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I often revisit pages in my old journals and planners. I like reading about past situations, the key learnings and the triumphs and tribulations. I like finding patterns and drawing conclusions like an explorer of some sort. But apart from revisiting the past, journals sometimes remind us of the many possibilities we envision for our futures.

"I am excited to..."  "I am planning on..." "I can't wait for..." These possibilities offer glimmers of hope that we can control the outcomes, that we don't have to repeat the past. But sometimes, the hope for change is not enough. We have to believe the possibilities by living them. So I invite you to try this exercise:
  • Imagine you're a student and someone you very much admire (a mentor, a friend, an ancestor, etc) is your teacher. The teacher has already determined you will receive an A for the semester. There is only one requirement that you must fulfill to earn this grade.
  • In the next two weeks, you will write a letter dated September 2020, which begins with the words, "Dear (name of teacher), I got my A because..." and in this letter, you are to tell, in as much detail as you can, the story of what will have happened to you by this September that is in line with this extraordinary grade.
  • You are to place yourself in the future, looking back, and to report on all the insights you've acquired and milestones you attained during the year as if these accomplishments were already in the past. Everything must be written in the past tense. No phrases such as "I hope," "I intend," or "I will." 
  • Focus on the person you will have become by this September. The feelings, the attitude and the worldview of that person who will have done all she wished to do or become all he wanted to be. 
I want you to fall passionately in love with the person you're describing in your letter.* So, why did you receive an A? 

In this edition of Homecoming, we continue to explore the topic of openness with practice of compassion, the final section in the three-part series. I encourage you to read the first and second parts to help guide you. 

Happy 2020, to you.

Jenn Pamela Chowdhury
Founder, Homecoming of the Human Spirit
 

*Deepest gratitude to Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander for creating this idea (read their brilliant book "The Art of Possibility") and you, Mal, for your generosity and love. 
The Medicine of Openness

Part III: Practice Compassion 

“The reward? Your gift to the ordinary world? That is the Holy Grail, the elixir. What’s your elixir? My testimony is one of poverty. You’re invisible, no body sees the poor. You have access to nothing, you’re no one’s demographics. I remember my parents fighting. When I gained vision, strength and forgiveness, I could remember what it means to be a child who experienced trauma, who dreams and sees no manifestation of it. I could remember because I lived it, I was there. And that has been my biggest gift in serving: you can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.” - Viola Davis

Last year, I interviewed for this incredible role at a company whose mission really aligned with my values. It was a long, long journey: four rounds of interviews with senior members, an assignment, hours spent on studying and prepping, and growing anxiety from the waiting. I chose this experience as an example of practicing compassion because for me, it brought up so many familiar themes: fear, uncertainty, self doubt, stillness, growth, identity and trust. I had no control in the hiring process and the waiting was the hardest part. My anxious mind took me to familiar places: the questioning, the self criticism and finally, the blaming. “Am I good enough for the role? Is the company an authentic place to work, grow and thrive? Should I assume they hired someone else by now? I’m scared. I’m honestly scared that I’ll run out of money. I’m scared to move back home.” I felt like I was in limbo: not knowing where or when I'd set my roots down and not having a sense of direction felt frustrating. But this experience was not new to me. 

Through practice and deep care, I challenged the idea that I didn't have the tools and resources to work with this feeling of “un-groundedness” (it was so familiar to me, that I created a term for it!) I’ve been in this space before, many times in my life. I know fear. I know anxiety. I know how my body feels when I’m scared. And I know what I can do to run from these feelings. There’s comfort in knowing yourself well enough to color and texturize your experience. That inner sense of knowing comes from a place of deep love, deep appreciation, deep compassion. But to get to this place, you have to swim through the murky water. 

You have face your deepest darkness and from there, you have to find your elixir. My elixir is one of poverty, violence, food scarcity, anxiety, loneliness and low self esteem. I remember the root of these feelings because I lived it.

As Ms. Davis beautifully shared, you can only understand people if you feel them in yourself. I understand what it means to experience trauma and to be raised by immigrant parents who also lived through trauma. I understand what it means to grow up around a lot of anger and pain, to believe that my parents’ unhappiness/happiness is connected to their children’s emotional needs.  I understand what it feels like to be bullied and have no one to talk to about it. I understand what it feels like to be invisible. And I understand why it’s hard to trust yourself when no one was around to validate your sadness, joy and anger. I understand the manifestation of these experiences in adulthood - through work, friendships and romantic relationships.

So when a loved one or a stranger speaks to me about his, her or their own struggles, I try my best to hold space because there is a part of me that understands intuitively the source of their pain. There is space for infinite compassion: I see you, I hear you and I am here for you. But first, I needed to be able to access that compassion...within myself. Through healing practices - writing, therapy, community, intimate conversations, meditation, spirituality, energy work, creative work - I began to map out patterns. My journey towards self compassion required me to look back often. Where did these feelings of self doubt come from? Who modeled healthy emotional boundaries for me? I approached many of these questions after encountering difficult experiences in my life: unexpected twists and turns, transitions, heartbreaks and disappointments. The kinds of events that leave you raw and open, and at times, quite closed. 

The company ended up changing the role from a full time position to a contract position; it left me feeling confused, disappointed and misled. My ego needed to blame someone for how I was feeling; I had this plan and they destroyed my plan. Of course, I missed an important message here: the circumstances were beyond my control and it had nothing to do with me or my skills. Through the act of deep self compassion, I spoke to my inner child and told her, "The Universe has better plans for you. You deserve better than this." I turned down the offer and I never looked back. I no longer felt the need to work extra hard to prove myself to others, a belief I held on to for many years.

Compassion softens the sharp edges and hard shells. It’s knowing that we are flawed and wounded, but we do not have to carry that pain with us. How can we make meaning from all the stories we’ve collected about ourselves and build a story of love while respecting our darkness and light? For me, accessing the space of compassion required a level of expansiveness. The negative ideas, thoughts and beliefs I had about myself, the ones I remained so tethered to, needed to be examined and released. I learned to parent myself and find new ways to love and care for my soul, body and heart. Through self-teaching and learning, I discovered that something as simple as breathing is a powerful act of self compassion. A simple inhale and exhale reminds me that what I’m holding on to can always be released, that nothing remains stagnant. It also reminds me that I can count on myself to heal, to experience joy and to be present. It’s the most compassionate thing I can do myself during difficult moments. 

Which brings me to this: the more compassionate I am towards myself, the more open I feel. The more open and expansive I feel, the softer I am towards others. I am able to meet them from a space of openness and understanding. At time of conflict, I’ve seen how my approach creates space for dialogue with others. It becomes less about blaming and more about listening to understand. “I see you’re in pain, help me understand how I can be of service here. This is an opportunity, not a setback, for us. I know we will come out of this stronger.” When you make a conscious choice daily to be gentler and more loving towards yourself, communities heal. 

So drink the medicine of openness. Be curious. Know you're not alone. Develop compassion. It really is that simple.

Selection of the Month

"Grief… happens upon you, it’s bigger than you. There is a humility that you have to step into, where you surrender to being moved through the landscape of grief by grief itself. And it has its own timeframe, it has its own itinerary with you, it has its own power over you, and it will come when it comes. And when it comes, it’s a bow-down. It’s a carve-out. And it comes when it wants to, and it carves you out — it comes in the middle of the night, comes in the middle of the day, comes in the middle of a meeting, comes in the middle of a meal. It arrives — it’s this tremendously forceful arrival and it cannot be resisted without you suffering more… The posture that you take is you hit your knees in absolute humility and you let it rock you until it is done with you. And it will be done with you, eventually. And when it is done, it will leave. But to stiffen, to resist, and to fight it is to hurt yourself."

"There’s this tremendous psychological and spiritual challenge to relax in the awesome power of it until it has gone through you. Grief is a full-body experience. It takes over your entire body — it’s not a disease of the mind. It’s something that impacts you at the physical level… I feel that it has a tremendous relationship to love: First of all, as they say, it’s the price you pay for love. But, secondly, in the moments of my life when I have fallen in love, I have just as little power over it as I do in grief. There are certain things that happen to you as a human being that you cannot control or command, that will come to you at really inconvenient times, and where you have to bow in the human humility to the fact that there’s something running through you that’s bigger than you."

- Elizabeth Gilbert 

Remembering those we've lost

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