I would like to talk about kindness in the way the Buddhists approach it with their practice of Loving Kindness. I have learned to understand the importance of this practice in the realms of spiritual growth during the last years, and the importance that again has for our world.
Just as, the Buddhist teacher and author of The places that scare you, Pema Chödron says: “Be kinder to yourself. And then let your kindness flood the world.” What she is saying, and I can only agree, is that kindness starts by being kind to ourselves. We are not able to truly offer pure kindness to others if we can not offer it to ourselves.
Compassion for others starts by being kind to ourselves. And that means unconditionally kind, kind when we are failing, kind when we are hurting, kind when we are being unkind.
Yes, even in those moments when we lash out at someone or torture our body with the third chocolate bar to drown our sadness, we can be kind. We can see the helplessness and we can bring loving kindness to it. We can see the overwhelm and we can bring loving kindness to it.
It is the first step. And it changes everything. I am not saying that you will never again snap at anyone, or overeat, but bringing compassion to the places that are sore and suffering changes it´s alchemy.You can imagine the difference between shouting angrily at a small child when it drops its glass off milk on the floor, or holding her or him tightly when it wails with fear and shock and telling it “it is okay”.
Well, you are that little child inside when you are desperate and what we usually do is punish and scold it harshly when it blunders. What you really need is not to give yourself a big spanking for having lost control or “failed”, what you need is a kind presence that gently tells you: “you are okay.”
This is not as easy as it might sound, obviously. Our conditioning, and thus we, is so entrenched in the habit of rejecting and numbing out the “ugly”, “dark” and “uncomfortable” parts of ourselves that it feels completely counter intuitive when we start leaning into our fear and gently holding ourselves in its panic, with loving kindness. We are not adapt at staying with the raging jealousy or the gut wrenching pain without rushing to act and project it outward in frantic hysteria or numb it out with anything from TV to work to wine.
That´s why it is called a practice. Only with time and repetition does it slowly but surely start anchoring in our system that staying with these feelings, with loving kindness, is where growth and healing happen. There are no two ways about it, healing without facing the pain and letting the wounds air in the light of day is not possible. And in order to be able to let these excruciating, shameful and terrifying feelings surface it needs loving kindness.
We may start with finding an external source of loving kindness to begin with on this journey. A grandmother, a friend, a therapist, a spiritual teacher. A person or place where we feel accepted and safe.
It may be helpful or even necessary to first get support in the unraveling of that which we have condemned in ourselves for so long, with someone who knows the importance of bringing it out, knows that it is the only way to let our light shine again in the places we thought ourselves unworthy and unlovable.
With time we may take to the practice of loving kindness toward ourselves. We learn to hold ourselves when every inch of our body and being is shaking with despair, being with it, unwaveringly, not rejecting, not criticizing, not willing it to be different. Simply sitting still, compassionately, watching it play out, staying close and present to ourselves, to the feeling, letting go of the story attached to it. Until it runs it´s course. And I promise you, it will run it´s course. It will feel like a great storm has raged and when it passes, there is a stillness and a freshness present that comes from having faced it and allowed it to do its job of shaking up and cleaning out the old and the hidden. There might be tenderness and a sense of rawness, but they help the heart to break open in a sweet and innocent way and allow for love and connection to flow again.
Loving kindness. Compassion. It starts with our selves. It is the ground for healing to emerge, and don’t we know how much each one of us and our planet, needs that healing right now.
“Be kinder to yourself. And then let your kindness flood the world.”
With love and kindness,
Co-Founder of DIMA, a center for conscious living.