“Oh, the Summertime is coming, and the leaves are sweetly blooming and the wild mountain thyme, grows around the blooming heather…”
The glorious sun is beating down as I write these well-known song words that resonate so deeply and softly with me, they capture the promise of Summer and hold very kind and special memories. Over this past month, the focus in my compassion-based mindfulness classes has been on exploring kindness and compassion (as well as any blockages in this area) and how it can flow in all directions (1) kindness, and compassion from ourselves to others (2) kindness and compassion from others towards ourselves and (3) kindness towards ourselves or self-compassion.
In between classes I’ve been encouraging people to notice kindnesses in everyday life and have been paying close attention myself. And not so much for us to intellectualise the concepts by thinking about them, or analysing them, but to be physically aware of and moved by kindness and compassion, to notice how it feels in your body when you give or receive kindness, or indeed to be curious when there is resistance there. And even to be aware that sometimes when we begin to focus our attention on kindness it is not unusual to feel a dearth of it, or a resistance to it.
There are some beautiful meditation practices that help us to cultivate kindness in our lives, including a practice called memories of kindness, where we are invited to recall memories of being kind to another, of receiving kindness from another and of being kind to ourselves. In terms of being kind to myself, mindfulness meditation is what I consider an act of kindness to myself in daily life. With this as my foundation to help manage my grief alongside everyday life, I have been consciously introducing sometimes tiny, but kind and wholesome habits: Little by little, step by step, because when you begin a new habit, it may seem like you’ve a mountain to climb. If you start slowly and gently, and if you can be consistent with it, you will feel the benefit, for example, my now sustained habit of a weekly West Cork sauna session combined with a swim in the sea.
The sauna reminds me that I want to focus on how it feels to receive kindness from another. And I only need think back to last Summer and am reminded and ever-appreciative of all the great kindnesses shown to me by such good and kind lifelong friends that helped me survive the initial trauma of a house fire and subsequent bereavement. Grief can be such a lonesome journey, and no one escapes it. But the weight of grief is made so much lighter by kindness. Months later, as I found myself still suffering and struggling deeply, I recall one very dear friend who was particularly consistent, even persistent, as she noticed that I was still unable for most aspects of life. She repeatedly mentioned that she was going to a mobile sauna every week at a beach close to her and that she felt I would love it. I kept refusing, feeling unable for almost everything that I would previously have loved. But, seeing my vulnerability and fragility, she remained consistent with her invites, until one Friday in November, I felt able enough to go along with her. I have been going almost every week since then.
She remained so consistent with her kindness, all year round and never gave up on being kind to me, even when there was very little coming back to her. I was, like so many others who have suffered great trauma and loss, absolutely depleted, my tank was empty. My nervous system was so dysregulated at that time that I couldn’t relax very well or even get in the sea despite being a regular swimmer all my life. But my experience of showing up at the same time every Friday at the sauna just the way I was, a bit ‘shook’ and very vulnerable but feeling no judgement, only warmth and kindness, from people who were then strangers, now friends, prompted a shift in me. I felt welcomed and included by this merry circle of sauna buddies; I had found a place where you can be yourself. I feel tears in my eyes now and a felt sense in my body of soft gratitude as I recall these early days and recognise how it feels to receive kindness.
Now, the journey over in the car to The Balmy Barrel Sauna at Broad Strand in Courtmacsherry is the beginning of one of my favourite days of the week. I find the hour alternating between the sauna and the sea such a very mindful and deeply embodying experience. It is therapeutic not only for the mind and body but in every way. I’ve laughed more in that sauna than I might sometimes have laughed all the rest of the week and have made lovely new sauna friends and had such gorgeous times there celebrating happy occasions. And all because a good friend was consistently kind and wouldn’t take no for an answer! She had enough kindness and compassion in her to spare, to keep asking and including me, even though I didn’t know what would be good for me and was far from being the best company.
It takes genuine friendship to accept you as you are, in every state of human imperfection, to expect nothing from you, and to walk beside you on your journey, enabling you to restore yourself so you can walk beside someone else on theirs. Difficulties in life, like any experience of grief, trauma, or loss can rock your very foundations and your confidence, so kindness, in all directions, becomes a very important thing. I feel this poem ‘The Rose’ by Hafiz is a perfect fit when recalling how gentle acceptance, encouragement, and kindness can offer hope and friendship at times of great need. Is there anyone in your life at the moment that you can offer “the encouragement of light” to?
“How / Did the rose / Ever open its heart / And give to this world / All its / Beauty? / It felt the encouragement of light / Against its Being. / Otherwise, / We all remain / Too / Frightened.”
My next monthly ‘Simplicity and Ease’ workshop is on at CECAS in the old chapel at Myross Wood, Leap on Sunday June 18 from 2-5pm and offers a gentle introduction to compassion-based mindfulness, using indoor and outdoor settings.
Drop-in compassion-based mindfulness sessions at CECAS.ie Myross Wood (now in the old chapel), Leap on Tuesday mornings from 10am-11am. €10. All welcome.
For more information:
Phone: 087 2700572 or email: email@example.com
(The Balmy Barrel Sauna – Instagram @westcorksauna or message Donie on 085 101 3648)