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?”

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