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December 4, 2019

The Unlikely Spiritual Teachings of Mister Rogers.

It’s safe to say if you are a Gen Xer or older millennial, you grew up with Mr. Rogers.

I can remember his show being one of the few my parents encouraged us to watch. “Hey, Mr. Rogers is on. Do you kids want to sit down and watch for a bit?” 

I remember it feeling odd, even at a young age, that my parents, who were typically pushing us kids outside or to pick up a crayon and paper, were actively suggesting we sit down on the couch to watch TV on the regular. 

When I heard that “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” was coming out, I couldn’t wait for it to arrive at my local theater. I watched the trailer and teared up, got goosebumps even. I knew that if I allowed it, this movie could draw me back to my childhood, to so many lessons I learned and memories of that time in my life. Memories of experiencing death for the first time, experiencing change as family and friends moved away. Experiencing my parents fighting, not knowing why. But knowing Mr. Rogers would understand, and he would even know how to put it in context for me.

Recently, I headed down to the movie theater in my tiny mountain town and bought my popcorn, soda, and movie ticket to watch what I knew would be a beautiful film. Unknowingly plopping down in a comfy, oversized theater chair, about to have my world rocked. I had absolutely no idea that it would reawaken me the way it did, or that I had even fallen asleep in my life as much as I did. 

Without giving away any spoilers, there’s a scene in the movie where the protagonist, a journalist interviewing Mr. Rogers, is speaking with Mrs. Rogers. He asks her something like, “How does it feel to be married to a saint?” She replies basically saying that she doesn’t like that word, because it makes what Mr. Rogers does seem unattainable to most people. She states that he’s not a saint; he’s a man who’s practicing something he believes in, and it’s hard at times. She goes on to say it’s a daily practice and at times even a struggle to live out the life he does. But he does it because he knows people need it, because he needs it. 

Cue the waterworks. I was sitting there, goosebumps fully activated and tears running down my face.

How could I have forgotten? How could I have disconnected so much as to why I started living my life the way I did four years ago?

I’m a life coach, having chosen consciously four years ago to upend my life because I was so unhappy. I left a fiancé. I started getting restless in my corporate career. I knew something needed to shift and had zero idea what it was. But I was ready to receive it—that’s all a spiritual practice really asks of you. 

In the years following that realization, I woke up, I started living my truth, and I learned to speak from my intuition and move through life in a more deliberate way.

So how did I get to this space if I “awoke” already? How did I become complacent?

Because I’m human. Because it’s easy to find a pattern and start living it out unconsciously. Even if it’s the healthiest of things, like meditative walks, journaling, and creating a spiritual practice that ends up becoming a routine.

We all are at risk for this, and it’s our job to continue to keep our practices alive and conscious. 

Seeing this movie woke me up to the fact that I had forgotten my spiritual practice was a practice.

Never ever are you done with this work, and that’s why it’s beautiful. If you can keep the beginner’s mind activated, if you can understand you’re a dynamic being and there are always ways to improve your practice or tune into your spiritual self in a different and meaningful way, you can continue to grow.

We’re all works in progress and works of fine art, wrapped up in our own human experience. By allowing everything in your life, including your spiritual practice, to be a practice, you can allow yourself the grace to be and to grow. It’s when you start thinking that you know what you need or what comes next or know how to be spiritual that you start cutting yourself off from the beauty of the practice. 

Be open to the practice, be attuned to the fact that we’re all working on this. 

Kindness is the start and end point

I was also shocked at how unkind my internal monologue had become. How I’d been unconsciously reacting from a state of fear in the work that I was doing with myself and the connections I had with others.

I had totally forgotten that kindness does not mean we’re going to be taken advantage of. Kindness instead allows us to show up fully as our truest selves and be met by others’ love.

Yes, there’s a chance that others’ egos could meet us and “hurt” us. But when you’re living from a deep place of kindness and connection to your intuition, you know that the hurt is only experienced for a moment, by your ego. When kindness is met with fear or anger, the only thing to do is provide more kindness to the situation or person. Draw a boundary, sure, but draw it with kindness. Do not respond with harsh words or actions.

When you lead with kindness for every experience you have each day, you end up receiving ease and the comforting feeling that kindness creates.

Pause and be present 

I’ve always moved fast—very fast. I have realized over the years that the more pauses that are built into life, the more you take the space provided for you, the better you will feel and the more genuine and loving reaction you will have. 

Hearing the pacing of how Mr. Rogers talked, remembering how he’d introduce such big ideas and gently guide us through them, showed me how much truth there is in pausing. It’s when we pause to allow a reaction from another or pause to truly listen and respond with our intuition, instead of from our mind, that we create lasting interactions.

There is no race. There is no goal line we’re supposed to get to at a certain point. Let yourself be in each moment fully. Pause and be present.

Allow your vulnerability to rule 

Mr. Rogers had an uncanny way of allowing others to be vulnerable with him. He simply asked questions that opened people up and, using the power of pausing and kindness, allowed him to be there to receive the other person’s truth. He never interjected with what his life was about or led people down a certain path. He simply opened the door and didn’t allow people to get in the way of themselves with excuses.

He had an uncanny ability to guide people right to the heart of what they were struggling with and hold space there with compassion. When was the last time you led with your own vulnerability and allowed others to sit in theirs?

So often we forget that we’re all here living out this experience, having hard times, and needing to move through them.

Allow that vulnerable self out, even if it’s not happy. Then use the tools you have to move through it. As referenced in the conversation between Lloyd the journalist and Mrs. Rogers, move through your anger like Mr. Rogers, bang on the low end of the piano keys, swim laps, let out a big old sigh or even a yell.

It was incredible to see how beautifully and gently Mr. Rogers acknowledged the negative parts of the human experience and allowed himself to feel through them to the other side.

Vulnerability is key. 

We are all friends on this journey

How beautiful to be reminded that we are all friends on this journey. Mr. Rogers never turned a soul away. He saw the beauty in each person he encountered and extended a hand of friendship, without question.

I honestly couldn’t think of the last time I thought this way.

When was the last time I engaged with someone with the openness to friendship forming? Why was I stingy with the love, care, and kindness I provide to my close friends and family? It’s not going anywhere; it’s the most renewable resource on the planet.

Allowing this door to open back up is the most beautiful thing. I found myself connecting with others more actively even right after the showing. We all sat there in our seats, not wanting it to end but knowing we had all had a shared experience of kindness and love together. How beautiful to remember that we’re all souls here on this journey and all worthy of the utmost care and respect. 

It’s with a grateful and kind heart that I reflect on all this movie provided for me. And how simple it is to step back into the work and reignite what our spiritual practices are in life. It’s my hope that I can come back to this realization time and again.

Becoming stuck or complacent is part of the human experience, to ever think that you’ll not roll into that space in life is naive.

Having the tools and awareness to come back up to the surface of life, look around, and decide actively what you want your spiritual practice to be about is a beautiful lesson each and every time it comes.

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Whitney Oppenhuizen  |  Contribution: 295

author: Whitney Oppenhuizen

Image: Mister Rogers' Neighborhood / IMDb

Editor: Kelsey Michal