On Saturday 28th March I’m leading an online practice day with the theme allowing ourselves to be human. There will be the more familiar practices, plus some including a focus on our common humanity. I’m looking forward to appreciating the messy beauty of being human together.
In the past when I’ve practiced self-compassion, I’ve focussed first on acknowledging what’s present and then on telling myself that it’s part of being human to feel this way (a la Kristin Neff). I’ve always felt a visceral sigh of relief come over my body with the ‘Common Humanity’ reminder. Recently however, I’ve taken to swapping these two stages around, or maybe merging them. This feels like the practice of accepting and loving my humanity.
Sometimes it feels poignant and humble. My heart comes alive and is full of tender longing. I think it’s a longing to give and receive love more fully.
Sometimes I’m full of conflicting emotions. Perhaps resentment, fear, feeling alone. This too is my humanity showing itself. It’s not personal, it’s human. Can I love this conflicted, sweet human heart?
Sometimes I behave badly. For example, I blame my partner for all manner of things. When I notice I’m mentally blaming him for an uncomfortable tickle in my own throat or for the fact that I can’t get a plug to go in the wall socket, I know that this is projection and habit! I have a habit of blaming him for what I don’t want to experience! I can only smile and try to remember this too is the absurd reality of being human.
The curious thing is that the more I see my flawed, comical, painful, contradictory experience as my humanity showing itself, the more loving my heart grows. There is the felt sense of a quality which I think should have a name but does not (as far as I know). Call it poignant-heart-longing-love. From here I see the irredeemably messy imperfection of my human life and I’m touched by it. It all seems beautiful and tender, fleeting and sorrowful. At times of birth, death and deeper suffering, different shades of this quality have shown up more intensely (between the moments of downright hellishness). It seems to come along with grief or wonder. Let me know if you know what to call it!
I think love and compassion are umbrella terms. We use them to point to the many ways that our human hearts can express themselves. But I think we often use them unthinkingly too, forgetting to see the infinite variety of how they can show up. If I train my eyes to see the constant movement of love circulating everywhere in the most commonplace – in the giving of undivided attention, in the receiving of a gift, in being cooked for, in a daffodil or a robin, in my son’s joy at seeing a familiar face or finding a snail, in a neighbour’s wish to share their worries, in the kind presence of my favourite supermarket checkout man, in being at the end of the phone for family and friends, in caring about the tragedies faced by others. I miss all this a lot of the time. The media and my habits cause me to be all too keenly aware of the stories of separation, ill will, bad news and dysfunction. I once asked Satish Kumar (former Jain monk, writer and activist) how we can practice compassion when for many our life experiences have made it so hard to feel for others, let alone ourselves. He said train yourself to see it everywhere, because it is everywhere. It’s so basic that we have lost the eyes to see it.
So, when I open my eyes to the truth of my flawed humanity, and try to hold it dear to my heart, I see it in others too and automatically forgive rather than blame. My messy humanity seems to be a doorway to innate beauty and to the achingly beautiful miracle of all life on Earth. But what about in difficult times? As I write, news of the situation with Coronavirus is everywhere and climate tragedies are abounding. What happens to this practice of ‘allowing ourselves to be human’ at times like this? Let’s see.
Take some time out in the comfort of your own home and join us for the The Online Retreat Day – Allowing Ourselves to be Human on 28th March from 10am – 4pm.
Please watch the video about the retreat day.
Wishing you Well
Fay Adams trained under the guidance of Rob Nairn and now teaches mindfulness, compassion and insight trainings throughout the UK. She also teaches for the University of Aberdeen on their Post Graduate Studies in Mindfulness Programme (MSc). She is a member of the Core Management Team and is a supervisor and teacher.
Fay was originally drawn to mindfulness because of her debilitating chronic pain. Through years of practice she has discovered mindfulness to be not just a way to reduce pain, but also a deeply rich basis for living life fully. She spent six years living as a resident at the Holy Isle retreat island off the west coast of Scotland and now lives in Mow Cop on the Staffordshire/Cheshire border.