Brian Cole | The Work of Reconciliation | Episode 6

In this episode, Gordon talks with The Right Rev. Brian Cole, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee, about reconciliation and how we can mend broken relationships. We explore what it takes to be able to use the act of reconciliation to create greater kindness and compassion through our interactions with each other in our world.

What is reconciliation?

Reconciliation is the ability to take a deep breath and recognize that we have differences and that we might not always see things in the same way. There is an acknowledgement of our differences and at the same time a willingness to be able to make things right with each other.

Meet Brian Cole

A southeast Missouri native, The Right Rev. Brian Cole graduated from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration in 1989. In 1992, he earned a Master of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with additional studies in Anglican Church History at The University of the South School of Theology, Sewanee, in 2001. He also pursued studies in Art and Prayer at General Theological Seminary (GTS), New York City, in 2006, and studied liturgics In Asheville, N.C., from 2002 to 2005.

Brian was ordained and consecrated fifth bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee on December 2, 2017. He is married to Susan Weatherford, a poet, musician, avid gardener, and graduate of Berea College and University of Kentucky. They have one son, Jess. Brian and Susan live in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Ordained a priest in 2002, Brian served as vicar at Church of the Advocate, a worshiping community of the Diocese of Western North Carolina for homeless in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. From 2005 to 2012, Cole was sub-dean at The Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville. He served as rector at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington, Kentucky, from 2012 until his election as bishop of East Tennessee.

Brian has also served as an instructor in Appalachian Religion, Faith and Practices, and Appalachian Religion and Culture, at Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa. N.C.; Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. Prior to his ordination as a priest, he served for seven years on the staff of the Appalachian Ministries Education Resource Center (AMERC) in Berea, Kentucky. Much of his work then involved teaching seminarians, listening to Appalachian leaders, both in and out of the Church, and learning how to read and appreciate the culture of the region.

Brian has five times been a featured preacher on the Day 1 weekly radio broadcast/podcast. His articles, sermons and other writings have appeared in The Gospel and Our Culture; Natural Saints: How People of Faith are Working to Save God’s Earth; Sacred Acts: How Churches are Working to Protect Earth’s Climate; Green Pulpit Journal; Appalachian Heritage; Heartstone; Aging and Spirituality; Lutheran Seminary Review; Iron Mountain Review, and Creation Care. His reflections were included in Lent 2017 Living Compass Series, and an essay was included in Merton and the Protestants.

Find out more and/or contact Brian at the Diocese of East Tennessee,

Reconciling vs. Tolerating

In the context of kindness and compassion it is important to draw the distinction between reconciling with someone vs. just tolerating them. After all, there are times when we can show kindness by being tolerant and polite with people. In other words, as Brian put it, “just holding our breath through the interactions”.

The other thing is that reconciliation requires a commitment to a continued relationship with the other person. Whereas, toleration only requires interaction in the moment with no commitment to continue a relationship afterwards. Reconciliation is a commitment to engage and continue deeper conversations.

Reconciliation is Reparative Work

When we engage in reconciliation, it is the work of making amends and making our relationships right. Gordon mentions that in his work with couples, one of the key ingredients of having a healthy relationship involves the ability of a couple to repair things when there has been a hurt. It is about staying engaged and commitment to continue the relationship. It means taking things in a new direction.

Reconciliation Requires Imagination

Brian mentions an article in Harper’s Magazine by Garret Keizer, a writer and Episcopal priest, that describes a situation where we might think or say, “I can’t imagine how you could think that…”. When we think in this way, we are really showing a lack of imagination. Because if we were to fully understand the other person’s life experiences and back-story, then we are able to understand how and why they see things differently. Their point of view becomes abundantly clear.

Brian goes on to say, in this whole practice of “loving your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-44) means trying to fully understand the other person’s story and background. You might not fully agree with their point of view, but you can at least understand why and how they see the world as they see it. This in turn opens the door for the other to begin to understand your point of view and perspective.

Deeper Work of Reconciliation

The work of reconciliation is ultimately a willingness to engage in deeper conversations and understanding other people’s life experiences. Kindness and compassion begins with showing a reverence for other people’s trauma, wounds and life experiences. So many times we do not know what other people are carrying. But by allowing them the space to share that without judgment or disdain, gives room for healing. It is deep work.

This deep work only can happen if people can feel safe and know that they are seen as human beings that are loved despite their flaws. It means being present with people in a non-judgmental way.

The deeper work of reconciliation is also an ongoing process. It is not a “one and done” proposition. It requires ongoing conversations and dealing with our own internal struggles. We also need to know and understand ourselves well.

Reconciliation Means Responding vs. Reacting

Brain tells of a conversation with his son about a disagreement his son was having with a friend. Brain was impressed by his son’s wisdom in being able to “turn down the temperature” of the disagreement. In that he slowed things down enough to respond vs. just react.

In our interactions with others, it is important to learn how to give thoughtful responses to things rather than simply go on the defensive. It requires being curious about the other person rather than simply reacting.

Reconciliation also requires emotional maturity. We need to engage in the work of learning to be in control of our own emotions and inner worlds. It is the ability of a person to know when they are emotionally flooded and then take control of that for themselves. It is the key to emotional intelligence.


As was said, the work of reconciliation is an ongoing process for us as individuals but also in our various communities across the world. It means having a willingness to have deep conversations and listening. Reconciliation is an intentional act of kindness and compassion. At least in my view, it is the path forward in ending all the polarization and dissension in the world. We need to understand at a deeper level the people that we disagree with the most.


Brian (00:00):
A part of a part of how we get to a place of deeper reconciliation is to appreciate how it is people are made and shaped over time, either the trauma or the blessing, the nurture, or the neglect, you know, that, that those things together, um, end up making us who we are. And then, then you put us in relationship. Uh, and so we bump up against each other. And I think, you know, the, the saying about kindness and compassionate being kind and compassionate, you know, that so often we don't know what people are going through. You know, while at times that might feel like kind of an old cliche, it is so true.
Gordon (00:42):
Welcome to the kindness and compassion podcast, where we will explore the intersection of psychology science and spirituality. My name is Gordon brewer and I'm a licensed psychotherapist and mental health provider. I have spent my career helping people learn how to better manage their emotions and find more meaning in their lives and connection in their relationships. Join me as we think and talk about the ways we can find happiness and be content in our lives, through the practices of kindness and compassion. We will talk with other experts in the fields of psychology, science and religion. I'm so glad you're with me on this journey as we learn how to be at peace with ourselves and others.

Hello Everyone. I'm Gordon brewer and welcome again to the kindness and compass podcast. And this is episode number six and glad you're joining me glad you're with me on this journey. You know, when I was, uh, first conceptualizing, uh, starting this podcast, uh, which has been couple of years in the making, at least in my mind, or at least in my head, one of the people, but I knew I wanted to have as a guest was the person you're gonna hear from today. And that is Bishop Brian Cole. And Brian is my Bishop, uh, have shared in other, I think in earlier episodes. Part of my, one of the many hats that I wear in addition to being a psychotherapist is that I'm a, a deacon in the EPIs church, which is a, a clergy clergy person. Uh, one of the three orders of clergy in the Episcopal church, Bishop's priests and deacons.
Gordon (02:34):
I'm a deacon and a deacon's role in the Episcopal church has really ministry in the world. So in, in many ways, this podcast has become part of my, a ministry and just trying to reach people and, uh, communicate maybe a new way of thinking about the world and how we interact with each other. So Brian is the Bishop of east Tennessee, and he's gonna tell you a little more about himself, but I, I feel so privileged to have him in my life and it being in relationship with him and my role in the church. And, um, I think when you hear from him, you're gonna really, uh, understand why he is so liked and so loved by so many people in our area and just really what an intelligent and thoughtful person that he is. And, um, he is certainly the kind of person that at least for me, um, really demonstrates a lot of kindness and compassion and in all of my interactions with him, that is how he has approached things.
Gordon (03:37):
So, um, looking forward to you, hearing from, uh, Bishop Brian Cole, um, but before we get to him, one of the things I'd like for you to do is first invite you to check out the website, kindness and And if you haven't done so already sign up for email list, I'm gonna be putting out some emails in just a newsletter type format to give you more resources and ways to think about kindness and compassion. Um, and so invite you to do that by just going to the website, kindness and, and you'll see some forms to sign up, to start receiving our newsletter. Um, also I'm putting together a guide called the kindness and practices of kindness, compassion guide. And so when you sign up for the email list, you'll be able to get that PDF of just a way to begin to think about different ways you can practice kindness and compassion in your life.
Gordon (04:34):
Um, the other thing too is if you are enjoying what you're, you're hearing here on the podcast, um, and you would like to support it in some way, we do have a Patreon page set up and you can find out more about that by going to kindness and And it's just a way for people to support the podcast. And when you become a sponsor or a patron of the cast, you can get some little perks there's, uh, some stickers and coffee mugs and t-shirts, and that kind of thing for the different levels of, of Patreons or patrons for the, for the podcast. So I wanna invite you to check that out. So, um, so, um, having said all that without further ado, here's my conversation with the right Reverend Brian Cole, AKA Bishop Cole, AKA Bishop Brian, Hello, everyone. And welcome again to the podcast. And I'm so glad and been looking forward to you all, getting to hear from a person that's near and dear to my heart and that's Bishop Brian Cole. And as I shared in the other episodes, I'm part of, one of the hats that I wear, not only as a, as a psychotherapist, but I'm also a clergy person in the Episcopal church. And so I belong to Brian. And so, Brian, welcome. I'm glad you're here
Brian (06:14):
Important. It is good to be with you and it's good to, well, I think that we belong to each other. So, uh, it's good to be a part of, uh, your work, uh, knowing both your important work as a psychotherapist and also as a deacon in the Episcopal church.
Gordon (06:28):
Yes, yes. And so Brian, as I start with most everyone, why don't you tell folks a little bit about you and kind of how you've landed, where you've land?
Brian (06:38):
Yeah, so I grew up, uh, in Southeast Missouri and, um, church has always been a big part of my life, but I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition and, um, and it's, it's wild for me to think about that little Baptist kid who now serve as an Episcopal Bishop in east Tennessee. Um, I didn't leave the central time zone until I was 19 years old. So my world was pretty small, uh, geographically, but, um, it's a world where I felt loved by all kinds of folk and, um, and a part of, you know, it would take, uh, several podcasts to get me from, Hey time, Missouri to Knoxville, Tennessee. I think the main thing I would say is just, uh, again, to think about your topic, um, lots of folks have been really compassionate and kind to me as I've kind of continued to make sense of my spiritual journey.
Brian (07:39):
And it's a thread from that boyhood to who I am now, that makes a lot of sense to me. And, uh, so, you know, a part of me being an Episcopal Bishop is not somehow a rejection of those people who loved me in that little Baptist church in Missouri, as much as, um, the story they first told me has continued to unfold in my life and has brought me here. I'm married to Susan Weatherford and we have a son Jess who lives in Birmingham, Alabama, he's in his mid twenties and we have a dog named Jerry Lee. Who's the world's luckiest rescue. Uh, he's a Sue. And, um, he, he brings a lot of delight and love, uh, into our world.
Gordon (08:23):
Yes, yes. The, the canine of the ordinary, which I'll, uh, maybe explain that later, but that's, uh, yeah, that's, that's, that's great. So, uh, you know, the topic we had just kinda landed on, which to me is just very befiting of bro Ryan, because when he became Bishop of the diocese of east Tennessee, this theme came out about reconciling and, and being able to reconcile. And I think for some folks, when they think of the word reconcile, they think, okay, that's something I do to my checkbook, but you wanna, you wanna talk about what that means and maybe how that ties into kindness and compassion?
Brian (09:07):
Yeah. So, um, you know, I had been a parish priest in Asheville, North Carolina, a parish priest in Lexington, Kentucky. And when I was elected Bishop of east Tennessee and was moving to Knoxville, um, I was really mindful that I wanted my ministry as a Bishop, which is sort of an overseer and an encourager of parish, clergy and parish ministry. I wanted to make sure whatever I offered to the diocese is what help us all pull in the same direction. And that as a Bishop, I never sort of offered some idea or program that was a distraction or got people off course. And, um, in the book of common prayer in the catechism, which is sort of a, a place of teaching, uh, there's a question about what is the mission of the church. And the answer given is the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ, and also in the letters of Paul.
Brian (10:07):
At some point, he talks about this ministry of reconciliation to which we've all been called. I remember thinking reconciliation then is, is to be a core value in the Christian tradition and in the Episcopal church. And, you know, I, I grew up in a, what is now a very red part of America, and I have served in a place like Asheville, North Carolina, which, you know, if a place could be any more, uh, bluer than that, I don't know. Uh, and I am Ken to people across the political divide and theological divide. And, you know, if in Christ, there is no Eastern or west, uh, if in Christ there's no neither Greek nor Jew slave nor free male, nor female, all are one in Christ. You know, somehow the idea that in this place of the Christ, we can all be who we are and somehow all belong to each other, uh, in a time that feels so deeply polarizing and deeply fractured.
Brian (11:10):
Um, I thought if I offer anything, it would be to invite people to say, this is gonna be our work, knowing that at, uh, once you say that people have a whole lot of questions about, well, so how do we do that? Do we do that by simply avoiding any topic that we might disagree on, which is not helpful? Cause I think at some point that becomes a really thin sort of just, we're all gonna be nice to each other, but knowing that, that sort of deep reconciliation work, um, only comes with trust, right? And so part of the work is there's a whole lot of work you have to do before you get to the place of the real breakthrough of some reconciled people, uh, knowing this is a long answer to your good, good question, knowing that for us, you know, that that act of reconciliation is really something God has done, uh, with Jesus on the cross.
Brian (12:03):
If you think about how radical it is for Jesus to forgive his perpetrators while he is being killed, I mean, that sets high bar for what it means to be able to forgive. So really all that we're doing, you know, if you and I have a real falling out with each other Gordon, if you, and I find a way to somehow say, we need to, we need to admit this wrong that we have between each other and what would it take to make it right in order to be reconciled? All, all that we're doing is really in many ways, echo in response to what we've experienced, uh, with Jesus on the cross. So, um, you know, I think, I think you, and I can never say, you know, we could never be reconciled if we have that example of just a radical global and cosmic, uh, work that the Christ did on the cross.
Gordon (12:52):
Right. Right. Yeah. The 1, 1, 1 thought that occurs to me and this maybe is another, another question here, you know, what, what do you, what do you see as maybe the difference between reconciling versus just tolerating? Mm. Um, you know, uh, because I think we all run into, we're all gonna run into people that we don't necessarily see, see things as they see them. And we, we, by virtue of our values and our background and how we're raised and all that sort of thing, we're gonna have different kind of viewpoints of things. But what would you say about that?
Brian (13:34):
That's a great question. Um, when I think of tolerating, I think of holding my breath and you and I are like, okay, we're about to have lunch with this really difficult person. And we know they're gonna say, you know, outlandish things or offensive things, but we're all, we're just gonna tolerate old Joe. So we're just gonna go in there and hold our breath and hold our tongue and know that we can run out the clock and get back in the car and, and say, man, I'm glad that's over. I think true reconciliation is the ability to, to take a deep breath and really say, I, I am you and I are different. You and I have had some hurt in the past, but there's been the real work of trust, building of truth, telling of how do we make this right. And then that covenant to say, now in going forward, there's a place of reconciliation with us.
Brian (14:37):
So I think, I think also toleration is, again, just in the moment I'm gonna hold my breath and get through this with you. True. Reconciliation is both an acknowledgement that you and I have a past where there's been a brokenness. We had some moment in the present where we made, made it right with each other, and then you and I have some future relationship going forward. Right. Where I think toleration is just, let's just get through this. And once we get through it, we'll have nothing else to do with this particular person or issue. Right. So it, it really is a sort of, um, yeah, it's, it's a different, different level of connection in a sense of, can we get through this as opposed to, can we grow deeper together?
Gordon (15:22):
Right. Right. I'm reminded of, you know, in my work as a, as a therapist in working with couples, one of, one of the keys to a healthy relationship is being able to do, um, reparative work in, in previous episode. I know that that was one of the things I talked with our friend and colleague, the Reverend Claire brown, how do we do that? Repair work? Where we not just, okay, we're gonna agree to disagree and just move on, but actually begin to repair things. And I think part of the work of that is really taking the time to get to know people, get to know their backstory of truly understanding who they are and why they are like, they are kinda thing.
Brian (16:15):
Well, cause you know, yeah. I think sometimes, you know, you'll hear someone say about someone else, you know, I can't imagine how you could ever think that. And a friend of mine wrote an article in Harper's, his name is Garrett Kaiser. He's an Episcopal priest in Vermont. And he said, you know, when you say, I, you know, I can't imagine how Gordon brewer could ever possibly believe X or Y or Z. He says, and you say that in some ways you're expressing a real lack of imagination because if you really put yourself in Gordon Brewer's shoes and you maybe had experiences that Gordon brewer had, you would understand why Gordon believes that. And, and so I think a part of loving the enemy or praying for the enemy is at some point, being able to appreciate if I was that person, I might understand why he or she holds this opinion or holds this, uh, um, uh, approach are, uh, has this take on that.
Brian (17:18):
And I would understand that I might not agree with it, but I'd at least I, I understand how Gordon got there, which if, if I can do that, then maybe as I speak my truth, my piece say my history, maybe then Gordon will be able to appreciate eight. Oh yeah. If I was, if I was from there and I'd had these experiences, then I could UN I could also imagine how you got there. And I think for me, when I hear people and it's, it's funny, cuz it's so often meaning Episcopalians, who I think of themselves as being open, open people. But when they say this sort of, I can't imagine how you could ever think that it sort of immediately limits their vision or their imagination. And so I think a part of a part of how we get to a place, a deeper reconciliation is to appreciate how it is people are made and shaped over time, either the trauma or the blessing, the nurture or the neglect, you know, that, that those things together, um, end up making us who we are.
Brian (18:22):
And then, then you put us in relationship. Uh, and so we bump up against each other. And I think, you know, the, the, the saying about kindness and compassionate being kind and compassionate, you know that so often we don't know what people are going through, you know, while at times that might feel like kind of an old cliche, it is so true. Right. So true. I know you probably, you, you obviously have had this experience as a therapist. I've had this experience as Turkey person, you know, people tell us their stories. People give us insights on their stories that we, you know, we can't go around and share. And so it's a, it's a, it's a important Revent thing we hold for them. And what's interesting is then when you see them in the community or see them functioning, realizing yeah. A lot of people don't know what they're caring, but you maybe know as a therapist or I know as a clergy person and, and to, and to watch people sometimes with quiet dignity or quiet confidence, navigate the world where we will, we know, man, there's a burden in them or there's a wound in them.
Brian (19:29):
And yet they're able to somehow out carry on. Yeah. That I think to be able to see people with compassion and kindness, uh, it's only when you create that sort of environment, that's in the deeper work of reconciliation of truth telling of so, so how do we make this right. And, and how much time will that take that only happens if people, I think, feel the safety, um, that they're being seen as, as real genuine people.
Gordon (19:58):
Right, right. Yeah. To, to, to me, one of the things that, um, has, has really been kind of a, kind of a guiding thing for me in my own ministry, as a deacon in, and a therapist and that sort of thing is the importance of just being present with people and being present in a nonjudgmental way of just you, you know, I think about the times in my life when I've gone through struggles and had down times and that sort of thing, what has always meant the most to me is just somebody being present. It wasn't that they had any magic words or anything that it was just that they were there. And, um, yeah. So I think that that is so key, uh, coming around full circle to this whole idea of kindness and compassion is just to be able to, to be present, just be genuine with people and, and do our best, not to judge what's going on with them.
Brian (21:07):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And yeah. And I think also too, the, the it's I, you said earlier about toleration versus reconciliation, um, I think the awareness of that in so many settings, we do get to choose, right? That, that, um, you know, the invitation to be a truly re saw people that does take work right. And it's not done quickly and it's not done and, and it's not done and then done forever. I mean, it's an ongoing work. And you know, to me, a part of the joy and the, and the grace of being in a, in a community, how of worship and intentional Christian community, part of the joy and the grace of that is also connected to and its work. Right? Cause over time you are gonna, you are gonna fail that person over time. No matter how much you think, no matter how great a person you think I am or how helpful I am to you, if you and I are in real relationship, at some point someone's gonna disappoint someone or there's gonna be some sort of falling out, right.
Brian (22:14):
And, and only then do we get to make the choice of, is this worth continuing to work together? Or is this why I'm gonna now leave that church or leave that community? Or I don't do that anymore. You know, there's the old, the old Joe about they've they find this person he's been stranded on this desert island and he's been there for years and they say, you know, how did you get through, how did you, how did you survive? And, and so they're talking to him about how he did that. And they noticed there's three dwellings that he had built. They said, so tell us about these three dwellings. He said, this first dwelling, this is where I live. He said, and the second dwelling that second dwelling is where I go to church and said, well, what, what about the third dwelling? And he said, well, that's where I used to go to church.
Brian (23:03):
And, um, you know, so even by himself, you know, there's the inner conflict that he faces. And so to me, you know, to be a reconciled, people is not one and done, it's an ongoing work and it, and to me, the gift and the grace and the reason to do it is the belief over time, the more, the more you and I really work out our work together, we ultimately end up going to a deeper place. You talked earlier about working with couples, you know, to me, I have experienced divorce. Um, but I've also experienced remarriage and marriage. And, you know, a part of the gift of that marriage that endures over time is there's just hopefully more that I know about what the person I'm married to, but also more about myself, right? That over time, that kind of ongoing relationship hopefully reflects a deeper maturity, deeper capacity for love and for forgiveness. Uh, and if I, you know, if I end that marriage, you know, I might end some sort of pain or in some sort of hurt, but I'm also gonna end some kind of wisdom that, that hopefully grows in us with that ongoing, true deep, um, vulnerable relationship.
Gordon (24:15):
Right, right. Yeah. This is great stuff. Um, and I know that we could spend hours talking about this 1, 1, 1 final kind of question for you. Brian is, you know, we've been kind of talking about this in the context of just kind of church kinda stuff. What, what do you think we can do outside just in society in general, to be more reconciling with each other?
Brian (24:46):
I learned a lot of good things from my son and Jesse's a wise person and we were together several months ago now where he got a text from a buddy and Jesse read the text to me. And he said, you know, this friend of mine, he's, he's asking me about something that isn't true. I think it was like, Jesse owed him some money on a rent or there, there was something. And Jesse realized there was a misunderstanding in the text and Jesse sort of fought out loud in front of me and he to the young man's text and sort of lowered the temperature. Right. And so he responded, he didn't react. And I said to Jesse, that day, I said, I'm so like, I'm impressed with you because I think a lot of people would've gotten to X like that and would've, you know, flamed them back with some sort of reactive statement, you know, and, and would've, would've increased the temperature and increased the potential conflict and then created some hurt simply because the way in which you re responded and reacted to each other.
Brian (26:08):
And, and it was, it was great to watch Jess sort of experience the misunderstanding and realize there's a way to, to, there's a way to make this right now, as opposed to a, and so I think what I notice in political discourse or discourse in a community or in a neighborhood is how much we react to each other, you know? Yes, you put up, you put up a political sign that I don't like. And instead of thinking, you know what, that's your right to put up that political sign. I don't agree with it, but you know, I'm not gonna lose sleep over it. Um, somehow I take great delight and I'm gonna put up a, a reactive sign that says, you know, I think you're not only wrong, but I think somehow you are, you know, not human or, and so, so how quickly it goes from what might be mature conversation to at best kind of elementary school, if not junior high behavior.
Brian (27:07):
Yes. So I think, I think if people breathed more, I think if we, if we counted to 10 before we responded, um, and, and again, to think about a response, not a reaction, uh, I think there are all kinds of ways we could turn down the tempera, you, in order to say, what does it mean to really belong to each other? Because you said earlier, you know, that you as a deacon, you belong to me. I mean, I think I would say people who wanna live in a civil society at some point we belong to each other. And if I think I belong to you that I'm gonna make decisions, not only do they impact, but also hopefully impact you and, or be aware that my decisions do impact you. And I think when we think, you know what, it's my land, it's my decision. It's my salary. It's my whatever. And I don't care what Gordon thinks. I think when we, when we, when we, when we limit ourselves and limit the impact of what we decide, we begin to be reactive people, not responsive people.
Gordon (28:08):
Yes, yes. Yeah. That, that, that is some truth. That is absolutely some truth. I know that, um, again, not to go too far down the, the therapy trail, but that is one of the things, again, in just working with people in relationship hips, when we can, when we can teach ourselves to be mindful enough, not to go on the defensive with others and oppose to going on the defensive, just become curious about what's going on with them. It like, it does exactly what you say. It turns the volume down, and it's a, it's also a, it's also a, a good practice of emotional intelligence when we do that, of being able to be mindful of, okay, they're doing something I don't agree with, but let me just get curious about that and not react, but just respond. And hopefully we can respond in a, in a kind, in a compassionate way, uh, which is not always easy, but I think that's, that's the start.
Brian (29:13):
Well, yeah. And there's also, you know, there's, there's this new word that people have started using about adulting. I'm gonna do adulting a, a U L T I N G. Yes, we think, oh, that, you know, if I buy a house and I have a mortgage that's adulting, or if I, if I open a retirement account, that's adulting. I think the main thing I would encourage folks to think about is, again, mature behavior, responsive care of each other, deep listening, compassionate kindness for, for, you know, for that to be adulting. Yes. Yes. You know, that, I think a part of a part of what allows us to, to work well together is to all grow up, you know, and to be mature for people and, you know, St. Paul, St. Paul, I think it's in the letter to the Ephesians sort of says, you know, I need y'all to grow up.
Brian (30:08):
You know, don't just keep eating baby food forever at some point, grow up and, and, and allow things to change, allow things to grow, allow your mind to be open your heart, to be open, grow up. And I think, I think a part of what would also help us as a society is if we were a society of grownups and, and some self-discipline and some self-restraint and the compassionate heart and the kind heart and the openness to change, and, you know, all those things that, that are in many ways, um, quite elementary and obvious. But for so many people, you would say it's a, it's a impossible task. And I think the more we can adult, the more we have hope for a, yeah.
Gordon (30:51):
I love that. I love that. I, I immediately think of my daughter, Rebecca, that we both, uh, and that's, that's how I describe her as adulting now she's adulting now, so yeah. That's great. Well, Brian, I wanna be respectful of your time. Um, tell folks how they might get in touch with you if they have more, wanna somehow another connect with you.
Brian (31:14):
Yeah. So our do and website, um, D I O E is where you will find more about me and the work I do, uh, in the Episcopal diocese of east Tennessee. Uh, I tell people, I also like to call it the, the diocese of best Tennessee. Uh, I just love, uh, you know, Susan and I were in Asheville, North Carolina before going to Lexton Kentucky. So living in east Tennessee, we live in the heart of a region that we really care about. So to reach out to me, D I O is our website. And you'll find ways to contact me directly or folks on my staff and learn more about what we do in our work of reconciliation, uh, in east Tennessee.
Gordon (31:55):
That's awesome. And we'll have links in the show notes and show summary, so people can find us. So Bishop Brian, thanks for being on the podcast. And I'm sure, I, I know I'll be seeing you here soon.
Brian (32:08):
Yeah. And Gordon, thank you for your, uh, not just a podcast, but the way you live out, a kind compassionate, uh, ministry and vocation and heart. Thank you. Good to
Gordon (32:18):
Gordon (32:32):
Well, I really love that whole thought of being able to respond rather than to react and, uh, absolutely agree with Brian that it, the more we can learn to be responsive to people rather than to reacting to people. I think that is gonna, as he put it, turn the volume down on kind of the, the discourse that we're in right now around polarization and really being so adverse, sir, with people and, and too is I, I said in that is just being able to get curious with people about what's going on with them, I think is a, is a place to start in in being able to practice kindness and compassion. So again, big, thanks to my good, my dear friend and, uh, Bishop Brian Cole for on the podcast. And you can find out more about him by just going to D D I O E
Gordon (33:28):
Or you can look here in the show notes and find out more about the diocese of east Tennessee. And, and if you're curious about the Episcopal church, you can just go to Episcopal and, um, L love for you to learn out more about this tradition, this faith tradition that we're in, and, um, find out more about that because it's, it's part of our core values. At least we try to, we try to live into that. So anyway, I'm glad you were with me on the podcast. Do take time to visit and be sure to follow us or to subscribe to the podcast wherever you might listen to it and leave us a review. I'd love to get some honest feedback and, uh, get a response from you on, on, on things that you might have heard and, uh, be sure and share with your friends. And also if you're interested in supporting the work that we're doing, we set up a Patreon page and you can find out more about that by going to kindness and And that's a way for you to support us financially if you choose to do so or listen and listening to the podcast. So take care of folks, got lots of great guests, us lined up for future episodes. And we'll talk to you in the next one.
Gordon (34:49):
You have been listening to the kindness and compassion podcast with Gordon brewer, part of the psych craft network of podcast. Please visit, more information, resources, and tools to help you in your journey. Be sure to follow us wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you haven't done so already be sure to sign up, to get the free kindness and compassion practices guide. Again, you can find, the information in this podcast is intended to be accurate and authoritative concerning the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the hosts guests or producers are rendering clinical medical, mental health, or legal advice. If you need a professional, you should find the right person for that.

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L. Gordon Brewer Jr., LMFT |Podcast Host – Gordon has spent his career in helping professions as a licensed therapist, counselor, trainer, and clergy person.  He has worked with 100’s of people in teaching them the how to better manage their emotions through self-care and the practices of kindness and compassion.  Follow us on Instagram and Facebook .  And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.


Mallory McDuff | Our Last Best Act of Kindness and Compassion | Episode 5

Photo by Tomas Trajan on Unsplash

Death is a subject most of us tend to avoid.  In particular, thinking about our own death or the death of loved ones.  But as most of us know, death is a reality of life and it touches us all at some point.  In this episode we tackle this topic with Dr. Mallory McDuff a professor of environmental studies  and author of Our Last Best Act; Planning for the end of our lives to protect people and places we love. We explore how kindness and compassion can be practiced even in death and with our end of life issues.

Meet Mallory McDuff

Mallory McDuffMallory McDuff teaches environmental education at Warren Wilson College where she lives on campus with her two daughters. She’s the author of four books, including her most recent: Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, WIRED, and more. Find her at: 

Kindness and Compassion When Death Comes

For the average person, thinking about death is difficult.  It is one of those topics that is considered morbid and somewhat taboo.  But the reality is that it is something we all will be confronted with at some point in our lives.  Either the death of loved ones or even our own impending deaths. So where does kindness and compassion come into this? 

Some of the most significant times of transition for anyone is when we lose those that are close to us.  The death of parents and family members is part of the natural order of life. And there are those times when death comes tragically or in an untimely manner. Nonetheless, to be with someone at the time of their death is truly a sacred space and one of the greatest’s acts of kindness and compassion.

And throughout these last few years through the COVID pandemic, there have been so many untimely deaths.  There have been so many stories of medical workers and strangers holding hands and simply being with people as they pass from this world.  It is a true act of kindness and compassion.

Why We Need Rituals Around Death

One of the reasons that death is such a difficult topic is because of the emotional impact of grief.  Grief is one of the most, if not the most, painful of life experiences and emotions. Anytime we experience a loss, we experience grief.

In this conversation with Mallory, we touch on how our final acts with people who have died becomes part of the kindness and compassion we not only offer to the person who has died, but becomes an act of kindness and compassion in our own grief. 

Throughout history we have known the power of funerals and memorial services.  It is one of the necessary things we need to heal in our grief.  We see it all the time when people die.  It is our go-to. Rituals and ceremonies around death also give closure and resolution.

But our traditions are changing. As we have become more aware of environmental issues and the need for sustainability, the way we care for the dead and what is done with the body is changing.  We are truly getting back to the basics and becoming much more practical in our rituals and customs.

Our Last Best Act

In this episode, Mallory shares some of her family story and about the loss of her parents, who both died tragically.  Her mother died in an automobile accident involving a teen driver under the influence of alcohol.  And then her father died two years later, much the same manner being hit by another teen driver while riding his bike.

Mallory shares how following her mother’s death her father sat the family down to go over his final wishes. And part of his wishes were to somewhat break from the tradition of using a funeral home, by having the family prepare his body and do the burial themselves.  His wishes were for him to not be embalmed and just simply wrapped in some linen tablecloths and placed in a homemade pine casket.

“In some weird way, this was like an act of kindness from my dad to us…”

Mallory shares how helping prepare her dad’s body for burial was in many ways, even though she did realize it at the time, an act of kindness from her dad. Her dad was very much an environmentalist and his final wishes were very much befitting of him. Needless to say, this life experience had an impact for Mallory and was really the catalyst for her book.

Alternative Options For Burial and Cremation

As an environmental educator, Mallory began to research and explore more sustainable and environmentally friendly options for final disposition of our bodies. She wanted to find what options people could use to help sustain the environment and be more climate aware around death and burial options.

Traditional earth burials in perpetual care cemeteries, vaults or concrete containers are used to place the casket in. And a big majority of caskets are made of metal.  And in addition to this, most bodies are embalmed with chemicals to slow down the decomposition process.  Needless to say, all of this is not all that environmentally friendly. And with cremation, there are the greenhouse gasses that are produced during the cremation process.

The alternative to this is simply burying the body directly in the ground in biodegradable materials (aka, pine box or wrapped in blankets or cloth).  Another alternative is “aquamation” which uses water and alkaline to break the body down into a powder. These two options are becoming more and more prevalent around the country.


Ultimately our rituals and customs around death and how we handle the dead has a lot about our culture.  Death is the one factor that levels the playing field for us all.  We all will die regardless of our status in the world.  Grief and the experience of death is universal for people. And because of this it gives us the potential to show more kindness and compassion to others because we all understand the pain of grief.  It is easy for us to have compassion for people in their grief.

In my conversation with Mallory I am reminded that our acts of kindness in death are some of the most meaningful and life changing.  I know that in my own experiences in being with people when they die has been a sacred and holy place for me.

Peace,  Gordon

“Death may be the greatest of all human blessings” – Socrates.

Mallory (00:00):
And the difference with my experience with my dad's death is that I, I had it's, it was a sensory experience, you know, like I know what his body, what it felt like to pick his body up, um, to wrap it in these linens, um, that we mom, you know, Lennon's, my mom had admired years before. Um, and, and, and so that, you know, but so, so that in, in some weird way was like an act of kindness from him to us,
Gordon (00:43):
Welcome to the kindness and compassion podcast, where we will explore the intersection of psychology science and spirituality. My name is Gordon brewer, and I'm a licensed psychotherapist and mental health provider. I have spent my career helping people learn how better manage their emotions and find more meaning in their lives and connection in their relationships. Join me as we think and talk about the ways we can find happiness and be content in our lives, through the practices of kindness and compassion. We will talk with other experts in of psychology science and religion. I'm so glad you're with me on this journey as we learn how to be at peace with ourselves and others.
Gordon (01:40):
Well, hello everyone. And welcome to this fifth episode of the kindness and compassion podcast. And I'm so glad you're joining me. And, uh, you know, as, as life has it, um, we're kind of delving into a really kind of heavy topic here at this fifth episode. And I didn't necessarily have that in the plans, but it, it just happened that way. And so I'm really looking forward to you, uh, joining me and listening in, in my conversation with, uh, Dr. Mallory McDuff, who is the author of the book called our last best act planning for the end of our lives to protect the people and places we love of. And so it's a very, uh, a very timely book. I think particularly here we are hopefully kind of on the tail end of the COVID pandemic, but I think death has touched us in very significant ways over the last couple of years.
Gordon (02:41):
And I think most all of us have been, have no own somebody or maybe had somebody in our lives that we have known have died from, from the virus. And, um, so to me it's a timely subject. And also I think it ties in really well with this whole concept of kindness and compassion and acts of kindness and compassion. So I'm looking forward to you hearing from, um, Mallory, as we talk about this, uh, this topic. One thing I mentioned in this particular episode, and just kind of a, maybe a hidden gem, I don't know if it's a gem, not, uh, but one thing about me in my background is, is that earlier in my career, I spent over 18 years working in the funeral industry. I was a funeral director and embalmer as strange as that might sound. So I've had a lot of experience around death and dying and in, and in part of my therapy practice as a psychotherapist, I really kinda specialize in grief therapy and working with people that are going through, um, significant grief.
Gordon (03:47):
And so, um, it's a, it's a, it's a good topic. It's a difficult topic. And I think maybe for folks that are listening to this that might have recently experienced the death or a loss, this might, uh, hopefully you'll find this maybe a little bit healing, but also this might be a tough, tough episode to listen to. So I wanna treat that with kindness. Um, as you listen into this particular episode, um, before we get to Mallory, though, I'd like to invite you to go over and check out our website, the kindness and compassion site, which you can just And I'd like to invite you to maybe support the podcast in a small way, by becoming a patron. And you'll find that listed on the website. There's a link there at the top in the menu to become a patron, or you can go to, um, kindness and
Gordon (04:44):
And that'll get you to our Paton page where you can become a sponsor or a patron rather of the podcast. And, um, that'll help me to continue this work and to keep it going. Um, got some other great guests lined it's, it's amazing. I was looking at my calendar and we've got, um, oh, probably I've got half a dozen guests already lined up and I'm looking forward to you all hearing from them as the next episodes come out. So, so without further ado, here's my conversation with Dr. Mallory McDuff and her book, our last best act. Well, hello, everyone. And welcome again to the kindness and compassion pod cast. And I'm so happy for you to get to know Mallory McDuff, who I've become acquainted with here recently, and really recognizing some common ties that we have, but Mallory is the author of the book, the last best act. Did I say that correctly? Mallory,
Mallory (06:02):
It's our last best act,
Gordon (06:03):
Our last best act. And so Mallory, welcome to the podcast. I'm glad you're here.
Mallory (06:09):
Thank you. And I'll share the full title of the book just because, um, it reflects what the book's about the is our last best act planning for the end of our lives to protect the people and places we love.
Gordon (06:23):
Yeah. Yeah. I love it. I love it. And as I was sharing with Mallory, um, one, one little tidbit for me is that I used to be a funeral director and was worked in that kind of that whole realm at one, one point. But I got familiar with, um, with Mallory through our mutual friend, Brian Cole, Bishop Brian Cole, who happens to be my Bishop in the diocese of east Tennessee, but Mallory as I talk, um, as we start out, why don't you tell folks a little bit about your and kind of where, how you've landed, where you've landed?
Mallory (07:01):
Sure. Well, I'm a professor of environmental education here at Warren Wilson college, which is right between black mountain and Asheville and North Carolina. And, um, I've been at Warren Wilson for, uh, 21 years, a student me yesterday, wait, you've been here longer than I've been alive.
So I've passed that threshold. Um, I live on campus in a little 900 square foot campus rental, um, with my two daughters and one is now 22 and one is 16. So the 22 year old is finishing up at Bea college, um, in Kentucky and, and I've raised my children on a college campus, which is, you know, a story and unto itself. Um, I grew up though in a small town in Faroh called Faroh Alabama it's, um, on the coast of Alabama, right on mobile bay, um, and really grew up in a that where our faith and environmental stewardship were super connected and, and that's been an influence on me and continues to influence on my writing in including this book.
Gordon (08:10):
Right. Yeah. I'm sure. I'm sure it's, uh, I don't think, uh, shared my, my daughter is also an environmental educator. She's, uh, she works at the forestry school in Chattanooga. She's one of the teachers teaches preschoolers about nature and all that kinda stuff.
Mallory (08:29):
Wow. Well, we'll need to talk so I can direct my graduates that way too. Yes. So that's
Gordon (08:34):
Yes. So, well, um, Mallory, I know one of the things that, um, this, uh, you know, the whole topic of death and dying and, and all of that is, um, I think for some, a tough topic, but what got you interested in this and how did you kind of come up with the concept of the book and, and that sort of thing?
Mallory (08:55):
Well, the concept of the book really stemmed from my own personal experience. My parents' deaths, um, my mom died when she was 58 and I'm 56. So it's, you know, interesting. I'm getting to close. Well, I am close to the age she was when she died. Um, my parents were very at, they threw hike, the Appalachian trail, Pacific press trail, almost all the continental vodka trail. They biked everywhere, um, as opposed to using cars as to the extent that they could. And she was killed, um, by a teen driver, um, when she was 58 and what the, a lot of people have people that die. I mean, that's not unique to lose a parent. Um, but what was unique was that what it was, was what happened in the aftermath is that my father, um, sat all of his adult children down and basically documented what he'd been talking about.
Mallory (09:58):
All our lives was really his funeral, his final wishes. And he wanted a funeral that relied on family and friends and not a funeral home. He wanted, um, shovels around the grave site. So young and old could close the grave. His bluegras gospel ban. If they were still around, he wanted them to play. He had a playlist of, you know, what he wanted, um, the songs that he wanted. And he, he had always talked to us that embalming, you know, was not required by law. And, and he had found out his neighborhood cemetery where we grew up did not require a vault. Um, the concrete, typically concrete, you know, box that lines, the grave. And so he had, he had been very proactive, um, and he just wanted to codify those wishes and articulate them to us. And at the time we thought that I thought that, okay, this is just kind of how he's dealing with his grief.
Mallory (10:59):
You know, he was, he was, you know, in the best shape of his life, um, he was not ready to, you know, we, he, we needed him. Right. But he also wanted us to be prepared. And so the short of the lung is that we said, sure, we'll do all that. No problem, you know, out. And, and then he died two years later in a, almost exact same manner. He was biking to this farm, um, the CSA where he worked in exchange for food. And, um, as in his, as he was retired and was hit and killed by a teen driver. Oh, wow. So, you know, it, um, the congruence of their deaths was what was so shocking. Like I, I said before, it is not shocking for people to die. I mean, it's horrific, but it's not like we don't know that those things happen.
Mallory (11:59):
Um, but what was shocking was just the, the, you know, parallel nature of their dust. Um, and it wasn't like they were reckless bikers. You know, my dad was on the shoulder of the road. He was wearing a, a fluorescent fast, you know, it was a teenager who was, um, impacted by or influenced, you know, by drugs and alcohol. Um, but what the, the lesson from that was that his, um, the detail of his directives were really what allowed us, you know, really carried us forward, um, in a way that we were even in, you know, three days, um, we were able to honor his wishes and have this very much, um, you know, literally hands on experience with his body, preparing his body for burial. Um, put it in his body in a podcast casket that was made by a friend and a who pulled an all nighter.
Mallory (12:56):
And so all these things had happened. And years later, I had, you know, finalized my, um, directives and had said like many people that I wanted cremation to be, you know, my form of disposition and I'm single mom don't make a lot of money. So cost was, is a big issue for me or variable. And, and so I like made that fi that decision and then, you know, went on with my life, you know, I kind of thought, okay, you do your final wishes and then, you know, that's kind of it, but the, what became apparent in the years after was that in this region, in Western North Carolina and Tennessee, actually, um, there are a lot more options than I had known about when I chose flame cremation. And so the purpose of the book was for me to spend a year exploring other options for sustainable end of life, to see for our bodies keeping climate and community in mind as, as our priorities, as well as cost.
Gordon (14:03):
Right, right. Yeah. It's, uh, you know, as I think about this in the, in the, in the, um, context of kindness and compassion, you know, uh, for those of us that have to, to me, uh, and might sound weird of saying this now, certainly when someone dies in a traumatic, unexpected way, as, as you experience with your parents, that's a, that's one whole aspect of grief. That's a different kind of thing. But I would imagine that being, being able to prepare the body and being able to, to go through that, if you will, ritual of doing all of that has a way of, of helping with the grief. I know in my, my own experience with my dad's death, which was, he died from in stage dementia, and we were expecting his death and the progression of Alzheimer's and that sort of thing. And, you know, and, and sitting with him in his last hours to me, was to put it in kind of, um, kind of my faith terms was really holy ground of being able to, to be there and sit, be with him when he died, um, was really as the title of, of your book, suggest really kind of one of my last best acts with him of being able to do that.
Gordon (15:37):
And then when you have a situation like you were faced with, without the benefit of knowing that it was coming, um, to be able to do that last, last had to have been kind of healing in a way I would think.
Mallory (15:56):
Yeah, well, I, and I, I think it's, um, you know, at the time you're not like, oh, I'm being healed in my grief.
Gordon (16:03):
Right, right. Yes,
Mallory (16:05):
Exactly. But at, at the time you're just doing the next thing. Um, but he had like difference, you know, I was just as close to my mom as to my dad, you know, there's like, they're very different people, but like, um, I had very strong relationships with both of them, the, the difference with my, and my dad was able to be with my mom's body, but I, I wasn't. Um, um, and, and the difference with my experience with my ads death is that I, I had it's, it was a sensory experience, you know, like I know what his body, what it felt like to pick his body up, um, to wrap it in these linens, um, that we, you know, linen, a mom had admired years before. Um, and, and, and so that, you know, but so, so that in, in some weird way was like an act of kindness from him to us, you know, and, and he also was very, um, intent about what our faith, I was raised Episcopalian, um, what our faith compels us, how our faith compels us to, um, you know, treat the earth with reverence and turn.
Mallory (17:30):
And for him that was often involved cost. And, you know, like, I mean, he, he had be the person that was like, okay, we're gonna wait to see how long we can go without turning on air conditioning, you know, in the Alabama, coastal summer, you know? Um, and so, so for him, this was like, like costs and, um, and care for the earth were a part of kindness and compassion. I, I think you, you know, and I'm, I think I'm really, I try to be really clear in the book that, like, I don't think that my one death, um, is going to like, change the climate crisis. So I'm, you know, I'm not naive about that. Um, but, but I do, I am watching the, this whole, um, kind of the ethos of how people think about death and dying and, um, and that is changing.
Mallory (18:24):
And so my decisions and my conversations that I have with people that has the capacity to, to galvanize, you know, person by person collective action, that that can make a difference. Um, and I wouldn't be an environmental educator if I didn't think that, you know, that individual actions are, can be a part of something larger. Um, you know, and with, with a lot of, um, decisions around climate, it can feel really hard cuz there's these big structures, there's the fossil fuel industry. There's, you know, so, so it can be hard to figure out where do we, um, kind of dial in like what's our lane. But the interesting thing to me about decisions around our death is that it's like the, one of the few decisions that really is only like nobody else is gonna make it, but me and then if I don't make it, somebody else will. So,
Gordon (19:24):
Right. So you,
Mallory (19:24):
So you do have some, the capacity to affect change and, um, and the conversations to me, the whole, the, you know, talking about what the options are. Like, I wasn't talking about it before I started this book, even though I, you know, had this experience with my parents. But once I started talking about it, I discovered I had no idea. There were so many resources like in this region, like I did not, I had no idea and it wasn't that I had to, to be some brilliant person. I just had to like ask a few questions.
Gordon (19:56):
Right, right.
Mallory (19:57):
And I found out these amazing movement of, of interconnected people who are just doing fabulous work and then realize, okay, wait, this is happening. Not just here, this is happening, you know, across the country.
Gordon (20:10):
Right. Right. Well, you, you know, um, Mallory, as you, as you have thought about this and done to your study and work in this, uh, I'm sure there are some listers out there that are thinking, well, this sounds really morbid, sounds really kinda creepy kinda thing. How do you, how do you think people are able to kinda get past that and thinking about do death and dying and what we do with our people's bodies and people's remains and that, that sort of thing.
Mallory (20:41):
Well, I had, um, in, in, in the book, I, a lot of the, a lot of the book is like me, like going to places. And like I volunteered at a conservation cemetery outside of Asheville. Um, like I was a parking attendant so that I could, you know, be present at burial barrels of cremains and of, uh, of, of, of the body. I went to the body farm in Western Carolina university. And of course the first body farm is, was in, it is still in Knoxville and body farm is where you can donate your body for free. Um, so for the study of decomposition, so I was having all these experiences and then I was like coming home and, and who was at home, but my 14 year old daughter. And, and so a lot of these, a lot of these conversations I was having, you know, were like through the lens of friends, but also through the lens of, you know, a teenager who like the last thing she wants to talk about is like death.
Mallory (21:50):
Um, just much like, you know, but, but yet when we, when I talked about it with her, you know, she would, she would have an opinion. And, and so, you know, I, I think it's kind of this, I've been asked a lot in the pen. The book came out in December, I've asked a lot like, oh, how do you get people to talk about death? And, you know, this must to be a really hard thing. People don't wanna talk about it. And I actually found the opposite. I found that like, people don't have the opportunity to talk about it, unless they're someone is imminently dying in their family, which happens, you know, that is a reality of, for so many people, including, you know, many people that I love are facing that and they have to talk about it. But for people who are not in that position at this point in time, um, just the opening, the space, like what are, what are your plans? What are your final wishes? You know, that people, I actually want people actually engaged and, and, and sometimes didn't wanna stop talking because just hadn't been, hadn't been asked.
Gordon (23:00):
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That's a, you know, it's, it's been several years since I was in the funeral business. Um, but I remember that usually when I would share with people, that was my, that was my profession at the time. It was, it was, I would say the vast majority of people approached it with real curiosity and that they were really interested in what, okay, well, what do you really do? You know what, yeah. What happens when you involve my body and, and all of kind of thing. Um, you know, and I, I think ultimately the reason I got, you know, not, not too surprisingly now that I'm an, a, an Episcopal clergy and, you know, the different stage of life. I really, um, one of the reasons I got out of it was is that I found that there were some, some, um, there, it didn't really align with my internal values around things.
Gordon (23:56):
Yeah. And so not, and I've still got some really good friends in the, in the business, but it's, um, it, the title of your book though, is, um, is really, to, to me, was just really compelling and I'm I'm, um, and, and it just of being able to approach this whole idea of, okay, we've got this person that we're connected to and, you know, spiritually or physically, we're no longer connected to 'em. So what can we do do about that? And I think that is the power of, of funerals Memorial services, those kinds of things. We need that closure at the end. And I think throughout we've seen that. And then I just, uh, the, I love the fact of tying it, uh, tying it in what you've done with the environmental sustainability and all of that sort of thing, which is, is great. You,
Mallory (25:01):
Well, it's funny because part of, um, part of the research was me interviewing funeral directors. And, and there was one in particular who allowed me to like shadow during, you know, during a couple days. And let me invited me to go to a home funeral with her. And, and she also called me out in a kind way on some of my preconceptions about the industry, some of which were not necessarily inaccurate, but some of which, um, yeah, I think maybe she felt like I needed calling out
Gordon (25:45):
On. Okay. Okay.
Mallory (25:46):
And, you know, and because it's, it's, um, I, I did have some, I did go into this with some preconceptions of some influence by, you know, my dad's like self-sufficiency, um, and like the worst thing to him, would've been to have fake grass and a 10, you know, like that he would've did that. That was just like, and, and what did that represent? Um, it represented, you know, unnecessary expenses, um, you know, not a reflection of how he had lived. Um, but, but I think the irony is that some of the most, I think innovative collaborations that are happening now, you know, sometimes are between like, let's, for example, conservation cemeteries and funeral homes who've agreed, Hey, we can both help each other out like a funeral home might say, look, I'll, we'll cut the prices and just deliver, you know, transport the body, keep the body cool.
Mallory (26:44):
And then you at the conservation cemetery take care of the rest. And, and so they provide services to each other and to the families in a way that feels like super respectful and collaborative. Right. Right. Um, and so, so that was really good for me. I mean, it's painful to be, nobody wants to be told they have, you know, uh, whatever assumptions that might not always be accurate, but, but when somebody tells you that, you know, it's, it's also a time to listen. And, um, and so I learned a, I learned a lot, um, from the Fu from the funeral directors that I did yeah. That I did talk to. And, and I think, you know, I think things will, I think it'll be interesting to see how things change. I was on a panel yesterday for a webinar yesterday with a company called the natural funeral and they're in Colorado and they do, they offer, um, green burial, then a Aqua mation, which is a, um, a form of cremation that uses water and lie.
Mallory (27:49):
So it doesn't have the fossil fuel, um, interesting outputs of flame cremation and Aqua mation is, um, is available now in 20 states. And it will be available in more, um, you know, and so, so this natural funeral is a holistic funeral home and they offer a to back up green burial, Aqua mation, and then body composting. So, and that is a process that's legal now in Colorado and Oregon and in Washington state. And it literally is what it says it is where you, you know, the body is, you know, brought to, um, the funeral home or the, in Seattle, it started in Seattle, the company there is called recompose. And so, and essentially in a month with organic matter added, your body is transformed in and to, to organic compost wow. That, that you can use, you know, and you can use it or you can donate it to a regional conservation project.
Mallory (28:56):
So there's all these different, um, yeah, just O there will be different options. I mean, there's, there's there there's legislation introduced in several aids right now for, for body composting. Um, but it's interesting just this, the panel I was on, um, the folks with the natural company, you know, are interested in branching out and, you know, Asheville's one of the places that they're looking at cause you know, off right. Um, Aqua the closest place you can get Aqua mation now is in Shelby, North Carolina. Okay. So it's whatever 45 minutes away. But, um, yeah, I see this also as, you know, not just like a spiritual question and a, a, um, you know, a question about the climate and about community, but also like for my students, I see this as a, um, you know, a green business, a green industry that they could go into.
Gordon (29:54):
Right. Right. Well, it's, uh, you know, one of the, one of the things, uh, about, um, in starting this podcast is this is exactly the kind of conversations I wanted, want us to have to, um, not only think about kindness and compassion towards humans, but also kindness and compassion towards our environment in, into the world. We live in on a greater scope. And I think this is where it, the, this kind of grassroots kind of thing I think is where it starts and where it, where we really need to, where we can really make a difference individually in just thinking about the cycle of life and, uh, and death. And, and what we do do in the end, I think is significant. And I think it's, uh, the other thing that I see that I've kind of, we've kind of talked, touched on a little bit, is I think this could be, has the potential for people finding a whole lot more meaning in their life when they can, when they can approach it in this way.
Mallory (30:53):
Right. Well, the, the one thing I would, I have talked about a lot is like, how do we align the values that we have in our life with those and for our death, you know? And, and I, and I think that I, I watched for, for people who were able to, you know, find that congruence, um, in the planning, there, there was a sense of, I don't know, liberation in a sense like, yeah, okay. I know this is how this is gonna that, I mean, not, you don't know anything, but I have, this is how I've planned it to happen. And then whatever happens is out of my control. Um, but you, you can, you know, say, this is what I want to have happen with my body. And then, um, you know, then the rest, as, as my younger daughter said, well, if she's dead, she won't really know what, right, right.
Mallory (31:50):
Yeah. We could try to do this stuff, but like, you know, she, she won't be, she won't know. Yeah. The, the, the funny thing that became, you know, kind of a part of the book that I really hadn't anticipated was, um, that related to just compassion yourself and to the land and, um, and to, you know, family and community is, um, I I've often asked this question like, Hey, how do we carry the love of people who have died? You know, that are close to us. So like, that's, that's for me, like why I talk about, you know, any, I'll just say my parents, but anybody that has died, that's close to me that I, like, I, I want to embody their love. I want my life to carry their love forward. Right. And my college roommate, who is, um, she's actually in the discernment process, uh, in the Episcopal church right now, but she's the city planner, um, for, um, for Waynesville. And, um, she is also a musician. So she has this song called Carrie in my love. It's an original song. Um, and it's a beautiful song and it's one that you can really sing along with easily. And so at some of my book events, she's been able to play and then, you know, everybody sings along and it's just this, um, yeah. It's like the, the song that becomes like a metaphor yes. For, for the, you know,
Gordon (33:20):
Well, we'll try, I'll try to look that up and, um, maybe, well,
Mallory (33:23):
I can, I'll send it to you.
Gordon (33:25):
Yeah. That'd be great. Well, well, Mallory, I wanna be respectful of your time and I'm, I'm, hopefully we'll have some more conversations like this because I think this, um, again, uh, uh, I think about kindness and compass being all of life, and even at the end of end of life, this is, uh, this is truly an act of, uh, kindness and compassion and how we, how we carry through with people's final wishes. So thanks again for being on the podcast, tell folks how they can get in touch with you and, uh, where to find the book and that sort of thing.
Mallory (34:00):
Sure. Um, my website is Mallory Um, and the, you can find the book there as well as I have a lot of essays related to the book from the New York times. So the Washington post, um, and so you can find as my essays there, the book is available, sign copies are available at ma props, Asheville. If you're in this area, it's also available online, um, wherever you get your books,
Gordon (34:26):
Right. And we'll, we'll have links in the show notes and show some for, for all of that for folks. So again, Mallory, thanks for joining me on this. And, um, hopefully we'll have another conversation here soon.
Mallory (34:40):
That sounds great. The thank you.
Gordon (34:55):
Well, big thanks to Mallory for being with me on the podcast. And I was so thrilled to have her as a guest, and I really, really enjoyed getting to know her and just kind of, uh, look at some of our common ties and common bonds just around people that we know and our connections within, um, different circles and, uh, be sure and check her And we'll have links here in the show summary and show notes, um, for you to connect with her easily and also be sure and check out her book, our last best act, uh, planning for the end of our lives to protect the people and places we love. It's a good book. I've been reading it and working my way through it. And she really gives some thoughtful consideration about how we think about the end of life and how we, how we handle that.
Gordon (35:47):
And just, um, what we can do to be not only environmentally sustainable, but also treat those around us. We, with kindness and compassion through the end days of our life or our, uh, our end of life issues. So thanks for joining me for this episode, be sure to follow us wherever you might listen to the podcast, whether it be on apple podcasts or Spotify or Amazon, or, uh, or any, any other number of podcasters out there. I think you can find us on all the major ones, so follower subscribe to the podcast. And also if you think about it, leave us a review, uh, um, that that will be just helpful in kind of boosting our rankings and, um, helping other people find this and be sure to share with your friends. And you can also find us on Instagram at kindness and compassion podcast, and also on Facebook. Uh, at this point, those are the two social medias we're on. So take care folks and, uh, be sure to, uh, join us next time for the kindness and compassion. Oh, and you can find us
You Have been listening to the kindness and compassion podcast with Gordon brewer, part of the psych craft network of podcast. Please visit for more inform and resources and tools to help you in your journey. Be sure to follow us wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you haven't done so already be sure to sign up, to get the free kindness and compassion practices guide. Again, you can find, the information in this podcast is intended to be accurate and authoritative concerning the subject matter cover. It is given what the understanding that neither the hosts guests or producers are rendering clinical medical, mental health, or legal advice. If you need a professional, you should the right.

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About Gordon

L. Gordon Brewer Jr., LMFT | Podcast Host – Gordon has spent his career in helping professions as a licensed therapist, counselor, trainer, and clergy person.  He has worked with 100’s of people in teaching them the how to better manage their emotions through self-care and the practices of kindness and compassion.  Follow us on Instagram and Facebook .  And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.


Kayla Tapia | Gratitude As A Practice For Ending Anxiety | Episode 2

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

In this episode Kayla Tapia joins the podcast, who is a colleague of Gordon’s in the mental health field.  Gordon and Kayla talk about using gratitude as a practice to show kindness and compassion in the world.  They also talk about how there are parts of our brains that have a way of looking for danger. But when we practice gratitude it helps calm those fears and help to use the higher parts of our brains.Kayla also talks about ways she has incorporated gratitude practices in her life to be more grounded and less anxious about the world.

About Kayla

Kayla tapiaKayla Pennington Tapia is a counselor and therapist in private practice in Johnson City, TN.  She is a native of the Appalachian region and is passionate about helping people find new ways to work through their “stuck” places.  




“In my work, I will place an emphasis on emotional exploration, as I believe all emotions serve a purpose – to motivate us, to guide us, and to alert us that something just isn’t right. Rather than fighting or ignoring emotions, we can lean into them and listen to the messages they are trying to send through mindfulness and compassion.

I will offer a space of safety, support, and acceptance, free from any judgment. It takes strength and courage to heal, and I would be honored to stand with you through your journey of self-discovery and transformation”

Kayla is in private practice with The Journey For Healing Arts located in Johnson City, TN.

Habits for The New Year

Most of us have started the New Year by trying to establish some new habits and practices. One in particular is the practice of gratitude. By practicing gratitude it keeps us grounded and staying away from this false belief that we need and want more material things in life. The push to get more and/or be more can create a lot of anxiety for folks.

A simple practice is to begin each day by finding 3 things we are grateful for and sharing that with others. By doing this it keeps us grounded in the present and makes us more aware of what we have rather than what we don’t have.  Finding what is going right rather than what is going wrong.  This helps keep anxiety at bay.

Gratitude Allows Us To Be Kind To Ourselves and Others

When we look at the definition of gratitude one source defines it this way: “To show and return kindness.”  So at the very core of gratitude is this stance of being kind. By showing appreciation of others we engage a different part of our brain.  It is the part of our brain that controls our emotions, the prefrontal cortex.  It is also the part of our brain that is the “thinking” part of our brain.

Our Brains Are Wired To Protect Us

Kayla spoke in the podcast about having a “negativity bias” hardwired into us.  It is in the part of the brain called the amygdala. It is there to protect us and keep us safe.  It is always looking for bad things that could potentially happen to us. Again, it is there to keep us safe.  But if we let this part of our brains dominate it leads to an attitude of negativity and fear.  

Gratitude practices help us to train our prefrontal cortex to be more in control.  It forces us to look for the good in things. An example of this to think about a time when you mighty have gotten a performance review. It could be a wonderful review with a lot of positives. But instead of looking at the 98 good aspects of the review, we hone in on the 1 or 2 negatives. Gratitude helps us look at the bigger picture and focus on the positives.

Connecting Through Gratitude

We also have a propensity to connect with the negative in others. If we are not careful, we can let others’ lack of gratitude hold us back from seeing the positive in things.  We do need to give voice to the negative times. But healing comes from community building and connecting around those positive things and show gratitude for people differences

Kayla and Gordon discussed the impact of the “Black Lives Matter” movement over this past year. Certainly we need to call out at times the wrongs of society and in others.  But healing comes when we can be aware of the needs of others.  In particular, show gratitude for other people’s points of view and the lens for which they see the world.

It is important to recognize and show appreciation of other people’s differences. We need diversity in order to have a healthy society.  We see this in ecosystems.  The more biodiversity an ecosystem has, the stronger and healthier it is.  It is the same for humankind.  And the more we can appreciate people’s differences it’s an act of gratitude and kindness.

Seeking Gratitude Experiences

It is important to seek out experiences that put us outside of our comfort zone with others.  It’s how we can begin to discover gratitude for differences.  We can appreciate other people’s cultural differences, it helps us to feel a connection with them.  It is a way to be actively grateful.

An example of this is a tradition with the Maori people of New Zealand. They have a greeting that for most westerners comes across aggressive and frightening. The Haka is, though, a dance and ceremony originally intended to be a war dance to intimidate opponents. But it has evolved to now have a different meaning. It is a ceremony of respect and honor. 

Here’s and example:

Gratitude is a way of learning to let go of fear and getting to know people and why they see the world as they do.  Gratitude for the differences and learning to have compassion for all that is different.

Practices of Gratitude

  • Finding a few things that you are grateful for and reflecting on that everyday. 
  • Focusing on what we have rather than not have
  • Start a gratitude journal
  • Sending thank you notes everyday; writing it out in long-hand
  • Being intentional about expressing gratitude
  • When we have gratitude for others, be intentional about sharing that thought about them.

Other Gratitude Resources:

Greater Good Science Center


Kayla (00:00):
And when we can get really grounded in what we feel grateful for in this moment, at least for me, it helps so much. Um, and so it, it's almost so popular that it's cliche now, but the idea of just every morning, um, finding three things that I'm grateful for. And, um, part of that too, I think has been a lot of times, there are people in my life who are involved in that. And so to also be able to share with them, mm-hmm when they come up to be able to send them a message that just, Hey, you know, I'm really grateful that you're in my life.
Speaker 2 (00:41):
Gordon (00:42):
To the kindness and compassion podcast, where we will explore the intersection of psychology science and spirituality. My name is Gordon brewer and I'm a licensed psychotherapist and mental health provider. I have spent my career helping people learn how to better manage their remote and find more meaning in their lives and connection in their relationships. Join me as we think and talk about the ways we can find happiness and be content in our lives, through the practices of kindness and compassion. We will talk with other experts in the fields of psychology side and religion. I'm so glad you're with me on this journey as we learn how to be at peace with ourselves and others.
Gordon (01:39):
Well, hello everyone. And welcome to this second episode of the kindness and compassion podcast. Hello folks, I'm Gordon brewer. Glad you've joined me on this journey and glad you're with me and listening in, uh, hope you're finding this, uh, podcast. That's giving you a lot of food for thought, and that's my hope. You know, when I started this project, this new podcast, uh, in January, I really started working on it in earnest back in November of 2021. Uh, but I had originally planned on having a co-host with me on the podcast and that person is Kayla Tapia. She's another therapist, um, licensed therapist and practice here in our region. In fact, Kayla had worked with me in my practice for a while and I got to know Kayla back, um, when she was doing her internships with us and was in graduate school. And then later joined my practice for a while.
Gordon (02:40):
And now she's moved on to greener pastors with of practice. But Kayla was one of these people that was soon as I got to know her and got to really have a lot of deep conversations with. I knew that she was the kind of person that, um, I had in mind in interviewing for this particular podcast. Kayla is such a gentle soul and she is also extremely smart. And so this, um, this particular episode is our conversation around gratitude and, uh, Kayla, um, had, um, when we, I had a conversation with her about a week ago and she really, uh, kudos to her. She set some good boundaries for herself and that she realized after we got started in working on this, she wasn't gonna be able to devote the time to it that she had hoped to. And so, uh, that's another, uh, good, uh, that's a demonstration of self compassion and self kindness, and being able to set boundaries for yourself.
Gordon (03:44):
But anyway, I still wanted you to hear from Kayla and I'm sure Kayla's gonna be joining me for other episodes because she's exactly the kind of person that I hope to have on this podcast. And just having these meaningful conversations, uh, around the practices of kindness and compassion and why it matters in people's lives. I know in my own life, just as I shared in the first episode, I've had just a lot of ups and downs, which we all potentially do. Not that I'm not, I'm not unique in that way at, um, all of us have trials and just different things in life that can become hard. And I think our way forward, at least as I've learned along the way is through the practices of kindness and compassion, kindness, and compassion to others, not only that, but also kindness and, and for ourself and learning how to take care of ourselves well, but also be able to, to take care of others in the same way. So anyway, looking forward to you, hearing my conversation with Kayla and this particular topic that we're tackling in this episode is on gratitude, and we're why that's important for kindness and compassion.
Gordon (05:18):
Hey, Kayla, how are you? Hey, I'm doing great. How about, yeah, I'm doing okay. Um, we're, we're excited to get this podcast going and in these first episodes, we're just gonna be reflecting on some of our thoughts about some different aspects of kindness and compassion. And so in today's episode, we're gonna be talking about gratitude and how we might practice that in early lives. And just our thoughts about how that makes an impact with our practices of kindness and compassion. So, Kayla, I know that you had mentioned you're started with this, this new year as we're coming out and recording this in 2022, that you'd started a new practice, a gratitude practice.
Kayla (06:04):
I did, I feel like in so many ways last year, I lost touch with that a little bit. Um, and so when I was reflecting on the new year, that was something that felt really important to bring back, um, because it made me think about all the ways that gratitude keeps us grounded. I mean, even just in terms of, of materialism mm-hmm , um, you know, it sort of keeps us on this spiral of wanting more and meeting more and, and when we can get really grounded and what we feel grateful for in this moment, at least for me, it helps so much. Um, and so it, it's almost so popular that it's cliche now, but the idea of just every morning, um, finding three things that I'm grateful for. And, um, part of that too, I think has been a lot of times, there are people in my life who are involved in that. And so to also be able to share with them, mm-hmm, when they come up to be able to send them a message that just, Hey, you know, I'm really grateful that you're in my life and you did X, Y, Z thing. Um, right. So that's been part of what that has been for me.
Gordon (07:18):
Yeah, yeah. Uh, yeah. And as I think about gratitude, I think one of the things that, um, if, for lack of a better, one of the selling points for, for gratitude is, is that I think it does keep us grounded in the present. Um, it keeps us, keeps us aware of, um, what we have rather than what we don't have. Um, I is a big, is a big part of it. And I think one of the things is, is that, um, I know you and I work with a lot of folks that have a lot of, uh, struggle with anxiety. And, and certainly in the times we're living now, particularly during this COVID pandemic and just the world in gen genuine in general, excuse me. Um, there is a lot of anxiety out there. There's a lot of, um, a lot of a sense of what ifs.
Gordon (08:15):
And when I think about gratitude, I always think about finding, finding in our lives, what is going right rather than what is going wrong, um, of really kinda looking at, at it in that way, and also looking for that and others, as opposed to trying to always kind of point out and be critical of others with, with what, what they're doing or how they're, how they're going through life. So I think this, these practices of gratitude, um, go a long way with this, just again, this whole topic of kindness and compassion, because I think gratitude can allow us to be, um, kind to ourselves number one, uh, but also, uh, express that to other people in many ways. Mm-hmm,
Kayla (09:08):
absolutely. And, and, you know, sometimes I feel like there are so many words that we just, you use so commonplace that we almost take for granted what their definition is. We just have this idea in our mind. So sometimes I'll, I'll kind of Google, just the meanings of certain words. And I did that with gratitude actually. And a part of it is, um, readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness. Mm. And fundamentally, I do think that's a huge piece of it is that we are recognizing the way that other people and the world have shown us kindness. And, and, and that allows us the space to, to give it back. Um, and you know, also something that I'm thinking, um, while you were just speaking is, is kind of our, um, hard wiring. We have this negative negativity bias hardwired into us, um, sort of this evolutionary trait that long, long time ago, it kept us really safe if we were always scanning for danger.
Kayla (10:20):
And so the people who could do that better and more effectively, those are the people who lived and passed down those traits. So now we find ourselves just kind of always looking for the bad, which keeps us safe, but I think also can lead to a lot of anxiety, a lot of mental, um, health struggles, um, and a gratitude practice sort of does the opposite. It trains our mind to look for the good instead of the bad, and it sort of rewires those connections. So the at, yeah, I'm seeing the bad still, but, but let me proactively search for the good things, the things that are going right. Which I think is a huge piece of what you were just saying too.
Gordon (11:09):
Right, right. Yeah. Uh, and, and the, um, you know, the science behind it really is makes a lot of sense. I mean, there, as you were, as you were saying this, I was just thinking about, uh, I have in my, in my office in a resource notebook, um, a prick, a picture of the brain, and there's a part of our brain called the, a amygdala that is it's whole it's whole purpose is to keep us alive and keep us safe. It's that part of our, our brain that controls our breathing, our heart rate, all of those kinds of things. Uh, it also controls that fight or flight, uh, instinct that we have that fight or flight mechanism. And a lot of times we can, that part of our brain can at, can hijack the other, the rest of our brain, particularly our prefrontal cortex, which is the thinking part of our brain, but also the emotional part of our brain that allows us to, to, um, feel some of the softer emotions. And so gratitude really engages that prefrontal cortex so that it has the ability to kind of override that part of our brain that is constantly there, you know, the danger danger will Robinson kind of part of our brain, um, is, um, can take over for of people. And so there is, there is some science that, that supports the fact that gratitude practices help us engage that part of, of our brain and, and, and make it, um, make it easier to navigate the world that we're in.
Kayla (12:51):
Mm-hmm . Yeah. And, you know, a part of that GRA, um, negativity bias too. I think we can all connect to it because it is that part of us that really grasps onto and CLS to the bad things. Um, mm-hmm so if you think about, um, I don't know, like a performance review at work or something like that, it's like, you can have 98 positive checks and one, one small thing that somebody has said, okay, you have room for improvement here. And it's like, all the 98 things go out the window and you really hyper focus on that one thing. Right. Um, which is not fun for anyone. And so I think being really connected, um, to, to the bigger picture of that helps
Gordon (13:46):
A lot. Right. Yeah. I think too, just being, you know, um, another thing I'm reminded of is just thinking I've, uh, by both of us have been, um, studiers of people and that we're fascinated by people and human behavior and all of that sort of thing. But we, um, one of the things that I've always found fascinating is, is, and I don't know if it's more of a cultural thing here where we're located in a, in Appalachia, uh, Kayla and I both live in Northeast Tennessee. And, uh, it's very much, uh, very much influenced by an Appalachian culture. Uh, but seeing two people get together and commiserate over the negative things, you know, um, , you know, and, and, uh, so at some level people will connect around the negative parts of things rather than the, the positive parts of life. And I think when we can become aware of that, we can, we can make a choice to, to connect to the positive rather than the, the negative.
Gordon (14:50):
And, uh, there's a, if you think about it, maybe even in your own life, um, when, when we have been in conversations with people over something that was troubling or something we didn't, we felt, you know, um, I I'm reminded of, of this past year in one of the things that was an important awareness for our whole society, but the whole black, black lives matter movement that occurred. Um, one of the phenomenon of that is that there was a lot of focus on what we were getting wrong. So there's, there are times when we need to do that. And I think we, we need to call attention to those things, but the solidarity and the connection over the people that were getting it right and were, were giving voice to those things and being embracing of, of our diversity and of our, our differences, um, and being grateful of the differences that we have as human beings had a whole different feel to it. And there was that there was that air of kindness and compassion that was coming out through that. And so that, that for me instills a lot of hope.
Kayla (16:07):
Mm-hmm when you say that too, I think of community building mm-hmm, the first thing that comes to mind for me is that, um, it, it, when I think we are focusing, um, on both, I think both are important. Like, you know, we can build absolutely and should build community around what's going wrong. Like that's how we come good advocates, but I think too, we can connect so much over what's going. Right. Um, and having that gratitude. Um, I'm not sure if that's making sense the way that
Gordon (16:48):
I'm saying it. It is. And I think the, you know, having gratitude for a sense of diversity, um, again, to get to kinda going down the science track, you know, in, when you look at EC, uh, ecosystems and that sort of thing, the ones that are the healthiest are the ones that are most diverse. And so I think it's the same for us as human beings. And so I think being able to be grateful for another person's difference, another person's, um, different cultural view, views, different ways of seeing the world, all of those kinds of things, very much tie into gratitude practices.
Kayla (17:33):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And, and it tears down, maybe some of that fear of difference that we have, if we can think of it in that way, um, and sort of start looking for the things that we have in common with other people.
Gordon (17:54):
Right. Um, right. Yeah. And I think, uh, uh, you know, one of the challenges I would give, um, people, uh, that are listening to the podcast would be to, to seek out experiences where you get to experience, um, something that feels maybe a little outside your comfort zone, and then being able to practice some gratitude around that, of what it teaches you and what you can appreciate, um, you know, uh, to not to go too far off on a, on a rabbit trail here. But I, and remember, as a, as a kid, um, I grew up, I grew up in a, my dad was a pastor, and so I grew up going to church and that sort of thing. And there was a certain way in which we did church and, and the, the view at that, at least in my NA naivete, uh, a time was that that's the, that's the correct way to do this and that you must do it this way.
Gordon (18:56):
And then I can remember visiting a black church. Of course, you know, I grew up white, Southern Baptist, um, um, not gonna judge that at this point, but, uh, uh, anyway, going into a black church one time and, and experiencing the difference of that and the excitement of that and all of that, um, you know, probably at the time looking back, I wasn't as appreciative and didn't have as much gratitude for that. But now when I look back at that, man, that's, that was just such a rich experience for me in my life to be able to experience that. And then even now, when I think of going into, uh, different settings where, whether it be, you know, it doesn't necessarily have to be religious, but going into maybe, um, seeing a, a, another one that comes to mind for me came, is watching, um, the Maori people.
Gordon (19:55):
I don't know if you've ever seen New Zealand doing the haw, um, if you've ever seen that well, YouTube it, um, and when you, when you, uh, the thing about it is, is that when you first see it, it feels very, um, very intimidating to watch that sort of ceremony go on. But when you understand the backstory behind that, of when they do that, they do it at funerals now, and they do it in situations where they are showing respect for people and what it was. Uh, it was a thing that was misinterpreted by a lot of people when they would come to New Zealand and, and, and face some of the indigenous people. And we'll probably, I'll try to have a link here in the show notes for a, a, a YouTube video of, of a haka ceremony being, being done. And, um, but once I learned the context and had gratitude for what it meant, it took on a whole new meaning and that now whenever I see one or, or witness that, um, it just fills me with a lot of emotion. And so, um, yeah, so didn't mean to get too much off on a rabbit trail, but I just thought those, that was a story that came to mind for me and just thinking about gratitude.
Kayla (21:17):
Well, I love it. And I think it helps me put into words better what I was trying to say earlier, which is that we are sort of wired to be scared of what's different. Um, you know, there is that sort of innate us, them, uh, mentality that's wired into us and, and it comes from a space of, of fear of the unknown, which none of us like that. Um, but I think when we can let go of that fear a little bit and start to under stand and start to, um, ask questions and, and really get to know people in the context and, and, and see their different perspectives and their different experiences as an opportunity for us to learn and connect. Um, it, it makes our relationship so much more rich and meaningful because I can absolutely think of times in my life where I was just surrounded by people who thought believe, acted, everything exactly as I did.
Kayla (22:23):
And, you know, I think there was an intentional piece to that because it felt safe and comfortable. I was never cha, um, it also, wasn't meaningful though. And now what I find is that every day in my life, um, through the work that I do, and also, I try to be very intentional about cultivating it in my personal life. I see people who are so extraordinarily different and have such different experiences and such different viewpoints. Um, and it, it does help me tap into, um, a strong sense of compassion of really understanding the background and where somebody is coming from. And it just teaches me every day, you know? Yeah. keeps me, it keeps me active and connected and, and it does challenge me in all the places I need to be challenged.
Gordon (23:17):
Right, right. Yeah. So as you think about, um, maybe, you know, one of the things that I hope that we'll be able to do with this particular episode is put into the shows summary in the show notes, some, some resources around practicing gratitude. What are some practices that come to mind for you that people can start maybe doing to, to kind of dip their toe in the water around gratitude?
Kayla (23:45):
Yeah. I mean, the one that I described is so easy, um, to start and, and I think maintain, which is just finding a few things every day, um, to reflect on what you're grateful for. Um, a big piece, I think of, of making any habits stick is having a consistency in when you're doing it and how you're doing it. Mm-hmm . And so, you know, if it's the last thing you do before you go to bed, you, you just know to expect, that's the last thing I'm gonna do. Um, if it's a part of your morning routine, you just know that that's when it's gonna happen. Mm-hmm . And I think that simple change makes it really easy to keep up. Um, um, and another thing I think is, I think you kind of mentioned it earlier, is this idea of, of really trying, um, to be intentional about focusing on what we have instead of what we don't have mm-hmm um, and, um, those are the two really simple things that come to mind for me. Do you have, do you have
Gordon (24:48):
Other stuff? Yeah, there was, um, you know, I know there, there are some folks that, uh, keep God gratitude journal where they, um, actually write down, you know, and, um, every, as you're you were saying things that they're grateful for. And another, another idea that I absolutely love, which I think would be a pretty momentous task, at least from my view, as I heard about someone, sometime that would write a thank you note to somebody every single day, and they would mail it to them. And it was just people that maybe they knew, or maybe people that they didn't know. Um, of course, I've got this image in my mind of Jimmy fouling doing his thank you notes on on, on his program. But, um, um, with James playing the music in the background that came to mind as I was thinking about that, but, you know, I think any of those things that we can do that are intentional, that are our habits that we, um, go out of our way to do.
Gordon (25:53):
And I think the, the other thing too, there there's something to be said for actually writing things out in long hand mm-hmm because our brain processes that information and those things differently, we, we tend to retain it more or if we write it down in long hand, rather than type it out on the screen. Uh, and so I would, I would encourage people to do that. And, uh, again, we'll try to have some links and, and that sort of thing here in the, in the show summary and the show notes to give the point people to other resources around this.
Kayla (26:28):
Yeah. I, I, I just, I wanted to add, um, that I think that's a really important, um, aspect of, of this new practice that I've started. And I really hope that I keep up is that in the past, um, you know, it's not new to me to, to maybe think of three things each day that I'm grateful for, but I think the new thing that feels really especially meaningful to me right now is that if a person comes up in that gratitude BLIS and that gratitude reflection, I let them know mm-hmm , and, and that feels highly connective for me. And it, it really does, I think, allow me, uh, I'm not just keeping it to myself, I'm grateful for them. And I'm, I'm allowing them to hear and feel that appreciation and know how meaningful they are in my life, which, which has added a whole nother layer to it. I think for me,
Gordon (27:21):
Yes, yes, absolutely. Well, Kayla, I'm grateful for you. I'm glad that we're doing this together. And, um, I'm looking forward to our future episodes here. We are at just episode number two, but it's the place that we start. And so I want to invite everybody to, uh, be sure and follow us and subscribe to the podcast wherever you might be listening to us. And also if you'll go to kindness and, um, there'll be a place there for you to sign up for our email list. And, and probably by the time you hear this, there'll be some freebies that you can get from us, some PDFs and some guides, and that, that sort of thing. Uh, that's just our gift to you for signing up for that email list. And thank you so much folks for being with us on this journey.
Gordon (28:25):
Well, folks, I hope you enjoyed listing in on my conversation with Kayla, and I'm so grateful for her, uh, as I mentioned in that particular episode and just, um, the thoughts that she's bringing to this and her life experience around gratitude and do, do check out the show notes and the summary we'll have a few links in there to other resources. Uh, one, uh, as I've been doing some research for this podcast, a few, um, things I'll I'll point out to you are just kind of make mention of, there are a few websites that I've discovered. Um, one is the, uh, mindful website, I think is our excellent website on just has a lot of great resources on mindfulness and gratitude and those kinds of practices. And the other one is the, and it's produced by Berkeley it's, uh, Berkeley university, UC Berkeley, and it's the greater good science center.
Gordon (29:27):
And I came across, uh, their website and their resources. They have, um, they have a podcast called the science of happiness, which has been on my regular listen list. And, um, just a great resource to, to point out to folks and we'll have have links here in the show summary and show notes. And also I mentioned the, uh, the video for the Hawke dance, uh, which is a traditional, um, dance that it's a, really a, an honorary kind of dance that the Malory people. And so I invite you to go over, to take, uh, a look at that. And there's a link to some YouTube videos here in the show notes and show summary as well. So, well, take care folks. And, uh, again, thanks for joining me for this podcast and this journey and this new venture of mine, uh, be sure and go over to kindness and compassion com and subscribe to our newsletter.
Gordon (30:23):
And, um, when you do that, you'll be getting a lot of, uh, freebies and resources just around the practices of self care and kindness and compassion, and just, uh, resources that we're putting together. As we kind of, uh, as I like to say, we're building the plane as we at, uh, maybe that's a bad metaphor, but anyway, that's what we're doing here and be sure and, uh, follow us and subscribe to the podcast wherever you might be listening to it. And so looking forward to you being with me and future episodes and be sure, and drop me an email or reach out to me. Um, you, if you might be interested in being part of this, this, uh, project with me, if, if there's content you would be interested in contributing as far as being on the podcast and us having a conversation or other resources that you know, that you think might be interesting to people love to hear about out those.
Gordon (31:23):
And again, if you'll go to kindness and and go to the contact page there, you can get information about how to contact me and, uh, also apply to be on the podcast. So take care folks, and, um, looking forward to being with you in the next episode, you have been listening to the kindness and compassion podcast with Gordon brewer, part of the psych craft network of podcast. Please visit for more information, resources, and tools to help you in your journey. Be sure to follow us wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you haven't done so already be sure to sign up, to get the free kindness and compassion practices guide. Again, you can find, the information in this podcast is intended to be accurate and authoritative concerning the subject matter cover. It is given what the understanding that neither the hosts guests or producers are rendering clinical medical, mental health, or legal advice. If you need a professional, you should find the right person for that.

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About Gordon

L. Gordon Brewer Jr., LMFT |Podcast Host – Gordon has spent his career in helping professions as a licensed therapist, counselor, trainer, and clergy person.  He has worked with 100’s of people in teaching them the how to better manage their emotions through self-care and the practices of kindness and compassion.  Follow us on Instagram and Facebook .  And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.


The Case for Kindness and Compassion

Listen to the trailer…

So what makes people happy? Advertisers would want us to think that having the right “stuff” is what would make us happy. It’s what fills the airways.  And it goes without saying that, we all know that money can’t buy us happiness, but it can make us more comfortable. In fact, we all know stories of people that are incredibly rich people, money wise, but  are incredibly miserable emotionally and spiritually.  So what really makes us happy as human beings?

Over the years there have been numerous studies into what actually makes people happy.  Most of those studies indicate that true happiness comes from within.  The external stuff can make us more comfortable (more money and things), but that is not what really makes us happy.

In my work as a psychotherapist over the last 20 years, I have seen and worked with a lot of people that were suffering and unhappy.  Those struggling with various mental illnesses and broken relationships. At the core of most of the problems that people have in life comes down to being disconnected.  Being disconnected from themselves and others. It’s an issue of loneliness and fear. The bottom line to what makes us happy in life is when we feel safe and secure along with feeling connected to others at a deeper level.    

Kindness Brings Compassion

How do we “fix” this problem of disconnection?  Needless to say it can be complicated.  Nonetheless, when people begin practicing kindness and compassion in their lives, things seem to get better.  Kindness to themselves and the toxic messages that play in their heads.  Also practicing kindness to others and being able to forgive past hurts.  Through both of these, kindness to self and kindness to others, people can begin to experience compassion.

One way of thinking about kindness and compassion is in this way:

Kindness is an action.  It is also a choice in how we treat others. It means treating others with dignity and respect along with acknowledging their struggles. And we can show kindness to others without necessarily having compassion for them. 

Compassion is a feeling or an emotion. It is somewhat connected to empathy and forgiveness. It is being emotionally moved by other people’s suffering or hardships. And sometimes when we practice or show kindness, compassion follows.

The Pursuit of Meaning

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), the famed neuroscientist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, devoted his life to understanding the importance of “meaning”.  His book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” is a classic in self-help psychology. In it he tells the story of how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in that experience despite all the extreme suffering and evil he encountered.

Frankl’s research showed a strong relationship between “meaninglessness” and criminal behaviors, depression, anxiety and addictions.  And when people do not have meaning in their lives, they will substitute the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure, materialism, power, hatred, and compulsive behaviors. 

Frankl recommends that we find meaning in our lives through three different actions:  through deeds of kindness or service to others, through the experience of values through some kind of medium (beauty through art, love through a relationship, etc.) or in the meaning that can come out of suffering. Frankl believed that joy came as a byproduct of finding meaning in life.

The Kindness & Compassion podcast is here to help people find ways to practice kindness and compassion in their everyday lives.  And also a way to explore the intersections of science, psychology and spirituality that can bring a deeper meaning in life.

Kindness and Compassion Is A Practice

Kindness and compassion is something we have to develop and practice. And through its practice we can find more meaningful and happy lives.  It is my hope that in this podcast and the content of this website you can find your path to a more meaningful and fulfilling life.  It is the ultimate pursuit of happiness. 


L. Gordon Brewer, Jr., LMFT – is a Licensed Therapist,  consultant, podcaster and author.    He is in private practice and owner of Kingsport Counseling Associates, located in Kingsport, TN.  Gordon has worked in the human services fields for over 30 years.  He is a clergy person in the Episcopal Church.  Gordon has devoted himself to helping others find meaning and healing in their lives.


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