For a few years now I've the good fortune of serving as a teacher and some other things at a Buddhist Center here in Philly, and with that has come the opportunity for personal writing on lots of Buddhist-y sorts of subjects. So I thought that this and other writing I've done would help when it came time to write in this particular virtual space that's such a part of my life now. Do I go confessional with a personal tale and a moral at the end? Or get teach-y and expound upon the precious dharma so near and dear to my Philly heart?
Pema Chödrön says, just Start Where You Are. But what if you don't even know where you are? Or which "you" it is that's even starting? Well, then that's where you start. Not knowing. Pick a card. Or don't pick a card. But be there. If you're at the bottom, have a look around. So I wrote.
Three half-finished blog entries, one empty ice cream container (Haagen Dazs, Mint Chip) and two bite size chocolate wrappers (Dove) later, I end the carnage. Still zip.
I come up for air. Now what?? I asked my insightful daughter. Psych major that she is, she looks at me and acknowledges my predicament with genuine caring and interest.
And returns to the iPhone. "Right answer," I think.
I walk and and shake it off. After a few false starts - but starts that I guess need to be made to get to the next "start," a decision occurs.
That's all. Just, kindness.
Be kind. So this is a blog on kindness. It may even be a meditation.
One of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso's most frequently quoted sayings is this one -
My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness
If I look back on all of my interactions over the past weeks, even the past months (to the extent I can even remember that far back), I cannot think of a time when I wish I'd been less kind towards someone. Or that I regret the kindness I showed or received. But I can easily think of times where now I see, I could have been more kind. And that might have been better.
Not even major things, because our minds and lives are formed each day by a million small events and interactions, changing us forever. This moment, then that, then the next. And endless stream of opportunities to become better people. Just a tiny bit at a time.
So be kind, I remind myself.
Kindness opens the heart.
It reconnects us with the memory of our shared human-ness where before we saw differences. So that we can become more compassionate, and connect with the wish that others not suffer in their lives either.
Because they are more like us than they are different.
So we can be kind.
Sometimes kindness flows naturally and it is easy. Other times and toward other people however, we can only cultivate it by practice sustained over months, or even many years. So it takes practice.
Try counting the number of even the tiniest acts of kindness you see around you in a day; a gesture, a nod, a willingness to even recognize or acknowledge another person, a held door; and your life will be changed forever. So many all the time!
Spirituality is the practice of making the previously invisible, visible. Learning to see the kindnesses of this world is one of these practices. Once we see them, as with anything else, we can find them everywhere. The heart can open, everything changes.
And what we learn to see, we can become; we have already, on some level, become.
Kindness changes the air in a room, then travels to the next room. Because every action, every word, every thought we have, forms an infinite causal chain of actions, words and thoughts. However unseen. So our kindness is without end.
And if we believe there's something to that karma idea, then we also are the beneficiaries of our own acts of kindness; our own kind thoughts.
Either way, kindness is its own reward.
So we should practice kindness.
Being kind transforms how we feel about ourselves and others, even if that wasn't our intention. Even if we feel incomplete in the effort. It has.
It creates the space for peacefulness, the momentary experience of "enough" -ness.
So we can exercise kindness.
It also can be subtle. Not just expressed by actions or words, but in our relationship to our interior thoughts and feelings, as well. It is not just the positive expression of holding doors and offering compliments (though those are wonderful); it can be being generous toward our own self-critical thoughts and emotions. Giving ourselves the space to simply hold them in our awareness, without engaging, without trying to change anything. Exercising patience; forbearance, allowance.
Regarding ourselves as if we were our own child.
Arising from our caring for our own well being.
These are profound acts of kindness.
Failing and getting back up. Again, and again. Forgiving ourselves. Forgiving others. Remembering that we are all struggling with our limited minds, despite the exterior polish, whatever it may look like in this life. That is a kind of kindness, also.
Kindness can be refraining from saying, or writing or doing something, even though we might enhance our position with others if we said or did it; refraining because our words or actions might cause harm to someone else, or even create the conditions for division, or false impressions in the mind of even one other person. Refraining from harsh speech then, or gossip, out of our sense of caring for for others as we do ourselves, can be a profound form of kindness. And even more so as no one will ever know what we didn't say, or didn't do.
Kindness shows us that we are more complete than we thought we were. Regardless whether anyone else can see it. Kindness is doing it anyway.
Adopting an attitude of kindness takes repetition. When we do not practice it, it's easy to forget how wonderful it is to be kind. And how different it is when we are not. So we need to apply ourselves and stay with it, and keep forgiving and forgiving.
Kindness creates space to breathe. It is a yoga, a meditation, the living activity of prayer, a practice.
It reminds us that even when we don't feel very kind, we can be kind to ourselves, and even just, try not do too much harm, and then forgive ourselves when we do.
Refraining from doing harm is a profound expression of kindness.
Sometimes kindness means allowing others to make choices that we ourselves would not make for them. It is not always rewarded, or recognized. And accepting that, and the consequences of it, that we will be there throughout because we love them, is an act of kindness from a very deep place.
Kindness in body, speech and mind. The gentle activity of human regard that recognizes some part of ourselves in each other and transcends our sense-borne illusion of separateness. The chain lightning that can light up the sky for even just a moment. Warms our heart. And moves the world just a little bit.
And as religions go, not a bad religion, either.