I was sitting with someone a couple of days ago.
Someone who has been to hell and back over the last years as she simultaneously faced into intense early trauma, and lost more and more physical capacity and emotional functionality; bedbound, terrified, in a lot of pain, struggling with the benefits system and in need of help for her most basic needs. She found herself becoming as vulnerable and dependent as a very young child, which catapulted her into that time in her life where there was abuse, neglect and utter powerlessness.
I have ‘worked’ with her on and off over all those years. And by that I mean I have sat with her, either in person, or most often on the other end of the phone, or on skype. I have listened to her, or just been in silence with her, and occasionally given what guidance I could to her – to help her to feel the support of a deeper presence. To know that she could be accompanied with kindness and a support which didn’t need to fix her or change her in any way.
So we sat together this week, and I felt awed by the level of surrender she has come to; by her increasing trust in life. Which includes allowing herself to feel the terror when it hits, by allowing the despair, the loneliness, the overwhelm in the face of life’s demands. As she spoke to me I felt no self pity and no argument coming from her, and a humility and slowed-downness, which was remarkable given her tendencies to be driven, impatient, desperate for immediate results, ambitious. It’s not that those tendencies were no longer there, but she wasn’t run by them. She was still in the midst of them. She could allow them to be, without needing to act them out.
In that surrender was a recognition that – however bad it has got – she has always been held by something bigger than herself. Things have always somehow worked out, so that she has been taken care of, even when it seemed as if nothing was working and no help would be at hand.
She said to me that the word Love was a difficult one for her, but Kindness, kindness reached right in. Kindness is what is needed. Kindness is the doorway again and again and again.
I have been reflecting on this.
If we have not been accustomed to kindness, it is going to more or less impossible to be kind towards ourselves. It seems to me that it is necessary to have some experience of kindness from others in order for it to be known as a possibility on the inside. And the more we experience kindness – whether it is from people we can trust and respect or from random strangers- the more the well of kindness can start to fill; it becomes slowly possible, indeed permissible for us to start to bring that kindness to ourselves. And it seems more and more obvious to me that unless this ‘kindness muscle’ can begin to function, we are not able to truly transform. The moment we are faced with our own inevitable inadequacies, our difficulties in facing situations, our shortcomings and imperfections, we come down on ourselves, rather than receiving these with compassion, with kindness; which is the only thing which allows these aspects so soften, to be given space, and to transform. I am not suggesting that then all our patterns and conditionings will miraculously disappear and then, then we can finally reach perfection! I am merely saying that we can begin to relax into being as we are, warts and all, and this changes everything!
Without changing anything.
In my experience with myself, and all those I know and work with, initially we may not even be aware that we are hard on ourselves. It is so familiar, it seems normal and imperceptible. As people begin to enquire into their condition, for most it slowly starts to dawn that there is a fundamental, bottom line self-rejection which underlies everything. Some of us are acutely aware of that; and some of us have done a brilliant cover-up job and have no idea it is there, so it can come as a shock. With the self-rejection there is guilt, and a tendency to feel that the world is not a safe place (because we ourselves believe ourselves to be fundamentally unlovable as we are). This is obviously going to be exacerbated hugely when there is early developmental trauma, where our earliest experiences of life have been of neglect and/or abuse; where we have felt unwelcome and unwanted – and compounded when these patterns are repeated throughout life.
I am learning to be kind to myself. I couldn’t have made this happen through force of will. It has been a slow, gradual shift, where I have slowly become more accepting of my most irritating, stubborn, arrogant, judgmental, ignorant, sloppy, shallow, punishing, selfish tendencies. I have slowly found that I can acknowledge, honor, even bow to those places in myself I have most wanted to hide and eradicate. And slowly slowly acceptance of myself has begun to seep into my bones. And miraculously, my capacity to accept these aspects in others has increased beyond what I thought was possible.
In many ways we are all in the same boat!
Here is a story which touched me recently: I was with Jessie, a young woman friend of mine, and we were speaking about her school life. She said that in her year group, around the ages of 13-14, there was a lot of bitching, back biting and bullying; this was just how it was. Then one day, a girl came to the school who was different. She simply didn’t play that game, she was kind, gentle and caring; and self-confident enough to bring those qualities into play in her interactions. Jessie told me that slowly things started to change. It was as if this young girl was showing another possibility, not by preaching but by living it; and it started rubbing off on people, until the whole year group started to bond, open up, and be more inclined to cooperate rather than compete.
I don’t imagine that young girl had any idea of the effect she had. And this is the thing, we generally don’t. We tend to be oblivious to the effects in a social grouping of our own presence and the qualities we bring in, for better and for worse.
Kindness isn’t the only quality we require. There are many others which come into play and are needed for a sane and healthy life. The capacity for clarity, discernment, perseverance, humour, challenge, play, creativity are all essential. But today it seems to me that kindness is the balm, the warmth, the gentleness and the nurture which makes it more possible for the full spectrum of our experience to come through effectively, tenderly and safely.
I remember one time when I was hurt, closed, angry; I was walking around the house wanting to hurt whoever came my way. I wanted to kick the cat across the room for miaoing. Colin (my partner) quietly said to me, “you could just stroke the cat”. I could have hit him for that! And it surprised me, as he never normally seemed that bothered about the cat. But there was a chink. When he was out of the room (too proud to try in front of him), I made myself stroke the cat. And that was enough for the tears to come, for my fury to melt, and to realize that in that act of kindness I was coming back into my own skin.
I have noticed that generally when I have shut the door on myself, I don’t really want to open it again, even though I am suffering. I want to maintain my own closure. It seems to me that I am not alone in this perverse tendency! It takes courage to go against the grain and to choose a kinder way, to choose to let go, let love in. It means feeling the vulnerability, the hurt, the bewilderment which seems part and parcel of being here in this life.
The other day, whilst caught in a fight with myself, I kindly wrote this prayer for myself – and the very writing of it brought me home again.
When you feel low and disgusted with yourself,
And everything you do or say seems to come from a place which is out of kilter with who you really know yourself to be;
When you feel jealous, attention-seeking and insensitive,
When you feel acutely aware of your shortcomings,
Then is the time to bow down.
Now is the time to say thank you:
The time when you feel least worthy of communion with the Mystery;
This is the time to commune.
This is the time to recognize your need,
And graciously bow your head
And welcome into your heart
The tender tears, the remorse,
And welcome too, the arrogance and the harshness,
Kindly have them all come in for tea.
Welcome, welcome, dear humanness,
Dear imperfection, dear inadequacy,
You are all welcome here.
And then, then, and only then,
Can the melting happen
The melting of that which caused all of that to arise in the first place.
You thought you were not allowed into the kingdom of the Heart,
And that made you harsh, insensitive, brash, self centered.
And then you realized that it was you who was not welcoming your own heart.
You who would not come in to your kingdom,
you who was defending the fortress,
You who was fighting and pushing away the mystery.
The mystery which manifests constantly,
but not in the way you always think it should!
Relinquish all your ideas,
Which are old and weary, tiresome and predictable,
And step through,
Dear shining one;
And with love
As these are who you truly are.