Kindness

Author Cynde Denson, Mindfulness Instructor

December 31, 2021

We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” – Mother Theresa

No matter how small, an act of kindness is always welcome. Our world is broken, but not shattered. We can repair it together with mindful acts of kindness.

December 7, 2013, I was headed to a nursing home in Amesbury, MA where my Mom was under hospice care. I stopped at Starbucks for a chai. At the drive-in window, I was informed that the woman before me had paid for my drink. She was still in the parking lot, stopped at a light. I jumped out of my car, ran to the driver’s window, and shared that I was on my way to a nursing home to sit with my dying mother. This kind stranger stepped out of the car and hugged me with tears in our eyes as if we were long lost friends. One cup of chai tea. One simple act of kindness at a time when I needed it most. Her kind gesture transformed my day by helping me see goodness despite the depth of my grief. My Mom died that day at 3:00 PM with my left hand on her shoulder and my right hand on her heart. That stranger’s gesture of kindness is with me still.

David Wagner, world-renowned hair stylist and the author of “How to change the World by Making Someone’s Day\”, tells of a client who came in weeks earlier than usual. Assuming she had an event to attend, he inquired further. She answered that she simply wanted to look good that night. They connected deeply during the appointment chatting and laughing. A few days later, David’s client sent him a note, admitting that she had planned to commit suicide the evening of that last appointment and had wanted to look good for her funeral. David’s positive outlook and kindness had given her hope that things could get better. She made a life-affirming choice to check herself into the hospital and get professional help. The client thanked David for caring. While he had no idea what was really happening, David’s natural kindness emerged.

In a world that can appear harsh and unforgiving, I encourage you to look deeper to see the impact that is possible when we offer kindness to ourselves and others.

Happiness researcher Shawn Achor is the author of The Happiness Advantage and other positive psychology books. He has identified five research validated practices to create lasting positive change in our lives:

  1. Gratitude
  2. Journaling
  3. Exercise
  4. Meditation
  5. Performing random acts of kindness (such as the woman who bought my chai).

What can we DO to make kindness an intentional, conscious practice? The first piece is to be willing to lean into kindness towards ourselves. What could that look like? For starters, it would be to cease and desist self-flagellation about anything. No more berating yourself for mistakes, failures, losing your keys or cell phone 20 times a day, none of it. No more blaming anyone else either. It also may require letting go of our point of view to offer kindness to one who may disagree with us.

The practice of mindfulness offers us a highly effective map for how to do this with the powerful practice of loving-kindness meditation.  As we sit, walk, or stand in formal or informal meditation, we sequentially bathe ourselves and others in loving kindness by choosing three or four simple phrases to repeat in our minds such as:

May I (or you) be held in loving kindness.

May I (or you) be healthy and safe.

May I (or you) be peaceful.

May I (or you) be happy.

Traditionally, we start with ourselves, then to someone you love, an acquaintance, someone you dislike and end with sending kindness to all living beings on the planet. With each round of thoughts, envision those beings in your mind’s eye. If we find it too difficult to send love to someone we really can’t stand, we can modify the phrase to be something like “may you be free from hatred” or “may you be more open to others”.

Upon completion, take a few minutes simply to sit, breathe and notice the state of your heart. Simple? Sure. Easy? No. Worthwhile? Absolutely.

Personally, if I am going to be true to myself, my actions must be consistent with my belief in humanity. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of hot air. When I act with kindness, I step out of my small, stuck self into a bigger field of loving awareness that sees the beauty around me.

This is especially true when I offer kindness to a human I dislike, even if it feels disingenuous. Done with a genuine positive intent, my heart can shift to a softer place that sees a bigger picture. I call this fierce kindness, not about being a pushover, forgiving cruelty or condoning horrific acts. It is about approaching the pain of the world with a compassionate and kind heart as opposed to a state of contraction and hatred.

How could our world shift if we each acted with even a smidgeon more kindness, even when it feels hard. Try this. Commit to 14 days of daily acts of random kindness and see what happens. Are you in?

Cynde Denson, is a Mindfulness Instructor, a certified 500-hr Kripalu Yoga Instructor, a certified Vinyasa Yoga instructor, a Facilitator and a Co-Active® Coach. For more information about Cynde\’s classes, workshops, and coaching services, click here