loving strangers

Earlier this week at the gym, there was a young woman working out at the same pace and in the same places I was throughout my visit. We repeatedly made eye contact when I'd look up to find her looking at me.

My initial reaction: why are you looking at me? Are you judging me?

Secondary thought: Self, why would you give importance to the opinion of a total stranger, especially if it was unkind?

Tertiary: It likely wasn't unkind at all. A stranger looking at you is raising insecurity, which prompts you to look for differences between you so you can discredit her presumed offenses. Maybe she's curious, friendly, lonely, likes looking forward, admires your top, is bored, imaginative. I bet she's friendly.

I smiled at her.

Our fears, prejudices, and assumptions are likely fictions. They are stories given power by the words our minds spit forth - inspired by years of cultivation and training and fueled by our desire to draw a clear line between what constitutes I/me/mine and what does not. And it's culturally permissible because we're immersed in a culture of judgment and blame, whether it's the news (bad thing happened/how could it/who did it), reality television (can you believe these people?), and advertising (you have a problem/here's how you fix it).

Choosing to re-shape our internal monologues is a radical act of love, because it empowers us to simultaneously create and experience the world we want to be living in.

Practice mindfulness, yoga, meditation - cultivate practices that allow you to see the true machinations of your thoughts, and diligently redirect toward compassion.

A sense of local community is available to you every time you leave the house. You can purify your heart, shedding the toxicity of mean little thoughts that accrue over time. Given the divinity within all of us and our inherent interconnectedness, choosing to love others is also an act of self-love.