Archives for September 2021

What I Learned about Self-Compassion—and Life—From My New Vacuum Cleaner

Who would have thought I could learn about self-compassion – and life – from my new vacuum cleaner? SERIOUSLY?

Truthfully, I was initially resistant to getting one of those Roomba vacuum cleaners. Who needs one, I thought. I’ve got a decent vacuum, and besides, vacuuming is one chore I don’t mind so much. But my friends impressed upon me the joys of reading a good book while your Roomba was scurrying around your floors, and then there was a sale, and who can resist a bargain, right? I succumbed.

Little did I know how much my life would change, and how much I would learn from observing Ira – our new I-Roomba, do its thing. There are so many life lessons I learned from Ira, but here are just a few:

  1. When you’re tired and need to re-charge, take a break. No matter where Ira is, whether he’s halfway down the hall or in the middle of the living room, he stops dead in his tracks, turns around, and heads for his charging station. Doesn’t look back, doesn’t wait for a “good stopping place,” doesn’t say “just one more sweep through.” Just stops and heads home to rest.
  2. When you’re at your limit, call for help. When Ira’s bin is full, he stops, makes a particular beeping noise, so we know to come and empty his bin. He doesn’t try to empty his bin himself, or try to stuff some more crap in his bin. When he’s full and knows he needs help, he calls his loved ones – us. And we’re there.
  3. There’s more than one way to get from point A to point B. So be yourself and do it your own way. You may have been taught that the best way to accomplish a task was to be systematic, make an outline, start at the beginning, and then go to the end, right? That may work for some tasks, some of the time. But ha! Ira has thrown that theory out the window. He has shown that there is no one right way to accomplish a task. Ira’s creative with his cleaning. He wanders all over the place. He may work on the office floor for a while, and then wanders over to the bedroom, and then comes back to do part of the kitchen. But in the end, he gets it all done. And it looks great.
  4. Go slow. There’s really no rush. We have a whole lifetime, and there are always more tasks. Ira took nine hours to vacuum our house the first time, and trust me, our house isn’t so big. Now he gets it done in 3.5 hours, but in that time, rests for 4.5. Yes, you heard that right. Works for 3.5 hours and takes 4.5 hours’ worth of breaks during that time. Nice ratio, no?
  5. There’s way more crap down there than meets the eye. Whoa, baby, were we surprised after Ira’s first trip around our house. And I thought I was doing a good job vacuuming. It’s like when you go to a therapist to work on one minor issue that’s come up at work, and in no time you’re talking about when you were 6 and you were bullied by a neighbor kid. Things are always more complicated than they seem.
  6. If you miss something the first time around, no worries. There’s no need to be perfect – perfect is highly overrated. And besides, there’s always another chance to come back around and fix whatever you missed. Ira misses spots all the time the first time through a room. He comes back later and scoops up that clump of dust under the chair.
  7. When you’re stuck, call for help. When Ira gets stuck, does he struggle for hours trying to figure it out on his own? Does he relentlessly beat himself up for getting stuck in the first place? Does he think of all the things he should have done not to get himself there? Not Ira! Call him “No-ego Ira.” He reaches out and sends a text. I’m not making this up. I get a text saying “Help! My right wheel is stuck!” And there I am, ready to lend a hand. He doesn’t get all wrapped up in whether he’s imposing on me, or how many times he’s asked me for favors, and if the number of times we’ve helped each other out are equal. He doesn’t feel guilty for asking me to help. If he’s in some corner of the house somewhere and gets himself wrapped up in the fringes of a rug or a stuck under a sofa, he sends a text, and that’s it. End of story.
  8. There will always be obstacles – it’s what you learn from them that matters. You can continually hit your head against the trouble spots in your life – making the same mistake over and over again – or you can figure out where they appear and go around them next time. Ira learns where the table legs and door frames are by bumping into them – sometimes repeatedly – and the next time out he avoids them.
  9. When faced with potential adversaries that want to bring you down, ignore them. Ira frequently encounters a puppy that wants to play with him, throwing a toy right in his path, or an aging cat that’s ready to pounce. He remains unfazed, focused, mindful, and simply continues on his way. Being reactive is simply not in his system.
  10. When you finish a long and arduous task, celebrate! Ira shouts out a gleeful little series of tones when he’s done cleaning.

Watching Ira on his journey around the house is such a learning experience. No wonder I’m not getting my work done …

There Was a Little Blackbird

This article was originally published in Anna Friis’ blog on September 5, 2021. Republished with kind permission from the author.

This morning I walked past a small blackbird, contorted in pain and turning in small desperate circles on the pavement. A part of me wanted to pretend I hadn’t seen it, but I made myself stop, lean towards the feathered creature and work out the options for helping. Turned out there was not a lot to be done. It was ghastly, yet I’m glad I stopped.

Before this pandemic began, way back when the world seemed like a different place, many of us were perhaps more easily doing our version of walking past the suffering bird. If we looked away, perhaps we didn’t have to see.  Along came Covid and the presence of suffering all around us has become unavoidable for anyone who has their eyes open.  No country has been spared. Alongside many international organisations, the Centre for Mindful Self-Compassion ( stepped up and began offering online meditation circles for anyone in the world who wished to join. These circles were offered four times a day, in various time zones, led by a senior teacher sharing compassion-based meditations for 45 minutes each time. They were, and remain, free of charge.  

For the many who join each day, these meditation circles have been a light in what has sometimes felt like a bleak world,  providing gentle structure to a long day, ease for tired bodies, rest for over-busy minds, human connection for the isolated and solace for the aching; a candle in the window that has warmed countless hearts. They are also really rewarding and wonderful, often with the four corners of the globe represented in one zoom room.

Sometimes I get to lead these, generally the 4 pm PacificTime slot (11 am NZT), taking my online seat alongside a community of people some of whom turn up occasionally and others, every single day.  So much has unfolded among us as individuals and as collectives over this time; sorrows, joys and just the very ordinary business of getting on with day to day life.  Whatever arises in these sessions is invariably met with kindness and a sense of connection and warmth (even via zoom) that is palpable. What a gift it has been to quietly meet in this way to share breath, silence, collective wisdom and an enveloping positive regard.

Turns out the benefits of a meditation practise are immense. For me, my mat has become a resting place, a place of refuge, a way of making peace with my thoughts and feelings and of seeing things more clearly. Taking a disciplined dose of “me time” each day has led to an increasing awe for the intelligence of my “heart mind’, that seat of intuition and wisdom that has always whispered the way. Meditation gives me the courage to listen to that intuitive guidance and be led in directions I could never have imagined, even if it has meant doing hard things – and it has. It has also led to work that is profoundly meaningful and satisfying,  with daily opportunities to learn and grow and be of service towards a kinder world.  Along the way I’ve been able to let go of things I thought I needed to “fix”, and to work out more clearly what really matters; turns out that includes taking care of myself as well as others. I’ve learned to protect my energy when I need to and to give it unstintingly when I can. That is a powerful thing.

Most importantly, I am a little more able to lean into what ‘is,’ even when it’s painful or hard, without wanting it to go away. It’s life, nothing right, nothing wrong, just life, the highs and the lows and the everything in between. I know I am incredibly grateful to be living it, I hope I can do so even just a little more lovingly. I also know none of us have to do it alone.    

Fly high sweet blackbird.

You would be so welcome to join the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion Circles of Practice public meditation groups. You can sign up here.