The Direction of Kindness


Dear Friends,
I’ve just returned from my annual teaching gig at the MFA Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. This is where Holly and I met up so many years ago, the birthplace of The Pen and the Bell. 

It’s a stimulating 10 days of classes, readings, lectures, meals, conversations, music, hilarity, and inspiration. I always learn so much from both my colleagues and students, and I even did a little bit of writing! But my absolute favorite activities are the guided relaxations I lead in the few slots of “free time” I’m able to slice out of the busy schedule.

Only a few students make it each time. But in that 1/2 hour we pay attention to our breath and our bodies: those poor bodies that have spent hours sitting in hard chairs; those brains that are trying to take in so much; those spirits that are reaching outward almost continuously. We take these few moments to recognize the still center at the heart of it all, so that we can return to the fray refreshed.

As I’m leading these sessions, I return to myself as well. And this time, what kept coming to me was the necessity of calm compassion: for ourselves, for our tired brains, and for those around us. Calm compassion: even just the words help me settle down. And then I’m able to take in what I need to take in, and allow the rest to slide away.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this speech that has been going around the internet. It’s George Saunders’ advice to graduates:

“… to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”

May we all be “graduates,” moving on to wherever we need to be ,and while doing so, aiming  “in the direction of kindness”: toward others, toward ourselves, and toward our writing.

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