Lesson 2: Receiving Care
Last week we talked about compassion as a motivational stance, a way of being in the world that requires skills that can and need to be trained. And while care and compassion can be trained, it is more implicitly learned in and through our relationships. In a way we have been receiving training our whole lives on how to be a parent, teacher or carer by how we ourselves have been cared for. How and what was seen in us by our caregivers directly corresponds to how and what we see in our children and students. For example, as children we are introduced to our deep human dignity and potential by others who see those things in us, take joy in the basic goodness of our being, wish us well, and thereby help us to recognize our deep worth and potential. It is from there that we can sense the same deep human worth and potential in others. This means that our capacity to extend care is deeply connected to our ability to receive care.
This experience of being seen as worthy of appreciation and care has occurred in many moments with others in our lives, moments of caring connection and joy in each other, many of which are now forgotten. In any such moment of caring connection, someone sees us, or we see someone, in their deep worth and potential. To recall such a moment of loving connection, and to soak in that moment in meditation practice, helps us sense and embody this deep worth and potential of ourselves and others. And like anything, the more we practice this, the more stable that perspective and attitude of care and compassion becomes.
What is also beautiful about this practice however, is the power it has to sort of shift our view and start to actually see the web of care that surrounds us every day. We can start to focus on simple moments of connection that maybe we didn’t notice before. The way the barista smiled at us this morning, the woman who held the door open when we were pushing a stroller with one hand and holding a child with the other, a colleague who helped you out with a lesson, a driver who let you in during rush hour, a great exchange with a student, an unexpected hug from your teenager or watching your baby sleep.
It is essentially noticing the small moments that peek through every day in the midst of our busy and often stressful lives: maybe it is how cozy your bed is, the way the light dapples through the trees when you walk in your neighborhood or school, the way a leaf falls so gently from the sky during the fall - it is a sense of coming home that is embued with kindness, gentleness and welcome.
The more we learn to recognize these moments and to soak them in, the more they start to settle into us and create a deeper sense of home within us. The more welcomed and seen we feel in the world, the more we can see and welcome others, particularly our students and children.
We all have what Rick Hanson calls a negativity bias - a way that our brains are velcro for the bad and teflon for the good. For very good reasons - ones that we touched on last week when we discussed Paul Gilbert’s work on the threat system - we are more primed to notice the negative. We are hyper conditioned to be on alert. We are neither wired nor conditioned to savor moments of connection. So that is why we need to do this work and in this very real way receiving care is not selfish, it is the very means needed to extend the care we give to our children and students every day. We simply cannot give what we don’t have - we can’t model for our children a sense of safety, security and “at homeness” that we don’t have.
To end this week, I’d like to leave you with a poem that really speaks to noticing these simple moments of care and how embodying them can change the whole world around us.
At the Corner Store by Alison Luterman
It was a new old man behind the counter,
skinny, brown and eager.
He greeted me like a long lost daughter,
as if we both came from the same world,
someplace warmer and more gracious than this cold city.
I was thirsty and alone. Sick at heart, grief-soiled,
and his face lit up as if I were his prodigal daughter
coming back to the freezer bins in front of the register
which were still and always filled
with the same old [Cable Car] ice-cream sandwiches and cheap frozen greens.
Back to the knobs of beef and packages of hotdogs,
these familiar shelves strung with potato chips and corn chips,
stacked-up beer boxes and immortal Jim Beam.
I lumbered to the case and bought my precious bottled water
and he returned my change, beaming
as if I were the bright new buds on the just-bursting-open cherry trees,
as if I were everything beautiful struggling to grow,
and he was blessing me as he handed me my dime
over the dirty counter and the plastic tub of red licorice whips.
This old man who didn’t speak English
beamed out love to me in the iron week after my mother’s death
so that when I emerged from his store
my whole cockeyed life—
what a beautiful failure!—
glowed gold like a sunset after rain.
Frustrated city dogs were yelping in their yards,
mad with passion behind their chain-linked fences,
and in the driveway of a peeling-paint house
a woman and a girl danced to contagious reggae.
Praise Allah! Jah! The Buddha! Kwan Yin,
Jesus, Mary and even jealous old Jehovah!
For eyes, hands
of the Mother, everywhere