Nov 26

Small Kindness

Dear Friends,
I’m thinking about small acts of kindness this morning, in part because Fiona Robyn, over at Writing Our Way Home, is hosting a “blogsplash” tomorrow on the theme of Small Kindnesses. I’m doing mine a little early, so that you all can participate too!

The idea is that you write a brief reminiscence of a small kindness that has touched your life in some way. Then share it in whatever way you like: on your blog, if you have one, on Facebook, sending it as a letter or email, or reading it to a friend or to yourself.  We’d love it if you shared yours with us here in the comments section!

Here’s how Fiona describes it: “Your small kindness might be an extra-thoughtful Christmas present you’ve never  forgotten, or the unexpected thoughtfulness of a stranger, or a small gesture that rescued you from a dark place. It might have happened this week or twenty years ago. It might be a simple list of the small kindnesses you’ve received this week, or today. It might be a small kindness you’ve been inspired to perform. Follow your inspiration..”

Here’s the one that comes to mind for me today:
Some days don’t start out well. I get distracted by worries, which leads to a paralyzing indecision: I’ll start a task only to get anxious that I should be doing something else. This creates a cycle of anxiety that seems impossible to break.

On one day like this, in the early afternoon, I finally decided to go shopping at Trader Joe’s (which in my town is really not the best place to go when you’re feeling anxious!) I felt grumpy as I navigated through the crowded narrow aisles. I felt on the verge of tears as I tried to decide between 12 different kinds of chocolate. It took me a long time to choose a bouquet of rather bedraggled sunflowers, something I thought might cheer me up.

When I finally made it to the checkout stand, the cashier asked me, in her professional cheerful voice: “How’s your day going?” I decided to answer truthfully. Rather than just shooting back the automatic Fine, or not answering at all, I said “Not so good. I’m having a hard time today.” The checker was just about to ring up my sad little bouquet, but she stopped to have a real look at me. Then she said, “how about if I just give you these flowers today, no charge,” and placed them in my hands.

I thanked her and made it out to the parking lot before I started crying. I wouldn’t say they were tears of joy, or sadness, but more like tears of relief. To have been seen, really seen, in that one moment of vulnerability, was her true gift to me.

For a long time, I’ve kept this quote near my computer: “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” And the Dalai Lama has said: “My religion is kindness.” It can be easy to forget to be kind, especially to ourselves. Another great reminder is this song by Copper Wimmin, called “Kinder.” Take their words as a soundtrack to this season.

With love,
P.S.: For those of you in the Seattle area, Holly and I will be at Elliot Bay Books on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2:00 p.m.. Come say hello!

Nov 21

Thank You

Before you go out into the world, wash your face in the clear crystal of praise. Bury each yesterday in the fine linen and spices of thankfulness. —Charles Spurgeon

May you enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving in every way. We are so grateful for you, our readers, and your presence in our lives.
With love,
Brenda and Holly

Nov 18

Wu-Wei or The Way of Water

Dear friends,

I subscribe to Heron Dance Art Studio’s daily email A Pause for Beauty, but confess that during the busy work week, I don’t always make time for that pause. This morning I did, and what I found was exactly the reminder I need as I face a challenging situation at work:

…Taoism considers a person wise if he accommodates himself to the rhythms of the universe. Likewise, a boater is wise if he accommodates himself to the river’s flow: He must paddle with the water, not against it. Through practice and sensitivity comes an intuitive understanding of the water’s way.

One important Taoist principle is wu-wei, which literally means “not-doing.” In practice, wu-wei means letting things be themselves and not forcing them. This does not imply non-action; rather, there is an understanding of how to take the path of least resistance and apply one’s strength correctly. …

The boater who understands water does not attempt to force his way through rapids, fighting the water and seeking to overcome it. Rather, he applies his strength at the proper moment and in the most efficient way. A light stroke, executed with finesse, will do more to control the craft than any amount of determined but insensitive flailing.

The process is explained by Chuang-Tzu, a fourth-century B.C. Taoist sage. He tells the story of an old man who fell into a terrible rapid and emerged safely downstream. When asked to explain his survival, the man replied, “Plunging into the whirl, I come out with the swirl. I accommodate myself to the water, not the water to me. And so I am able to deal with it after this fashion…”

 – Christopher Norment, In the North of Our Lives

You can read the whole post in the Heron Dance Art Studio archives,  where you can also sign up to be on the daily Pause for Beauty email list.

Sometimes all we need are these small reminders, that quiet but decisive shift in perspective, that pause that allows us to see how we can effectively work with, not against, what’s around us, so that we, too, can “plunge into the whirl and come out with the swirl.”

This week, consider how you might use this principle in your life. Do you face any situations where the most skillful action could be discerning how to work with the forces, not fight them?   Taoism uses the metaphor of a paddler running a river.  See if you can come up with your own metaphor, then share it with us here.   

Yours in river running,


Nov 05

Open House

Dear Friends,
Today I want to share with you a wonderful quote Erin posted on her blog “Being Poetry”:

“For me, the writing life doesn’t just happen when I sit at the writing desk. It is a life lived with a centering principle, and mine is this: that I will pay close attention to this world I find myself in. ‘My heart keeps open house,’ was the way the poet Theodore Roethke put it in a poem. And rendering in language what one sees through the opened windows and doors of that house is a way of bearing witness to the mystery of what it is to be alive in this world.”
                                                                  —Julia Alvarez

This week, see what happens when you consider your heart an “open house.” Does it scare you? Free you? Exhilarate you? What kind of writing emerges when we make ourselves this lovely and vulnerable?

Yesterday I spent the day in a wild frenzy of cooking (putting in stores for the week ahead.) At one point the kitchen starting filling with smoke from frying, so I opened all my doors. The wind blew in, flapping the curtains, scaring the cat, clattering the wind chimes, and in general making the kind of ruckus I’m usually so careful to avoid. The dog started barking. I started laughing. In this season when we’re “battening down the hatches,” it can feel so luscious to just open wide instead.

Yours truly,

P.S.: If you’re in the Seattle area, save the date: Holly and I will be reading at Elliot Bay Book Company on Sunday, Dec. 2, at 2:00. Hope to see you there!