“It is most important that the heart responds when there is an opportunity — that we are moved to care for others rather than getting so stuck in our own head. If we can’t recognize opportunities to help people in need, mostly it’s our own loss. Small gestures of kindness transform us; they show us the best part of our mind and connect us to others in the best possible way.” -Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
While standing in line at the grocery the other day, my eyes were drawn to a publication on the magazine rack called "How to Live With More Love." I know it sounds kind of corny but love has really been on my mind lately. Not the passionate, madly-in-love kind of love (although that's good too) but more the positive energy that being loving in the world can generate. You know, like good vibes; the loving-kindness kind of love. And I have been thinking about the way we show love in the world, which I believe is, or at least starts with, kindness. We humans have a deep desire to be treated with kindness and perhaps an even deeper desire to be kind. This entire "Love" publication I discovered while shopping is filled with articles that serve as inspiration and practice "to help you cultivate joy, kindness, confidence & compassion." To be more love-filled.
One article in particular that drew me in was an interview with George Saunders, the American author who received the Man Booker Prize award last year for his book Lincoln and the Bardo, The editor and chief of Lions Roar (the publisher of said publication) recently interviewed him about the convocation speech he gave at his alma mater a few years ago. The topic was kindness. There are some interesting things about this speech and clearly I'm not the only one who thinks so. It quickly went viral on social media. But what I found interesting was that Mr. Saunders presented his topic -- one that many might not think of as all that inspiring -- in such a simple and heartfelt way. He simply gave humble advice for living a meaningful life and he did it in a way that everyone -- even and maybe especially my 7th grade son -- could relate to. That is inspiring.
Here’s a snippet from his speech:
“Here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded, sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder."
Read the full speech here. Watch a short animated video of it here.
So, how do we do this? Well, throughout time the longing for kindness has been explored in a variety of religions and philosophies. In fact there are many practices that seek to promote and nurture kindness. One in particular, called metta bhavana, has its origins in the buddhist tradition. Metta means loving-kindness, bhavana means to develop.
Metta bhavana teaches us to be kind and gentle by promoting a positive relationship with ourselves and by extension, the rest of the world. Below is a simple meditative Metta practice from Valerie Mason-John (also found in said "Love" publication) to get us started:
•Close your eyes and ground yourself to your seat.
•Become aware of the breath permeating your body, and imagine it as a spray clearing the toxins from your heart.
•After a minute, imagine looking at yourself in a beautiful place that you enjoy. Continue to breath.
•After another minute, say to yourself, “May I be happy,” then breathe and acknowledge how this feels. Then say “May I be well,” and breathe, acknowledging how this feels. Then say “May I be kind towards my suffering,” then breathe.
•Allow yourself to sit in stillness with whatever arises. After a few minutes say, “May I cultivate more kindness within my heart. May I cultivate more peace within my heart. May I continue to develop and grow.”
•Continue to recite these phrases, leaving a minute or so between each, staying connected with the breath.
•Try for 5-10 minutes.
Valerie Mason-John says that this simple practice has changed her life. She says if you practice it weekly, it will begin to transform your heart. If you do it daily it will bring about positive change in your life. Are you up for it? I'm going to give it a try. Want to join me?
In health & love,