention and soft, subtle movements, I learned more about the relationship between my lungs and my neck (and just about everywhere else in my body) than I’d learned in my life to date.

Here are 5 gems.

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Step Out of the Personality Pigeonhole

I recently heard myself say to a friend, “I’m just such a Type A.” That was code for “I am a perfectionist,” but even as I said it I questioned the truth of it.

I leave dishes in the sink (sometimes for days), I often put my hair up rather than style it, and I’m more interested in trying new things for work than being a career-driven achiever.

That doesn’t sound very Type A, does it? Is there a Type B? And where did this whole system come from anyway?

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We’re All One Tribe

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The People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014 was significant for many reasons, but for me the most important was its inclusiveness. The causes represented spanned everything from labor rights to veganism to water protection to nuclear disarmament. But underlying all the concerns is a love for our home, our precious planet, that is strong enough to get people off their couches and into the streets.

I have loved nature for as long as I can remember. I spent hours romping through the woods and exploring my dad’s vegetable garden when I was a kid, and our vacations happened in an 6-person Coleman tent that included cots and a 100-pound St. Bernard.

As an adult, I have struggled to find a place where I felt at home in the “environmental movement.” Who is my pack?

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Eat With Your Hands

227050_1987359533718_4482011_n“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
—Plato

Playfulness is one of the things that seem to disappear from life as we grow up. We get pressured to be serious, deliberate, and mature. We tweak and trim our behavior until it fits what we think it means to act like a grown up. We never feel like one, though, and we look around and wonder how everyone else is so grown-up and if we’ll ever feel that way, while they secretly wonder the same thing.

WikiHow, in an article called How to Know When You Are Grown Up (I am not kidding), claims the hallmarks of reaching this mythical grown-up land include seriousness, thinking about the future, focusing on career, keeping the house tidier, using “sir” or “madam” instead of “dude” when addressing someone, and having to wear glasses to read. Oh, and no more “aimless meandering.”

Seriously?

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Masses of Beauty and Horror

Some things are perfect en masse.

In fact, their sheer abundance is what stuns our senses and freezes our minds in a moment of wonder.

Swaths of flowers. A cascade of falling leaves. Herds of animals. Mounds of rolling clouds. Amber waves of grain. When it’s beyond what we can count, or even estimate, we find ourselves suspended in a pocket of stillness, beauty, and potential.

One flower alone may be remarkable, but combine it with thousands of others, and we’re in the presence of something far beyond the sum of the parts.

Our minds attempt to find the patterns, noticing subtle differences in color or shape that create vaguely detectable variations. It may be an ocean of blue flowers, but over there it’s darker, and under the tree it’s brighter, almost purple, but we’re not sure how.

We are humbled.

And sometimes we’re horrified.

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What Do You Say When You Meet a 4,000-Year-Old Tree?

Crowhurst Yew

Crowhurst Yew: Doorway to Stillness

What do you say when you meet a 4,000-year-old tree?

“You don’t look a day over 2,000!” Which, it turns out, might be a more accurate age for the Crowhurst Yew and many of the other gnarled specimens that dot the English countryside. 

A visit to this stunning, understated giant at St. George’s Church in Crowhurst, Surrey, on a rare sunny English day, was like stepping back in time (except for the constant airplane traffic above). 

Sitting at the door of this tree, and stepping into its hollow center with reverence, was an experience in slowing down. It required dialing back the forward momentum of life to just be with this venerable living thing that has been around for, well, a long time. But exactly how long? Four thousand years seems rather long.

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Find Pockets of Stillness

“Wonderful things happen when your mind is empty.” —Maira Kalman

I’d been struggling for many months with what to call this blog. I’d tried out a couple of names that either felt too ambitious or too obscure. I’d even written a handful of posts, but the blog (or maybe I) was suffering from Failure to Launch.

Then, as these things happen, I took a moment to watch this video where Maria Popova, the brain child behind the website Brain Pickings, talks about 7 things she’s learned in 7 years of blogging.

I was so curious about the person—or the force of nature—behind that prolific blog, I was busy marveling and barely paying attention by the time she got to #4.

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