Someone told me recently that they enjoy reading what I have to say because I write what everyone thinks, but nobody wants to say or admit. That pleased me because thinking I have a connection with others is something I have struggled with all my life. The theme of the one recurring dream I have had is that I am on the outside looking in. The dream could be about a picnic or a party or a meeting but the feeling it brings up is always the same—I don’t fit in. The others do not reject me though; instead, I hold myself apart by choice, evaluating and assessing and yes, fearful, even as the heart of me longs to belong.
But this person’s observation brought into focus for me the universality of all our longings and to that end it gives me the courage to share something I learned just recently. It was an epiphany of sorts for me, although it may not be for you. It is simple: be kind to yourself.
When I said those words to myself for the first time not long ago, discovering them as an archeologist would discover a treasure sifting through a pile of rubble, they struck me with the same wonder. I saw my actions in lucid perspective—my actions toward myself, that is—and for the most part, those actions have not been kind. They have had a driving, critical and pushy aspect—like a stage mother whose child is never good enough. But with the simple phrase, be kind to yourself, I perceived a whole different way of treating myself, one that is forgiving and gentle and humorous and relaxed.
When I treat myself with kindness, I exist within the rich moments of my day, savoring them, not expecting any return or reward. I almost used the word ‘grateful’ here, but ‘gratitude’ is becoming a vague, sanctimonious term, stacking us against one another in the spiritual materialism department and that’s not a very kind thing to do to ourselves, is it?
So I’ll just say that reminding myself to be kind to myself gives me a long perspective, and like all long perspectives, it reveals choices.
I visited Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire this week. I’ve been to three or so Shaker museums but this one had a distinctly different feel to it. It felt less like a museum and more like a village that was once thriving and is now gone—like a ghost town. Walking through the buildings, two things struck me. One, I no longer had the longing I had previously always felt in a Shaker village—the sort of longing that made me wish I could have lived there in its heyday. And two, I thought about the Shaker credo: “Hands to work, hearts to God” in a different way.
Looking at the rooms furnished with Shaker tables, chairs, baskets and those famous built in cupboards—revered designs that have spawned industries and collections—I finally really understood that it wasn’t—for the Shakers—about the stuff or the efficiency or the order; it was about their faith. Of course I knew that their spirituality was the underpinning of their communities, since I had read it over and over, back when I studied all things Shaker; but at Canterbury, with it’s unglamorous (and I mean that as a compliment) aspect something came to roost that hadn’t been there before. I saw the process behind the object and the belief behind the process.
This is what I understood: While the Shakers lived physically apart from the world in their self-sustaining communities, they didn’t deny the outside world; they interacted with it when it served their purposes–they knew they were a part of the bigger world and so a part of the larger whole. Apart and a part: both separate and part of the whole. The archetypal truth of being.
I am a basket maker and weaver loosely trained in “Shaker” basket making and weaving and this background helped me understand that craft is a manifestation of this belief in and acceptance of apart and a part. The final product may be apart from you; but in the doing of it you have become a part of the larger whole. The doing and the time spent are the worship and the offering, the connection to the whole. That’s why, for the Shakers, whatever they did had to be as perfect as possible, because each moment of time was a moment given to God—whatever you believe God to be.
A moment given to God—love that.