I’m not much of a resolution-maker. The beginning of a new year causes me to reflect inwardly and gaze forward, but I avoid lists that will only narrow my focus. I want to go into 2021, especially, with eyes—and heart—wide open. I want to feel where I am clearly and with kindness, and be ready for anything. Twenty-twenty was an unusually surprising year, but life was not exactly predictable in the years before. In fact, rather than chew over all the strange and new things that have been forced upon me by the virus and other blights of 2020, I find myself resting quietly in a warm bath of gratitude for what is constant in my life.
I sat down to draw the other day, and found myself spiraling in the center of the page over the field of blue I had quickly spread out. The spirals grew into eight tendrils—why eight, I’m not sure, but I was certain at the time that eight was the perfect number. My pleasure intensified as I coated and recoated each of the eight lines with color, spiraling their ends. I was impelled to tag a few with red tails, too. As I felt a rush of calm replacing my usual state of busy-ness, a warmth widened inside of me. I realized how fortunate I am to have time to draw, colors to draw with, a body to sit up in a chair to hold a crayon, an imagination that senses life through this body . . . there seemed to be no end to my good fortune when I followed this thread.
I began to label each tendril of my spontaneous “wheel of gratitude” with eight of my greatest fortunes:
- Meaningful Work
- Play time
- Loving Kindness
Many of these are familiar, making regular appearances in my thoughts of gratitude. The last two—connectedness and loving kindness—are somewhat novel; they seem appear as abstract concepts, but they have come to be tangible in the past year.
I have often felt the sweetness of my relationships with friends and family, and my wider network of students, colleagues and artist peers. But this year I have come to cherish connectedness itself. That we have each other is a precious thing, however we have each other. During my online classes, my sense of distance from my students clashes with the delightful sense of intimacy I feel when I see your faces in close-up on screen. I crave my friends’ touch, now forbidden, when I walk with you out of doors, but feel elated by your proximity. The sound of my parents’ voices rushes across the hundreds of miles of distance that are physically between us, but lands sweetly in my earbuds. Connectedness has become a source I can taste, feel and know. And I am so grateful for it when it appears.
Like many of you, I am sure, I have had my encounters with loving kindness in the past, both as a concept and a practice. In the past year I have been preoccupied by it. I’ve also stared in wonder at the ragged holes where it is absent. The last days of 2020 brought a new perspective on loving kindness, sparked by hearing a poem by Dilruba Ahmed, “Phase One”. In the poem, the narrator offers forgiveness for transgressions large and small. At first, I imagined she is speaking to her partner, but it becomes clear in time that the one who the narrator forgives is herself. Herself.
I was stunned by this and quick to try it out. What about that embarrassing thing you said to your mentor? I forgive you. You taught a very mediocre class. I forgive you. You were impatient with your incredibly patient daughter! I forgive you. As I began to truly hear the language I used against myself before I got to forgiveness, I was shocked at the meanness of my self-recriminations. My body coiled and tightened with each harsh accusation. Instead, when I was able to actually absorb the forgiving attitude (which was not always possible), my cells plumped up, my limbs lengthened and my breath flowed again. I remembered that I am human; I am very imperfect, but deserving of care.
It seemed to me that through forgiveness, I had stumbled my way into loving kindness. Or I it crashed over me like an ocean wave over a tide pool full of soft creatures. Or maybe I had it gently handed to me like a gift from a small child. I’m not sure what is the right metaphor. Something here was very different—more visceral— than my meditations on this theme (though they have been wonderful, too). Forgiveness practice opened a sensory path through my body so I could feel loving kindness as real. I am so gratified that my years of developing sensory acuity through Feldenkrais® was made useful in this way.
My hope is that the trials of 2020 will help me to be the truer version of myself I wish to be. In 2021 I will continue to explore self-forgiveness. As a dear friend pointed out, all this work—loving kindness, forgiveness and gratitude—is heart-work, and so it’s messy and takes courage. I imagine you are doing some of your own heart-work. Let’s stay in touch about it. They say there’s strength in numbers. Join me in class, shoot me an email, or send me an old-fashioned postcard. I look forward to connecting with you again—in whatever way that happens.