I saw him through the bay window, an elderly man caught after his fall in a terrible position between the concrete parking space bumper and practically under the parked car. In seconds a whole group was around him offering their aid. I stood feeling helpless, my heart in my throat, as they checked that he wasn’t bleeding or seriously hurt, lifted him up, consulted with his caregiver about next steps, and supported him to his car.
And then as he stood braced and ready to descend into the front seat, he looked up. We locked eyes through the big restaurant window where I stood directly in front of him. And I saw it: the embarrassment, the suffering, the pain.
It was one of those moments where life shifts gears. I went from having coffee with a dear colleague to remembering with a capital R the fragility of life. The vulnerability of our human form. The tenderness in our desire to care for each other.
Honestly I don’t always welcome such moments. Beyond the obvious statement that I wish we could all go through life without falls, especially the elderly, I was left troubled by what I had seen. The replay of the look on his face flashed again and again in my minds eye.
Perhaps you too find yourself pricked by life and unclear how to hold or integrate such moments: the homeless man at the intersection, the child in the grocery store who is being pulled along by a distracted parent, the tragedy you hear about on the radio.
All I know to say is that conscious living opens the door to receive such moments. We can not tune in to the beauty of the buds on a spring branch without simultaneously opening ourselves to feel, in an intimate and embodied way, the sadness, empathy, concern, and at times troubling reminder that we too only have a finite number of trips around the sun.
Now if this post is feeling a teeny morose, hang on we will turn a corner. But first it is important to acknowledge that left untreated these pinpricks from life will accumulate into compassion fatigue. And depending on the particulars of your work and your nervous system they can stack up in a hurry.
But there is a gift embedded in such moments. We can’t rush to extract it and leave the rest behind, it comes only with digesting the whole. Yet we can support ourselves in the process and remember the invitation in all troubling situations, whether they happen to us directly or we bear witness to them: An invitation to redeem them by consciously learning their lessons. Here is how:
Give yourself a quiet moment to ask:
If I could remember what is revealed to me as being true about life from this encounter (i.e. that life is short, precious etc.) how would I structure or approach my life that is different from how I’m living right now?
And simply listen. Listen for a whole day. Longer if you need to. Listen while you drink coffee outside with the birds, while a child tells you a story, while you go for a walk, shower or wipe the counter. Listen while you stir a pot, travel to work, or take a five minute break on your porch.
And bubbling up you will hear the answers. These may indicate the need for some big shifts, such as creating a plan to leave your job or find a new one, to seek out a different childcare arrangement, to gain space in your schedule by handing back some discretionary commitments. If the nudge indicates a big change is in order, try to identify the one or two next best steps in that direction and commit to taking them this week.
Other times the answers which bubble up invite smaller shifts and more interior changes. It may be that you simply hear an invitation to trust that many conscious choices have led you to this place. And to get curious about how you can live more fully each of your days, right here, right now.
Or it may be a combination of the two: identifying the real stumbling blocks which need your attention and cultivating presence and soulful engagement with the particulars of your daily life as it is.
I’m at a spot now where the overall structure of my days as well as the nature of my work align well with my soul. I only know that this is true because I have lived many, many seasons where it was not aligned, or at least not to this degree. Seasons where I pushed myself too hard and rested too little. Or tried to mold myself into something for someone else: the ideal student, the strong non-profit leader or social change crusader, without taking enough cues from within.
Yet even with a schedule and work which align overall with my deeper self– I still have a choice to make daily, or even on a moment to moment basis:
I must decide whether I will fuel my writing, teaching, coaching out of fear or anxiety or instead align with gratitude.
To get caught up in questions like “will they like what I have to say” or to ask to be of service.
To worry “will enough people come, have I done enough to market etc” or to trust that the right people who will benefit from what I have to share will find their way to my class or website.
In order to navigate my way through these questions I ask each morning: “what are the three things I am most invited to do today to respect the life and work which is called out of me?“ These I write on a sticky note. And prioritize.
I saw something else in the man’s face when we locked eyes—something he might not even have been aware of himself. His inherent nobility. The beauty of his life. The witness of his presence without him having to be any stronger, younger, or more able-bodied than he was right then. In short, his dignity — which comes not by his doing or succeeding or producing, but by his particular beingness. And that is a gift he shared, likely unknowingly, with me.
And so today when his face flashes before me I send him a prayer, I incorporate him into my meditation practice with loving kindness, and most of all I honor the lesson of our paths crossing by trying to get on with my work and my life. To let go on the inconsequential and to deeply listen to my children. To actually notice the egg I eat for breakfast and the sunrise and the sunset and the hours in between. To write and attend to my other tasks. And to breathe.
What beautiful or hard encounters have made you catch your breath lately?
What lessons might be embedded within them?
love to you, Birders, near and far.
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How to Be Your Child’s Soul Teacher Series. Thursday evenings, April 3, 10, 17, 24, and May 1, 6:45-8pm (The live course is over… but being converted to an online course. Email me for details or sign up below to get on my email list + be the first to know when it rolls out.)
$149/5 week series or $35 drop-in per class at Oil & Cotton Creative Exchange. 837 W. 7th Street. Dallas, Texas 75208
Join Courtney and other conscious parents for this special five week series. Each week includes an experiential lesson, written guide with specific tips and practices for the home as well as a creative take-away.
Week 1: What is a Soul Fever? What does it mean to be a soul teacher for our child in a culture focused on external achievement? How can we recognize & respond to the symptoms of overwhelm in our children and ourselves? Learn practical ways to simplify your home environment and create a life-giving schedule to preserve your children’s nervous system (along with your own!) Create a unique mobile out of natural elements to hang in your home as a symbol of your desire for balance and harmony.
Week 2: Meditation & Centering Practices for the Whole Family. No lotus pose required. Learn how to create labyrinths in nature (and your own yard), interactive mandalas, a guided pebble meditation and more! Paint your own special set of meditation stones.
Week 3: Your Family Story. Come learn this step by step method for listening deeply as well as an ancient meditative practice of “gathering the flowers” out of your story: starting with your child’s birth and weaving in both sublime and challenging elements of life together. We will also watercolor flowers for our May Day crowns.
Week 4. What is Your Parenting Personality? Do you lead (and filter) primarily with your head, heart, or gut center? Do you tend to lean into conflict? Or need time to retreat to regain your center? Utilizing a powerful tool called the Enneagram you can recognize your own dominant personality pattern and “de-velcro “ from habitual approaches to life to instead find more freedom & choice in parenting and all relationships. Create three aromatherapy blends (in convenient roller bottles for easy application) to balance your mood and help you ground, open your heart, and clarify your mind.
Week 5: Your Family Culture. Learn strategies for crafting life-giving birthday and holiday celebrations which together create a sacred calendar in which you and your child can live the whole year round. Create paper crowns and ankle bells for our May Pole Celebration!
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