(image from Pixabay)
Humility... being humble... hiding a part of yourself (or all of yourself)... withholding information about yourself... giving your ego a break... not celebrating your achievements...
... these are all things I have been thinking about the past two weeks, and I'll be honest I have felt confused. I have been trying so hard to not talk about me or what I have achieved in life, and it feels as though I am going against the grain of my personality. I have never thought that I overly boast about things (and often when I meet people I fail to tell them about my Paralympic experience, unless it somehow comes up), but I do need to talk about events in my life of which I am proud, in fact if I didn't talk about them I would be out of a job. So how can I reconcile my need to speak of my achievements with being humble, quiet, and externally focused?
And so I boasted on Twitter this morning. THIS morning. 14 days into this challenge month of humility and I blatantly boasted, without thinking about it, stopping myself, or questioning my motive. After trying to be conscious not to overly boast (outside of the realms of my job), I failed to mindfully note that I actually didn't have to boast in that moment - this boast wasn't helping anyone other then me.
On reflection I realise that that moment on Twitter was actually an opportunity to listen and serve. And listen and serve I didn't.
Now I am not hitting myself over the head with this, but it made me realise that, for me, being present is the key, and mindfulness the skill to actually embodying these character traits as fully as I can.
And so I boasted on Twitter and I realised that actually I should have listened. Is that actually what being humble is?
When you look at the countless articles and blog posts out there the most common thread about being a humble person is that a humble person listens to others, without thought to self, thought to judgement, and thought to being a hero (in a situation when you might think a person is needing a hero). And all this listening (and accepting and interest and love and genuine responding) all leads to better relationships.
I am trying to listen more, speak less.
When a thought or an interjection jumps to mind I hold that thought and bring it back to the person I am speaking too. Or at least I am trying, and succeeding on some days, failing on others. But it's about the trying isn't it? And just as meditation has become a habit after months and months of meditating daily, shouldn't listening eventually become the default habit in social situations?
And so, as this blog post, "Listening Skills: How humility can be very powerful," states:
"If you can master the skill of listening, you can create change and influence where it otherwise may not happen. Good listening requires the ability to put the focus for the moment on someone else and take yourself out of the equation completely. Set aside your opinions, your advice, your preconceived notions, and your desire to talk about yourself… just listen. Our first inclination when someone comes to talk to us is to try to remedy their situation as quickly as possible. We want to eliminate the uncomfortable negative and turn toward the peaceful positive. But in doing so, we quickly relay the message, “I don’t want to hear what you’re dealing with.” What if, instead, we said, “Tell me more,” and give someone the gift of being heard, of telling us all that’s going on, everything that’s making them feel the way they’re feeling? By allowing someone to talk, to purge even, we tell them we care about them and about what they’re going through."
I am going to stop responding immediately and I am going to try and just listen... more.
(I want to listen to you, tell me something about you in the comments below)
(image from Pixabay)
We have now entered March and I admit, this one of the months I have been kind of dreading ... cause, well, you know, it's all about being humble!! And I work in a job where I have to speak about my Paralympic achievements! I use my achievements to market myself to others, which means in a marketing email, or at a networking event, I have to ... well, speak about myself.
But as much as I am dreading this month - a smidge - I am also more than a little curious about this whole idea of humility and what it means in 2017.
Though I admit that I am already struggling with what humility means to me and to others. Already this month I have spoken often about my achievements, and for some reason this does not fit with my idea of being humble and bringing more humility into my life. I try to balance this out by repeatedly stating to people: I am just like you, if I can do this (Paralympics) then you can too (not the Paralympics, but a huge, big, crazy dream all their own).
So what is it that I want to really explore this month...
I really want to understand, to the deep deep bones of my body, what being truly humble is and how humility can benefit society at large (especially when living in a world where we are encouraged on a daily basis to scream ME ME ME.
To begin, in the most humble of ways however, is to ask you, what is humility to you? Tell me in the comments below.
(image from Pixabay)
We have now finished February. Gone in a snap. And I am now reflecting on how thinking about compassion on a day-to-day basis has affected me. It's been a strange one, I have to be honest.
Strange in the sense that compassion has confused me a little. For all it's strength in word and concept, it is elusive in its enaction - compassion is often thought about and/or felt but is difficult to actualise. So whilst I have been aware of feelings of compassion, in those moments my hands have been tied to ease any suffering, either because there was nothing I could do, someone else was doing more than enough to ease that particular suffering and my helping may not have .... helped, or it's been a case of something awful happening in another country that has affected me and again my hands are tied. I have pondered a lot of potential actions I could take. I have felt the 'feels' intensely. I have been able to take action on my self compassion; but beyond this scope, it's been tough.
How have I tried to be more actively compassionate to others?
I have tried to listen more... and I admit that that in itself has been tough (lot of truths coming out here). I have a tendency to immediately want to compare other people's stories with mine, a case of "oh yeah, I totally get what you're saying because a few years ago this happened to me.....". Instead of just listening and being open to another person's personal (and sometimes tough/tragic/sad) story, I turn the spotlight back onto me. It is through a genuine need to identify with the person... but often, when people are sad, upset, or frustrated, all they want is to be heard. And so I have been trying harder to hear - failed many times - but the trying is there in full force.
I have tried to judge less... I have found this a little easier, and in judging less I am changing my mindset when it comes to things that I don't agree with. I am finding that I am "gossiping" less about people.... okay, I am still talking about people, but it not in a negative way. I am telling people about the good stuff that my friend's and family have done/achieved/doing. It feels so good, and means that I am not making people suffer by negative s%@t at them.
I have tried to understand where people are coming from better. Not as part of this, but something that lines up rather nicely with this action, I meditated using Headspace's "Anxiety" pack. In this pack the aim was to accept (and show compassion) to your own feelings of anxiety, progressing through to recognising that many other people in the world also feel these feelings of anxiety. In this recognition comes understanding, and in the understanding comes compassion. (If you want to work on growing your compassion this Headspace pack is ACE).
How have I tried to be more compassionate to myself?
I have tried to listen more... yes, I have tried to really listen to my body and my mind a lot more. If I am tired I rest, if I am fidgety I do some yoga, if I am feeling gritty/scratchy/icky I have a shower, if I feel hungry I eat, if I don't feel hungry I don't eat... I'm sure you get the picture. By listening in to myself more (and meditation sure helps with this) then you can start to look after yourself better.
I have tried to judge less... as much as I have tried to not judge other people, I have tried not to judge myself. So, if a judgey thought arose about another person, guess what? I haven't judged myself over it, beaten myself up, gotten cranky, etc, I have accepted that that though was there and then just bloody well moved on. It doesn't ease suffering when you cling to negative "stuff."
I have tried to understand my motivations about things, from a compassionate place. It is hard when you see/feel/know your ego has taken over a situation, but instead of getting upset (or too upset), I have tried to step back and take time to think about why my ego reared its ugly head, where has it come from, what does it want, and why does it want that result. This has probably been the toughest part of compassion, self acceptance of the dark side of the self.
To finish of a month of fastness and slowness, I want you to consider how and when you have been compassionate, when you have struggled to be compassionate, and when you have wanted to be but had your hands tied for some reason. Comment below.
(image from Pixabay)
It is clear - we live in a world where we focus entirely on ourselves. Is it the narcissistic age? Is it the decade(s) of intense navel gazing? Is it the "me me me" era? We are told constantly that celebrity is King and that the only worthwhile entertainment is so-called reality tv (so-called as it in no way represents real reality), and advertisers show us that we are imperfect and that it is only with their product or service that we can achieve perfection. The current aim of the game is go "viral" - even if that means the drive to do good things is driven by the rather selfish need to be lauded in some way for your compassion, kindness, and virtue, as noted by W. Keith Campbell. In the world of celebrity and tv, a certain level of narcissism is to be expected, but what worries me, the reason that I felt compelled to write this article, especially in light of my #2017characterchallenge Compassion month, is that this intense self focus is becoming a huge part of the wellbeing movement. This does not sit well with me, and hasn't for awhile.
The constant advice out there is "you have to look after yourself first," the ol' "you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help others," and too a certain extent I agree. Only to a certain extent.
I have felt uncomfortable for a long at the extent to how much we take the "look after yourself first" mantra. It kind of stemmed from a conversation I had with a friend about a year ago. My friend is Christian and his feelings on the extreme inward looking approach of current wellbeing beliefs were very much against. He felt that it was in looking outward and helping others, in easing another person's suffering that we... find our purpose in life.
Is this not what compassion is? The observation and empathising with another's suffering. And should this not be what we focus on? A selfless approach to life, where even the desire to help other's is not of benefit to yourself, but your focus is to serve others. This is not the way that it stands in wellbeing circles, and even in academic approaches to virtues such as compassion the aim of being compassionate is to bring yourself emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing.
We have people who fully embrace the spiritual life and become monks, nuns, priests, etc, who embrace complete dedication to others (and God) and complete denial of material and frivolous pleasures; we have people who pursue a more hedonistic approach to wellbeing, the celebrity who spends thousands on "wellbeing" products (and then touts these products to their fans), the Instagram star who makes millions off showing how Yoga and eating clean makes them amazingly perfect...
Is there not a happy medium?
I think what we have to realise is that as we do things for ourselves we have to be doing it for all others as well. To engage in an act of wellbeing, an act of kindness to self, embracing self compassion, we do this with a purpose, we do these acts for our mother and father, our siblings, our friends, our enemies, and even the stranger walking along the footpath, buying coffee at the coffee shop, and driving a little too fast on the road. By looking after ourselves, for others, we come to that middle ground, that path that circles round on itself, an open heart and mind. There is a place for boundaries, but make that boundary a small hedge with pretty flowers that bloom all year round. There is a place for self care, but make it a shared experience, whether that means you meditate on your own, or you go walking in the park with a group of friends. There is also a place for outward looking - without selfish intention - and this can be done at anytime, anywhere.
When you think of compassion most people think of it as an outward virtue, and whilst I believe this should be the true intention of this trait, there is still room for self compassion (as I wrote in this previous blogpost), how has showing self compassion actually been a compassionate act for others? Let me know in the comments.
Please watch this video on Gratitude...
For Joy and for Hope and for Love.
What struck me most about this video, what stopped me in my tracks and made me pause the film and come to write this blog post, was when the narrator spoke about looking at other people's faces. We do not do this enough. To really look; to ponder their story, that stranger's story, a loved one's story... an enemy's story. The highs, the lows, the sweetness and the heartache, the day-to-day life of the other, we never contemplate what is outside of our own experience, and yet we should, and we should be grateful for that opportunity.
We should be grateful for the opportunity to really see people, to ask them about their stories, to listen to their tales, to engage with them at a deeply human level. It is through the listening and the openness that we can see their suffering and their joy, their sadness and tragedies, their lightness and loves, and through these very human experiences identify with them, and ultimately try and ease their suffering and celebrate their happiness.
Compassion has to be filled to the brim with gratefulness. Gratefulness that we get to live this life that we live, no matter the suffering and agonies that we face. If we had no suffering we could not appreciate the good things, the delightful things, the beautiful things. And if we cannot identify with and embrace the suffering of others we cannot see their lightness, their good, their beauty.
This reminds me of a moment, a question I was asked, on Monday whilst speaking at a school near Oxford. Working with school children I get many questions literally asked from "out of the mouthes of babes." The question I was asked was this: "Do you ever wish that you had been born with two arms and two legs?"
I see no judgement in this question, I see no pity; I see curiosity, and I see compassion.
"No I don't. I don't because the life experiences that I have had would not have been possible if I had been born with two arms and two legs. I would not have swum at two Paralympic Games or won any medals, I would not have gotten to travel all over the world as a teenager, I would not have met the awesome people that are my teammates, I would not have gone to university at the time that I did and therefore would've missed out on some beautiful friendships, I would not have come on exchange to Leeds University, and then ultimately moved to Leeds and met all of my wonderful UK "family," I wouldn't be here right now, speaking to you, and finding such joy in the work that I do. I could not give all this up, I am so grateful for this life and I wouldn't change a thing."
Gratitude meets compassion and this creates acceptance and joy.
Embrace it all.
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright