It's Random Acts of Kindness Week!

Whoo hoooooo!

Ha! OK. This might be 50% feigned excitement, but there is some excitement.

I know that it's tough at times to be kind to others, especially during New York winters. But, what a world it would be if we could all be kind to each other. I would especially love it if the folks with the most privilege and power were the most kind.

But, darn it! I think studies have found that the more privilege and power you have, the less empathy and compassion you have for others. Sigh. But still, crossing my fingers that during this week and every week, wealthy people give 100% of their wealth to others. Lol! A girl can dream.

I am a big fan of practicing kindness. I've mentioned before how love is one of my values and that I'm always trying to find ways to love myself and others better. I have the same attitude towards practicing kindness.

My biggest fantasy is that eventually we live in a world where we're all trying to help each other all the time. We're smiling when we walk past each other. We're saying hello. We're complimenting each other. We're stopping and asking: Can we help with anything? Do you need anything?

If we have the funds, we're stopping random people and saying: I have so much money so I thought I'd share it with you. We're buying meals for each other when we're eating out. We're paying each others' bills randomly (just kidding; in my dream, bills don't exist). And, oh my goodness! There would be no bullying on social media. There would just be understanding, acceptance, gentleness and patience.

How beautiful!?

If you're rolling your eyes at my dream world and you're like: ugh! the last thing I want to do is live in that world, maybe this correlation will make you feel less annoyed. Kindness towards others has actually been shown to increase well-being a bit. I'm sure you've noticed this too-- that sometimes when you do something nice for others, you get a little boost of joy.

I think one study, in particular, found that if you do four or more kind things in a day, you are really going to be out here, feeling SO GOOD! Just, super connected and present and hopeful.

So, if you can, why not be kind to the folks around you? It might make you feel good. It might make the other person feel good. This article says that even when we think about doing something nice for others, we tended to feel happier. It also discussed that spending funds on others contributed to lower blood pressure. And, wow! I hope rich people out there are reading these studies lol!

But, the good news is: you don't even have to have millions to give away to others. Being kind could be as simple as: smiling at and making eye contact with someone. Even simpler? When you notice yourself judging and criticizing others, practice empathy and compassion instead. So, next time you're scrolling through social media and you find yourself judging others hardcore, see what it's like to practice having kinder thoughts towards them.

We are humans. We're living in this really difficult environment that's filled with injustice, trauma, and grief. The pain that we experience is just so incredibly exhausting, paralyzing, and at times lonely. I hope that we can practice to be a little kinder to each other, so that we feel less alone and hopeless in this world, and so that our pain can soften a bit.

Here's my plea to you. If you're someone who doesn't typically go out of their way to be kind to others, have an intention to do one small (or big, if you'd like) act of kindness a day. The next week, have an intention to do two acts a day. The next week, three acts a day. Just keep practicing to be kind as often as possible. The more you do something, the more it becomes natural and second nature. The more it becomes a habit. And then, before you know it, there'll finally be peace on earth and you're going to be like: wow! I am amazing! I really did that! Ha!

Thank you for reading!

I hope that you're surrounded by so much joy and kindness today, and everyday.

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

Unfortunately, while living in a white supremacist world, many of us learn to not like ourselves. In my particular corner of the world, ideal beauty standards include: lighter skin, thinner and/or toned and muscular bodies, straighter hair, smaller feet, perfect and put together outfits. We have got to look flawless and fashionable, and do what we can to get all the likes and comments on all the socials.

Many of us don't and can't live up to these standards, and we end up hating ourselves for it. Not being able to meet these standards can contribute to a lot of pain, isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness; we might engage in maladaptive behaviors to try to escape from all the pain.

Oftentimes, we may believe that because we don't live up to these standards, we deserve to be alone. We believe that no one could possibly love us. We don't believe and, thus, can't internalize the good things people say about us. We don't feel present and can't connect with others, as we're constantly wondering if people are seeing the horrible parts of us that we try hard to keep hidden everyday. We don't feel adequate or enough; we feel paralyzed and overwhelmed, and we may end up not feeling worthy enough to go after our dreams.

But alas, it's Valentine's Day. And on this day, my hope is that we practice all the self-love possible. It's incredibly difficult to practice loving ourselves after decades of beating ourselves up, and decades of internalizing the toxic messages that white supremacy spews at us. But, I do still hope that we can practice more self-love in our days.

Practicing self-love can look like a lot of things. But, here are some examples. We can start to notice when we're being unkind to ourselves, notice how this meanness makes us feel, and explore whether we can be kinder in that moment. So, while passing a mirror, we may 1) quickly look away and 2) think: "ugh. I hate my skin tone and big hips."

What could someone potentially practice when they observe this? Slowly go back to the mirror. Really be present with yourself. Take deep breaths. Notice the thoughts that pass by [e.g., I'm so ugly. I hate myself. What is the point?] and the feelings that come up [e.g., sadness, frustration, numbness, despair].

You could say: "you don't like your skin tone and big hips, huh?" Maybe the first step is practicing to not have any judgments on those factors. Your skin color is just skin color. There doesn't need to be any good or bad label to it. Others or society may not like aspects of you, but you absolutely don't need to swallow whole their messaging. Take their messaging and practice putting it in the trash, as often as you can.

Here's an idea! Literally do that. Write down all the horrible comments you've heard about your body, your personality, your skin color, etc. Sit with them for a bit. Take deep breaths as you reflect on how it feels to read and write them. Notice that they're just letters and colors, and that you don't have to apply meaning to the words. Rip up the papers. Throw them out. Burn them. Every time those horrible comments come up, write them down, see how you feel, and throw them out. A mantra could be: "I am choosing to not carry you with me anymore" or "this was said, but I don't need to identify with it" or "I am way more than these letters and words." Do this for a week. See if the thoughts that float around your mind shift and if uncomfortable feelings soften.

Another practice could be starting to notice what you do appreciate about your skin tone. For example, maybe it really pops when you wear bright colors. Other practices could involve: writing love letters to your body and to yourself in general, writing apology letters to yourself for the mean ways you've spoken to yourself, engaging in self-soothing -- drinking the teas that your body loves, dancing if your body loves to dance, smelling scents that you love, going out into nature and really being present with nature, thanking your body constantly for all that it does. Your body gets out of bed? Thank it. Your body is able to chew and swallow delicious meals? Thank it. Your body is able to see and feel awe while looking at the sunrise? Thank it. Whatever your body is able to do, be grateful for it.

Happy Valentine's Day :)

May you treat yourself so incredibly well today and everyday. May you treat your body and yourself with care, kindness, and compassion. May you show your body everyday how much you care for it and love it.

More Practices

Interested in writing self-compassionate letters to yourself? Check out this exercise!

Curious about seven possible facets of self-love (e.g., social, occupational, physical, spiritual)!? Read on here.

Interested in showing your friends and family some love? Do a gratitude visit! You can also give yourself a gratitude visit! Think of a time where you said something to yourself or did something for yourself that made you feel happy, present, connected, safe, cherished, and loved. Write yourself a thank you letter. Read this letter as often as you can.

Interested in meditating a bit on how amazing your body is? Read this reflection from Sharon Salzberg's Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection. Also! You should totally get the book!

Appreciating our Aliveness

"We get only one body in this life, the one we are each endowed with right this moment. Begin by giving yours the respect it deserves. Did you realize that every atom in it is 14.5 billion years old? ...You are literally stardust; so is everything around you.

The water in this body seems to flow into your mouth from a fountain or a glass, then out again through pores and orifices. But like all the waters of the earth, no one knows where it came from. And if you have gold fillings, your teeth carry a share of all the gold that exists in the universe, for the number of gold molecules is finite.

Your body is not just mineral and elemental. No, It's vividly alive, as anyone knows who's ever danced, had a sore throat, made love, or stubbed a toe.

Try to sense the skin around your body. Feel how alive it is! For this, you can thank a single-celled creature. All the baroque variety of life on earth is considered to come from a common tiny ancestor who appeared about 4 billion years ago (again, no one knows quite how). And still today, on a cellular level, basic functions like respiration look similar in plants and animals. So does our DNA--we humans share about half of our genetic information with plants. We truly aren't very far away from anything.

...But surely it is the brain that is our most fabulous body part. Scientists believe that the human brain capable of making one hundred trillion neural connections. Lay all your neurons end to end, and they'll reach to the moon and back. Awake, asleep, or dreaming, your brain is active night and day, a magic lantern...

Body and brain are inseparable collaborators, producing the symphony that fully absorbs us. This is the wonder of life. How amazing that we can even be amazed."

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

Ooh love. To me, love is this complex thing that I can never understand.

Whenever I meet married people, I think: wow, that's amazing. That is incredible! How do people commit to loving each other like that...forever.

The amazement I feel when I'm sitting on the beach, watching the sunset, and being in awe, is the same amazement I feel when I look at married folks. Because love, to me, is the most difficult thing you can do in this world.

You could get a PhD, with ease! (Jk. Getting a doctorate is so hardt). But, try loving someone unconditionally! FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! At least a PhD ends after some years! Ha!

Seaux, how do we love? How are people doing this? What skills have they learned that others may have not? That's something we'll explore in this post.

Why focus on love? Well, as I get older, love is becoming an important value to me. I want to learn how to practice loving myself more, loving animals, loving the earth, loving family members and friends, loving romantic partners, loving people I dislike or people I'm in conflict with, or loving people who have different political beliefs than me. I am learning that, unfortunately or fortunately though, that it takes a lot of work to practice love. A. Lot. Of. Work! And, patience. And, failure. And, disappointment in myself. And also, incredible beauty and presence and fun.

One of the ways that I try to learn how to love better is by listening to people who are smart :D I went to listen and be in community with a meditation teacher today -- Evelyn Williams. I am beyond grateful that I got to be present with her and many others who were in the room with me.

She discussed how love is conceptualized in Buddhism. There's affectionate love-- the kind of love we feel that's, more often than not, unconditional. We may feel this love when we see a baby or a dog, or for those who are super connected to nature, when they see trees or the ocean. I tend to feel affectionate love for my breath. It amazes me to feel my belly falling and rising, to feel myself coming back to stillness and awareness, and to even feel anxiety decreasing the more I focus on my breath.

There's cherishing love. Here's where maybe love starts to get difficult for many of us. Williams says that this looks like us letting go of our "I" statements and really practicing to focus on others. Only on others. There's less of a "I deserve," "I want," "my needs are," and more of "how can I support you?" "what do you need?" "How can I help?" You love someone so much; you just want them to be happy, and so, you focus on how you can meet their needs.

What's important here is that we practice letting go of our attachments and desires. We practice letting go of reciprocity (e.g., if I love you, then you have to....take out the trash for me; if you don't call me everyday, then you don't love me. If you look at someone else in a desirable way, then you don't love me).

It sounds like accepting the other person for who they are and letting go of our expectations. She told this incredible story of a father continuing to show his son love even after his son killed his mother/the father's wife. We can also think about parents still loving their babies even after they poop all over the bathtub. Also, how folks continue to love their dogs even after they eat everything in their home.

There's also wishing love. She didn't say a lot about this type of love, but it reminded me of loving kindness meditation, where those who practice, wish others and the universe peace, happiness, safety, connection, and all the good things that this world can offer.

Practicing these ways of loving is difficult, but can you imagine how powerful it would be if, as we walked down the street, we wished everyone and everything we encounter peace and safety and wellness. We don't attempt to practice this only on February 14th, but everyday. Everyday is now Valentine's Day or Valentine's Moments. Where, as often as we can, we practice noticing or acknowledging feelings, thoughts, judgments, hatred, jealousy, envy, and we practice coming back to love. It's saying to ourselves: I'm noticing that I'm jealous of you right now, and that's painful to notice. I'm going to choose instead to practice loving you, accepting you, and being happy for you.

We acknowledge where we are and what we're experiencing or feeling. We may empathize with our difficulties, and we come back to love. Williams says to ask ourselves: how can I practice affectionate love in this moment? How can I practice seeing beauty in this person?

We come back to love as often as we can throughout the day.

Tara Brach, a psychologist and a meditation teacher, discusses how we get in a trance often. Something triggers us! And boom, we leave the present moment and go into our heads. We may start to have narratives in our minds (e.g., why am I like this? I'm so unworthy. I'm never gonna change. I'm such a disappointment). We may start judging others because they don't meet our standards or expectations. We may be rushing because we're late or because that's just how our society trains us to be. Brach also mentions being in a trance when engaging in addictive behaviors -- scrolling through Instagram, binge eating, binge drinking, having sex with folks we don't really care for, etc.

This is all OK. This is what it is to be human. But when we notice our human-ness, can we practice coming back? For those of us who don't practice coming back to the breath, to our bodies, to our senses, or to love, can we imagine what that would be like?

The Power of Self-Love

I want to end on this because I think practicing self-love is GORGEOUS! :D I tear up so hard when my clients move from the self-criticism narratives (e.g., I'm not good enough) to the self-love narratives (e.g., I'm enough. I'm OK). It's just so beautiful and important. No matter how often you practice other-love, I think it's crucial to come back to ourselves, as we live with ourselves 24/7, and to practice self-love.

Maybe it's selfish or self-centered or narcissistic, but damn it, I'll be all those things! Fudge it! Lol! During these Valentine's Moments, I do hope you practice self-love. This means that you can show yourself this affectionate, cherishing, and wishing love.

With loving kindness meditation, you typically start with you. You wish yourself all the good things that the world can offer and then you move outwards. It's similar to the self-care advised on airplanes: put your oxygen mask on first before you put others' oxygen masks on. If you don't have oxygen and you can't breathe, how can you help others?

And, I do think that the more we practice loving and accepting ourselves, the more easily and readily we can practice loving others.

There's a differentiation between attached love and pure or real love in Buddhism. In attached love, we have expectations and we don't accept others for who they are. We want others to change according to our liking, so that we can feel that they do love us.

We talk of love languages, and the importance of speaking each others' love languages. There are gifts and words of affirmation love languages, for example. So, if we want those things from our partners to feel loved, that can be an example of attached love. I think it can be OK to practice attached love, in the same way that it can be OK to experience anger or hatred. Again, we're human, and these feelings and wants are just part of being human. These wants come with cons (e.g., disappointment, frustration, heartache, or suffering). A possible pro of exploring these love languages, though, is that it can help loved ones know how to practice cherishing love.

But! Pure love-- where we expect nothing, where we still practice giving loved ones all the love, kindness, and care we can muster even when they don't speak our love languages-- sounds brilliant. Imagine if we felt that kind of pure love towards ourselves. When we're caught in self-judgment, self-blame, and self-hatred, we can pause, and ask ourselves: how can I practice affectionate and cherishing love towards myself in this moment? Is it possible to practice self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-kindness in this moment? What do I need? How can I support myself in this moment? I imagine someone who practices that kind of self-love as someone who just radiates light and beauty and calm and joy. We see them and we're just in awe; they take our breath away.

I was listening to Tara Brach's talk this morning, and I love this Robert Hall poem that she shares. I hope you love it too; it touches on pure self-love. If we're married to ourselves, what kind of marriage do we want to have? What can we start doing differently to be happier in this marriage?

Here's to you.

Here's to love.

Within the body you are wearing, now,

inside the bones and beating in the heart,

lives the one you have been searching, for so long.

But you must stop moving and shake hands.

The meeting doesn’t happen without your presence,

your participation.

The same one waiting for you there

is moving in the trees, glistening on the water,

growing in the grasses, and lurking in the shadows you create.

You have nowhere to go.

The marriage happened long ago.

Behold your mate.

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