kindness

The power of self-kindness

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How we look at ourselves makes a huge difference to how we feel. I’m talking principally about how we regard ourselves internally—how we each relate to ourselves as an individual human being—rather than the way we look at ourselves in a mirror, although the two are of course related.

For a moment, think what it’s like to sit having a conversation with a friendly person. We get lots of little signals from them, acknowledging us. They smile. They nod. They make little noises to let us know we’re being heard. They look concerned when we talk about our difficulties.

Now think of what it’s like to talk to someone who is staring blankly at you, not giving you any feedback. Although it’s a neutral gaze, we perceive neutrality as hostile. The other person is failing to acknowledge your reality as a feeling being. It may become difficult to speak. Your bodies produces adrenalin, and you’ll feel our heart racing, there will be butterflies in your tummy, and you’ll feel shaky.

An actual hostile encounter, where we’re faced with contempt, sneering, eye-rolling, and put downs, can leave us emotionally reeling for weeks.

Now, which of these three scenarios — the positive, neutral, or overtly hostile encounter — best describes the way that you relate to your own being?

For many people it’s the third. Our self-talk can be brutally contemptuous. “Oh, I’m such an idiot. There I go again! I’ll never get this right.” Imagine if we had someone following us around saying, “You know you’re going to fail. There’s no point trying. Nobody likes you anyway.” We’d describe such a relationship as abusive. And yet, for many of us, that’s the way we talk to ourselves. Most of us are in an abusive relationship with ourselves.

This is something we can undo.

Jan Chozen Bays, in her lovely book of weekly mindfulness exercises, “How to Train a Wild Elephant,” suggests a practice called “Loving Eyes.” It’s a beautiful and simply way to evoke a sense of kindness, so that we’re looking at ourselves in the way a dear friend would, rather than the way a neutral interviewer or a critic would.

Chozen suggests that we recall an experience of looking with love, kindness, or affection. I usually think about what it’s like to look at my children while they’re sleeping, but you can think of looking at a lover, a dear friend, or even a pet. As you recall an experience of that sort, notice how it feels around your eyes, and around your heart.

Now, stay in touch with those feelings as you turn your attention toward yourself. Looking with the “inner eye” of awareness, become conscious of your body, and the sensations arising within in. Regard your body with friendliness, with kindness, with love.

Try placing a hand gently on your heart, and say to yourself things like, “I care about you. I want you to be happy. You deserve happiness. I want to support you and offer you kindness.”

What we’re doing here is being a friend to ourselves. Rather than treating our own being as if it were an enemy that needs to be relentlessly criticized, we treat ourselves as someone whose happiness and wellbeing is important to us.

Treating ourselves this way is not selfish. When we treat ourselves with kindness, this naturally becomes the way we treat others too. And letting go of self-criticism frees up our emotional energy so that we can be more engaged with and concerned about others.

Remember the way that you feel when someone is looking at you in a friendly, encouraging way, smiling, nodding, and giving visible signs of support and encouragement? You can access that anytime, just by changing the way you look at yourself.

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Intentional acts of kindness

Mindful Magazine: Although kindness can be misunderstood as an ineffectual or even superficial nicety, it’s neither. Like many amazing practices I’ve learned through mindfulness training, kindness is inspiring, powerful, courageous and wise. It’s also disarming, compelling and transformative. In any given moment, the kindness you offer to yourself or to others affects what happens in the very next moment.

Like mindfulness itself, kindness is a natural human quality that requires intentional action to realize it’s potential. And like mindfulness, research shows that kindness is good for our physical and our emotional well-being.

Studies show that thinking about …

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This difficult thing of being human

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It’s always good to remember that life isn’t easy.

I don’t mean to say that life is always hard in the sense of it always being painful. Clearly there are times when we’re happy, when things are going well, when we feel that our life is headed in the right direction and that even greater fulfillment is just ahead of us, etc.

What I mean is that even when we have times in our life that are good, that doesn’t last. In fact, often the things we’re so excited and happy about later turn out to be things that also cause us suffering.

For example, you start a brand new relationship and you’re in love and it’s exciting and fulfilling. And then you find yourself butting heads with your partner, and you hurt each others’ feelings. Maybe you even split up. Does that sound familiar?

For example, the new job that you’re thrilled about turns out to contain stresses you hadn’t imagined. Has that ever happened?

For example, the house you’re so pleased to have bought inevitably ends up requiring maintenance. Or perhaps the house value plummets. Or perhaps your circumstances change and you find it a struggle to meet the mortgage. Maybe you’ve been lucky, or maybe you’ve been there.

Happiness has a way of evaporating. Unhappiness has a way of sneaking up on us and sucker-punching us in the gut.

On a deep level, none of really understand happiness and unhappiness. If we truly understood the dynamics of these things, we’d be happy all the time and would never be miserable. We’d be enlightened. But pre-enlightenment, we’re all stumbling in the dark, and sometimes colliding painfully with life as we do so.

This being human is not easy. We’re doing a difficult thing in living a human life.

It’s good to accept all this, because life is so much harder when we think it should be easy. When we think life should be straightforward, and that we think we have it all sorted out, then unhappiness becomes a sign that we’ve “failed.” And that makes being in pain even more painful.

We haven’t failed when we’re unhappy; we’re just being human. We’re simply experiencing the tender truth of what it is to live a human life.

So when you’re unhappy, don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t fight it. Accept that this is how things are right now. Often when you do that, you’ll very quickly—sometimes instantly—start to feel better. By accepting our suffering, we start to move through it.

And as you look around you, realize that everyone else is doing this difficult thing of being human too. They’re all struggling. We’re all struggling. We all want happiness and find happiness elusive. We all want to avoid suffering and yet keep stumbling into it, over and over.

Many of the things that bother you about other people are their attempts to deal with this difficult existential situation, in which we desire happiness, and don’t experience as much of it as we want, and desire to be free from suffering, and yet keep becoming trapped in it. Their moods, their clinging, their anger—all of these are the results of human beings struggling to find happiness, and having trouble doing so.

If we can recognize that this human life is not easy—if we can empathize with that very basic existential fact—then perhaps we can be just a little kinder to ourselves and others. And that would help make this human life just a little easier to navigate.

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Kindness and compassion to all? Show some goodwill to yourself first

wildmind meditation newsVidyamala Burch, Kindness Blog: There is no doubt that ‘Giving Tuesday’ is a great way to bring us back to the true sense of charity and empathy towards others, but this is a one off seasonal donation. How is it possible to maintain kindness and compassion to others in our daily lives throughout the whole year, when we have so many demands from family, friends and live in a world where we witness others, and the environment, lurch from crisis to despair and back again?

To complicate matters, compassion and kindness can sometimes be viewed as ‘soft’, possibly even a bit weak? But nothing …

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Mindfulness enhances kindness and wellbeing in kids

wildmind meditation newsBrigitte Najjar, Ripple Kindness: If there was a way to potentially help kids pay better attention, exercise more generosity and kindness with their peers, perform better in school, and be more aware of themselves and others, would you try it?

There is increasing recognition of how social, emotional and cognitive functioning are intermingled; that kids may have difficulty in school when emotional challenges arise which in turn impacts learning.

Can you imagine how it could shift the climate of our schools, our community, our world, if cultivating these qualities was at the forefront of education?

The question, of course, is how?

These days kids’ …

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Changing the world and ourselves through compassion

Jill Stark, Western Advocate: Be kind and you will be well. It has been the cornerstone of Eastern philosophy for centuries.

But what if recognising our shared humanity was more than just a sentimental ideal? What if consciously practicing kindness could change the wiring of your brain and make you live longer?

This is neuroscience’s latest frontier – a growing body of research that shows compassion could be the key to improved health, happiness and longevity.

Brain imaging reveals that exercising compassion stimulates the same pleasure centers associated with the drive …

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Be kind to everyone, but trust only those who deserve it

Recently someone asked me what she should do if she couldn’t trust a person she was being kind to. In the past she’d tried to be compassionate to a roommate she didn’t trust, and had even felt herself to be in danger. She didn’t say what the exact circumstances were, but it sounded scary.

Being kind to someone means treating them as a feeling human being who, like us, has a deep-rooted desire to be happy and an equally deep-rooted desire not to suffer. It means empathizing with the fact that happiness is elusive and that suffering is all too common. Bearing these thoughts in mind makes it harder to be unkind to the other person and easier for us to treat them with empathy, kindness, and compassion. It becomes easier to care for their wellbeing.

Trust means knowing or believing that someone can be relied upon. It might mean that they can be depended on to look after our best interests. It could mean that they can be relied upon to tell the truth. It might mean that they can be relied upon to do what they say they will.

I think generally we can in fact trust most people, even complete strangers, but when there’s a history of dishonesty or manipulation, or when you pick up on a bad vibe, it’s best to err on the safe side.

But kindness and trust don’t necessarily overlap. We can treat everyone kindly, but a person may have a track record of not caring for our wellbeing (possibly even of being cruel or exploitative), or of being unreliable, or of being untruthful. Under such circumstances it might be very unwise to trust that person. They simply haven’t earned our trust. They’re not trust-worthy. Trusting everyone is what we call “idiot compassion.”

But you can still be kind to a person who isn’t worthy of your trust. Knowing that they’re a feeling being, you don’t have to want them to suffer. You may have to say or do things that make them unhappy (like saying “no” when they ask if they can borrow money) but you don’t do that with the intention of making them suffer. In fact if we’re being kind we may say “no” to another person because we want them to be happy! We don’t make people genuinely happy by enabling their vices.

I’m not saying, incidentally, that it’s easy not to have ill will for someone we distrust, just that’s it’s possible and that it’s what we should aim to do.

It sounds to me that the woman who asked this question had got herself into an enabling or codependent situation. Not wanting to appear cruel, she didn’t want to stand up to the other person. Wanting to be kind, she didn’t want to say no. But she was confusing trust and kindness.

If we fear that the other person is trying to exploit or harm us, we need to be very careful. Some people want to rip us off or even physically harm us. Sometimes we need need to be kind to ourselves by getting the hell out of Dodge! We should be kind to everyone, but in some cases we should be kind from a safe distance.

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The power of kindness (and one surefire way to know if you “get” mindfulness)

wildmind meditation newsEd Halliwell, Mindful: In my last blog, I wrote that I had been experimenting with a slightly adapted working definition of mindfulness—“the awareness and approach to life that arises from paying attention on purpose, fully present, with curiosity and compassion.” This is a small shift from the most common modern definition of mindfulness, which describes the practice as ‘non-judgemental.’ Misunderstanding of ‘non-judgement’ has, I believe, has led to some unjustified criticisms, which suggest that mindfulness is ethically groundless or passive.

Mindfulness is just not neutral noticing. There are a clear set of attitudes which underpin the practice, and compassion may be the most …

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Be mind full of good

Reaaching Up Into The SkyIt’s kind of amazing: right now, what you think and feel, enjoy and suffer, is changing your brain. The brain is the organ that learns, designed by evolution to be changed by our experiences: what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. This means that each one of us has the power to use the mind to change the brain to change the mind for the better. To benefit oneself and other beings.

Using this internal power is more important than ever these days, when so many of us are pushed and prodded by external forces – the economy, media, politics, workplace policies, war on the other side of the world, the people on the other side of the dining room table – and by our reactions to them.

Life is often hard. To cope with hard things, to be effective and successful, or simply to experience ordinary well-being, we need resources inside, inner strengths like resilience, compassion, gratitude and other positive emotions, self-worth, and insight.

Some strengths are innate – built into your DNA – but most are acquired, woven over time into the fabric of your brain. These lasting traits come from passing states – experiences of the inner strength – that get installed into the brain. You become more grateful through internalizing repeated experiences of gratitude; you become more compassionate through internalizing repeated experiences of compassion; etc.

So far, so obvious. But here’s the catch: without this installation – without the transfer of the experience from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage – beneficial experiences such as feeling cared about are momentarily pleasant but have no lasting value. Yikes! There is no learning, no growth, no change for the better.

Meanwhile, your brain is rapidly and efficiently turning unpleasant, negative experiences – feeling frazzled, stressed, worried, frustrated, irritated, inadequate, hurt, etc. – into neural structure. To help our ancestors survive in harsh conditions, the brain evolved a negativity bias that makes it good at learning from bad experiences but relatively bad at learning from good ones – even though learning from good experiences is the main way to grow the inner strengths we all need.

In effect, today our brains have a well-intended, universal learning disability because they’ve been painstakingly built over millions of years for peak performance . . . in Stone Age conditions.

Most of us are pretty good at having beneficial experiences – but pretty bad at installing them in the brain. Similarly, most therapists, mindfulness teachers, coaches, parents, and human resources trainers are pretty good at encouraging beneficial experiences in others, but pretty bad at helping them get installed in those brains; this was certainly true for me.

In effect, most beneficial experiences are wasted most of the time. The result is a learning curve, a growth rate, that is a lot flatter than it needs to be.

Poignantly, because we are not internalizing most of our wholesome, beneficial experiences – authentic moments of feeling relaxed, capable, peaceful, glad, successful, contented, appreciated, loved, and loving – we feel emptier inside than we truly deserve to feel. And we become a lot easier to manipulate by fear, consumerism, and “us vs. them” conflicts.

What can we do?

We can use the mind to change the brain for the better.

How?

Here’s the essence: Have It, Enjoy It.

In other words, have a beneficial experience in the first place – usually because you simply notice one you are already having: you’re already feeling a bit of ease, relief, pleasure, connection, warmth, determination, confidence, clarity, hope, etc. And it’s fine to create beneficial experiences, such as deliberately thinking of things you feel thankful for, or calling up compassion for someone in pain, or recalling how it felt in your body to assert yourself with someone who was being pushy.

Then, once you’ve got that good experience going, really enjoy it: taking 5, 10, or more seconds to protect and stay with it, and open to it in your body. The longer and more intensely those neurons fire together, the more they’ll be wiring this inner strength into your brain.

This is positive neuroplasticity, the essence of self-reliance: taking in everyday experiences to develop more inner strengths such as grit, confidence, kindness, emotional balance, happiness, patience, and self-awareness.

I don’t believe in positive thinking. You’re not overlooking the pains, losses, or injustices in life. I believe in realistic thinking, seeing the whole mosaic of reality, the good, the bad, and the neutral. Precisely because life is often hard – and because we’ve got a brain that’s relatively poor at growing the inner strengths needed to deal with these challenges – we need to focus on the good facts in life, let them become good experiences, and then help these experiences really sink in.

Most of the time you take in the good will be in the flow of life, maybe half a dozen times a day, usually less than half a minute at a time. You can also use more structured moments, such as at meals, after exercising or meditation, or just before bed.

Besides being more open in general to beneficial experiences, you can look for those specific experiences that will grow the particular inner strength(s) that will help you the most these days. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, look for authentic opportunities to feel supported, protected, resourced, tough-minded, relaxed, or calm. If life feels disappointing or blah, look for the genuine facts that naturally support experiences of gladness, gratitude, pleasure, accomplishment, or effectiveness. If you feel lonely or inadequate, look for the real occasions when you are included, seen, appreciated, liked, or loved – and open to feeling appropriately cared about, and valued; also look for chances to feel caring yourself, since love is love whether it is flowing in or flowing out.

Our beneficial experiences are usually mild – a 1 or 2 on the 0-10 scale of intensity – but they are real. Any single time you let these experiences really land inside you won’t change your life. But much as a cup of water is filled drop by drop, you’ll be changing your brain synapse by synapse for the better – and your life for the better as well.

And with a mind full of good, you’ll have more to offer others. Growing the good in them, too, in widening ripples seen and unseen, perhaps reaching eventually around the whole world.

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Kindness to you is kindness to me; kindness to me is kindness to you

PartnershipI usually describe a practice as something to do: get on your own side, see the being behind the eyes, take in the good, etc. This practice is different: it’s something to recognize. From this recognition, appropriate action will follow. Let me explain.

Some years ago I was invited to give a keynote at a conference with the largest audience I’d ever faced. It was a big step up for me. Legendary psychologists were giving the other talks, and I feared I wouldn’t measure up. I was nervous. Real nervous.

I sat in the back waiting my turn, worrying about how people would see me. I thought about how to look impressive and get approval. My mind fixed on me, me, me. I was miserable.

Then I began reading an interview with the Dalai Lama. He spoke about the happiness in wishing others well. A wave of relief and calming swept through me as I recognized that the kindest thing I could do for myself was to stop obsessing about “me” and instead try to be helpful to others.

So I gave my talk, and stayed focused on what could be useful to people rather than how I was coming across. I felt much more relaxed and at peace – and received a standing ovation. I laughed to myself at the ironies: to get approval, stop seeking it; to take care of yourself, take care of others.

This principle holds in everyday life, not just in conferences. If you get a sense of other people and find compassion for them, you’ll feel better yourself. In a relationship, one of the best ways to get your own needs met is to take maximum reasonable responsibility (these words are carefully chosen) for meeting the needs of the other person. Besides being benevolent – which feels good in its own right – it’s your best odds strategy for getting treated better by others. This approach is the opposite of being a doormat; it puts you in a stronger position.

Flip it the other way, and it is also true: kindness to yourself is kindness to others. As your own well-being increases, you’re more able and likely to be patient, supportive, forgiving, and loving. To take care of them, you’ve got to take care of yourself; otherwise you start running on empty. As you grow happiness and other inner strengths inside yourself, you’ve got more to offer to others.

Kindness to you is kindness to me; kindness to me is kindness to you. It’s a genuine – and beautiful – two-way street.

The kindness to others and to yourself that I’m talking about here is authentic and proportionate, not overblown or inappropriate.

In ordinary situations, take a moment here and there to recognize that if you open to appropriate compassion, decency, tolerance, respect, support, friendliness, or even love for others . . . . it’s good for you as well.

See the consequences of little things. For example, earlier today, in an airport, I saw a bag on the ground and didn’t know if it had been left by someone. Thinking about this practice, it was natural for there to be some friendliness in my face when I asked the man in front of me if it was his bag. He was startled at first and it seemed like he felt criticized, then he looked more closely at me, relaxed a bit, and said that the bag was his friend’s. His response to my friendliness made me feel at ease instead of awkward or tense.

Imagine what the other person’s concerns or wants might be, and do what you can – usually easily and naturally – to take them into account. Then see how this turns out for you. Probably better than it would have been.

Also see how taking care of yourself has good ripple effects for others. Deliberately do a small thing that feeds you – a little rest, some exercise, some time for yourself – and then notice how this affects your relationships. Notice how healthy boundaries in relationships helps prevent you from getting used up or angry and eventually needing to withdraw.

In effect, you are running little experiments and letting the results really sink in. That’s the important part: letting it really land inside you that we are deeply connected with each other. Helping others helps you; helping yourself helps others. Similarly, harming others harms you; harming yourself harms others.

It’s as if we are connected in a vast web. For better or worse, what you do to others ripples back to you; what you do to yourself ripples out to others.

Recognizing this in your belly and bones will change your life for the better. And change the lives of others for the better as well.

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