Thursday, January 19, 2012

Everyday Kindness

We often hear some of our best teachers telling us to think of emulating the people we most admire.  I heard that early on but didn’t begin to give it much thought until I’d enrolled in the university.  Since then, I’ve realized that the people I’ve admired most in life were the kindest and most positive individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  Instead of being known for their “random acts of kindness”, the phrase we often hear and even commonly see placed on bumper stickers, they were more likely to be recognized for “everyday acts of kindness”.  While the former are quite wonderful, the latter represent the glue that makes life worth living”.

Here are just a few:

Speak kindly to yourself upon waking.  Just telling yourself things like “may you be curious today, may you be healthy, may you be happy” can take your mind away from the negative and place it on the positive. Although these kinds of statements are very simple, anyone who has sincerely practiced them will tell you they are open, subtle, and extremely effective if used consistently.  Experiment to find out what helps you begin your day in the best way.

Wish those who live with you well.  Although the other factors of kindness (compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity) come into play upon waking, now is the time to bring them to others.  This starts with attitude.  Truly wishing others well is something that people feel from you first, react to, and then think about.  If you are thinking “may you have a wonderful day” when you greet your spouse or children in the morning, it’ll be written all over your face before you even speak.  For example, when my old boss, Colonel Wackenfuss, came into the office in the morning, that wish was emanating from his whole being, and he left us for the better because of it.

Look for the little things that make others’ days better and do them.  At first, you may have to consciously practice this principle, and when you do, it’s best to intentionally complete these actions of kindness with no expectation of anything in return.  They have to be the purest of giving.  Then instead of expectation, it becomes realization, recognizing the feeling of satisfaction and learning that comes with such measures.  Perhaps you may remember a coworker or supervisor who saw you struggling to do something well, and just said or did the right thing that made everything come clear for you.  It wasn’t much on their part, but it made your entire day.

Listen.  This action may be the greatest kindness you can give anyone.  If you truly listen, then the qualities of kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity will be expressed by your attitude towards the person you’re with.  Within your manner will be the caring, focusing, appreciation for the person’s sharing and being, and equanimity that is most needed.  Think of this.  Why do people share their difficulties openly again and again with those they trust and respect the most?  It isn’t any wonder that they know they will be heard, left unharmed, and/or most likely given the help they desire, is it?

Thank those people, animals, and situations that give you difficulty—they’re your teachers.  Usually, we react negatively to confrontations, but if we take the time to observe the sensations they stir up in us and stay with them until they dissipate, we’ll see how they help us to experience more peace and  tranquility, develop a higher degree of self confidence, and a willingness to be more compassionate with ourselves and others.  The more we thank these occurrences, the more often we’ll respond to them positively instead of unconstructively.

Take advantage of the opportunities given you.  When a situation arises that gives you a chance to act kindly, seize it compassionately.  Don’t let the opportunity pass you by, for it will bring you regret.  Each time you’re able to act kindly, your capability to do so may also increase.  Being kind to others is being kind to you as well.

Treat yourself kindly upon going to bed.  Take this opportunity to review your day, and when you come across those experiences that still cause your emotions to arise, offer them the kindness of observation until they flow away into peace, or if they don’t, then be satisfied to let go and spend time with them another day.  Speak kindly saying something like, “May I thank the opportunities I’ve had today.  May I continue to act kindly in every way.”

Acts of everyday kindness really do help us to have a better life day after day.  We learn that taking positive mental, verbal, and physical action is applying the universal law of “what goes around comes around”, for we feel the benefits almost immediately.  If we practice this kind of living, we also realize that thinking, saying, or doing anything that results in committing harm comes back to us in psychological and/or physiological agony.  For example, even speaking ill to oneself, i.e., “Stupid”, is painful.  One might come to understand that for every act that ends in harm, we hurt ourselves first.  Isn’t it possible that instead of remaining addicted to the negative and continuing to commit acts that inflict ourselves with pain and sorrow, we could begin to replace them one by one with acts of everyday kindness?  Even one little action of such gentleness would be proof enough for many.  Just think, “Why not?”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Crossing The Bridge To Understanding And Compassion

      “The essence of your communication is the response you receive”, a principle I experienced long ago in a neurolinguistics programming (NLP) course, stays true with me today.  It tells me whether or not I’ve understood or been understood, been compassionate, or treated something with loving kindness.  It lets me know if my intention to do all of these things was carried out. Although at times it seems impossible or at least problematic, crossing the bridge to this level of understanding and compassion does improve lives.
      Stopping us, however, from making this transition with whatever we encounter in life are usually our thoughts and especially emotions like fear, anger, or disgust.  Mentally changing places with another who has treated us badly, for example, may be unthinkable or too much to bear.  After all, what might we experience inside that person?  Something ranging from almost nothing to that which might be extremely secretive and dark?  Whatever it is, many would rather look at it from afar or not at all.  Understanding such a thing theoretically is usually enough for them.
      In my own experience, however, I’ve learned that ignoring something which has concerned or upset me just puts off an inevitable, sometimes unfortunate confrontation with myself or another, so it’s better for me to deal with it rather than let it fester.  There’s a notion of “surrendering to the moment” in this experience.  For example, the other morning I woke up from some rather unsettling dreams.  After thinking about their tone and characters for a while, I decided to take the time to exchange places, i.e., put myself into the shoes of the personalities in the dreams.  First, I started with those that were less scary and then systematically went through the rest of them.  As I did so, there were some pretty amazing revelations which created a feeling of compassion for these characters, these parts of me, and I felt comfortably relieved.   I was glad that I’d dropped my defenses, admitted that I was afraid of these personalities, and investigated them.  Just taking a moment, however, and doing the same thing with a living, breathing person isn’t quite as easy, but it’s also possible and rewarding in what you understand and develop compassion for while maintaining a professional or personal relationship, or perhaps even gaining a new friend.  Though it’s much easier to start with dreams or some of the dragons we have in our memory banks while developing the courage and the experience to do it with others face to face, such as rebellious children or cantankerous neighbors and bosses!
      Moreover, the time we spend on the side of what scares, disgusts, or angers us, what we may even pity, can help us to feel some of our compassionate desires become true within moments.   For example, “may my heart become soft”, is a wish made by thousands in metta prayers (loving kindness).  It becomes a realization when you mentally change places with an indigenous woman holding her baby while begging on a sidewalk.  Why?  Simply because you feel and understand the truthful experiences of hunger and need in that person while also discerning what is not true.  The heart softens but does not become stupid.  Another metta desire, “may my words be pleasant to others”, is often realized as understanding lessens the desire to speak angrily with people who confront us.  And last, “may my actions be kind” frequently results when we understand, feel compassion, and act wisely to help others after having exchanged our self for theirs;  for example, giving food to the beggar instead of money.  Realizing that communication is a two-way street is something many of us have learned in classes.  Unfortunately, the part about how to cross the bridge to stand in another’s shoes probably wasn’t part of the lesson. 
      “That’s the rest of the story,” however, as the famous radio commentator, Paul Harvey, used to say.   If we want to be happier by developing true compassion and understanding, then we’d better be ready to make that trip.  Ignoring what puts us off today just delays the inescapable.  Peace and happiness evolve much quicker if we deal with life head on.  In conclusion, may you choose to journey to the other side, for it’s a true way to experience, comprehend and be kind hearted for what’s within you and facing you.