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A gentle release

While preparing for prostate surgery more than a year ago, one of the most helpful practices I found was a meditative CD that helped loosen my anticipated pain and fears. I could envision releasing them through my toes and fingertips.

This visioning practice, if you will, helped guide me for a successful result: removing cancer along with the gland. It’s a technique I try to incorporate occasionally while doing Kripalu yoga or otherwise shedding some unwanted knotted feeling.

Yet how do we release toxicity in our relationships? How do we replace that with something akin to letting in a restorative light, the complementary part of that vision?

The benefits are clear. Yet it’s often so hard to do.

It involves doing so much internal work. Perhaps puncturing our denial or revulsion at actions and attitudes. Seeking more dialogue with less angst about the future. And meeting those who have disappointed us more than halfway on a road toward reconciliation.

Earlier this week, pausing even momentarily to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, I came across an excerpt of his writing that offers something crucial to this endeavor. Indeed, it’s an age-old path to healing, if not grace.

Which feels so crucially relevant today.

Internal cleansing is so hard to do.

In a speech Dr. King gave in 1961 to white liberals—some of whom were objecting to student sit-ins and freedom rides, and preferred a more gradual approach to civil rights—he emphasized the tenets of non-violent resistance.

Those en­gaged in nonviolent struggle must never inflict injury upon another—not striking back if hit, nor cursing back if sworn at, he told them. Yet in addition to resisting external violence by not retaliating physically, King urged the group to go deeper: reconcile what’s inside of themselves while loving their enemy.

Nonviolence also meant “that they avoid inter­nal violence of spirit,” he said. Which involves meeting others where they are, and embracing them unconditionally.

There’s something so gentle about this approach that one may deservedly wonder how it even applies today. Is this too naïve or soft? Yet consider being consumed by an internal violence of spirit.

Is that what prevails if we fail to search our hearts, truly opening them, to face our own roles in “external” conflicts – whether families are divided, amongst friends, or bigger forces?

That internal din suffocates forward movement and healing.

Was 2017 the year we flushed down toxicity?

Continuing the speech, King referenced one of three words in the Greek language for love: agape.

Agape, he said, “is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theo­logians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. So that when one rises to love on this level, he loves men not be­cause he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him.“

While it’s pretty difficult to like people who want to do you harm, for example, it’s still necessary to love them, King reminds us.

As 2017 closed, I wondered if it would be remembered as a year when we flushed a lot of toxicity away, or at least faced it. The jury is still out on that one.

Externally, if not within our own circles, will this be a year of reckoning? Of comeuppance and retaliation?

Conversely, how can I apply that message of understanding to lessen my own internal violence?

And it’s knowin’ I’m not shackled by
Forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some lines
That keeps you in the back roads, by the rivers of my memory
And keeps you ever gentle on my mind.

“Gentle on My Mind” by John Hartford

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Believing again

Winter solstice at Gay Head light. William Waterway, courtesy of Creative Commons,], via Wikimedia Commons

Wishing you peace this holiday season, plus a rekindling of belief.

This is a time to rediscover joy and perhaps count our blessings. For many of us, the good cheer is coupled with a keen vulnerability: sharp pangs of lament and isolation poking through. Wounds are exacerbated during the holidays, stinging along with winter’s first hoary breath. They can numb us.

Yet this week I’ve been drawn back to something that is over-archingly positive, if not transformative. It’s a collection of expressions about the core values that guide everyday and well-known people.

I’d like to share some of these in a mixed format of excerpts that differs from my usual posts.

Ten years ago, the book This I Believe included short essays giving voice to the truths that anchor us in myriad ways.

Revising a project that the renowned broadcaster Edward R. Murrow did in 1951, these eclectic expressions also led to a refurbished public archive – although National Public Radio, a sponsor of the project, halted its broadcasts in 2011. (Some portions below are added from additional sources, which are cited.)

In this season, when our familial and national disconnects can feel so acute, when the call for compassion is so dire, we need to believe again. Here are some reminders:

“You only have what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich.” – Isabel Allende, novelist

* Allende continues: “Give, give, give–what is the point of having experience, knowledge, or talent if I don’t give it away? It is in giving that I connect with others in the world, and with the divine.”

* “When I think of the suffering, and famine, and the continued slaughter of men, my spirit bleeds. But the thought comes to me that, like the little deaf, dumb, and blind child I once was, mankind is growing out of the darkness of ignorance and hate into the light of a brighter day.” – Helen Keller

“Every little thing is sent for something, and in that thing there should be happiness and the power to make happy. — Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota medicine man, from Black Elk Speaks

Black Elk continues: “Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus we should do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.”

* “Love is primal. It is comprised of compassion, care, security, and a leap of faith. I believe in the power of love to transform. I believe in the power of love to heal.” – Jackie Landry, hospital clerk

“I believe in the human race. I believe in the warm heart. I believe in the goodness of a free society.” – Jackie Robinson

* Robinson continues: “I believe that the society can remain good as long as we are willing to fight for it—and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.”

“I believe in getting up in the morning with a serene mind and a heart holding many hopes. Carl Sandburg

Sandburg continues: “I believe that freedom comes the hard way—by ceaseless groping, toil, struggle—even by fiery trial and agony.”

* “The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “into the skin” of the other.” – Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, from Peace is Every Step.

Hanh continues: “When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, ‘to suffer with.’”

* Finally, this from one of my favorite journalists, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen. In his column this week, he conveys a mom’s grace during an extraordinary ordeal.

Lisa Brown’s 23-year-old son Joshua, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, died in a state hospital in 2009 when three correctional officers tried to restrain him—which Cullen described as attempting “to fold him over and push him down like he was an overstuffed suitcase.” A judge acquitted the officers of involuntary manslaughter. Cullen wrote:

“Christmas is hard. She hasn’t celebrated it since Joshua died. She hasn’t celebrated anything since Joshua died.

“With the criminal case over, she knows she has to move on, but to something that honors Joshua’s memory. She wants to advocate for the mentally ill in other places. She’s trying to help a mother whose daughter is in the women’s prison in Framingham. There are still so many people in prison who belong in hospitals.

“’I can’t stop,’” she said. “’I’d let Josh down. I’d lose Josh. His death would be in vain if I stop.’”

Whatever you believe in this holiday season, whatever truths and loved ones you hold up, please don’t stop.

“Mankind is growing out of the darkness of ignorance and hate into the light of a brighter day. – Helen Keller

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Excerpts and Empathy

Growing up, I was an avid breakfast reader of the Globe’s sports section, fond of the “Thoughts While Shaving” column.

In his regular piece, sportswriter Ernie Roberts offered tidbits of critiques and impressions regarding players on the doomed Red Sox and Pats, or the vaunted Celtics and Bruins.

My post today adopts some of that short form.

First, if you have not heard about this yet, please consider joining us for a book release party Saturday, October 28 in Kingston, 5 to 7 p.m., at The Beal House, 222 Main Street.

Especially For You tells the stories of people who respond to sudden loss by finding a new purpose. Often this involves lifting others up as they run with the legacy of a loved one, finding a way to heal as they step outside of their own pain and fears.

My book will be available in a few weeks on my author’s website, ordered from your local bookstore, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Seattle Book Co. More details to come!

Labyrinth shards illustration by Amanda Brack

Second up are links to three excerpts from the book. I hope you can take a few minutes to peruse even a couple of these:

“You Can Do This”  is a short piece about our son, Mike, his battling spirit during double sessions entering the high school soccer season.

Carrying forward our loved one’s voices and legacies – how can we ever forget? – and staying open as their lives, their souls, inform our own is a key thread of the work.

“All Right to Hurt” shows Howard Clery, another father in my book, struggling with rage and craving for revenge after his daughter’s murder.

“This Defiance for Peace” shows two of book’s principals responding with empathy – and action — to tragedies that don’t directly affect them.

As one said, “We want to find ways to express our remorse in a constructive fashion.”

This last one connects to a piece I wrote this week for Psychology Today. It makes the case to renew empathy as a way to bridge the divides when we react to gun violence, racism – you name the issue.

Best regards, and I’ll keep you posted on the book release – ebooks on Kindle, Nook, and iBooks will be first!


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