(image from Pixabay)
Working with schools and teachers I hear about some wonderful acts of kindness ... like the school that gives their teachers a half day every week to bond, relax, and look after their wellbeing, to classes where children with disabilities are so included in the learning, the play, and the friendships, that their peers don't see their disabilities anymore and they are lovingly accepted into the crowd.
But I want to tell you about a very simple, but highly effective, kindness activity that a teacher has done with her class -
Gathering her pupils together the teacher told them that they were going to pass a list of all their names around the room, and next to each name a child was to write something kind and lovely about their classmate. It didn't matter whether you were friends or enemies, it had to be a kind word, thought, or observation. It was to be done as anonymously as possible. So the list was passed around and by the end every child had had a kind thing written about them. The teacher then tore up the list so that every child's name and the lovely thing written about them was separate, she then folded all of the paper and squeezed each piece into its own balloon. The balloons were then blown up, and kept in a corner of the classroom. Each day a balloon was selected and popped, the piece of paper handed to the child it belonged too, from which they then read out the kind thing said about them. The children could keep these kind words, and call on them whenever they felt sad or angry or unsure, or even if they felt happy and loved. It was a kind thing that had been said about them and it was their kindness good luck charm. Kindness rocks.
So to help finish off my #2017CharacterChallenge Kindness Month I want to select 5 friends and write a kind thing about them (for all my friends and family members that miss out here, please don't think that I can't think of a kind thing to say about you, I am fairly confident I could find a kind thing to say about every person I know, but if I wrote something kind for everyone on this blog post it would be one uber long piece of writing!!)
Anj - You are such a bundle of pure energy that inspires and motivates me to live life to the full. You are one of the best people I know.
Jess - Quiet and observant, you always know the right thing to say at exactly the right time and also the right thing to do at exactly the right time. You have taught me how to pull no punches and stand up for myself, and for that I thank you.
Jean - So so wise Jean, you are like the fairy godmother I have always wished for. Kind, tender, and always there to listen and then sagely give the perfect advice, you really are an amazing lady.
Janelle - One of my oldest friends, and still there with that massive, huge, epic heart of yours. Always loving and pure, you are an amazing mother and an amazing friend, love you loads.
Jayne AND Fred (can't separate these two) - My two business partners who have challenged me, pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and always held my hand when I needed understanding and support - you guys are the bomb, so smart, so loving, and so dedicated to helping others.
This month has really made me open my eyes to the kindness that surrounds us and that we give ourselves. It really is in the tiniest of thoughts, words, and actions - when someone tells you that your hair looks lovely today, or that you cooked a delicious dinner, or that offer to drive you to the train station. It can also be in the biggest of thoughts, words, and actions - a little muslim boy who was detained at a US airport on his birthday (after President Trump's diabolical ban of certain people entering the States) has "Happy Birthday" sung to him on his release (with the crowd cheering), George Michael, who after his death, it was discovered that he had donated swathes of money to charities and also volunteered his time to help others, to a young girl with terminal cancer inspiring a movement of kindness as her legacy.
To finish of this month of kindness I really want you to think about who has been kind to you lately, and as I have above, write a kind word about them and then tell them, give them some kindness, from your heart to theirs ....
... and onto February, where I will explore Compassion.
(image from Pixabay)
Theoretically being kind should make the recipient/s and giver happy and joyful - such as when you compliment your best friend on their hairstyle, or you cook dinner for your spouse, or you offer to carry the old lady's grocery bags to her car .... both party's feel a sense of good human connection, relationships strengthen, and your self-esteem improves. But can kindness be taken too far? Is it possible that kindness can turn into .... an unkindness?
I believe there are a few ways this can happen .....
I am sure we all know someone who is a .... "people pleaser," (I am going to be honest here and say I used to be one of those people, and perhaps you used to be one too). They are people who just can't say no, to anything, cause if they say no that person won't like them anymore, right? Cause to help people in any way they wish to be helped is being kind .... right? Right??
Have you also tried to be kind to someone who you felt needed some kindness and they snapped back at you to leave them alone, or to go away? Though your intention was good, it wasn't quite what they needed in the moment? Perhaps there was an element of assumption or forcefulness in the kind act.
Sometimes, (and this is something I have had to be aware of in my "kindness" month), as the giver of kindness, if you "over-give" kindness it could come across as a bit fake, or inauthentic. This could lead to people not trusting you or thinking that you have ulterior motives.
This is kindness turning into unkindness.
Unkindness, to not only the recipient, but also to yourself, and not unkindness in a mean or nasty way, but in a slightly inappropriate and forceful way.
So how can you ensure that when being kind you are being authentically kind, sensitive to the other person and the situation, and also taking your own self (emotional, physical, and financial) needs into consideration.
I think the trick is to set boundaries around your limitations (learn when it is appropriate to say no), be mindful of other peoples circumstances (does that person really need a big expensive gift, or do they just need a shoulder to cry on), and be kind, in small, regular doses. Don't sweat the big stuff, you don't have to do anything big and show-offy to prove you are a kind person. Here are some ideas for authentic, small, caring, doses of kindness you can implement each day, without that kindness becoming an unkindness:
Compliment the first person you see today.
Pay for the coffee for the person behind you in line in Starbucks.
Say hello to a homeless person and ask them if you can get them a sandwich or hot tea.
Say I love you every morning to your spouse, children, or best friend.
Wash up the dishes when someone else has cooked you a meal.
Open and/or hold the door for someone behind you.
Call someone you know is lonely.
Let someone out of a side street whilst driving.
Give flowers to someone .... just because.
And don't forget about yourself - have a piece of chocolate, take time out to read a book, have a bubble bath, cook a delicious meal for one, compliment yourself about your character, body, or actions that day, give yourself a foot massage, and have an early night.
Let me know what kind things you have been up too today and if you resonate with any of the unintentional "unkindness" scenarios.
(image from Pixabay - I support Pixabay with donations, why don't you? Show some appreciation and kindness towards those that provide us with these amazing pictures)
I meditate every single day. (Most of the time!)
I am sure that I have mentioned in before, but I use the Headspace app to meditate as I like to be guided in my meditation (though as I have become more competent with my meditation I can meditate anywhere, anytime, with or without guidance). Andy's soothing voice keeps me on track and focused on what I am doing in those 15 minutes of self care and self love.
As I sit on the chair or the mat, I become hyper aware of the sounds around me, the feel of the floor, the smells in the air, the aches and pains in my body - or the lightness of my body - the rise and fall of the lungs, a rhythmic process of little life and death, that pause between breathes, and then the focus of the practice.
I have been meditating on kindness the past week, and today Andy raised some interesting points on kindness and the type of kindness we should be practicing - towards others and ourselves.
When we are kind is it something we do without any expectation of anything in return? Do we keep a score card of kindness, and suppress pent up anger when we believe that we have been kinder to others then they have been to us? When it comes to ourselves, do we think we don't deserve kindness because we are screwed up too much and perhaps haven't been kind enough to others to actually deserve any ourselves?
I worry, in a sense, that exploring a specific kindness this month, and in comparing my kind acts to that of others, I have subconsciously been keeping score? I hope not, that has not been my intention, my intention has been to be more mindful of when I have been kind, both intentionally and unintentionally (and the same with people being kind to me). But it does make me wonder, when we practice kindness is it truly unconditional?
Matt Licata, a psychotherapist and spiritual teacher, explores the path of unconditional kindness, stepping away from thinking of kindness as a goal or achievement - "Unconditional kindness is not a goal or an achievement, for which we are to shame and blame ourselves for ‘failing’ at (which we inevitably will), but is an intention, an aspiration, and a commitment to meeting whatever arises in our present here-and-now experience with tenderness, warmth, and gentleness.
We can actually train ourselves to open our hearts and soften into our sadness, our grief, our rage, our fears, and our anxieties, cutting into millions of moments of meeting ourselves with fundamental aggression – as we likely experienced as young children in our families of origin."
I really resonate with the idea that we have to come back to a childlike approach to kindness and experiencing our emotions and responses to things. When you think of children, they have moments of anger and frustration, they fully embrace the emotion in the moment, and then the temper tantrum, upset, argument, is over. Suddenly the sun shines again, everyone is friends, love takes the place of anger, and kindness becomes the touchstone of openness to self and others.
I am still going to keep a list of kind things I have done and that others have done to me, but only for this exercise, so that I can reveal what is kindness and how I have experienced it. Ultimately it is not for us to keep score regarding kindness, but just to live with it presently on a day-to-day basis, being kind and loving just because it is in us and natural, not because of obligation or keeping score.
(image from Pixabay)
" Whether one believes in a religion or not,
and whether one believes in rebirth or not,
there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate
kindness and compassion."
- Dalai Lama
All my life I have felt like I have been searching for a spiritual path that would sit well with my heart and mind .... it's been a long, long journey (and it continues to be a long journey). When I was a child and attended scripture at school (I was christened Presbyterian), my spiritual understanding revolved around Christianity, I was intrigued with Jesus, and in awe of God. In fact, I used to tell people that to make up for my disability, God had given me gifts and talents to embody, such as the ability to "play the piano by ear" (not literally by ear, but I had the ability to pick out tunes and songs on the piano, I also found it easy to read sheet music), drawing, and swimming. As I grew up my spirituality became a little more adventurous, and in my teens I started to explore Wicca, the magic of candles, rituals, and mantra's captivated me, and yet it seemed a little hollow to me, I was working through the practice alone, and it didn't feel very comforting. Then, in my early twenties I started to explore Buddhism. It has been an on and off journey through Buddhism, but it is the spiritual path that has stuck - in my heart and head. And so I want to talk a little about loving-kindness, in relation to my 2017 Character Challenge, and my first character challenge - kindness.
Loving-Kindness is the Buddhist approach to kindness. It is expressed through the meditation practice of Loving-kindness. The aim is to "sweeten" the mind and develop an altruistic attitude, to others and yourself. It erodes a negative attitude to the problems you face in life, and creates a positive one, an open courage in facing life head one, with compassion and love. (This alchemy of changing negative attitude to positive attitude results in a change of patterns/habits ... this is called "loving-acceptance."
Loving-kindness meditation is the first meditation in a series that explore the 4 qualities of love:
3. Appreciative Joy
The ultimate aim of these meditations is to help us develop compassion and empathy.
When you first start loving-kindness meditation you begin by developing self-acceptance (if you cannot accept your own flaws and failings, how can you accept others).
Once you reach a level of self-acceptance you must then develop loving-kindness towards:
1. a respected person, e.g. a spiritual teacher.
2. a beloved person, e.g. a family member.
3. a neutral person, e.g. the waiter at the cafe.
4. a hostile person, e.g. someone you have difficulty with.
Here is how you can do a loving-kindness meditation:
(This is a meditation as set out by the Dalai Lama)
1. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering
we all want the same things (to be happy and be loved)
and we are all connected to one another.
2. Spend 5 minutes breathing in, cherishing yourself; and, breathing out
cherishing others. If you think about people you have difficulty cherishing,
extend your cherishing to them anyway.
3. During the day extend that attitude to everyone you meet.
Practice cherishing the "simplest" person (clerks, attendants, etc)
or people you dislike.
4. Continue this practice no matter what happens or what anyone does to you.
These thoughts are very simple, inspiring and helpful.
The practice of cherishing can be taken very deeply if done wordlessly,
allowing yourself to feel the love and appreciation that
already exists in your heart.
To practice raising feelings of loving-kindness you can also practice visualisation, reflection, and listening.
Visualise - imagine the person you want to extend loving-kindness too and smile at them.
Reflection - contemplate their good qualities and how they have been kind to you.
Listening - repeat a mantra of loving-kindness (such as "May you be happy, May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.")
Try the loving-kindness meditation above for a week, practice the visualisation, reflection, and listening, and see what happens.
There is a softness in the process and the processing.
Today I opened my heart.
I opened my mind to the possibility that there is softness in us all.
Softness, however, does not destroy strength, or courage, or perseverance. In fact softness adds strength in quietness, courage in relationships, and focus in perseverance.
There is such kindness to the self in softness, a growing acceptance and love in who and what we are. Imagine being so gentle with ourselves that we are flooded with love that radiates beyond the eyes and the ears and the mouth.
There is such kindness to others, those reflections of our own misgivings and hardships. Imagine softly recognising ourselves in the other and through that recognition giving such love (no-matter if the love is close and warm, or distant and respectful).
Softness whispers in our ear, speaks through our words, caresses the skin that wants understanding .... and hope.
Listen to softness, it is only right behind you, guiding and loving....
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright