Respectfully, with compassion

These are the last words of a guided meditation I’ve been listening to for the last couple of mornings, led by Tara Brach. The meditation is called “Smile,” and it was recommended by my good friend (j/k), Maria Popova, author of Brain Pickings, in this interview. In the meditation, during which Ms. Brach takes us through a full body scan and then allows some silent time, possibly as a special challenge to those of us with ADD, she leaves us with this instruction:

“If you notice the mind’s been wandering, regard that with acceptance and patience. Just pause, and sense what’s been happening–thinking, planning, remembering. And sense the wisdom within you, the love of presence choosing to come back. Gently arriving again right here. Sense the here-ness: the sounds, the play of sensation, the mood in your heart. If something feels difficult, sense the possibility of offering what’s here: real kindness, perhaps the mental whisper, ‘yes, yes’ or ‘it’s okay.’ Just let life be what it is–respectfully, with compassion.”

You can see why this appeals to me, right? I ended the last three minutes repeating them word “yes” to the universe. Thanks for the reminder, Tara!

This sentiment was echoed in the interview with Popova, in which she discusses some of the choices she’s made in designing Brain Pickings. Stay with me. A few of them are:

  1. She doesn’t date or timestamp her posts (except in the URL) in order not to cater to the Buzzfeed-esque demand for constantly new content–after all, many of her posts are about works that are hundreds of years old. Popova also doesn’t write “listicles” or headline-grabbbers on pandering topics. All pieces are toward the aim of determining how to live a meaningful life. Popova advises writers to create the work you want to see in the world. As much as I love wasting my time reading the meaningless articles on the internet, I don’t think that the buzzfeed kind of writing is my strong suit. That said, I’m not sure what kind of writing is my strong suit, but I hope to figure it out through a more consistent practice.
  2. She doesn’t worry about “what people want to read.” She writes what she wants to write, about books that she wants to read. She argues this method by invoking Kurt Vonnegut, who advises to “write to please just one person.” Popova says that she does still, despite a readership of 5 million, write for just one person: herself. She notes that her blog is “just a record of my thought process, my way of just trying to navigate my way through the world and understand my place in it.”

I really took the interview to heart, feeling that Maria Popova has given me permission to continue being all over the place in the name of figuring out where I want to be. Since my last post, I’ve been contemplating what I could focus this blog on to make it more reader-friendly, to attract consistent readership, to make sense. I’ve been doing this on the advice of WordPress’s own Blogging 101 course (which I signed up for and have completed very little of) and numerous bloggers whose main aim seems to be spreading an image (a “brand,” if you will) in the effort to gain sponsorships, donations, or otherwise make a business out of blogging.

Indeed, I’ve been researching marketing for work since I am apparently going to be taking on that role, despite having zero knowledge or insight into it), and in googling things like “how to design a marketing strategy,” have come upon a ton of internet-rich people who make money and travel the world doing “internet stuff.” Of course I envy them this, but I don’t know that I could ever do it myself. I just don’t see what value they’re adding to the world, besides unlimited “content.” And I write the word “content” in the most derisive of tones. Sure, they may be helping tons of cubicle warriors break the chains and head off into a life of adventure and magic, but what are they doing for the truly needy people of this world, those with few resources to really change their lives? That is what is important to me.

I don’t want to write in order to make money. Indeed, my grandmother could bemoan the fact that my whole goal in life has been, seemingly, to not make money. (“It’s just as easy to love a man with money as one without,” she told me often as a teenager.) Don’t get me wrong–as a new homeowner, I’d love to pay my mortgage, plant a garden, and be able to travel every year. But I have a job that should technically allow me to do that now, but instead, I spend all my time trying to figure out how to get out of it. I’m currently considering going back to school to do something that could ultimately pay me less than I’m making now, but would be much more impactful to my community and more meaningful to me.

Let’s be honest. I have a lot of interests. In 2008 I was eco-obsessed, reading blogs about plastic avoidance and urban farming. I spent years teaching students about food and food systems, which bled into inequality and social justice. If you’d have asked me then if I cared about people, I probably would have answered something along the lines of “yes, but the environment is more important. We can’t save the people if there is no water or food and we’re all burning up.” This answer would have been a discreet way of hiding the fact that I am a bit of a misanthrope, and it would have been short-sighted. You live, you learn.

And of course I still care about the environment inherently, for the same reasons I did before. But where it previously would have been possible for me to write a post about peanut butter salmonella poisoning (that guy was finally sentenced to prison, btw), it’s more likely now that I’ll write about Planned Parenthood, Bernie Sanders, sea otters, or the prison industrial complex. 2008 me would be most surprised about her current obsession with prisoner’s rights.

Not that it will be all current events and politics, though they may play a part. Whatever does end up taking my attention, I will try to have compassion for myself. Rather than see myself, as I often do, as someone with no focus or drive, who never completes a project, I will try to reframe and reword my self-image. I am someone with diverse interests and many passions who wants to do good in the world and who seeks many avenues to finding her place, in order to provide her best service.

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