Kindness. It sometimes feels like a “have to” or a “should.” Forced kindness can feel terrible and can evoke the thought of laying myself down at the feet of someone harsh and uncaring, and saying, “No, really. I don’t mind. You can walk on me–I like it…..”
Mindfulness philosophy teaches a different version of kindness. This approach to kindness is described as “one of the most beautiful aspects of our nature,” meaning it is something we all innately have and can enjoy. It is also called a “divine abode” a.k.a “a super nice way to feel.”
To truly feel kindness in my own heart feels…well, it feels great. “Mindful kindness” is a felt experience. It grows from an internal connection to one’s heart rather than any external “should”.
Kindness has the potential to melt our hearts so that we can feel the connections we have in our immediate circles and beyond.
Recently I enjoyed a wave of authentic kindness while hosting a special “fairy party” for my daughter and her friends. For lots of different reasons I was feeling tapped out as the party was beginning, yet I could still feel a true desire for my little one to feel celebrated and loved. So I dug deep and brought forth kindness from far inside myself.
As we all danced and sang fairy songs together her smile beamed with unmitigated joy. When we sat down in our circle to hear a fairy story, she leapt into my arms with a big hug and said, “I love you mama”. This was one happy little girl! While her words were saying “I love you” I could see that she was also expressing (in three year old body language), “I feel celebrated, I feel loved… I feel the kindness”. I felt absolute delight — another outcome of kindness practice.
However what I was happy about was not what I expected to be happy about. I wasn’t happy about the party exactly, I was happy about my daughter’s happiness. Anyone who loves another knows about this. My story is about my daughter. Yours may be about your partner, friend, parent etc.. The potential for kindness and delight to arise is in all of us.
BUT what about when I/we don’t feel kind at all?
What about when all the thoughts running through my/your head are… well, UN-kind…?
When I/you are with the kids and they have been yelling (whether in excitement or frustration), just yelling for what seems like hours on end, and we are NOT saying it, but we are thinking “Beeee quieeet…just please do not make another sound.”
Or when you are arguing with your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife and NOT saying it, but are thinking, “You’re wrong, you’re absolutely crazy if you think that is true!”
Or your parents…. Etcetera… etcetera…. Or a friend…. Etcetera…
What does mindful kindness have for us then?
“If the plane should be in danger and your oxygen mask releases from the upper compartment, first put your mask on, and then help anyone else you are traveling with.”
It is good advice on the aircraft and this is also the sage wisdom of mindfulness practice as well. When the SH__ is hitting the fan — think — “kindness for yourself first”.
There is a kindness practice in which you repeat to yourself such phrases as, “may I feel safe, may I feel at ease, may I feel strong…” (I encourage you to simply repeat them in your mind a few times. Each repetition is literally changing the way your neurons function in your brain—good stuff, eh? And you can always make up some phrases of your own if these don’t fit quite right).
So back to the situation that is going South….
Right there in the middle of the stress, just as your mind is saying something to you that you DO NOT want to say out loud, is a great moment to “put your own mask on first.” A good time to say some kindness phrases to yourself. Or if your thoughts are too jumbled you can try a feeling practice instead. You simply pause right there where you are and feel compassion for yourself, for the stress you feel or the pain in your heart at that moment and bring a feeling of kindness to it.
I do this all the time and when I do… I respond to my child, my partner, my parent, or my friend with more kindness. If I do not do the kindness practice, then I just stay with my thinking of “be quiet, you’re wrong” or “forget you”…. When I go this route I have very little kindness for anyone, myself or my loved one…
Next time you’re having unexpected turbulence, put your own mask on first, before you help anyone else. See if it does bring a little more kindness to the whole situation. More kindness for you will bring more kindness for the others.
One more thing to take home:
One of my teachers, Sylvia Boorstein taught me this simple kindness limerick that can be sung to many tunes. I usually sing it to myself to the tune of Amazing Grace.
May I feel safe
May I feel pleased
May I feel strong
May I live with ease
A participant in several of my workshops and retreats who has therefore sung this kindness limerick with me many times wrote me a touching email recently.
In it she said that on the day she was laid off she went out to her car took a deep breath and began to sing…. May I feel safe… May I feel pleased… and as the song got louder and fuller she felt how healing it was.
Rebekkah Teaches Classes, Workshops and Retreats in Marin County
Find more info about her on her website: www.enjoymindfulyoga.com