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Practicing Grace When Kindness Feels Impossible

According to Dr. Amy Saltzman, M.D. of Medicine and author of Still Quiet Place, mindfulness is the practice of bringing awareness to your life - in the here and now - and treating it with kindness and curiosity. At the heart of mindfulness is kindness, but let's face it - sometimes kindness feels really tough if not impossible, especially if the "here and now" is a not-so-pleasant moment. While we will have variations of what we define as not-so-pleasant moments and how they impact us, there are some similarities that we can probably all agree on: someone cutting you off in traffic, a demanding boss with unrealistic expectations and deadlines, or the judgmental family member who criticizes everything and everyone. There’s also the more general not-so-pleasant moments, like fear about the future or fear of making mistakes. Maybe you don’t resonate with any of these, and that’s okay…like I said, there will be differences in how we define unpleasant moments. The point is, is that not-so-pleasant moments will arrive for each of us; it’s part of life, and sometimes, kindness is really hard to find and practice in those moments. What if instead of trying to force kindness in these moments, we tap into grace as a mindset?

Some of you may be thinking, "Well, grace is a form of kindness," and I whole heartedly agree. It is a form of kindness. As a mindset, however, there is a palpable energetic shift in the body from niceness to acceptance, non-judgment, and letting go. Grace gives us space to say, “I don’t like this...” or “I don’t feel okay…and that’s okay.” It’s, at first, the recognition that something doesn’t feel safe or good or nourishing, and from this recognition, grace gives us the opportunity to pause and examine why. It invites us to examine our physiological responses and emotions around an activating event and explore what these sensations are telling us about us, not other people. It’s an invitation to go into one’s inner landscape and sit with the Shadow Self - our limiting thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns - with compassion and openness and ask what they’ve arrived to tell us about our inner child and what that inner child needs to feel safe and secure. And once we’ve come to terms with what that inner child needs, grace, then, allows us to love and support the inner child and let go of our protective Shadow Self (the outer child). Grace, in many ways, is the practice of introspection rather than avoidance.

"...grace...allows us to love and support the inner child and let go of our protective Shadow Self..."

Grace also gives us the chance to practice the Buddhist principle of detachment, detachment from our expectations of the future and how we perceive life should be, the things that we feel are needed in order to feel happiness and pleasure. By practicing grace, we can say “I don’t have all that I want, but I have enough.” Enough to feel safe, enough to feel nourished, enough to feel whole. It creates an opening to have gratitude for what we do have, whether physical or metaphysical, and to experience that happiness and pleasure are not things that live outside of us but are actually qualities that live within us (in fact, we are neurologically wired for happiness and pleasure)! Indeed, external factors and situations can add to our happiness, but that’s only what they can do - add - not replace or create. Joy comes from within, the moment we arrive in our physical form, and it never leaves our body. It’s just a matter of whether we remember that it is always there.

When practicing grace, a shift occurs in the mindset. For me personally, I’ve begun to see all of life, even the struggles as a gift. All of life, especially the struggles, is an invitation to learn and grow and expand. As I look at life in this way, I start to see the inconsiderate driver, the over-demanding boss, the judgmental family member in a new light…a light of forgiveness…because here’s the truth of it: there are moments where we’ve all acted the same way. We’ve all allowed our Shadow Selves to drive our behavior at one point or another. We’ve all been that distracted or inconsiderate driver who has cut someone off; we’ve all been demanding at some point in our life whether we were in a position of power or not; and we’ve all practiced judgment of another. Others, therefore, are reflections of ourselves, and, consequently, the Shadow Self is a true-blue friend trying to get our attention to the greater needs of our inner child, our pure inner light.

If we can practice grace and compassion for all of it - for the ups and the downs - then we begin to flow with life; we begin to let go of our own perfectionism, ego, and deluded ideas of self-righteousness to just be present for the great paradox of life, and how wonderful and exhilarating and beautifully frightening and chaotic the dance of life is. It’s not meant to be orderly and perfect and just how we expect. We are meant to experience all of it, to ride the ocean of life and occasionally get knocked over by a wave with salt up our nose and, perhaps, seaweed in our hair. It’s messy and hard and beautiful all at once. And with that in mind, I encourage you to get back onto your surfboard with grace when kindness doesn't feel possible and ride the ocean of life, falling off and getting back on again and again, learning and expanding with every wipe out. This is the way, my love, to a more full, more conscious existence.

The student and teacher in me honors and reflects the student and teacher in you...peace be with you.

Author: Tara Grainger

Date: January 19, 2022

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