Layers of Kindness
Most of us are kind when we see people in need. Most of us are polite too, which is in itself a form of kindness. Opening a door for someone. Letting someone in ahead of you at a queue in the supermarket if they have young children who are a bit fraught, or if they have only one or two items to buy whereas you have a full trolley. These are all acts of everyday kindness, and we should try to notice them in others, and in ourselves too. Very often we don’t register these kind acts precisely because they are so normal, but noticing them and appreciating them gives you a burst of pleasure and happiness, and it is the accumulation of these little bursts that change how you feel about life.
We can also be kind by not saying or doing something. This is very important, and again, because it is common, it’s rarely noticed, even more so because it’s an act of not acting on an impulse. Take for example a row between two family members, one of whom is you. The other person makes a hurtful statement about you or something you did, and in your mind a reply takes shape that would really hurt the other person. Not only would it be hurtful but it’s a true statement you’re about to make. But you don’t say it. You bite your tongue, hold back, precisely because you know how much it’ll hurt the other person. Because these non-events are invisible, and seem not to happen – because the harsh reply is not uttered – we tend not to notice them at all, as if they never happened. But they did happen, and I would guess that most families have acts of kindness like this at least once a week. Again it is helpful if you notice when you hold back and not hurt someone when you could have. Be happy that you didn’t. Be grateful that your wiser mind intervened and feel good about yourself. This will bolster the positive content of your mind.
This leads me to a third vital layer of kindness; self-kindness. We do things to ourselves that we wouldn’t do to others. Most of this is invisible to others, happening inside our own minds. So we’ll say to ourselves that we’re useless at something, just because it didn’t work that time. If someone else said that about themselves to you, you’d instantly tell them not to be so harsh, but that what they did was a good start. The negative voice in our head is not our friend. This is not about being realistic about your qualities or skills. It’s about your own mind telling you unhelpful and unpleasant things about yourself. We don’t need such thoughts to improve ourselves. Rather, we need encouragement and support, and we can be those things to ourselves.
Finally being grateful for things is an act of self-kindness. It lifts your spirits and makes you see life in a more warm, loving way. Noticing and being thanks for the pillow on which your head is rested when you wake up starts the day with not only a positive thought, but an act of kindness to yourself. This helps defeat the more common, automatic moods that the mind produces – gloominess, tiredness, irritation, lethargy, and so on.
So make a point of trying to notice your own acts of kindness, and the kind acts others do; and remember always be kind to yourself.