One of the wonderful things about kindness is that, unlike some other enjoyable things in life, how much you do it is entirely up to you. If you’d like to have a life filled with love and kindness (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t think that sounds good?) all you need to do is be more loving and kind. Ok, I say ‘all you need to do’ but I know that it can often feel so much harder than that.
With so many things going on, with our own hopes, thoughts, fears and fantasies vying for our attention, it’s quite possible, even probable, that kindness gets left out. So I think it’s helpful to remember that kindness is an innate quality of the mind, something that we all have the capacity for. In fact I’d even go so far as to say that the mind, unobscured by self-centred thinking, is kindness.
So it’s less a question of going after it, more a question of creating the space for kindness to arise. Here are a few ideas that could help you let a little more of that good stuff in your life.
Create the conditions. One of the best ways to do this is through meditation. It’s much harder to be kind to those around you until you’re approaching your own mind with compassion. It’s only by developing a window into the mind that you’re able to see its behaviour without judgement. That gives us a better understanding of our own minds, and, by extension, other people’s.
Listen carefully. Very often it’s the simple fact that someone has understood a need that makes an act of kindness feel so special. The glass of water when you’re thirsty, the help with those heavy bags when you were going up the stairs, or holding the doors when your hands were full. It’s where the action meets the need that the magic really happens. Being open and aware means you’re that much more capable of seeing those opportunities for kindness occurring all around you every day.
Think small. Often the small things can mean the most. Kindness doesn’t have to entail a radical overhaul of your life or suddenly changing the way you behave around others. You don’t need to uproot and dedicate your life to a cause in order to make a difference. That compliment to a co-worker, making time for your partner, or an extra effort for a stranger, can change someone’s whole day. Apply kindness skillfully, it’s almost an art in itself.
Make the choice. Kindness is often as much about what we don’t do, as what we do do. With a bit of awareness we can start to catch ourselves at those moments where we might otherwise miss the chance to be kind. Is there a second when you choose to be on the phone rather than fully-present with your partner? Is there a split-second decision not to approach someone who looks lonely in a crowded room? Try intercepting these impulses, just as an experiment, and quite soon you may not have to try so hard.
Don’t give up. Even if we resolve to be kinder, there’s a chance that we will still have bad days. Maybe we’ll find ourselves angry, resentful, critical or harsh. And perhaps there’s a temptation to believe the worst, that really this is our true nature, and that being kind was merely a put-on. I think that there is perhaps a natural tendency to buy into these types of thought. But this is just more thinking. When we look at our behaviour over the course of even a short period of time, we can see we’re capable of so many different ways of being. The mind is limitless, capable of anything. So don’t let yourself be defined by a single disappointed expectation. Genuine kindness is unconditioned.