The Kindness Challege, Week One – Going Gentle into a New Day

Featured Image:  “Carnation,” © Michael Dales (own work), Mar 2011. CC BY-NC 2.0. (license)

When making New Year’s resolutions, some people choose a single word upon which to center themselves and find motivation or grounding. I don’t think that I possess the mindfulness, consistency, focus, or diligence to remain intentional about the same word for a straight 365 days. It is hard enough for me to stay intentional, ever, even briefly. Sometimes, I become frustrated with my lack of consistency, or my absence of thought-fullness, or my failure to keep present, and I find myself growing discouraged. Defeatism and self-criticism harden my heart while the muscles in my body that are under more conscious control tighten and clench. I clamp my jaw at myself and my own obstinacy. However, there is an alternative perspective to this negative self-labeling. Recollecting my dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and asking how else I might understand or appreciate this situation, this unwanted identity I find myself saddled with, my wise mind softly suggests another explanation, “My self-sayings tend to shift with my needs, much like my other patterns of behavior. I’m not fickle. I’m adaptable.”

Fact check – is it true? One week, I am drawn toward my coloring books and pencils in my free time, and my dining room table spills over with slivers of wood shavings and sheaves of bright paper. Another week, the pool is where I find my solace, swimming stroke after steady stroke through the cool water as I watch the rippling patterns of the sun dancing across the tile beneath me. For a period, I rise early in the morning and read in bed from a book of daily scripture or one of the spiritual classics. Lately, it is Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. At other times, I am more overworked and sleep deprived, and I bury my face in my soft pillow, pressing the “snooze” button at least twice. I want to be more consistent. I want to make time to meditate for twenty minutes every day, take walks in the fresh air each afternoon, journal every morning, and read every evening. I want to develop the habit of cleaning up one or two rooms of my apartment each week, and I tell myself that if I could just hit my stride, I would never again fall behind on the house work. The honest truth is, though, I am probably not ever going to be that constant, or predictable, or “balanced.” As I type out my concept of an idyllic routine, another adjective occurs to me. Boring. I remind myself of my favorite definition of balance – a moment-by-moment adjustment to life’s constant unbalancing forces. Deep breath. Sigh out. The foundation never changes, but just how those elements manifest and in what proportions they coalesce to fill time are as changeable as sand dunes in a sweeping wind. Recognition of this fact (again) may be why I find myself transfixed by a certain word as I move through each day and from one activity or task to the next. Gentle.

Middleburg carnations
Middleburg carnations,” © Sarah Ross (own work), July 2009. CC BY-NC 2.0. (license)

The first week of The Kindness Challenge, hosted by Niki at The Richness of a Simple Life read thus:  “Be Kind and Gentle with Yourself.” The challenge went on to prompt each participant to treat himself or herself like a close friend, replacing self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-shaming with love, tenderness, and compassion. Because, wrote Niki, “You have to love and accept yourself for who you are before you can expect for someone else to do so.” An interesting idea… But that was not what most captivated me when I contemplated self-compassion. The more critical question burning in my mind was, “How can I love another if I can’t love myself? How can I love God? How can I truly understand what love is?” These were the questions that sparked my recovery. These were the questions that changed my life. Or started changing it. After so many unsuccessful attempts at belittling and berating myself into changing, it wasn’t until I opened my eyes to God’s unsurpassed love for me, his unfathomable forgiveness, and his confounding, confusing, complete and unconditional acceptance of me right now, as I am (and as I was), in my broken, imperfect, iniquitous state, in the depth of the shame at the rock bottom of my eating disorder, that I started to recover. Who was I to withhold forgiveness from myself when God deemed me fit for forgiveness? Who was I to withhold love from myself when God found me worthy, despite all of my unworthiness, of receiving His perfect love?

For years, I worked, studied, read, analyzed, criticized, and slaved, to “fix myself” (i.e., be perfect), and the only visible result was that I sank deeper and deeper into anxiety, depression, neuroticism, social isolation, and a diseased mind and body. All those efforts weren’t for nothing, however. I can’t put my finger on the missing piece that finally unified the disparate fragments and focused a floodlight of insight on my struggle, but it smacked me in the face during a group session in the midst of my partial hospitalization stint. It was not as though I never underwent any changes before that moment, and it didn’t become any easier afterwards, but from that day forward, everything was different. The shift was painful and excruciatingly slow. It was an uphill battle against decades of mental illness, destructive and disordered thinking, and deeply patterned behavioral reactions. Only now I was fighting with LOVE.

Waiting for the Word
The Good Shepherd 130,” © Waiting for the Word (own work), May 2011. CC BY 2.0. (license)

With the epic struggle become more like day-to-day maintenance or a steady, lifelong construction project, the busyness of life can dull my attentiveness to that love.  I tend to forget what it was like when gentleness, love, and compassion were novel and tender and needed my constant effort to willfully turn my mind around each time I found myself reacting automatically with cynicism, criticism, doubt, anger, righteousness, disdain, judgment, shame, blame, or resentment… which was pretty much every waking minute of every day. New automatic patterns take over. Some of the old ways still remain, although they are largely transmuted. It is not necessarily that I am in danger of sliding back into that same dark hole where I was once imprisoned, but slowly, subtly, the glow in my heart dims

Enter The Kindness Challenge. Such was my state when I began the challenge, and I found myself revisiting the same questions that I confronted during those first few days of learning how to eat, how to trust others, how to trust myself, how to give myself permission to be imperfect/real/human/alive… What makes me worthy of love and belonging? Nothing. Only that I am a beautiful creature of my heavenly Father, created in the image and likeness of God, and filled with the Holy Spirit. I am just as broken and dysfunctional as every other human being, and I am just as endowed with the fullness of dignity and just as infinitely loved. How then, do I treat myself? Gently. In case I need another reminder, it is the Year of Mercy, after all.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”

~ St. Francis de Sales

So… I went to bed early, and I took time out of my afternoons to meditate, if only for a few minutes. I exercised for the joy and pleasure of moving my body in a healthy, purposeful way, noticing the smells of the plants, the trills and chirps of the birds and crickets, the rustling of the leaves, and the chill of the breeze as I bicycled along the path near my house. I pushed my to-do list out of the way, and I pulled out my colored pencils. I held myself accountable, and I accepted my inevitable mistakes. I brushed myself off and I began again. I wrote down my gratitudes every day. Or nearly every day. I let go of being perfect or complete. Or I made an effort to let go. I took my time, and spent an extra two days to finishing this post. Deep breath. Sigh out. It’s a work in progress…

This new week brings a new chapter in The Kindness Challenge. As I endeavor to open my heart to appreciating the kindness all around me, I am making a note of the kindness that I find here, among my rich blogging community. And I am grateful. For another perspective on what it is like to cultivate self-love and self-compassion while recovering from an eating disorder, I encourage you to visit one of my favorite blogs, Beauty Beyond Bones. The author of this amazing blog writes beautifully and expressively about the emotional journey of recovery and of the process of reconnecting with God, self, and others. I always find unfailing kindness there. ♥

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

~ Philippians 4:3-7

Elsea Meadow Bourne
Elsea Meadow, Bourne,” © Lee Morley (own work), July 2013. CC BY-NC 2.0. (license)

#RevofKindness #bekind

 

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24 thoughts on “The Kindness Challege, Week One – Going Gentle into a New Day

    1. You are so welcome, though it feels like I am the one who should be thanking you. I’m so grateful for you and your writing, and for your amazing recovery and your profound faith and love and your willingness to be so open with the world!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow! As I read this all I could think is, “how harsh we can be on ourselves”. I read your words and hear the struggle with self-disapproval and self-criticism and all I see is your strength and courage. Your strength to have gone through what you did, the courage to share about it, and the way you persevere. Maybe consistency isn’t the driving force of your life, maybe your balance is in being able to keep the many balls you juggle in the air. I can relate to consistency being boring while someone else might find it stable. What does balance look like for you? How does your version of balance make you feel? What can you do regularly to maintain your balance? How can you remind yourself that your version of balance is what works for you and is beautiful? No need to answer those questions here, just points to ponder so the beautiful self-discovery moves with you into the coming weeks. I love where this week took you and thank you for being so open in your reflection. It will surely encourage others that will come across it. I can’t wait to see what week 2 brings you! Thank you so much for participating 🙂

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    1. Sorry my little one distracted me and I forgot to honor you for all of the great things! You were very gentle with yourself, evaluated your needs and found ways to be very kind to yourself! The last part about listening to the birds and smelling the flowers sounds absolutely serene. I’m glad that you were able to focus on those little things that bring great joy and peace into the day 🙂 ❤

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    2. Niki, thank you so much for your beautiful and thoughtful comment! You’ve given me a lot to consider. I think you may be onto something when you write about my best version of balance being an artful juggling. Hope you are having a beautiful day full of many acts of kindness!

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      1. It’s my pleasure Lulu! I’m so glad that resonates with you. I encourage you to explore that as you feel lead. 🙂 Thank you, I hope your day is as well! 🙂

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  2. What an incredibly beautiful, honest and heart warming post Lulu. You should be so proud of the steps that you’ve taken forwards in your journey towards healing and finding yourself again. And in being able to be kind to yourself, in the small acts that we sometimes forget but can mean so much. Like just listening to nature, breathing in fresh air, coloring and noticing the little details as you’ve described in this post. Keep being kind to yourself Lulu, even when you feel it’s a challenge, it will be your greatest gift to yourself. Hugs and warmest wishes to you. xo

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    1. Hi Miriam, thank you for such a heartfelt comment. It is a challenge to remember to be kind to myself, but you are right, I do need to take time to recognize the healthy improvements I have made. Still, sometimes, I can say the words “kindness” and “gentleness,” and my harried brain thinks that I am treating myself well, when all I’m really doing is repeating empty syllables. I think the key for me really rests in *stopping,* no matter what I’m doing, even if it’s just for one minute, and breathing, and re-connecting with myself. I think you are definitely onto something with your mindfulness-kindness focus. Hope you are having a brilliant weekend so far!

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      1. You’re right Lulu, it is about stopping and really believing in what we’re saying, until we can feel the words in our heart. Keep going, you’re doing great. xo

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  3. Lulu, I am so moved by your writing here. The struggle you describe sounds so familiar, and the gentleness you’ve attempted to gift to yourself is just so astoundingly beautiful!

    I absolutely love that St. Francis quote, and I’m writing it down for a rainy day. I am a (very) gentle person by nature, and in recent years I’ve learned to pass on the gentleness to myself … but goodness, with that comes so much fear of mistreatment and hurt. Gentle people do get knocked around quite a bit in this hard world, I think.

    But I am choosing to be gentle anyway, to myself and others, believing that there’s strength at work in doing so. 🙂

    Thank you for reminding me today. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ashley, I treasure your gentle soul! I can always see glimmers of it in your writing and your photography. It gives me the courage to try to be gentle toward myself and others in this rough and tumble world. You’re right, it does come with getting knocked around and hurt. Sometimes, I draw little notecards to myself during difficult or inspiring times. I have one from last winter that reads, “It’s better to cry than scream.” My defensive position is usually one of anger, but that doesn’t take away the hurt, it only inflames/projects/numbs it. I love the quotes of St. Francis de Sales. I’ve never read any of his writings, although I probably would benefit from them, but whenever I find one of his quotes, I always find myself reminded to be patient (especially with myself), still, forgiving, and kind.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love your idea of writing notes to yourself … What a beautiful thing. I think I’ll adopt it myself. 🙂

        Still, forgiving and kind… Yes. I’ll take it all. ❤

        Grateful for your words today!

        Liked by 1 person

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