The Discipline of Kindness

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

As we wind down our summer activities and prepare to settle down into fall routines, there can be a kind of "summertime sadness" to it all: the earlier sunsets, the later sunrises, the tinge of coolness on our shoulders. However, the sharper coolness to the air can also be invigorating, giving us just the swooping lift from hot lethargy that we need to get school lists, schedules, meal plans, and fitness routines all put together. And while there's a bit of excitement in the beginnings of something new, inevitably the excitement gives way to familiarity and lack of motivation. 

What do you do when the motivation runs out? When the journey isn't fun anymore? When the new becomes old? 

There are so many wonderful things about such moments. First, they show you who you truly are, and what your priorities are. They are perfect opportunities to pause and remember why you chose to start what you did. Along this exploration, you may realize that what you thought was important to you really isn't, after all, or that your priorities have shifted. You get to realign with your values and priorities! How wonderful is that?! 

These moments of ennui also remind you that you are still on your personal journey. You're not "there" yet. (Hint: you never will be; there is always something to learn and grow into.) You are still expanding, and that is something to celebrate! If your routine does not bring you what you are looking for, and you've made sure it aligns with your values and priorities, perhaps it is offering you a chance to stick with it, to dig down and discipline yourself to hold fast. Discipline is a yogic concept which shows up in the term "tapas." No, not the yummy small plates! "Tapas" means fire, or purification, and is the discipline of sticking with something that's good for us so we can burn away the resistance we have to that goodness. It's part of our transformative journey as a human and as a soul. This tapas, or discipline that purifies, is related to the solar plexus chakra, the Manipura, which means city of shining jewels. You are polishing yourself into a shiny jewel every time you forge ahead. 

Times like this invite you to discover your power. Your power isn't just in concentration, or in motivation, or in how much you get done. Your power is in your ability to show up, day after day--even when it's boring as hell, even when you're sick and tired of it--just to be purified, to be shined and refined. It's not a pretty or an elegant process. It involves sweat and tears and plenty of shunting the mind monkeys aside to show up in spite of. 

Now, I do want to take a moment to note that you are ALREADY a jewel. You can't polish and refine what you don't already have. You are already worthy. You get to decide how you present that worthiness. A rough, uncut jewel is lovely in and of itself. A cut and polished gem is also beautiful. And there are lots of ways to present the jewel between rough and smoothly designed. So no matter how you decide to discipline yourself and show up, you are beautiful and worthy. You don't have to break your back striving to be what you already are. You choose the extent of your reach and sparkle through showing up. Your efforts and choices are not to be compared to that Instagram influencer's. Ok? She is her own gem; you are your own. A turquoise is never going to morph into a diamond. It can't handle that pressure, for starters. Everyone's discipline is going to look and feel a bit different based on their personal jewel and level of purification tolerance. Please remember that. 

Having said that, it's up to you to choose the level of purification--the level of discipline--you can handle at any given season. That's also important. Each season of life, of the year, can offer you different opportunities for you to respond to. Spring might be a true disciplined slog through the mud just to get through the school year's end, with not much left over for other pursuits. Fall might start with a burst of energy that has you doing all the things with not much effort at all. Ebb and flow. But you show up. 

"Together we write the Book of Life, our every encounter determined by fate and our hands joined in the belief that we can make a difference in this world. Everyone contributes a word, a sentence, an image, but in the end it all makes sense: the happiness of one becomes the joy of all."

Paulo Coelho

One thing I invite everyone to consider as a purification of self is the Discipline of Kindness. What is that, you ask? 

The Discipline of Kindness is my take on the Loving Kindness meditation Sharon Salzberg has developed from the Buddhist tradition of Metta Meditation. It essentially slows you down to offer yourself and others love and compassion. Recent studies by the Center for Healthy Minds here at the University of Wisconsin have discovered that practicing this meditation can literally rewire your brain, making you a truly more loving, compassionate, and kind individual. (I recommend the book Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson for the science behind it.)

You have woken up to newscasts over the past weeks, months, understand the need for kindness in the world. I love Coelho's quote above: "the happiness of one becomes the joy of all." It's true. If we are joyful and loving and compassionate, that will rub off onto others. We can change our world one person at a time. Yes, we need a political system re-haul, we need common-sense legislation, we need to address the darkest parts of our history and psyche. But we have to acknowledge that this work, and this kindness, must start within US! We've got to reset our own knee-jerk reactions and biases; to retrain our brains to choose compassion rather than hate; to choose the Middle Way. That's the only way we get traction: if we buckle down with discipline and do the work on ourselves, for ourselves, for our children, for our world.

I challenge you to schedule two 30-minute sessions each week from August 21 to September 21 (at least!) to meditate with this Discipline of Kindness. Allow it to be your centering force, changing your mind about how you respond to yourself and to others. Just observe what happens in a month's time. See where it leads you.

Together, we write the Book of Life. Let's make it a kind, loving, triumphant one! 

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