The Slightest Shift – Turning Pressure Into Peace
The Slightest Shift
– Turning Pressure into Peace
Love thy neighbor as thyself. I never got this. From early on there was I lot I did not like about myself, let alone love. It’s relatively easy for me to love other people, and virtually impossible for me to love myself.
Treat yourself as well as you treat your best friends. Now I can understand that. I don’t destructively criticize my friends. I know they do their best. I thank them a lot. I forgive them when they mess up. I speak well of them. I don’t put them down. I advocate for them. I encourage them. I don’t dwell on their pasts. I don’t make them feel guilty or ashamed of themselves. I don’t compare them to other people. I don’t expect perfection from them. I don’t love them because of what they have accomplished, or because of what they look like, but because of whom they are. I respect them. I am kind to them. I love them. It’s easy for me. It’s a pleasure. I’m grateful they are alive, and that they have chosen to befriend me. It’s a gift to be their friend. I’m grateful they are in my life.
Can I honestly say that about myself? Can you? And if not, why not? We’re human beings, just like everyone else? So why is this so difficult for some of us?
Let’s take that same paragraph about how we treat our best friends. Let’s try it on ourselves and see how it fits.
I don’t destructively criticize myself. I know I do my best. I thank myself a lot. I forgive myself when I mess up. I speak well of myself. I don’t put myself down. I advocate for myself. I encourage myself. I don’t dwell on my past. I don’t make myself feel guilty or ashamed of myself. I don’t compare myself to other people. I don’t expect perfection from myself. I don’t love myself because of what I have accomplished, or because of what I look like, but because of who I am. I respect myself. I am kind to myself. I love myself. It’s easy for me. It’s a pleasure. I’m grateful that I am alive, and that I have chosen to befriend myself. It’s a gift to be my friend. I’m grateful I am in my life.
Do you feel this way about yourself? Do you treat yourself this way?
I don’t. And that is why I teach the workshops I teach on Self Kindness, on Self Care, and on The Peaceful Body. Because, if I am not going to teach this to myself, and do this for myself, who is going to do this for me?
Psychology and philosophy and spirituality don’t work for me. I learn through physically based practice. That’s how it is for me.
And if that is how it is for you, then this book might be of help. It might help you because this book is simple and practical. It begins modestly, humbly. I am not going to start out trying to love myself. That feels like too big of a leap. I’m going to aim for moments of self-kindness, moments of self-respect, but on a deeply physical level.
This little book is a manual in more ways than one. I looked up the word manual and this is what I found: a book of instructions for learning a subject, a handbook, a training manual. A small book. Something done by hand rather than automatically. A book of forms to be used by priests in the administration of the sacraments.
That is what it said. And now, I am sure this book is a manual. The Slightest Shift is a book of instructions for learning how to be kind and respectful to ourselves, to us. It is a “hand book.” Most of these practices are practices in cultivating awareness through touch, through contact. These practices, if done automatically, do not work. They require slight shifts in attention. They require attention.
A book of forms to be used by priests in the administration of the sacraments. Really? Yes. This book is a small book of forms. Form – a particular way something exists. Like you, like the particular way you exist. Or me. To be used by priests. A priest – a person who has the authority to perform certain rites. Like you for example. A rite – a thing of sacred significance. Like kindness for example. The hallowing of an action. Like the actions we perform all through the day. A solemn oath. Like a promise we make to ourselves. Or like a decision we renew over and over again.
I think I can safely say that kindness is a religious act. When the Dalai Lama was asked what his religion was he answered, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible to be kind.” I’ve heard Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, say, “I am not a spiritual person. I just know the difference between what hurts and what doesn’t.” I like that.
When we are kind to ourselves, it doesn’t hurt. When we are not kind to ourselves, it does. At some point we get tired of hurting ourselves. We don’t like it, but we don’t know how to stop. This book teaches you how to stop.
Surprisingly, these practices are effortless and pleasurable. They require no skill or talent. All that is necessary for these practices to work is the slightest shift of attention, and a little imagination. That’s all.
It’s been helpful for me to teach these simple practices to people because I am teaching to others what I need to learn. It moves me to see how effectively, and immediately, these practices educe kindness from people. Kindness is beautiful to see. Real kindness spreads inward toward the person being kind and simultaneously outward toward others and the world. That’s because real kindness does not perceive boundaries. It is a force of nature, like the sun, or the wind. It’s a force of human nature. Kindness is the kindest thing you can do in this world.
One of my teachers, when she was 77, and I was 25, told me that simplicity is more powerful than complexity. She had just seen me teach an interesting, entertaining, but overly complex class. She had a simple way of saying things.
I don’t know why it has taken me 40 years to become an uncomplicated teacher. Maybe it just took me a long time to simmer down. But now my work is simple. Maybe it’s too simple for you, and maybe not. What I teach is simply a matter of playing around with a few principles, every once in a while. It’s no problem if you forget them for hours at a time, or even for weeks at a time. Sooner or later one of them will resurface. And the moment one resurfaces, a subtle shift occurs, and your orientation toward yourself and the world becomes kinder. Just like that. It doesn’t matter how long it lasts, a few seconds, a few minutes, or a few hours, or for the rest of your life. As soon as this slightest shift occurs you have entered an opening into another world, a kinder world that exists inside this world.
You don’t have to practice them perfectly or diligently. Giving 1% of your attention on just one of these simple principles creates a slight shift, and that is all you want – the slightest shift. These principles are pleasurable, so quite effortlessly the nervous system, when undisturbed, chooses them because the nervous system prefers pleasure to pain.
Let’s get going.