By Annelise Peterson
When I boarded my flight to Denver after a late night of Monday karaoke in Aspen, my expectations for an inspirational plane ride flew at low altitude. Wearing a hoodie, sweatpants, an N95 and oversize sunglasses, I was a formidable seatmate.
As luck would have it, my window seat fell next to a tall, handsome man who just so happened to be divorced with children—and engaged. Seldom do I take notice of my fellow passengers, but his charisma, and love for his fiancée, warmed my heart. I had to meet this woman wearing the ring.
Soon after, I received a book in the mail entitled Good Morning, I Love You, a bestselling guide to meditation written by Dr. Shauna Shapiro. Mother, clinical psychologist, internationally recognized expert in mindfulness and self-compassion, professor at Santa Clara University with three critically acclaimed books, translated into 16 languages—and engaged to the charming man on UA flight 32 from Aspen to Denver. Shapiro just so happened to be a Laguna Beach, California, native like myself. We made plans to meet in person when I flew West to visit my brother. “What you experienced in-flight is mudita,” explained Shapiro. “It’s one of my favorite Sanskrit words, defined as pure joy unadulterated by self-interest. When we can take pleasure in the joys of others, it is called mudita.”
When you meet Shapiro, there is something mystical about her presence. Her gentle voice draws you in like a mother’s embrace. Her eyes express an inspiring strength cultivated through compassionately overcoming tremendous adversity with a daily meditation practice.
At 17, planning to attend Duke University on early admission, and shortly after she was selected as Laguna Beach High School homecoming princess, the blonde beauty found herself lying in a hospital bed, in pain after surgery for scoliosis that included having a metal rod implanted along her spine. Her diagnosis had never interfered with her life, until now. In the place of a spunky athletic teen with a reserved position on Duke’s NCAA volleyball team was a scared little girl, uncertain about her future. Shapiro found courage in the words of mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Whatever has happened to you, it has already happened. The important question is, how are you going to handle it?” She had an important decision to make: sink into the wound of her adversity, or tread forward with her life. She chose the latter.
Shapiro transcends pain with mindfulness and, above all, self-compassion. “We have a mistaken belief that if we beat ourselves up, we will somehow improve. Neuroscience has proven countless times that brains on shame rob energy from the body—energy that it needs to transform. The parts of our brains associated with growth and learning shut down.” So how do we get this mindful superpower of self-compassion? “We have to change the internal dialogue from a self-improvement project to transformation,” she says.
“What you practice grows stronger,” explains Shapiro. “Maybe start with placing your hand over your heart every morning and repeating these words, ‘Good morning, I love you.’” Perfection isn’t possible, but transformation is.