Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Lesson in Being Human

Recently I have recognized a tendency I have to cover embarrassment or being at a loss for words with humor. The trouble is, in such situations, there isn't enough time to reflect on the impact of what I'm saying, and what I think is funny might truly be insensitive or even cruel. One of the harder lessons of life is how easy it is to hurt people even when your intentions are good. Humor can be a way to turn an awkward moment, to bond people together, to lighten the mood. But it is tricky and fraught with the capacity to harm. My fat mouth gets me into trouble. And once words fly out of your mouth, you can't take them back.

I'm not always sure how to make amends. Often, too much time has passed, or the conversation has moved on. Sometimes explaining what made me uncomfortable--what led me to try to fill the awkwardness with humor--only makes the situation more awkward. How hard it is to redeem myself in my own eyes! I know I'm only human, but I want so hard to be a good person, to be a kind person. I want to make peoples' lives easier, not harder and more painful.

Sometimes I find, the only answer is prayer. Meditation on my faults--if I am not afraid to admit them--is an important exercise in humility. And by humility I don't mean groveling on the ground and bemoaning my wickedness. Humility is not humiliation. "Humility" derives from the Latin word, "humus" or ground, earth as in dirt. So to be humble is to be grounded. It is to have a right mind about your place in the grand scheme of things, to not take yourself so seriously. Humility can actually be very freeing because it allows us to be human.

 "Humiliation may teach us a lot about oppression, or a lot about underdevelopment or a great deal about anger, but it will not necessarily prove that we have learned anything about humility. Benedictine humility frees the spirit; it does not batter it." 
from Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of Benedict Today by Joan Chittister, OSB.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

One Thing

After reading Gretchin Rubin's latest book, Happier at Home, I decided to discover some simple rules like she had which I could follow to make my life happier.  Instead of writing them in a journal, though, I would write them on the bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker where they'd be the first thing I'd see in the morning and would be right in front of my face periodically throughout my day. The first rule I selected is what I call "one thing."

"One thing" is the idea that you can only really ever do one thing at a time. It's been called the practice of "mindfulness" or "attention"--what spiritual guru, Ram Dass, called "being here now." Mindfulness has gotten a lot of press. It's made it's way from a new age, hip, Eastern-inspired spiritual discipline to main stream psychiatry where it's being used to treat everything from chronic pain to depression to addictive disorders. I became interested in it as a way to bring spiritual discipline and awareness into my daily life.

Too often I've found myself cranky, impatient and stressed out by my "to do" list.  "One thing" helps me step back and take a breath--I can enjoy the feel of hot, soapy water and the smell of the dish soap when I wash up after supper instead of feeling crabby that I've got a sink full of dishes to finish on the way to some other chore. I can focus on the story my 14-year-old is telling me instead of mentally fast-forwarding to my next appointment. I can relish the feel of my husband's hand in mine and not get distracted by the mental chatterbox in my head. And the funny part is, when I focus on just one moment at a time and eek out all the sensory richness of it, time seems to slow down. I may not always get more accomplished, but the day feels more complete and, well, holy. It turns out, "one thing"really can make a difference, one thing at a time.