Here is this holiday week, and in this holiday month, I’m glad for this quiet in the middle of the day to spend some time writing to you.
Whew – who among us would’ve imagined, as the year began, that we’d find ourselves in this place here at the end of 2020?
For many of you, I know it’s been a season of loss, or change, or transition. There has been loneliness and boredom, uncertainty and challenge, financial hardship and loss, and illness and death, whether of your own self, or of loved ones.
And there have also been miracles of community and connection, the grace of slowness and slowing down, and stories of healing and hope.
As one of my teachers reminds me, “Love is available, here, too.” Oh yes, the sacred mix!
Self compassion in the midst of a pandemic
I’ve heard from so many of you that the stress and isolation of the pandemic has created more anxiety in your body and nervous system. This anxiety and agitation can lead to more overeating, binge Netflix watching, or other self soothing behaviors.
Ah, this can be so frustrating, especially as many of our normal routines and places of connection with others – the places where we’d naturally get support – have been disrupted.
We miss the hugs of our friends, the visits with dear ones, our yoga classes or gyms, our schools and places of spirit.
In my own body, I feel a thrumming ache, like a low grade fever – the sadness and frustration of being apart from friends and dear ones for so many months. Normally at this time of year, I’d be visiting my large, loud Italian Polish family in Ohio. But this year, each branch of the family tree is in their own home.
This year we connect through mail and phone and zoom.
Free course: How to be Self-Compassionate During a Pandemic
I’d love to pass along three things that can help.
My friend Andrea Hollingsworth has a new free course, How to be Self-Compassionate During a Pandemic, that offers gentle support and care to help you connect with your wisest, bravest, most compassionate self during an extraordinary time.
Andrea’s work is a beautiful mix of neuroscience, mindfulness, spirituality and soul – I think you’ll enjoy this kindred spirit.
‘Persistent gentleness and gentle persistence’
I’m also daily reminding myself of the mantra that my dear friend Catharine Clarenbach taught me: to practice ‘persistent gentleness and gentle persistence.’
You can read Catharine’s words on being gentle with ourselves here.
Bless you, Andrea and Catharine, for your sacred work.
Bringing healing to the ‘places that scare us’ – where we think we’re falling short
Lastly, I want to re-share this blog post on the mercy that lies within our compulsions.
For so many of us, our places of compulsion – like overeating – are hotbeds of shame, criticism, and disconnection.
It’s the place where we think we ‘should know better,’ where we think we got on the wrong bus, like a wrong turn that sent us on a painful detour.
It’s the place where we criticize or shame ourselves for the ways we ‘fall short’ to the ideal in our minds.
And it’s the place that we most want to hide.
The place of ‘falling short’ is where the light comes through
But what if these places of separation – the very place where we think we’re falling short – is the place where the light is coming in? The cradle of new life?
The very place where love sings sweetly to us, where something new is being born?
I see this miracle of birth over and over in our groups and courses – when we face our painful sugar habits, and when we turn and face our pain, offering it warmth and care, something new is born.
For what we thought was underneath compulsive eating is not the truth.
Touching our deeper story
We do not find confirmation for our fears: that we are lazy, or hateful, or shameful, too much or not enough.
We find that there is something tender underneath the food, some part of us that feels small and isolated, little and overwhelmed. This isolated part of ourselves needs compassion and support.
And so we bend our knee to this isolated one.
From this bed of understanding, curiosity and warm, deepened attention, new actions are born. We offer ourselves the compassion and support that enables us to respond differently and embody our inner wisdom.
What is born when we face our fears
We may find that we need gentle structure, “a meal with a beginning, middle and end” as Colette Baron Reid suggests.
Or we find that we need support in the afternoons, when the day begins to unwind and when food calls for comfort.
Or we find that holidays trigger wounds of belonging, and so need extra care, regular routines, and emotional support.
And bit by bit, we learn and adapt to give ourselves the support we’re needing, to grow a new response that doesn’t lean on our compulsive habits.
The mercy that cradles you
Underneath your sugar story, and underneath everyone’s sugar story – and underneath all our stories of disconnection and separation – there is mercy.
As I close this holiday letter to you, I offer these words of mercy from Buddhist poet and teacher Stephen Levine. The words are from his poem, ‘There is an Elemental Love,’ from his book Breaking the Drought.
May all the places in you that feel separate or shame come home, and find welcome, and rest.
May you feel the warmth of connection and love surrounding you, and may you have nourishment and care, gentleness and joy.
There is a music so sweet it is almost unbearable
that is composed between the ear
and the heart which reminds us.
There is a part of us that
says it is never too late to be reborn
on the inbreath each morning.
Somewhere there is a basket
that contains all our failures.
It is a big basket. It wants to know
what to do with these.
Mercy has no use for them.
– Stephen Levine
To the birth that is unfolding in you, and the mercy that cradles your being, and the gift that you are,