At least a dozen times a day I get stuck behind someone who is going slower than I would like to go. Most often this happen driving in traffic, someone in front of me going painfully slowly when I am running late to get to my next appointment. (Never mind that it was my fault that I was late in the first place.) My impatience surges when someone speaks to me about ideas I consider “backwards,” and I think uncharitably that “they just don’t get it.” Even slowing down for someone who just wants to ask a question in the grocery store or say hello in the gym lobby can annoy me if I’m too focused on getting to the next thing I have to do.
My impatience at all things slower than myself went unchecked for years. But, recently I realized that my impatience with others insulated me from my acknowledging my own failings (and slowness) that got expressed as a lack of empathy toward others. The new way that I approach slow things is to think of it as an act of hospitality. Few teachings are more fundamental to my Christian faith than hospitality — the practice of welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. And, the reason, scripture tells us, is because we all were once a stranger in a new place. (I sure have!) We must treat others how we would want to be treated when lost, confused, poor, hungry or otherwise lacking in some way.
Offering generous hospitality requires us to walk (or drive, or hear, or see) through the shoes, eyes, ears of another. This kind of empathy requires us to dig deep into our own experiences — of being lost, of learning something new, of just having a bad day.
In the wonderful podcast, Poetry Unbound, Host Pádraig Ó Tuama recently reflected on the poem, “Prayer” by Faisal Mohyuddin. The poem is structured not with punctuation, but with words carefully placed so as to look like prayer mats lined up in rows. (Click the link on Prayer to see it.) The placement of the words is an invitation, an act of hospitality in and of itself.
“And I’m always drawn into the richness of this prayer and the richness of this poem by thinking, there’s people who will look at this poem and immediately feel at home,” Ó Tuama said in the podcast. “For me, I immediately feel invited somewhere new; but other people would read this and go, ‘I recognize this.’”
I have now been practicing what it means to make others feel “invited somewhere new.” It means tuning into my own needs and offering myself what I need so that I can slow down enough to welcome others. If I feel calm, safe, secure, I am then more able to offer the same to others around me. It keeps my impatience in check so that I can offer calm instruction when they want directions, or need me to slow down as I walk or drive behind them, or a listening ear when they are frustrated by learning something new.
I am especially practicing this kind of hospitality with participants in my online retreat that started this week. Many are new to mindfulness and meditation, others more experienced, but either way I want to invite them into a wonderful new community that will slow down to meet you where they are at, and show them to do new things without fear of judgement.
The reality is that we all awkwardly learn new things, walk or drive slowly, or just flat out make bad decisions. Remembering that we were once in the shoes of another — meaning that we have been that slow person at other times (probably just today) — humbles us enough to slow down. In the case of learning mindfulness — spiritual practice are never really mastered. We are simply practicing them our whole lives to our higher selves and higher purpose.
Consider this blog an invitation to something new — registration for my retreat is still open until March 10! All meditations are recorded, FB posts are saved, and there’s a welcoming community in my private FB group ready and willing to welcome you into the fold. All you need is a willingness to try something new!