turning the other cheek: an (almost) daily practice in magic

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how many times do we say to each other (and ourselves): “take a deep breath”? lots, right? we tell our kids this: “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” and i also tell mine this: “say nothing that will make a situation worse. if you can’t contribute something helpful, zip it!” i’m intrigued by these not just as a way of deflating anger in the moment and deflecting conflict, but also as a way of being more thoughtful in the world. if the last few years have taught me anything, it’s the value of “taking a minute” to collect myself and make a choice about my actions — and how they reflect the kind of person i am and want to be.

i am blessed to have really wise (and entertaining, oh my!) friends. one of the smartest things one of them has tried to help me understand is also one of the hardest to hear: “your suffering’s not so special.” he may have cited it as a buddhist thing (or maybe not), but here’s my tough love translation: “girlfriend, get over yourself….” OR to quote R.E.M. (we should all quote R.E.M. more often. who’s with me?): “everybody cries and everybody hurts sometime.”

we can all tell stories of our pain. i’ve told some of mine here on this blog. some take theirs to facebook. others share theirs via text and phone and over drinks. it’s important for us to be heard — it’s just that no single person’s struggle is any more or less important than any other person’s. perhaps you’ve all seen that meme going around social media: the one with “that girl you call fat… that girl you call a slut“? the lesson is that everyone’s got a history; life isn’t easy for anyone.

i bring it up because once i got over my i-AM-too-special reaction, the your-suffering’s-not-so-special charge helped me put lots of things in perspective.

  1. i am more patient with people’s BS because a good bet is that it comes from a place of pain that has nothing – zero! – to do with me.
  2. i’m even trying not to label it BS.
  3. empathy, empathy, empathy: we’ve all had our faces rubbed in the dirt; we’re all trying to rise up.
  4. i am more relaxed about my own troubles. part of being human is to struggle. the source is almost inconsequential. (how often we get attached to the sources of our pain and imagine that they need to release us!)

there are a number of specifics i can cite even in my own life. last year, i stopped blogging awhile when an ex-boyfriend was harassing me online. i became fearful, and decided the harassment was to blame. why i really stopped was because i felt too exposed and because i doubted myself: those are anxieties that exist in me separate from him. and with my ex-husband? while it’s so easy to point a finger and list the awful repercussions of the marriage/divorce, i can also choose to look at what it flares up in me and cope with it apart from him… without expecting anything from him: not kindness, not respect, etc.  it releases me from requiring those things from him as a condition of me being happy and well and feeling loved. (and good thing, because girlfriend, as one of my friends shook me and reminded me recently, he will never do what you ask!)

of course, day-to-day, i’m as angry and as reactionary as anyone. once in a while i still reach out and ask people to give me those things i think i need from them… i’m not as evolved as i’d like to be. who is?

but when i take a deep breath, i know this is where our energy belongs (yes, even for those who attack or undermine us):

may all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness;
may they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.

i may not be able to meet injury and insult with straight-up forgiveness yet, but i can (almost always) see the words/actions as a reflection of pain in their source — without implication on who i am or what my own possibilities are in this world.

why am i reminding myself today? something’s on my mind, but… the source is almost inconsequential, remember? i have lots of opportunities to practice letting things go. obviously, i must still need help getting it right because the universe keeps giving me opportunities to “prove it, red.” in that context, it’s easy to understand why we should be grateful for our struggles and send love to the people who hurt us — they give us the chance to be our best selves in the worst of circumstances.

thank you for showing me the ugly instincts i posses. thank you for reminding me that the desire to lash out’s just under the surface. thank you for allowing me, instead, to refuse her light and oxygen. thank you for helping me push her aside to find something more beautiful. i’m  learning to live in peace even when what’s around me is far from peaceful. i’m learning to respond with kindness even when i face disdain. it feels like magic.

and it *is* magic, not the abracadabra, wave-a-wand kind, but the transformative kind. it’s not easy to take all those deep breaths, but the reward is freedom. total. freedom. ahhhhhhh…..


  1. good for you. and yes, magic, that sense of a crashing wave suddenly gone to calm. no sainthood required. I like what the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” applies to ourselves equally.

    there’s a man in a small west coastal town who does Buddhist Thangka paintings (good idea, Buddhism I think, although I’m not). I’d seen pictures before but never the actual real work before visiting his gallery. his statement of intent, how he holds his good regard for his, and our relationship, became visible. visceral even. didn’t return for many weeks, shy about the difference, his life to mine.

    but old dogs can learn new things (old, meaning me!).

    meaning some measure to that stance, your life is not about you. and merit to, deep breaths, as you say. although maybe they seem so deep because we’ve been living so far from the reality of that other stance. (good wish you think?)

    with appreciation, me

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