BY JUDITH WALCUTT
January 6, 2016
Whew! We did it! Made it through the eye of the needle of the darkest day, found our way through that tiny door at the bottom of the old year and discovered a lightening sky awaiting us in the morning frost of the new.
What is it about the New Year’s start that is conducive to lists and goals and resolutions for old snafus? Now I’ll burn some belly fat; now I’ll clean my closet, now I’ll find my way to a new and better me! And how about you?
I think we all appreciate a second chance, and a third chance, and another and another chance after that, every year, every January 1st, another chance to start anew. In fact, thank goodness for January 1st, to give us all that opportunity to change, clean up the act, house, room, desk, or life.
Go ahead—take a breath, free your mind, don’t judge yourself, just rest in a full and empty, open heart-felt moment, and find the restart button. When you awaken from such a pause, priorities have a way of slipping into focus. Or so I am told—I am still practicing and maybe some day, some January 1st, I’ll get there.
On a list of things to do along the way this year, among the most mundane of tasks—sorting out socks and cleansing clutter under the sinks—I also wrote a note to myself that said this: Be kinder to yourself and others. Do less harm to yourself and others. Be quiet and listen to yourself and others.
I think we all like the idea of being kinder—it sounds so positive! But what does that look like on a day-to-day basis? Does that mean you buy yourself a jelly donut for finally finishing your paperwork? Or you buy your husband one, for going to cardio rehab three times a week uncomplainingly?
Does it mean taking yourself (and someone you love) for a walk, while the sun is shining? Or randomly letting the elderly lady behind you in line at Payless go ahead of you because she’s got three things in her basket to your 25? That’s a start and good juju. Do that!
Does it also mean cutting yourself some slack for the fact that the house is still in a mess after Christmas and letting yourself spend the last days of the holiday just being—really being—with your family, before they depart for points east and south? I hope it means that, because that’s what I’ve been all about this holiday season—less about the stuff, and more about the being, just being with my beloveds in the impermanent moment of those darkest days lit up with little blinking lights and homemade pie for a gluten-free tribe, followed by one last game of Scrabble, in a blur of holiday bliss.
Why does being kinder to yourself naturally lead to being kinder to others? Like a natural chemical reaction setting change into motion, it seems that when you are kinder to yourself, it is easier to be kinder to others, if for no other reason than, in cutting yourself a break, you feel freer to cut someone else one, too. In so doing, you set all those you’ve practiced kindness towards free, to practice kindness to others—a domino effect of cascading kindnesses accomplishing who knows what-all in a tsunami of possible goodnesses.
We have such poignant examples of this chemistry in action here on Whidbey: Hearts and Hammers, Friends of Friends and, now, the South Whidbey at Home Project, each putting into action an island-wide, group-focused practice of kindness.
Those on both the giving and receiving sides of these amazing Willeford-conjured, locally supported, social safety-net organizations can attest, the experience is transformative and provides proof-positive that kindness practiced in a team effort and at the community level gives you (us) hope and reason to carry on, get through the dark days, and know that the sky will change, yes, it will change—and we will see it and feel it with our own precious senses, glad we held on and lived to tell the story.
As for doing less harm, all I can say about that is this: it requires both discipline and patience, which I personally am not really good at. But, recognizing my own need for improvement in that area—I put it on my list of resolutions for this year to do just that—generate patience for ignorance, patience for hubris, patience for human weakness of all kinds, my own included.
Patience requires discipline and discipline requires patience—they just naturally go together that way, like beans and rice combining to make a perfect food. I mean, when I want to punch some loud-mouthed, ignoramus of a politician-liar-cheater-fraud in the mouth—what do I do?
Fortunately, I am never in a place where I could actually accomplish that brand of physical violence. But I might yell at the radio or slam my fist down on the front page of the New York Times—and who knows, but that little puff of anger shot from my mouth out into the universe might just kick off a butterfly effect of outraged, emotional smog which, in turn, infiltrates the atmosphere in another part of the world and turns up as a firebomb in a public place. Words are actions, thoughts are actions, and actions are actions—and we are all interconnected! How do we remember that? How should we behave, if that is true in an absolute sense, which, in a way, it is?
I stare at the sky and blister and bubble beneath the surface a bit, like vinegar is meeting the baking soda of my soul. I wait and wait; eventually, the desire to inflict harm to harmful persons passes; whether I act on it with words or deeds, or not, it passes. The same can be said about any bad habit—like cigarettes, for instance. The desire to smoke one will pass, if you wait long enough; it will pass whether you smoke a cigarette at that moment or not.
If there is an antidote to the compulsion to cause harm—mental, physical, or emotional, particularly in the face of outrageous inhuman behaviors by humans towards other humans, animals, plants, the entire Earth, etc., that antidote resides at the micro level of moment by moment patience and the discipline to keep an open heart throughout.
All of the great teachers I have had the good fortune to hear or read have said the same thing, one way or another: Keep an open heart, practice forgiveness moment by moment, practice discipline to refrain from harmful words or actions, practice kindness towards yourself and others, and never give up.
I am trying to do that now, stand square on two feet and let the outrage—at the injustice, the simple wrongness that we see, banally, every day—wash out with the tide, so that the essential goodness we all want to feel, share, and generate, like electricity from the sun, can get through that sooty emotional smog and fill the void emptied of anger.
I guess that’s where being quiet and listening comes into the chemistry—how can I hear myself or anyone, if I fill the available space with my words, words, words—how can I feel what anyone is feeling, even what I am feeling, if I don’t find silence first and rest within it? Find silence and then listen. Is it the wind? Is it the owl? Is it rain on the roof or a distant train passing by? When I am quiet and I listen, the sound of everything, all at once, becomes the silence I hear. It is the sound of one word: Begin.
If you want to find out more about the organizations where you can be part of this local tidal movement of kindness or if you or someone you know is in need of such kindness in their lives, visit these sites for more information about where and how to connect.
Hearts and Hammers
Friends of Friends Medical Fund
South Whidbey at Home
AND/OR if you want to find a way to relax your mind—and even change it—I recommend the recent book by Dza Kilung Rimpoche, “The Relaxed Mind,” Shambhala Press, 2015. It is a simple, direct and uplifting way to make a good start for the New Year.
Judith Walcutt has written for radio, TV and stage for most of her professional life. She has lived on Whidbey Island for nearly 30 years with husband and collaborator, David Ossman. Together they have produced some decent work and two excellent boys. Her first novel, “Memoirs of a Modern She-Noodle,” will be published this Spring by NeoPoiesis Press.
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