I hope this note finds you all well and keeping warm in this arctic time of year in New England. International friends, I hope you too are staying cozy no matter the weather! I write to send along a poem, a centering exercise, and an embodied poem prompt, and to remind our minds that the body innately knows compassion--aka kindness embodied. I came to understand this more deeply through my yoga practice and yoga teacher training. And I love Naomi Shihab Nye's below poem for all the ways it conjures that feeling within us viscerally through it's use of narrative, image, repetition, the exploration of grief, and the way that emotion alchemizes while it teaches us how to embody our humanity with even more compassion. What kind of cities could we create if we inhabited--and could make our way back to--this kind of kind space throughout our day-to-day?
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend. --Naomi Shihab Nye
Centering Exercise: With your eyes closed, place one hand on your heart, the other on your belly. Connect to the anchor of the breath. Feel your feet on the floor, sitting bones grounding into the seat or earth beneath you, and your spine supported by the chair. Ask yourself: "What am I writing for?" Sit with that inquiry for a few moments while the mind/body and intention percolate. Once you've landed on a word, image, feeling, write that down on the top of your page. Set your phone alarm for 20-30 minutes. Consciously "bow in" to your writing time, and engage with the prompt below. Come back to your intention as many times as you need while you draft.
Journaling/Poem Prompt: Before you know what "x" is you must "y". Utilize repetition to build connective tissue in the poem, sensory details that engage the 5 senses, and consider how to concretize your abstractions. Kindness is such a large conceptual thing, but Nye does amazing work to create a concrete, felt sense of it throughout this poem. How does she do that? Write 3 stanzas that develop your comparison of "X" and "Y" associatively.
As always, feel free to hit reply and let me know how it goes.
Valentine's Day Bonus Gift: Radical Self-Care Changes Everything podcast
In the name of self-love, creativity, and sustainability, here's a podcast with Anne Lamott--fiction writer, essayist, memoirist--that champions self-care as part of our creative and writing process, and reflects on how self-care and creative writing give rise to embodied self-compassion as we experience the sacred in the secular by way of recognizing our shared humanity. Here's the equation as I see it:
self-compassion--->empathy=cities of kindness.
Sending you all lots of self-love this Valentine's Day!
In Poetry & Embodied Kindness,
P.S. Stay tuned for updates on my next poetry, self-care and creative sustainability offering. I'm in the process of planning and building...