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The Power of Kindness

Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - May 2024


Newsletter - 5.24
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“The only difference between a flower and a weed is judgment.”

– Wayne Dyer

 

The longer I live … and the more I continue to learn … and the more I come to understand about myself and people and the world … and the more I am touched by others and by life … and the more I am exposed to the growing divisiveness in the world … … the more I believe in the power of loving kindness. Yet I’m perplexed that kindness is so often seen as sign of weakness instead.

 

I used to admire those who were always kind … perhaps knowing that my own way of being fell short in so many ways. But instead of wondering what I was missing, I wondered what they were missing. Over the years, however, I’ve changed … partly from keeping a gratitude journal; partly from daily practice of living in the present moment (see March & April newsletters); partly from getting old. After 77 years, I’ve come to believe that if something is worth doing at all, then it can be done more effectively with kindness than with force, anger, criticism, cynicism, greed or judgment. To me, those are the signs of weakness … driven by fear, lack of self-trust.  

 

I even find a growing connection between kindness and truth. When you’re in a place of personal truth, there’s no need to yell, to force, to be angry, to criticize. You need those things only if you’re trying to make someone take your side but have neither the evidence nor the self-trust to do it with kindness.  I just don’t buy stories that claim, “Oh, I am kind … as long as it’s to people just like me.” If you don’t act from kindness, you’re creating divisiveness.

 

A sticker on the back of my car reads Practice Aloha. To Hawaiians, aloha is love; it’s kindness; it’s hello; it’s good-bye; it’s a way of believing; it’s a way of being; it’s life force. The sticker is a celebration of my deep connection with Hawaii … its energy, its beauty, its people, its commitment to aloha. But it’s also there as a reminder … of a challenge I take on … to behave with kindness no matter what I encounter on the roads. Now, if you drive much, especially here in Massachusetts, you know how easily you can be pushed over your patience limit. So, although I mess up now and then, that sticker serves as a silent reminder of a challenge worth upholding. Besides, unkind responses to aggressive drivers are more likely to ruin my day than to change theirbehavior.

 

This viewpoint has spilled over into the rest of my life, too. I’m not conscious of it all the time, but I find that when someone treats me with judgment, anger, criticism or force, I’m likely to respond with kindness. It may well be assertive kindness (some situations call for that); It may be quiet kindness (some situations need (or deserve) that). Getting involved in the drama of other is not worth the energy drain it would represent – for me.

 

Kindness is a natural outpouring of human spirit … an innate part of us. We become un-kind only because we learn it! We learn to not trust ourselves; we learn we’re not good enough; we learn we’re somehow separate from others. The fear this generates leads us to selfishness and greed … the opposite of kindness. Yet we don’t question any of this; we just assume that when life gets tough, we need to get tougher, not kinder. Well, everything’s kind of tough these days; it’s what the world has become – for now (see February newsletter). But the assumption is based in illusion. Kindness is the path beyond what the world has become. And it starts inside each one of us.

 

The tougher the going gets in the outer world, the more crucial it is to find a “place of peace” as the center of your inner world; it’s key to becoming resilient in a world that has lost its way. As you treat yourself with more kindness, you open to more meaningful connection with others, which is what we, as humans, long for all along. Our need to love is even greater than our need to be loved.

 

Practices in the noted newsletters work wonders on evoking your innate kindness: keeping a gratitude journal, living in the present moment, becoming resilient. The exercise that follows does the same. Don’t just read them, inhabit them … with your best intention.  Change happens only from the inside out; stop waiting for the world to go calm, for others to be more loveable or to “deserve” your kindness. As you learn what’s inside you that holds you back from kindness, the obstacles fall away, and your perspective changes … naturally, and without effort.

 

Exercise:  Nurturing Loving Kindness.  I’m a big advocate of purposeful daily “practices,” aimed using the power of conscious awareness alone to cause new habits to replace old ones. There’s a simple reason: they work! (This is why every newsletter includes suggested practices to help you incorporate the article’s ideas into your way of being … if you do them.) The power here lies in the fact that we are creatures of habit; we do the same things the same way from one day to the next. Viewed this way, your “everyday habits,” while unconscious, have made your life exactly the way it is today (whether it’s for better or for worse). You’ve actually “practiced” your current life into being!! Think about it:  if you can get that good – unconsciously – at becoming the life you’ve got today, imagine what could be possible tomorrow with conscious practice instead. It takes only awareness.

 

Each day, create a few minutes of quiet reflective time. During this time, replay in your mind situations, events and conversations from your day, with an intention to get to know exactly what thoughts may have “triggered” you into being angry, judgmental, critical or forceful. For each situation, event, conversation or even thought you had, ask yourself two questions. Note: both these questions are about what was going on for you, and have nothing to do with what the other person did or said. Be honest with yourself; it’s how you learn.

1. Was your response one of kindness, without “attitude?”   (Note: rarely can we answer yes to this question, even once a day. But in taking on this exploration, you understand why.)  Name the attitude.

 2. What was going through your mind immediately before your response? Name the thought that triggered your response. (Note: In taking on this exploration, you see the potential of a different response.)  

 

Just getting to know how your now-unconscious thoughts are “creating your day for you” softens your response to these triggers. You’ll also see how you’ve come to believe the illusion that your judgment/criticism/anger is somehow justified, and therefore serves you in some way. As you expose the illusion, the response falls apart.

 

 

Life Lessons from Nature: Over the past hundreds of years, our growing dissociation with nature (and I mean here direct, personal connection) has also contributed to loss of kindness. Native cultures – without exception – lived with reverence and reciprocity for the ecosystem that sustained their lives. Everything they experienced and all they knew came from, and returned to, “nature.” That sustained their respect, and their deep connection. They were part of that system, not, as we’ve come to believe today, separate from it somehow. We seem to have misinterpreted even the biblical suggestion that we are to have “dominion over nature” as meaning control, not stewardship. It shows. Lack of kindness for the planet has “spilled over,” to include the way we treat one another. I’m not one to suggest we go “hug trees” (although it might help more than we could imagine), but to re-member how deeply connected we are to the entire cosmos might just be a great entrée into a “personal kindness project.”

 

 

Book of the month:A Religion of One’s One, by Thomas Moore.A book of uncommon wisdom and depth, about finding and living experience of the sacred in all aspects of everyday life. Belief, as Moore describes it, is a personal, rather than dogmatic, thing – a “calling of the soul,” a way of living, the result of deep self-reflection into what matters most – to you. He shows how you can find, and create, this path to self, and live with meaning and purpose, whether part of a formal religious tradition or not.It’s about deep, personal inquiry & self-reflection, which lead to self-knowing, self-trust and meaning. Personal belief is created, not followed. As if to emphasize the power of personal uniqueness:“‘The Lord is my shepherd’ is a beautiful psalm, but people are tired of being sheep.”


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