Updated: May 4
I hope you have noticed people being kinder through this pandemic. At the park, supermarket and over the phone I have distinctly observed more generous helpings of kindness these past weeks and I hope it's a trend that continues to grow when the crisis is over. With mindfulness coaching and practice we develop kindness as a conscious intention toward ourselves and others. Kindness is central to many cultures, religions and spiritual practices and is considered to be a virtuous characteristic. The practice of mindfulness is an invitation to bring a kind and gentle awareness to our sensory experience and including our suffering or stressors. If we can do this we are able to shift out of the ruminating and anxious mind and find we can soften and open our heart to connection.
The thing is it's easy to be kind to the things we see as good or that we like and are attracted to, it’s a more difficult practice to bring kindness to everything including things we dislike or what is simply ordinary. Bringing a sense of kindness no matter what is a rich practice that involves us embracing life and death unconditionally.
The development of kindness can help us navigate our lives and the suffering we experience while knowing the truth it is all impermanent. We can come to know the truth that our separateness which is often a great cause of suffering is actually a delusion and therefore kindness just makes sense.
In some ways our own freedom is bound to us being kind to ourselves and our humanity. If we can bring kindness to our own suffering we are more likely to cause less harm to ourselves and not perpetuate cycles of our own suffering and the suffering of others.
One of my favourite poems is about Kindness. I recently heard Naomi Shihab interviewed in a Podcast at Onbeing and heard her talk about the how the poem was written after a terrifying experience she had on her honeymoon in Colombia. The bus she was travelling on was hijacked, a man killed and all her belongings stolen. Feeling traumatised by the whole experience she wandered the streets until a kind local man caught her eyes and connected with her heart.
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever. Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive. Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
I hope you enjoyed that tender poem as much as I did when I first heard it. I knew instinctively that this poem was written from a real experience and not just imagining a situation or trying to point to a concept. This sense of knowing helped guide me through my own experience of suffering to break down walls and attend to opening my heart on retreat. This way of embodying kindness is the key and you can find it works like alchemy on the body helping release hardened tissue that block the flow of your energy.
There are all kinds of ways we can cultivate kindness in our lives and keeping it front of mind and intentional is helpful because sometimes we don't orient easily toward kindness for ourselves and others. I recommend choosing an activity and working on developing it in your life playfully.
Get up and decide to be kind.
Look for kindness and generosity in your life and let it land in the body too.
Be kind to yourself and help yourself when your struggling by reaching out for support or taking time to pause and reset.
Keep a kindness journal and write your kindness experience to relive them and savour them.
Smile and connect with someone you care about.
Give yourself permission to be vulnerable and dwell in uncertainty.
Practice loving-kindness meditation
Practice appreciating life by noticing the gifts you've already been given.
Notice the things you feel raw and vulnerable with and bring kindness to how you reflect on those things.
Focus on the greater good in practice by keeping your heart and mind open.
Tibetan Buddhism offers the Lojong mind training slogans for opening the heart
Create kindness challenges or participate in random acts of kindness.
Play empathy charades where you have to try and understand how others are feeling.
Volunteer to help someone more vulnerable than yourself.
Focus on building friendships and being generous towards others.