Today is World Kindness Day. I did a post about it on my other blog last year — thinking I’d probably never do one again. But then last week the election happened in my country.
Many of my dearest friends and family members were having a hard time in the wake of the election. That’s no surprise. What was a surprise is that “reeling” was the word I kept hearing independently from them — and I too came up with it on my own in what I hope was an unusual spin.
In my case, a family member sent me one of those blaming emails that first morning — Wed. Nov. 9. While I have no doubt she was upset by the election results, she didn’t acknowledge it or its impact on either of us. I was stunned and at first just felt numb.
However, as luck would have it, a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) Practice Group meeting happened right after I got it. In the midsts of all their grief that morning, these amazing people paused for 15 minutes to empathize with me about the email — talking me through my feelings and needs related to it.
I landed on the word “reeling” for my main emotion. It’s not a word I think I’ve ever used to describe my feelings. And just thinking of it helped. It brought some clarity and with that a big sigh of relief. At least I understood what was going on for me.
Unpacking the needs behind “reeling,” at the top of my list was kindness. There actually were quite a few others, but kindness was an umbrella need — covering not just this email, but also post-election.
Even more important, holding up kindness as my need empowered me. Kindness was and is something I can DO — in many ways and every day. For that day and that email the kindness to myself was to let it go, to not pressure myself to reply; the kindness to her was to wish her well in my heart.
Perhaps “wishing her well in my heart” sounds meager or sissy. It is so very small. Yet sometimes small is the answer. And in this case, at the very least, it stopped the blame game dead in its tracks. Ergo small is huge.
How to Stay Centered in Kindness?
So kindness is something I can do — it’s a way I can respond rather than react. The question for me then becomes, how do I make that a toolbox response — something I can pull up quickly in difficult circumstances? The answer, I believe, is to habituate myself to kindness — to find easy ways to practice it routinely so that my heart centers in it.
Pondering this, the very first thing I thought of was the Dalai Lama. In particular I gravitate to various quotes of his about kindness. My favorite is:
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.
Actually this is a slight misquote. It seems to be a combination of two official quotes. The first is “My true religion is Kindness.” The second, fuller quote comes from his Ethics for the New Millennium.
This … is my true religion, my simple faith…. [T]here is no need for temple of church, for mosque or synagogue, no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine, or dogma. Our own heart, our own mind, is the temple. The doctrine is compassion. Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity, no matter who or what they are: ultimately these are all we need. So long as we practice these in our daily lives, then no matter if we are learned or unlearned, whether we believe in Buddha or God, or follow some other religion or none at all, as long as we have compassion for others and conduct ourselves with restraint out of a sense of responsibility, there is no doubt we will be happy.
The thing is I love the misquote for its not over-simplifying the power of kindness, while at the same time cutting to the chase. It says clearly and succinctly how I can live my daily life. Plus I’ve never heard the Dalai Lama dispute it.
So that’s my first tip for staying centered in kindness. Find a quote or sentiment about kindness that really works for you and ground yourself in it. Paste it on your car dashboard, use it as your mobile’s wallpaper, put in on your fridge, use it as your email tagline, whatever it takes for you to remember it.
My second tip is to empathize — just as my NVC group did with me. If you don’t know how to empathize, now is a great time to start building your empathy muscle. Find an NVC group you like, watch Brené Brown or just search the Web for “how to develop empathy.”
And here are three other things that help me and might help you empower yourself with kindness.
- Smile — even when you’re by yourself. Notice how you feel as you smile. Notice when strangers respond. It’s magic.
- Read inspiring books about kindness. I do NOT mean insipid books. Quite the contrary. I’m thinking of books such as Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life the Diaries, 1941-1943 and Letters from Westerbork.
- Do a little metta (loving-kindness) meditation. My main practice is Zen, but at times like these, especially when I can’t sleep, metta helps.
My final tip is don’t try to do it all. Just find whatever works for you.
Wishing you a day and a life filled with kindness,
P.S. I’m posting this quickly, so there are probably typos. Please feel free to let me know if you spot any.