Archive | compassion

In Favor of Belly Liberation

In the MBA program I attended in Israel, I had a brilliant, funny, and really hot Strategic Games professor. One day in class he asked us the following questions:

“How many of you suck in your stomachs while wearing a bathing suit?”
The response: Lots of titters, red faces, one hesitant hand (not mine, of course).

“How many of you suck in your stomach while wearing shorts?”
A few nodding heads, some hands (not mine, of course).

“Do any of you suck in your stomach while wearing a coat?”
Full-out laughter. Most everyone shaking their heads.

“Does anyone suck in his or her stomach all the time?”
Lots of uncomfortable shifting in the chairs.

Our world is a flat, six-pack-stomached world. In our dreams, of course. It is a world in which tanned, six-feet tall women with concave bellies weigh a mere one-hundred-and-twenty pounds and jog on the beach in skimpy bikinis, hand in hand with even more tanned, six-pack-stomached, six-foot-seven tall men. On television commercials, at least. If we want to fit in with this make-believe world, we need — a diet? or, quite plain and simple, to suck in our tummies.

For one moment, close your eyes and imagine a world of people sucking in their tummies. Imagine the constriction, the pressure, as we refuse to let those bellies have some air. Imagine the mark left by button on skin made by wearing too-tight jeans. Ask yourself, just for this moment, what would happen if we allowed ourselves to breathe into our bellies, to expand them and make room for all our fabulous inner organs? The belly is the very center of our being. What would happen if we let it just be the way it was born to be?

Frans and Bronwen Stiene, authors of The Japanearch bellyse Art of Reiki, often mention a point three inches below the navel. This point is called Hara in Japanese and literally means belly. The Stienes refer to it as the Earth Center. This is what the Stienes write about the Hara in one of the articles on their website: “Energy is stored at this point from where it expands throughout the whole body. This is the energy you are born with, the energy that is the essence of your life and gives you your life’s purpose and stamina. It is not just the energy that you receive from your parents when you are conceived but most importantly it is the energetic connection between you and universal energy.” Yet most of us constrict that energy all day long by sucking in our bellies.

I am self conscious about my belly. I’ve written about it before. I wish I had that concave belly without stretch marks. But this is the belly I was born with, the belly that shows the marks of my children’s births as well. It is my belly, and I do so wish I could be proud of it, that I could breathe into it to my heart’s content without thinking how many months pregnant it makes me look. I wish that instead of worrying about fitting in with absurd social norms, I would only breathe in and out with the energy of the world.

There are so many wonderful round things in our world: the sun, the earth, an orange, a pregnant belly, a bowling ball. Perhaps it is time for the round revolution, from concave to convex. A belly liberation. The freedom to inhabit our bodies in every shape and form.

2

Gift of Love

In elementary school, I was a social outcast. I was not alone, of course. I was the bespectacled, nose-dripping outcast, but there were also the fat outcast, the too-tall outcast, the too-short outcast, and a boy and a girl who were outcasts apparently only because of their race. My class was extremely hierarchical, with three class queens and three kings, and we stayed the same group for five years, with the same kings and queens and the same outcasts.

A few days ago I was listening to Tara Brach’s True Refuge. The author was telling the story of Amy, who had a difficult childhood with a mother who neglected and rejected her. In her sessions with Tara, Amy managed to experience the anger which she had kept in check for years and to express the fears beneath: of never finding love, of not being worthy of love, of being alone in the world. Tara called it experiencing soul sadness.

In that moment, for a split second, I saw myself as a bleeding, mucusy, open wound, a whole-body sore. And I realized: This is how I walk around. This is what I am hiding. In my mind’s eye, I instantly knew when it started. Elementary school.

We switched seats that day, and the teacher partnered me with Matat, one of the class queens. In front of the class, Matat said: “I don’t want to sit next to her.”  But the teacher insisted, and as Matat slid into the seat next to mine, she whispered: “Stop sneezing and wiping your nose like that.”

Other than that split-second knowledge that I was a trembling, bleeding, mucusy, open wound, I had not been able to feel any emotion about this event. It was as though I had no feelings about it at all. I knew I needed to heal the wounded body and clear the hurt from my heart by forgiving Matat, but I could feel no real hurt and no compassion for her, and without any emotions, I didn’t know if it was possible to forgive at all.

I decided to try a forgiveness meditation (also from Tara Brach’s book). I settled myself into my cushion and slipped into my body thirty years ago: thick glasses covering half of my face, light brown hair twisted into two long but messy braids, a drippy, red nose, and a skinny body. And there was Matat, refusing to sit next to me, and a heaviness choked my throat.

All I wanted was to be loved, to be appreciated. Scooting down in the chair, I held the sneezes back and tried hard not to wipe my nose before absolutely necessary. There was no room for me to exist. I could feel the weight on my back (ah, said a voice in my grown-up head, that’s when you became a turtle), in my throat, in my heart.

Holding that little girl with compassion, sending her love, I began to murmur a lovingkindness meditation. May you be happy, may you be well, may you be filled with lovingkindness and joy. Then, realizing turtlethat she is me, I started anew: may I be happy, may I be well; may I be filled with compassion for myself and others.

Matat means gift in Hebrew. As I went through the meditation, I realized that by forgiving her, I am giving myself a gift. A gift of love.

I hug to my heart the wounded little girl I was thirty years ago and begin to let go of rejection and shame. As space clears in my heart, and I allow myself to expand into it, healing all hurt. I hold myself as a child and whisper: I am here; I love you; I appreciate your wisdom and originality, your quirky sense of humor, the doodles on your notebook, and the used tissues thrown about everywhere.

Then, I am ready:

I feel the harm that has been caused, Matat, and to the extent that I am able, I forgive you.

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The Egotistic, Egomanic, Egophobic Ego

Lately, I’ve been contemplating my relationship with my ego. “You must work to minimize your ego,” one of my teachers told me. I interpreted his words to mean that I think too much of how I look to others. My overlarge, overactive ego was preventing me from doing anything that might make me look ridiculous or foolish. I realized that the size of my ego was keeping me from trying new things and having fun. I saw myself like a huge hot air balloon that must pop in order for me to become who I really am.

I watched other people, who were able to be ridiculous, tell jokes, make faces, fool around, and decided they did not have an ego. How freeing, not to have an ego! How I wished I could get rid of mine.

I tried to pay attention to when my ego was speaking to me, to recognize its evil, hampering voice. But the more I pushed my ego away, the more present it became. I pushed, and it pushed back at me.

Here is something I learned in the last few years: Pushing does not work. Resistance is futile. The only force strong enough to wreak change is love. But could this be true? Could the only way to minimize the ego turn out to be love? And if I love my ego, would I still want it to go away?
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Tara Brach, in her book True Refuge, tells a story about the metamorphosing power of love: The Buddha’s disciples once went on retreat to a forest that was haunted with tree spirits. The tree spirits, angry that their home was invaded, taunted the monks with terrifying visions and finally scared them away. The monks returned to the Buddha, but to their surprise, he told them they must return to the forest. Before sending them back, he gave them a powerful tool for their protection: a lovingkindness meditation. The monks returned to the forest, armed with goodwill and love, and soon their love penetrated every nook and cranny of the forest, turning the angry spirits into kind and loving ones.

But how do I give love to the egotistic, egomanic ego? I started to notice the wonderful things the ego does for me. Not only is it always on guard, protecting me from looking like an idiot, but it also has, of everyone around me, the highest opinion of my self worth. My ego, quite literally, adores me!

Perhaps not surprisingly, googling “How to love my ego” brings about 43 million results. I guess I’m not the only one with this question. Some are titled “Kill Your Ego,” or, “Don’t Let Your Ego Interfere With Your Relationship.” But others speak about accepting all aspects of ourselves, whether we like them or not, or about how loving our ego teaches us to love our whole being. They remind us that fearing the ego — the egophobic ego — comes from the ego itself.

I wonder if we could change our perspective of this vulnerable, child-like aspect of ourselves. Instead of saying selfishness, we could say: Self Worth. Instead of saying self centeredness, say: Self Care. Instead of squashing the ego, we could love it. We don’t have to follow its advice, but listening to it is free, freeing and fulfilling, allowing for a surer step on our path.

2

The Shoemaker’s Shoes

shoesWe have a saying in Israel: “The shoemaker goes barefoot.” As a child, I found this saying curious. Why, I wondered, does the shoemaker go barefoot? Does he (let’s assume for a moment he is a man) have no time to make himself shoes? Or perhaps not enough materials? Or is he so poor that he cannot afford to have even the barest pair of shoes? I imagined the shoemaker in his dark den, bent over chicken-skin shoes with cardboard soles, his feet bare and curled beneath him. He could never leave his den — I knew this with certainty — because where would he go without shoes?

The shoeless shoemaker comes to remind us to use our expertise on ourselves, to care for ourselves. Think, for example, how easy it is to see solutions for our friends’ problems, but not so easy when those problems are our own! How much easier to point out their faults and the way they could fix them, but not so easy when it is we who have to do the fixing.

When I was divorced eight years ago, a friend told me that I needed to spend an hour each day doing something for myself. A joke, surely. With a two-year old and a five-year old, no mother in the world has time to do something for herself for five minutes! The seed, however, was received into the fertile earth of my mind. I began to notice how much I was neglecting myself. I was a barefoot shoemaker giving a lot of love to the children and none to myself.

I realized, over time, not only that my energy reserves were gone, but that I had no tools for refilling them. Slowly I began to build a plan for making myself shoes — fur-lined (faux, of course) and with a sturdy sole that would mold to my foot. Here are some of my favorite shoemaking tools:

  1. Giving myself a hug. It might feel weird at the beginning, but hey, the kids love my hugs, so why could not I enjoy my hug abundance as well?
  2. Waking up early in the morning, before the kids get up, and making myself a sumptuous breakfast and eating it while reading a romance.
  3. Giving myself Reiki and the self-care Maya abdominal massage.
  4. Taking fifteen minutes in the middle of the day to nap or to lie on the sofa and read.
  5. Watering my plants outside (my mother always says that watering the plants is a great way to cheer yourself up).
  6. Taking a bath (I like to put epsom salts in it and bring along my book and a glass of water).
  7. Cleaning the chickens coop (watching those peaceful being as they peck calmly around their pen just makes me happy).
  8. Getting a manicure-pedicure — how fun is that! Or a massage.
  9. Having a cup of tea, especially with milk (I take almond milk, but still).
  10.  Getting together with a friend. Even lone wolves like me need some social time.

Mostly, I try to notice when I make myself shoes or are given shoes by others. Sometimes those are flip-flops, like a peck on the cheek from my daughter before she disappears in her room, or the excitement of the dogs when I come home. Sometimes those are excellent, sturdy, long-lasting shoes, as when I go on vacation to Hawaii or Yosemite or backpacking in the woods. I use that love, those shoes, to fill up my reserves. To love and to cherish, we say in the wedding ceremony, and I think perhaps cherishing the love is what “a shoemaker with shoes” really means.

What tools do you use to give yourself love?

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Messing Up

Lately, I’ve been trying to encourage my kids to mess up. “Messing up is the best thing you can do, and making mistakes is the only way to learn,” I preached to Eden who cried after forgetting to do her homework. She threw me a deservedly suspicious look. My sermon was another example of the famous “Do as I say, not as I do.” “Be quiet, Ima,” the child said. Perhaps the wisest words heard that day.

How I wish to be always perfect, patient, polite, empathic, wise, thoughtful and kind. Never yell at the kids, never make a mistake, always treat other human beings with patience and respect. How I wish each of my actions and words came from the heart, out of love and compassion and trust.

The perfect imperfection of nature

Why is it so much easier to be kinder to another person than to myself? I look at Eden’s forgetfulness of her homework and see it as a path to growth, a lucky break from which she can learn so much. But when I make a mistake, especially if it is about the kids or my writing, it is an earth-shattering disaster, a trauma unlikely ever to be healed, a case for putting more money in my savings jar for the psychiatrist, the horrible, terrible end.

In The Willpower Instinct, Dr. Kelly McGonigal writes about research that shows that people are less likely to repeat their mistakes if they are treated with compassion. Subjects of an experiment who were told not to worry about their candy consumption, because everyone sometimes eats too much, ate fewer pieces than their counterparts who were not given the reassuring message. It takes so little, it seems, to make us feel happier, loved and secure. It takes so little, just a few words, to make us remember to cling to our higher self’s dreams and goals.

But how to change habits of a lifetime? I am so used to dance to my inner Critic’s music that I can barely hear any tune other than his. Even trying to talk to the Critic seems to fail. A long list of grievances spews from his lips, and as I listen to him, I find myself questioning myself: Could he be right? Am I really like this?

“If I don’t push you, you will never do anything,” the Critic says. And it seems to me to be true. And yet I wonder: what if he could learn to push with compassion? What if instead of criticisms, he could provide gentle, empathic reminders? Seems to me my Critic and I have a lot in common. We both of us wish to be more patient and kind. Perhaps, if I could forgive him his messes, he could forgive me mine? Perhaps if we joined hands, something, finally, can be done?

To all of this joins another desire: to be an example to my children. To be able to say, “Do as I do.” I would love for them to grow up criticism-free. And perhaps, with that, as with everything else, I need to remember: don’t worry, everyone messes up. It’s the best learning way.

Hungry? Finish Your Cake

As a child, I was a very picky eater, and like a lot of children who leave most of their food on their plate, I too heard about the children starving in Africa. It made me feel quite bad. I imbibed the idea that my troubles were very small compared to those of other children who lived in less privileged parts of the world. I grew ashamed whenever I was struggling with a hard time. Suffering, indulging in suffering, was wrong, because what do I, a girl living in abundance, safety and freedom, have to complain about?

For years, I didn’t believe my own pain from depression. Divorce? Piece of cake. It’s not like I was starving. The flu? Other people are dying, untreated, of lesser illnesses even as we speak. I miss the kids? How dare I miss them when other children, even younger, are dead.

Some of my friends posted yesterday a link to a video in which people from third world countries read first world country problems: “I hate it when I forget my charger downstairs, when my house is so big I need two wireless routers, when my leather seats are not heated, when I leave the clothes in the washer so long they start to smell.” A blurb reminds us that “things that irritate us would be part of fantasy lives for people in third world countries.”

Listening to the video, I wondered, do its producers really believe that these are first world countries? Here in the United States, many are indeed fortunate. We have clean water, indoor heating, cars for every adult, public education, and abundant food. We also sometimes complain about forgetting our phone chargers downstairs. And we probably would, most of us, feel ashamed to mention any problems after listening to this video. But that doesn’t mean that our problems are any less difficult to bear.

Bipolar disorders, depression, divorces, suicide, illnesses, crime, car accidents, terrorism, losing a parent or a child, natural disasters, stress from work, we suffer from these and many more. And we could be allowed to suffer from our problems without being reminded that others in others countries are less fortunate than us. Would we tell someone whose wife died in a car accident that she was lucky to to even have a car?

I have an indoor sink!

I and many people around me (including those friends who posted that video) try to assist and give of our abundance almost every day to those in need, to those less fortunate than us, to those whose suffering is almost incomprehensible to us because we are looking at them from our position of privilege and plenty. Giving of our abundance is a wonderful feeling, to us and to those who receive of it. Let us not grow ashamed either of what we have or of what we lack, because it is our common pain and suffering that allows us to grow compassionate with the pain of the other.

Next time you leave your charger downstairs, go ahead and complain. My heart is with you. It is big enough to feel the annoyance (and sometimes much more than annoyance) of having to walk back down the stairs. My heart is big enough to feel for you and for the child with her stomach bloated with hunger. So fear not. As far as I am concerned, you’re free to feel pain.

If you want more:
Link to the First World Country Problems video

If this blog post is making your feel charitable today or any day:
Link to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation, one of the charities I’ve been giving money to since Uri fell in love with gorillas at age 2.
Link to Bay Area Wilderness Training, a non-profit that is involved with getting less privileged kids outdoors. I believe that reconnecting to nature is our best path to world peace. I’ve been involved with this organization since 2006.

The DUFF

I remember myself, in my first few months in the Israeli army, telling myself I was different from the other girls. My parents lived in California. I didn’t finished high school in Israel. I didn’t like the same music or movies as them. Once I told myself this story, I documented and verified it with every available clue, and finally it became the Truth. Looking back with a wisdom acquired over twenty years of feeling different, I know this was a story I told myself and not a truth. Perhaps back at nineteen it was easier for me to make myself different — to reject myself before I risked rejection from the other girls.

I therefore tend to identify with characters who feel like they do not belong, such as Bianca, the protagonist in Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF. I enjoyed reading the novel with its romance, sex, conflict and high drama. But I think what most gripped me is that it made me think. I love it when a book does that!

For those of us who are clueless (like I was), DUFF is acronym for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” Bianca is told she is the Duff by Wesley, who she herself has pigeonholed as a male slut. Starting with these stereotypes, Keplinger then proceeds to shatter whatever beliefs Bianca holds about herself, her parents, her friends, and of course Wesley, because stereotypes, after all, rarely describe who we really are.

So is Bianca the Duff because she is not blond and has non-existent breasts? or is her friend Casey the Duff because she is as tall as a giraffe? or is her other friend Jessica the Duff because of her airy, flaky personality? And who decides who the Duff is, anyways? Wesley calls Bianca the Duff, but it is Bianca who identifies herself with the word and makes it her own cross to bear. Only toward the end of the novel, when she confesses the word to Jessica and Casey, does she discover that each of them believes it refers better to herself.

Bianca learns compassion in the novel, and most of all, she learns compassion for herself. She understands the common humanity she shares with everyone else: “I should be proud to be the Duff. Proud to have great friends who, in their mind, were my Duffs.”

I have to admit, at the beginning of the novel, before I got to know Jessica and Casey, I resented them. I liked Bianca, and I didn’t want her to be the Duff. I thought she was the Duff because they made her so, that they hang out with her because she made them look better. So I loved this twist! I loved how their friendship truly came from the heart, from the places where they each most felt vulnerable. I agree with Bianca when she accepts Wesley’s assertion that he is not the Duff, telling him flatly: “That’s because you don’t have friends.”

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109