Category Archives: 2015: Maitri

My Medicine is Connection


You will have to forgive me in advance for this long rambling attempt to assess my progress as I am halfway through my year of practicing self-understanding and self-compassion.  Traci made me think today, so now I must let the thoughts out.

First I thought of how other people have told me that they view me. I think a lot of people view me as not being very social  when that is far from the truth.  I LOVE entertaining and having people over to my house. Truly, I am one of those people you could drop in on any time and I’d have tea on in a flash, but I don’t get out much.

There are many reasons for this.

My husband and I are amazing cooks and it is very rare that we eat someplace that makes better food than we do.  When we do we generally go home and try to duplicate whatever it is that we loved and manage to do it nicely.  We like to play at making homemade cocktail ingredients, too.   I just ordered some quassia chips for a new bitters recipe, we are going to try.   This is one of the ways we connect.

There is a  trade-off for all the loveliness of the work-at-home, school-at-home lifestyle we’ve chosen.   Our abundance does not come in the form of green paper. It comes in the form of produce that needs to be picked and processed.  It comes in the form of colorful bars of soap drying on racks.  It comes in the form of beautiful flowers that need to be hung and dried.  In other words, we have a nice lifestyle, but we work for it. I love this lifestyle because it connects me deeply to my home and hearth,  but it does keep me busy.

I am one of those people who feels all the feelings.  Large crowds overwhelm me as much as small intimate gatherings please me. Generally,  the more people are gathered in one spot, the more I pull into myself, if I am composed.   If not, I am one of those people who gets nervous and talks enough that my own voice drowns out some of the input-kind of like a dog howling when the sirens go off.

So, the  first truth I have come to is that I am not a hermit.  I simply crave meaningful, intimate connections.  I don’t have much time for superficial acquaintance.

Once I came to accept this,  I decided that the loving and compassionate thing to do would be to stop pushing myself into situations I find uncomfortable.

I prefer to hang out at home or go out in small groups.  Music and dancing can occasionally entice me out , but for the most part I prefer to hangout out at home with small groups of friends, or spend time outside. There is nothing wrong with that despite the concern of more extroverted friends.

I don’t need constant physical proximity to maintain a friendship, which is a good thing because my friends are scattered far-and-wide.  My heart walks with my friends wherever they are.

I am connected to my people in a deep and meaningful way. After all,  I have made more than a couple 40 hour round-trip road trips to the Southwest to meet with my tribe at Traditions, braving dust devils and giant tumbleweed to go where my heart pulls.  That is not a journey one sets out on lightly.

I stopped feeling guilty about spending time on social media because that is one of the ways I maintain those connections between visits.    I don’t think I am unique.

I realized as I was writing this that I was thinking a lot about connection. Connection should be considered a basic need, like water, air and healthy food. Connections feed the heart. Conversely, the lack of connection drains life energy.

I’ve seen illnesses resolve simply because a very lonely person establishes new connections.   I’ve seen the loss of connection, or even the fear of that loss, send people spiraling off into self-destructive behavior.

There are many types of connection.  You can feel connected to your place and revel in the beauty of it.  You can feel the warm connection of lying with a friend in the sun-content to just be.  You can experience the close intimate connection of lying curled up next to your partner with your head on their chest and your hands intertwined.

The most important connection though, is your connection to yourself. One thing I realized early in the year that in ignoring  my intuition, and my needs, I lost some some respect for myself.

In really working at the practice of  maitrī  this year,  I have begun re-connecting with my self in a way that has been healing.  I have taken my feelings out and played with them, named them and accepted them, without judgment.   Naming an emotion, helps your lower brain connect it to your higher thinking processes.  Another connection that is very important.

In doing this, I have learned to let go of the guilt involved in setting boundaries which honor  my needs.  I have also made decisions, based simply on my feelings, which may appear impractical or foolhardy to some, but  I know what I am doing is right and feels good.  

As an aside, what other people think of you really starts mattering less as you get to deeply know, and trust, yourself.

Over the last several months,  I have let go of some unhealthy connections and not felt self-indulgent for doing so.  I have also honored some feelings I have as justified.

I think learning to give them voice and then let them go,  so they don’t fester,  will be a large part of my work for the second half of the year. I have learned that is okay not to be busy.  Before I was trying  try to do all the things in a vain attempt to stay busy enough to ignore  what was going wrong in my life, but that also kept me from making the deep connections I need.

Once I realized that, I gave myself permission to slow down enjoy things. The family picked  picked one  meaningful volunteer project for the year. The rest of our time is spent on one another.

The most ironic discovery of the year so far, is that I might actually like it here.  The connection I was trying to force between self and place, grows as I become more connected  with myself, again.

I think it was good for me to take this time at the six-month mark to assess my progress and refine my focus.  But at this point in my path to self-healing, it is clear that my medicine is connection.

2015’s Theme Word

MaitriIn the past, I’ve jumped on the “choose a one-word theme for the year” bandwagon without much resolve. This year I will choose maitrī as my theme word for the year and I am taking it a little more seriously.

I am not a Buddhist but I played with the idea for awhile and did a lot of reading.  I respect the practice immensely for the wisdom that many of its teachers put out into the world.   The focus on groundlessness and hopelessness is a  little bleak for me, at times.    But there is a lot to be learned about compassion from the teachings.

My good friend, Renée , reminded of the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodran. (Isn’t it interesting how the Universe often speaks its wisdom to us through friends? )  All I really could recall about the book is Chodran defining the term maitrī as “loving-kindness towards oneself” and the importance of having  a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others.  I am sure I’ve shared both ideas with clients, many times.

I realized that I had I had forgotten a lot of what I had read, so I went poking through my notes from the books.  As I skimmed the notes,  a couple more quotes leapt off the pages and biffed me.

“It seems that, without clarity and honesty, we don’t progress. We just stay stuck in the same vicious cycle. But honesty without kindness makes us feel grim and mean, and pretty soon we start looking like we’ve been sucking on lemons. We become so caught up in introspection that we lose any contentment or gratitude we might have had…That’s why there’s so much emphasis on kindness.”~ Pema Chodran

“When we find ourselves in a situation in which our buttons are being pushed, we can choose to repress or act out, or we can choose to practice. If we can start to do the exchange, breathing in with the intention of keeping our hearts open to the embarrassment or fear or anger that we feel, then to our surprise we find that we are also open to what the other person is feeling. Open heart is open heart.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa

It is true what they say in Dune about fear being the mind-killer.   Because despite knowing all this rationally, emotionally I had digressed to the point of choosing the first two options rather than engaging in any sort of compassionate understanding, over the last few years.  That is not to say that there weren’t circumstances which justifiably caused me fear and anger. However, somewhere along the path, I let  these emotions overwhelm me.  I approached life with a closed heart because I felt like I had to protect myself. I may have been being honest in my assessments, but there was no kindness in my delivery.

It seems it is the ego’s  default protective mechanism that  when we  feel guilt and shame about some wrong we have done another person, we vilify that person.  We turn others into “the bad guy” because we don’t want to delve into our dark places.  It makes it a lot easier to do this when you are being treated without loving compassion and feel abandoned by that person.   In turn, the “bad guy”  feels compelled to put up protective barriers and launch a counter offensive .   It is a wicked cycle to fall into.

If I have learned anything over the last few months it is that you have to  break away from this cycle. It leads to nothing good. There is no bad guy; just people who need understanding, compassion and  forgiveness.

Forgiving someone you love involves meeting them with an open heart,  fearless compassion  and setting aside your need to be “right”.   Forgiving yourself involves all of that and practicing loving-kindness towards yourself.   It is my recent experience that it is more difficult to forgive yourself than someone you love.   I suppose that makes sense.  Many people do not love themselves.

Which brings me back to the concept of maitrī   which is a Sanskrit word that literally translates to benevolence, but has been imbued with deeper meaning by many teachers.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche  explained maitrī as  “unconditional friendliness and in particular unconditional friendliness to oneself.  Thich Nhat Hanh explains maitrī as “the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness” and tells us “we have to practise looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy.”  I think either of these interpretations incorporate my intentions for the year.