As we approach the end of the calendar year, it’s easy to review the past twelve months – to wonder how we’ve done, ponder the choices we’ve made, to asses the progress – or lack of it – and to hold our lives up for reflection.
If there’s something I wish for you, for me, and for all of us, it is that as we do this, we hold ourselves in kindness.
What might we find if we see ourselves through a lens of dignity, compassion, or respect?
Sometimes it’s our friends and loved ones who provide this softer lens. Sometimes it’s a beloved pet, or a sunset.
Sometimes it’s a moment of beauty or kindness from another that cracks your heart open, and rearranges your way of seeing.
A saying that has long guided us at Growing Humankindness is a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
I first learned these words – and a new way of seeing – from my beloved mentor, developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld.
He is the one that gave me softer eyes, a way of understanding and making sense of my many years of eating disorders.
It is he who first left me stunned, and later weeping, as a realization came into my being: “I couldn’t have prevented my eating disorders if I’d tried.”
He softened the shame I carried about not being able to ‘cope better.’ Since that time, there have been many others who’ve helped me, and who continue to soften that shame – including you, and your stories.
This is how we help care for one another: we lend each other our eyes, and our hearts, when we feel blinded by our mistakes.
For the past year, I’ve had a quote from Buddhist teacher Stephen Levine on my bathroom mirror: “When we can’t protect ourselves any more, only mercy remains.”
I thought that if I just ‘figured life out,’ and tried really really hard, I could protect myself – and others – from harm and pain.
In learning self compassion, I’ve come to see that my safety cannot rest in my trying – no matter how well intentioned – or any sense of my own or others’ ‘getting it right.’
Safety rests in the mercy that holds us when all our protections fail.
This mercy, this home, is what we all long for.
As you enter into your holidays this week, no matter what they may be – Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwaanza, and more – may your eyes be opened, may they be softened in how you see yourself, and others.
May you feel the presence of the mercy that holds you.
I will close this little note with a poem from my friend Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer – a beautiful invitation to soften how we see.
Twenty Years Ago, Ten Years Ago, Last Week
If I could go back in time
and offer advice to my younger self,
I would let her fail all over again.
I’d let her falter. I’d let her lose.
I’d let her stumble
and struggle and bomb.
But I would lean in close
and let her know
I am deeply in love with her.
It’s so easy now to give her this,
this self-compassion in full bloom,
this thing she believed