So the intention of the mindfulness group was to cultivate this kind attention, even for the seemingly unforgivable parts of ourselves. There was one man in the group who never said a word, never looked up. Two months passed, he seemed unreachable. And then one day he raised his hand and he said, “I don’t want to get better. What I saw in the war, what I did — I don’t deserve to get better.” He then looked down at the floor and proceeded to tell us in great detail what he had seen and what he had done. And I can still feel the horror of what he shared and how his shame filled the room.
I looked up to see how the other men were responding and there was no judgement, only compassion on their faces. I invited him to look up and to witness this compassion and this kindness. And as he slowly looked around the room, his face began to soften, and in his eyes there was hope — the possibility that he wasn’t just his past actions, that he could choose differently now, that he could change.
And this may be one of the most important things I’ve learned, it’s that transformation is possible for all of us, no matter what, and it requires kind attention, not shame. And this kind attention takes practice, it takes lots of practice.
I want to share with you a simple practice that continues to help me. Some years ago, I was going through a difficult divorce, and I had to wake up every morning with this pit of shame in my stomach. My meditation teacher suggested an explicit practice of kind attention, she said, “How about saying ‘I love you Shauna’ every day”. I thought to myself no way, it felt so contrived. She saw my hesitation and suggested “How about saying good morning Shauna? Oh and try putting your hand on your heart when you say it, it releases oxytocin; it’s good for you, you know.” She knew the science would win me over.
So the next day, I put my hand on my heart, took a breath and said, “Good morning, Shauna!” And it was kind of nice. I continued to practice, and a month later when I saw her I admitted how helpful it had been.
“Wonderful! You’ve graduated”, she said, “Now the advanced practice: good morning, I love you Shauna.”
So the next day, put my hand on my heart, anchored myself and said, “Good morning. I love you Shauna”. I felt nothing except maybe a little ridiculous but definitely not love. But I kept practicing because as we know what we practice grows stronger.
And then one day I put my hand on my heart, took a breath: Good morning”. I love you Shauna” and I felt it. I felt my grandmother’s love, I felt my mother’s love, I felt my own self love. And I wish I could tell you that every day since then it has been this bubble of self-love and I’ve never felt shame or judgment again, and that’s not true. But what is true is this pathway of kind attention has been established and it’s growing stronger every day.
So I want to invite you tomorrow to put your hand on your heart and say good morning. And if you’re really brave, “Good morning. I love you”.