“My religion is very simple,” the Dalai Lama has said. “Kindness is my religion.” With some 4,300 religions in the world (at last count), we don’t really need one more. But kindfulness as a spiritual practice might be a welcome newcomer.
No, it’s not loving-kindness (you can be kind without feeling love), it’s not gratitude (you can show kindness to someone– even yourself — without feeling grateful for your lot in life), and it’s not metta or mantra meditation). Kindfulness isn’t something you set out to do with a journal in one hand and a candle in the other. Kindfulness is more a state of being that arises from cultivating your better self (it’s in there somewhere even when you are not in the most charitable of moods) and elevating your higher nature. One of the promises of Buddhism and most other religious and humanistic traditions is that the capacity to awaken our hearts abides within us.
There are ways to train our attention, counsels meditation teacher and psychologist Tara Brach, so that we actually feel tenderness and responsiveness in a visceral way. Our physiology has the wherewithal to “wake up.” The frontal cortex, she explains, houses the structures that allow us to feel empathy and compassion. Mirror neurons, for example, help us get in touch with that feeling of understanding and caring about one another. Among them, is the neuropeptide oxytocin (sometimes called” the love hormone”) which allows us to feel a connection with others.
If you are sometimes spending your day in a trance, blame it on the all-too-human perception of separateness, the feeling that something is wrong, she says. Shame and anger aren’t far behind,
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As the Dalai Lama reminds us, we should be kind whenever possible. And, he adds, that it is always possible. So too, kindfulness is always possible. And it’s not just for monks and lamas and all those random Mr. Rogers out there.
What is kindfulness? We know it when see it, hear it, feel it, and do it. When we smile at a passerby or open a door for a stranger with a baby carriage. We hear it whenever we say or hear “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” and “I’ve missed you.” We see it when we open a thank you note, a birthday remembrance, a thank- you- for- being- you card. Or when we see that bright red heart emoji pop up in a text. But there’s much more.
Here are 8 ways to connect to your innate kind core and (like the bumper sticker says)” Be kinder than you need to be”. Yes, it comes back to you.
- Kindful words “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?” wrote a Victorian poet in the 1800s, a sentiment so Buddha-like that it is often attributed to the Buddha.
- Kindful acceptance: When someone you know hurts you by word or action, when someone you never met insults you or causes you harm, can you still be kind? Can you unite your heart, mind, and body to embrace what is hurtful and move from dark to light and extend the love that always comes back to you?
- The Kindfulness Gesture I: As rushed as you are, can you let that other car pull into traffic ahead of you? Or maybe the next one in line as well? Can you let the woman who looks like she’s had a tougher day than you, take your place in the checkout line? Can you pay for the coffee of the construction worker or senior citizen behind you at the coffee shop? “A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve,” in the words of 18th-century French essayist Joseph Joubert.
- Kindfulness Gesture II: Give road crews, traffic cops, crossing guards, and delivery people (folks who often feel invisible to the rest of us) a high five of appreciation. People who feel acknowledged often pay it forward.
- Silently kindful: Kindfulness is in what you choose not to say as well as what you do. Can you pass on that bit of gossip you are so anxious to share with a friend? Can you sit it out in silence and instead, wish the subject of the gossip health and wellness? “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier ”advised Mother Teresa.
- Kindfulness good deed: Consider little loving things that mean a lot but take just 5 minutes. Before heading out the door in the morning can you stop to brush the cat or throw the ball for your dog who will be home all day? Or leave an “I love you” message on the phone of your partner, parent, child, or best friend? Or thank your house plants one by one for the beauty and health they provide? There is evidence that plants are receptive in ways we don’t fully understand to the humans they live with.
- Have a kindful day! Put a BE KIND sticker on your bumper. Sometimes that simple suggestion goes a long way. Or wear a BE KIND tee, or ball cap. To a stranger in a self-involved mood, it may provide a wake-up moment. And the prompt also keeps you in a kindful state of mind.
- Be kindful to the planet. Practice one act a day of planetary positivity. Pass up the plastic bottles, boxes, wraps, and packaging for the day or the week. Drive a little less and walk a little more. Feed the birds. Plant a tree or a bush or bring home a plant that will clean the air in your living space.
- Be kindful to yourself. Start the day with a smile. A big one, as though you were in a toothpaste ad. See how it changes the way you go through your day. A happier friendlier you is contagious.
“You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson