Tag Archives: Compassion

Mindfulness on a Rainy Day

Today’s post is going to be a little shorter than normal. Why write more words than you have to?

As I mentioned last week, the weather here in Ontario has been unusual in all sorts of different ways over the last few years. We have finally seemed to drift away from the summer-like heat of September and early October, but we’re continuing to experience the same kinds of heavy rainstorms we did this past spring and summer.

Yesterday was a particularly drizzly day. We didn’t get many millimetres of rain, but it did rain off and on so frequently that it felt like the world was always going to be this damp. What made me giggle about this thought was that only a few days ago I felt like the world was going to remain hot and humid forever.

Oh, how things change. Sometimes it happens when we least expect it, too.

I stood in front of my window and watched the rain fall. There weren’t any particular thoughts rolling through my mind in that moment. It was relaxing to watch the people, cars, and bicyclists pass by on the ground below me.

Suddenly, I remembered a story from my childhood that had to do with rainy days and the things people do on them.

Old Memories Surfaced

When I was a child, I loved going out for long walks in the rain. My mother didn’t know this at the time, but I used to collect some of the earthworms that crawled onto the sidewalks when the ground became too soggy to hold them.

Some of those worms came home with me if I thought they weren’t strong enough to survive outside or if I hadn’t already picked up my fair share of them during the current storm. Sometimes people accidentally stepped on worms on the sidewalk. It made me sad to see them injured. I tried my best to help out the ones I could. There was an aquarium filled with soil and plants in my bedroom where they could live safely, so that’s where I put them.

A year or two later, my family moved a few thousand miles away. One of the many things we did before we packed up the moving van and began a new chapter of our family’s adventure in the same state my siblings and I were born in was to take that aquarium and dump the soil (and earthworms!) into our backyard. I assume we repotted the plants as well, but I don’t remember that part of that day.

It wasn’t until all of the soil had been dumped out that mom noticed there were an extremely large number of plump, healthy worms wiggling around in it. I believe I told her what I’d been doing at that point and that she was surprised by it. One of my strongest memories of that day was feeling surprised that she hadn’t noticed what I’d been up to. I’d always assumed that she had ways of knowing everything her kids did!

It’s funny how a storm can dredge up half-forgotten moments like that. I hadn’t thought about that memory in years.

Mindfulness Through It All

The rain continued to fall yesterday. I saw people scurrying on the street below. They stayed close to the buildings and other covered parts of the street. Maybe that was why I only saw a handful of opened umbrellas being used down there? The sidewalk was quite damp, but there weren’t too many big puddles on the ground.

One of the things I appreciate the most about practicing mindfulness is how it frees me to enjoy little moments like this one.

I smiled at the memories that cropped up in my mind. When they faded away again, I returned to watching what was happening on the street.

There’s something beautiful about living in the moment like that. I was grateful for the rain and for the time to relive a happy, old memory before returning to the present day.

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The Third Option: A Response to Take Nothing Personally

This post was originally published on February 10, 2014. I will have a fresh topic for my readers on Monday!

Feed the real hunger, which is a plea for understanding. It’s their cry for help. The question is how we answer the cry. It starts with compassion. I’m not talking about pity, or pop psychologizing someone in the heat of their rage. That will make it worse. I’m talking about genuinely feeling compassion for the other person, and hearing their pain.

From Take Nothing Personally.

I strongly recommend reading the entire post I linked to above. It’s short and has an extremely powerful message.

By no means should this blog post be construed as a criticism of “Take Nothing Personally.”  I’ve seen how genuine compassion can transform people that you’d never imagine would be capable of such great change, but I would argue that there’s a third option other than responding with anger or compassion.

Compassion-LogoTake a step back.

Not every battle has your name on it. Not every person you meet will be willing to (or capable of) changing. Sometimes the kindest and most compassionate thing you can do is stop trying to fix someone who hasn’t reached a place in his or her life yet when they’re ready to take that step.

I’m not saying that we should completely cut off people who cry out for help through their anger, abrasiveness, or overwhelming desire to control others. Life isn’t always that black and white.

But you can turn the dial down. Call once a week instead of every day, or visit a few times a year instead of twice a month. There are many ways to set limits, and doing so can be really good for your mental health. Some relationships work better with a little distance.

The beautiful thing about steps is that they’re flexible and reversible. The limits you set today might be completely unnecessary tomorrow. Or they might need to be drawn in tighter in order to keep the relationship as healthy as possible.

By all means practice compassion, but remember that it can be used in a wide variety of ways and from any distance.

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How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Makes Us Who We Are

If the embedded video doesn’t play, click here.

This is a 20 minute talk about how people find meaning in their own suffering without relying on supernatural or religious explanations for it. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, try skipping through the first half. The last 5-10 minutes is where this talk gets really good.

Andrew Solomon acknowledges that you can do this while still being really angry about what happened. You don’t have to say something is at all ok in order to find meaning in it.

Here is where I disagree with Andrew. I understand why he focuses so much on the circumstances that have spurred people into doing amazing things, but the former is much less important than the latter.  This is a minor quibble with an otherwise invigorating talk, though, and I suspect that he’d agree with me if we were sitting down to dinner. It’s hard to compress this kind of worldview into such a short amount of time.


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Is It Ok to Not Like Kids?

A response to I Don’t Like Kids. There, I Said It

I actually agree with much of what Nissa has to say on this subject. Many years ago I decided to never become a mother for the same reasons she mentions: a complete lack of interest in parenting, a strong preference for a quiet, orderly adulthood and a desire to not add to the seven billion+ humans already in existence. To be honest I don’t think life on earth is going to be pleasant for anyone in 50-100 years and I’d rather not be responsible for creating one or more people who would still be alive if and when ecosystems collapse.

It makes me cringe when other Childfree adults say they don’t like children, though. Let’s substitute a few other groups in that sentence. Is it ok to say you just don’t like black people? Bisexuals? Women? Mormons? New Democrats?

Any group will include members who do things others find irritating but it’s counterproductive and unethical to punish everyone for something one person said or did. Not all children are noisy or distracting. My favourite activity as soon as I learned how to read was picking a good book and curling up to read behind the couch or underneath my grandmother’s piano while the adults talked.

Occasionally new grown-ups treated me like a nuisance because they assumed I couldn’t sit still and be quiet. Nothing could be further from the truth and being treated differently based on their pre-conceived expectations hurt. Now that I’m an adult I see no reason to say, “I don’t like kids!” (Or the equally inane, “I love kids!”)

Specific behaviours may be annoying or endearing but there will always be children in this world who are nothing like your ideas of them.

A few years ago a romantic dinner with my husband was marred by a table full of demanding, shrieking…businessmen. Every man at that table was so drunk he didn’t realize how loud their table was or that not everyone found them amusing.

Kids are individuals. I adore some of them, like others, and have met a small handful that I never want to meet again but the same can be said for Christians, lesbians, bloggers, cyclists, and librarians . 😉


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They Don’t Belong Here

It was a cold, windy afternoon.

While checking out some library books I heard a conversation heating up:

“… and they could have bedbugs.” The woman anxiously jerked her grey curls to three men reading in the corner surrounded by their tattered backpacks and faded grocery bags.

“Everyone is welcome here,” the clerk replied.

“But bedbugs jump! Someone could be infected just by walking by them.”

“I can’t ask them to leave just because they have a few bags.”

“Well, how are you going to keep the books safe? Vancouver has had serious issues with bedbugs hiding in their library books. They’ve even had to shut down some of their facilities.” [note: I have no idea if this is true by any stretch of the imagination.]

“We vacuum and clean the library regularly.”

“That isn’t enough! There are other community centres they can use. They don’t need to stay here…”

To be honest, I had sympathy for everyone involved here:

  •  The clerk for being forced to entertain such a bizarre request.
  •  The disheveled men for once again being stereotyped and rejected.
  •  And even the woman who made the complaint. It must be exhausting to live with that much anxiety.


Anyone old enough to read this has no doubt had his or her own share of interesting encounters in public spaces. Come tell us about them in the comment section.



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Why Food Drives Are a Terrible Idea

All across America, charitable organizations and the food industry have set up mechanisms through which emergency food providers can get their hands on surplus food for a nominal handling charge. Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food providers can get what they need for “pennies on the dollar.”…

A lot of waste also occurs on the other side of the food-donation equation. Rosqueta observes that a surprisingly large proportion of food—as much as 50 percent—provided to needy families in basic boxes winds up going uneaten. When you go to the grocery store, after all, you don’t come home with a random assortment of stuff. You buy food that you like, that you know how to prepare, and that your family is willing to eat.

– Why Food Drives Are a Terrible Idea

Let’s talk about this.

If you’ve ever received food from a food bank or similar nonprofit group: what did you think of the selection of products? Was there anything you never used? If anyone in your household had/has a special diet (e.g. they had diabetes or food allergies, ate Kosher, were vegetarian/vegan, etc.) was the nonprofit group able to accomodate that?

If you’ve ever participated in a food drive: What was that experience like? Did you follow up to see if the group you donated to needed more help after the holidays? Have you ever been asked to give money instead?

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Mailbag #3

Anonymous asks:

How do you respond to a friend who is asking for prayers? 

Hi, Anonymous. Thank you for writing to me.

Say, “you’ll be in my thoughts” if it’s at all socially possible for you to skirt around the issue for the time being.

Most of time people don’t request prayers for happy, stress-free life events. As much as it sounds like you’d love to tell this friend the truth now is not the best time to do it.

It’s better to wait until the dust from whatever is going on in your friend’s life has settled down before you have the “I’m not [or no longer] a member of your religious group” talk.

If I’ve misread your message and you never intend to tell this person about your actual beliefs this gets trickier. It can be really difficult to compartmentalize one’s life like that. All it takes is one person who knows the truth to accidentally say something and your secret is no longer so secret.

No, I’m not saying that you have to tell them or that the only possible way to live a moral life is if you tell everyone everything about you. Sometimes it just isn’t safe to disclose certain things to certain people.  As a queer, child-free, non-theist I grok that 100%. 😉

There’s still the question of how one should respond to prayer requests without bringing (too much? any?) attention to what you actually believe.

If telling them that they’ll be in your thoughts is too vague, what about subtly shifting the conversation to something like this?

Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about that. Can I bring you some groceries/babysit your kids/shovel your driveway?

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form or in the comment section of this post. 

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How to (Start to) Forgive Yourself for Small Mistakes

Photo by Richard Smith

Forgiveness has been on my mind this fall. It’s so much easier for me to forgive someone else for making a dumb mistake than it is to forgive myself.


There’s no possible way for me to control the decisions other people make. I can ask them to do (or not to do) something but ultimately it’s up to them whether or not they want to listen to me.

I can control what I do, though. In the past I’ve been pretty hard on myself over what ultimately turned out to be small bumps in the road. These things never should have stressed me out as much as they did. I don’t want to sound like I have this all figured out – there are still days when I expect much more from myself than I would anyone else. But I am learning to relax a little.

Here are a few questions that help you figure out if it really matters:

1) How would you react if a friend or family member did this? Usually my response would be a warm hug and something like, “it’s really going to be ok. Everyone makes mistakes.”

2) Will it matter in six months? And will you even remember it then? Most of the time there’s a world of no in both of these questions.

3) Is there anything you could (realistically) do to avoid similar events in the future? The answer to this one varies. Sometimes certain mistakes can be reduced or eliminated in the future by double-checking your work. At other times, though, short of developing superhuman abilities there’s nothing a reasonable person could have done to avoid whatever it was that happened.



Do you have trouble forgiving yourself? Is there anything you’ve learned that helps one feel less guilty for small mistakes?


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Unsent Letter

Dear Irate Woman at the Bus Stop,

I understand your anger and fear.

Even in a city as safe and well-lit as Toronto there is a difference between a woman travelling alone after dark and a man doing the same thing.

It isn’t right and it sure as hell isn’t fair but there are things we as women think about in that situation that 99.999% men will never grok.

Trying to walk off the bus with several teenagers blocking your way must have intimidating I totally get that.

But I cannot help but wonder if your reaction to them would have been more polite if they were fellow Caucasians who wore khakis and button down shirts instead of baggy jeans and sweatshirts.

Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference in the least.

Maybe you were having a bad day and were just as sarcastic and impatient with everyone else who got in your way.


I know I’m not an impartial party here. Those young men just reminded me so much of my brothers and the guys who lived in our neighbourhood growing up.

If my first impression is anything close to the truth, these aren’t “bad” kids by any stretch of the imagination.

Did you know I sat next to one of these young men on the bus? He was carrying a large duffel bag that blocked the aisle in front of us.

How did I convince him to move it when the bus arrived at my stop? I asked politely.

Before the last words curled out of my mouth he leapt out of his seat and grabbed the bag, apologizing for blocking the way. I smiled and thanked him. And that was that.

  • Race.
  • Culture.
  • Gender.
  • Socioeconomic status.
  • Age.

I’d be lying if I said these never get in the way of how we see one another. They definitely have influenced my past assumptions. But each day brings another opportunity to try again.

I can’t promise you that every person you meet will soften up with a little respect and compassion. Many do, though. After all it’s much more difficult to fight if only one person is willing to escalate the situation.


A Friend.

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The Deconversion Guide: Prayer

Part three of my series on life after faith. Click here for part two.

Today’s topic: Prayer.

How do you respond to prayer requests? What about praying before a meal? Is it polite to ask a well-meaning friend or family member not to pray for you?

Let’s talk about these one at a time.

Prayer Requests

Someone you care about is going through a hard time. At the end of their email or Facebook post they ask everyone to pray.

How should we respond to this? It seems dishonest to say, “yes! I’ll pray for you” if you don’t pray or believe in any gods (although getting out of that habit was really tough for me).

What is someone really asking for when they post a prayer request? Finding comfort in their religious beliefs is definitely a major part of it but I think there’s also a social aspect.

Most of the time friends and family don’t begin and end their side of the conversation with prayer. Advice or practical assistance – babysitting, bringing over a hot meal, helping with chores or errands that cannot be postponed- are usually offered as well.

Navigating the religious angle of it can be really awkward but anyone can offer to help in other ways.


This is probably one of the most common reasons that non-theists become a captive audience to prayer. It can also be something that is more difficult to opt out of discreetly if you are uncomfortable participating.

Usually I’m happy to sit quietly while others pray.  A notable exception to this are prayers like this:

Thank you, God, for this food. We love you so much. Please teach us how to serve you better for the rest of our lives. Amen.

because they assumes a relationship that at least one of us doesn’t actually have with the speaker’s god. Your mileage may vary but I’m not ethically comfortable being included in someone else’s relationship with their god.

Promises are also something I take extremely seriously. If I say I’ll be somewhere or do something I’m going to be or do it. The last time I broke a promise was last fall when a nasty bout of the flu left me too weak to do what I had agreed to do…and I still felt guilty for staying home that night. 🙂

So what are your options when you’re in a situation where the prayer before the meal becomes uncomfortable?

You could talk to the prayer leader about it. I wouldn’t recommend this in 99% of cases, though, especially if the meal is hosted by the person who will be praying. It’s far too easy for these things to be blown out of proportion.

In my experience people cannot be forced to understand how someone outside of their beliefs sees certain things. If it comes up in conversation I’ll share my thoughts but I haven’t seen much good come out of bringing it up personally.

Another options is to offer to host. Anyone who visits my house is welcome to pray silently or in a small group before the meal begins.

Also consider meeting at neutral locations like a restaurant or park. The more casual the event the less likely that public prayers of any kind will take place and almost everyone loves a picnic or barbecue!

Hard Times

I’ll cover this in depth in an upcoming post but one of the other most common reasons for a Christian to mention praying for you is when something bad happens. Someone dies, loses a job, is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Some non-theists do not find this a comfort at all. I completely understand why it would bother someone. Maybe I’m a bad Agnostic ( 😉 )  but I would only find this personally offensive if it was followed up with any hint of pressure to join that person’s religion or talk to his or her spiritual advisor.

Saying “thanks” and then switching the topic is one of my favourite ways to respond to this sort of thing.


Basically it all comes down to the intentions of the person offering or asking for prayer.

Does he or she want to convert you?

Is bringing up prayer a passive agressive act for this individual?

Is he trying to offer comfort?

Is she expressing sincerely held religious views?

Is prayer simply a habit for this individual?

There are many Christians in my life who would never cross that line. They sincerely respect my beliefs and are given a great deal of leeway when it come to these things.

Sometimes there are those who choose less respectful approaches. As I’ve mentioned in this series before, relationship history matters. You are the expert in figuring out what is happening with your friends and family.

Non-theists, theists, and everyone in-between: what have been your experiences with this?







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