Every morning, my husband, Mark, makes a coffee in my travel mug for me. This is a big deal because as a retired soldier who likes his coffee "black, like my soul," he takes the time to add half-and-half and turbinado sugar (or "make my milkshake," as he puts it) in the amount that tastes just right to me. This is a form of love in action-- a tangible action that allows me to experience his love as a verb rather than an emotion.
Since May, I've had the good fortune to be a member of a year-long cohort program at Barre Center for Buddhist Studies called Mindfulness, Soulfulness, and Socially Engaged Practice, guided by one of my most beloved teachers, Rhonda Magee.*
In May, our cohort spent five days together in Barre, and one of the fantastic inquiries that I have been working with since then is, What does love in action look like?
Turns out, sometimes it can look (or feel) uncomfortable. For instance, a colleague shared their pronouns with me: she/they. Because this was the first time I was face-to-face in an interpersonal relationship with someone whose pronouns are she/they, I had some questions.
Me: Is it ok with you if I ask some questions about your pronouns?
Me: I've never been face-to-face with someone whose pronouns are she/they, and I want to make sure that I get it right. Are you ok with either she or they? Or is this something that changes from time to time? Like, should I check in with you when I first see you in a day?
She/They: Thanks for asking this question. I'm ok with you using either she or they when referring to me, so either one is fine with me.
Me: OK. Thank you for clarifying that for me. I really don't want to upset you or get it wrong.
She/They: You're welcome. Do you mind if I offer you a reflection?
She/They: I have noticed, especially in white women**, that your conditioning is such that you're REALLY worried about getting things wrong or upsetting people. Here's the thing, though: mistakes are what show me my learning edge. If you stay where you won't make a mistake or upset anybody, you may be missing out on opportunities for learning.
Me: [Stunned silence...] Holy shit, you're right! Thank you for offering that to me. I'm going to have to sit with that for a while...
She/They: You're welcome.
I took this reflection on a walk. I journaled about it. I sat with it the next time I sat meditation. And then, as I thought about love in action, I realized: Offering this reflection to me was love in action. It would've been much easier for my colleague to answer my questions about their pronouns and move on, rather than saying, "Hey, I've noticed this and think you might want to know about it" about a tender subject.
This then lead me to another inquiry: How many times have I misidentified love in action as difficult person?
And also: How many times has my love in action been received as difficult person?
Over the weekend, Mark and I finished watching Lessons in Chemistry on Apple TV+, which is an adaptation of the novel by Bonnie Garmus. I loved this show, and no, I haven't read the book. Also, without giving anything away, please note that the show includes themes and scenes of sexual assault, suicide, racism, sexism, religion, science, unexpected death, single parenthood, the Korean War, divorce, and likely other topics I don't recall in this moment that may be upsetting to viewers. It is much like my experience of life-- complex and messy.
Set in Los Angeles in the late 1950s/early 1960s, Brie Larson plays Elizabeth Zott and Aja Naomi King plays Harriet Sloane. Elizabeth is a chemist, and Hariett is a paralegal who eventually is a licensed attorney. Throughout the series, both Elizabeth and Hariett demonstrate love in action-- both toward themselves and others-- by staying within their values and treating themselves with the same respect they expect of others, as well as taking actions that put their lives and livelihoods at risk while demonstrating their commitment to their values.
Do you know how often the theme of difficult woman arose throughout the show? How about how many times another character started a sentence with, "Why can't she just..."? Do you know how many times I, a recovering good girl, squirmed a little when I noticed those same thoughts arise while watching the story unfold?
I spend a majority of my time teaching, advocating, writing, and companioning people through change. That space between what is and what could be is rife with opportunities for love in action and that love in action being received/perceived as difficult woman. As a recovering good girl, it takes lots of intention and practice to be resourced enough to notice the discomfort that often arises around my love in action.
I find that sangha, my community of friends practicing together, supports my love in action practice. My colleagues, friends, and family also support my love in action practice. Being clear about my values and what is my work to do (and checking in from time to time to adjust as needed) support my love in action practice. This is also depicted in Lessons in Chemistry by the friendship of Elizabeth and Hariett, as well as their friends, family, and colleagues. All of the mindfulness-based practices support my love in action practice.
There's no time to lose, friends. The world desperately needs ALL OF US intentionally practicing love in action.
I'd love to hear in the comments how you're practicing love in action!
*If you're thinking, "Dang! I wish I had the chance to explore the ideas of mindfulness, soulfulness, and socially engaged practice with Rhonda!", I have some great news for you! This weekend is your chance to spend two days with Rhonda learning about mindfulness and soulfulness in an online offering from Spirit Rock called Mindfulness and Soulfulness: Wholehearted Practices for Our Times! DO NOT SLEEP ON THIS, friends. Anytime you have a chance to practice with Rhonda, DO IT.
**My colleague knows that I have been racialized and identify as a white woman.