The thing about February is that it’s short, so this month’s One Little Word post snuck right up on me! I almost had this one ready to go over the weekend, but it was my turn with the stomach bug that’s been cycling through our house. So I’m getting this finished up a little later than I’d hoped, but here I am. Thank you to Carolyn for hosting this gathering each month. Each participant brings a fascinating perspective and I learn so much from everyone’s experiences.
I’ve been a little rough at home lately. I’ve found that my patience is low and I’m quick to react in ways that I know aren’t helpful or very kind. I guess we could blame it on the depths of winter, lack of light, or cabin fever. No matter the cause, it’s not the kind of person I want to be and that’s frustrating.
Last week I listened to Thich Nhat Hanh’s On Being interview. One quote that stuck with me when he was discussing the Miracle of Mindfulness:
“It is in my heart when I use it, because when you breathe in, your mind comes back to your body. And then you become fully aware that you are alive, that you are a miracle, and everything you touch could be a miracle. The orange in your hand, the blue sky, the face of a child — everything becomes a wonder.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, On Being
I was reminded that every second is an opportunity to surrender my defenses and start again. No matter how poorly I feel or how much I’ve let a situation escalate, I can take a deep breath, return to stillness, soften my heart, and try to understand someone else’s needs. I can change the trajectory of the difficult moment by simply refocusing the situation from myself to the person I’m interacting with.
After the quote I shared above, Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say:
“And that is a miracle, because you understand the nature of the suffering, you know that role of suffering that suffering plays in life, and you are not trying to run away from suffering anymore, and you know how to make use of suffering in order to build peace and happiness.
It’s like growing lotus flowers. You cannot grow lotus flowers on marble; you have to grow them on the mud. Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate.”
These moments of frustration are the sticky bits when I grow the most. Without them, I’d be stuck in the developmental phase I was in a decade ago and I probably wouldn’t be any happier. With each passing day, I come to understand that the quality of our life is defined by how we cope with our suffering. It is to grasp onto the joy, despite it all. Suffering, of course, looks different to each person. My life cannot be compared to the life of a Ukrainian mother near the border of Russia right now. Her fear must be immeasurable and she’d give anything to be living in a country safe from war. And yet, I have my own challenges to live through, honor, and benefit from.
Later in the interview, Krista Tippet speaks to Cheri Maples, a police officer from Wisconsin who attended a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, which changed her entire perspective on policing. She then organized a larger retreat for her fellow police officers that focused on policing with a soft heart. She became ordained as a Dharma teacher in 2008 and carried these teachings with her until her death in 2017.
In this interview, Maples described a moment as a police officer in which she allowed her soft heart to guide her decisions and how it changed the outcome completely. We all have that power, it just requires practice.
So I’m practicing reacting from a softened heart. One way to do this is to practice loving-kindness. In Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chödrön outlines reasons to do this practice daily and how. This is a picture of my journal entry from 2011 when I first read these passages. I return to this book often and gain a tiny bit more understanding each time. I approach the book with a sliver of more experience, which deepens the entire reading for me. I’ve been returning to this text since 2011. We are always growing.
When I took these notes, I was in my late 20s. Pre-children, pre-homeschooling, pre-homeownership, pre-pandemic.
Pre-Autism diagnosis, pre-violent meltdowns, pre-head banging, pre-window bashing.
I had a job, was making money, could go to a restaurant whenever I wanted. I could sit down at my sewing machine on a Saturday morning and only get up to go to McDonalds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if that’s what I wanted (and often did). I could go to Target – any day of the week – and walk around just for the fun of it.
And yet – something was still askew. Things were still hard. I was still experiencing challenges that made me angry and upset, despite looking back and feeling jealous of such a seemingly free existence.
My current challenges are not the causes of my distress, they are simply complicating factors that I can cope with, smile through, and react to gently. Not with the power of positive thinking or willing better things into my life, but by practicing.
This practice can become easier when I:
- Enjoy time in nature and marvel at the miracle of how our world came together.
- Exercise my body and recognize that I can do hard things.
- Sit regularly for meditation and focus on returning to my breath, which is always there when I need it.
- Nourish and hydrate my body to ensure I’m meeting the very basics for my health.
- Take time for stitching and notice how small bits of progress can lead to big results.
This post feels incomplete, but I’m reminded that we have 10 more months to dive deeper. Perhaps I’ll return to this idea later this year or maybe I’ll run off on another tangent. But writing this helped remind me about my very basic needs (the bullet point list just above), which is an important way to begin the year!
I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s updates this month! And please tell me: what are the basics you return to when things become overwhelming? I’d love to hear more ideas!
Beautiful post. Lots to think about.
Yes, beautiful post. I really admire the way you keep learning and seeking.
“This line right here
These moments of frustration are the sticky bits when I grow the most”
That is such good learning Katie. Thank you
Your post has a lot for me to think about… thank you Katie.
You’ve reminded me here of a lesson that’s so important in life: that it’s the hard moments that help us to grow. I don’t think anyone wants to experience pain, frustration, challenges, etc., but I believe that it’s from those very hardest moments that we grow the most. Thank you, Katie, for making me think and feel today.
Thank you Katie! I so admire you. Blessings.
What a wonderful and inspiring post, Katie. Your reminder that “every second is an opportunity to surrender my defenses and start again” really struck a chord for me. You capture the pretty terrifying power of surrender. So scary to let go of defenses…and yet surrender brings that softening that opens up new possibilities. So much to think about and put into practice here!
Since Release is my word, I feel very connected to Surrender too. The thing I’m having to tell myself these days when I heap extra suffering on myself is that: it’s not about me. Even though it directly AFFECTS me. 🙂 And that this, too, will change. Just a matter of time. I saw the Thich Nhat Hanh interview was in my podcast queue but I haven’t listened yet. I need to chase it down now.
I wish I had discovered the interview with Hanh last year in the midst of my Release struggles. So much truth in those simple words… and so very very hard to do. I loved your thoughts on this post feeling “unfinished”… my inner self just leaped and said, YES! It is a process… be immersed in it. (I need those reminders every single day!)
Beautiful post, Katie. What an interesting perspective to remember where you were ten years ago and realize that it wasn’t all a shangri-la wonderland. It’s good to remind yourself that life is always changing and always contains hardships of some kind. I love doing a Loving Kindness meditation… I have those on my Calm app and they’re always refreshing!
I’m so glad you wrote and shared this post as-is…because LIFE is incomplete, after all. I hear a strong message here that there’s much grace to be found in Surrender (a helpful reminder! thank you!). And this gem: “…small bits of progress can lead to big results.” YES! I don’t think I had the wisdom to recognize that in my 30s. Actually, I know for sure that I didn’t. But I’m grateful to have discovered it in my 40s…
Here’s to the process. xo