Bring Kindness & Awaken the Heart: What a Methodist pastor is learning from Buddhism

I recently took a job and moved back to Dallas from Raleigh, North Carolina and an old friend showed up to help. She is relentlessly frantic and basically left half of my boxes unpacked and me sitting in the middle of the floor feeling rather numb. Crippling anxiety is not a friend that I particularly enjoy, but at least she is familiar-feeling.

Transitions are never easy for me, but this one has taken the “all out panic” prize on so many levels. Perhaps it is the surprise that home isn’t really home anymore after 5 years. Perhaps it is the stress of a new, bigger job with new, bigger responsibilities. Perhaps it is reverse culture shock. My take? It is the lack of trees. I need the woods, apparently.

At any rate, I was listening to a wonderful podcast by a friend back in Raleigh who mentioned that she had taken up meditating and recommended the work of Tara Brach. Intrigued, I listened to an episode featuring one of her talks one day on my way home from work as I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic on US-75. This has now become a daily ritual. In fact, there is a faster way to work, but I intentionally take the longer route so that I have the most time to listen. 

Brach is a psychologist, meditation teacher, and spiritual guide who teaches a blend of Western and Eastern spiritual practices to bring awareness through meditation. Amid this new experiment, I have been incredibly struck by the notion of bringing kindness to oneself. Often, the meditations for ask the meditator to just simply notice thoughts and feelings in a neutral state and to bring kindness to them as needed, whether that is using a phrase such as “it’s okay dear-heart” or gently forgiving oneself.

Speaking from my own experience, there is just so little compassion that emerges from our church cultures, and yet Christians are called to be people of grace. Despite being told that I am a “new creation” and that my sins are expunged and lobbed “as far as the east is from the west,” I can’t say that I have ever been taught how to be kind to myself. Being compassionate is a Christian virtue, but that compassion is often measured outwardly as kindness given to one’s neighbor. The act of forgiveness is an act that is also similarly outward. 

In our confessional liturgy, United Methodists are pardoned by the pastor, and then immediately turn around and pardon the pastor in response. It is a beautiful gesture, but recently, I have been wondering if once God and the community have forgiven us, if it would be completely out of line to then forgive ourselves?

We have so little compassion in general, it seems. Fuses are short, tempers are flaring, teeth are gnashing. The church is splitting doctrinal hairs while people who long to be loved and desire community are kicking the dust off their feet on our doormats.

Compassion begins inside. It begins in us. Much like Mother Teresa’s exhortation that love begins at home, kindness begins with me. If I am not kind to myself, how can I be kind to others? If I cannot forgive myself, how on earth can I forgive others? If I truly believe in a God that is defined by love and yet cannot love myself, then (again), how can I expect to love others?

I have been sitting with the awareness this week of just how mean I am to my soul. While I am trying hard to bring kindness and compassion, it’s not easy to shift 30 years of quasi-Calvinist conditioning. It is not easy to be kind to my regrets. It is not easy to feel compassion for my worst blunders. However, there is a fleeting glimmer as I sit and meditate on these things: the Divine has forgiven me, the Divine loves me deeply, so let me also forgive myself so that I may have a greater capacity for loving awareness.

 

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