Inspired by this line from the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye, I begin this blogging journey with kindness because it seems to me that all things begin and end with kindness. I have loved this poem for such a long time. In it I feel a great relief for the way she reminds us that kindness can, and does, lead us out of suffering. It also reminds me that the reverse is true, that suffering itself can be a way into kindness—kindness for self and kindness for others.
While many of us have a capacity for kindness to others, it can be much more difficult to extend the same to oneself. Why are we so reluctant to tend to our own needs, wants, and desires? Tara Brach, noted psychologist, Buddhist teacher and author of Radical Acceptance, puts forth that most of us have never learned to have compassion for ourselves, and that we use self-judgment as a tool for protecting ourselves from pain and suffering. And that it is by looking directly and openly at suffering, that we have access to compassion. But what does this look like in everyday life?
Like everything new we try, increasing our capacity for compassion and kindness takes practice. It is not dissimilar to beginning a new workout routine—there are muscles in the body that have gone unused and the more we learn to use them, the stronger they become and the more they are available to us in helpful ways.
If you want to start your kindness workout, start with Monitoring your self-talk.
· Perhaps the most pervasive way we are unkind to ourselves, is through our self-talk. We may offer comfort, understanding and acceptance to the friend who is struggling with being overwhelmed or stressed out, or who is having relationship difficulties, but we are much more likely to be judging and critical of our own self in the same situation. Notice next time you catch yourself saying something like, “Why can’t I get this done?” or “What’s the matter with me?” or “If I would just….” Stop right in that moment and picture yourself saying the very same thing to a dear friend. Many times when I ask a client in session to do this they quite literally cannot utter the words when attempting to say them to another.
My rule of thumb is…
if it’s too mean for me to say to a friend, it’s too mean to say to myself.
Check back next Monday for more helpful information on practicing kindness and compassion.
“Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
Like a shadow or a friend.”