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How Kindness Works

posted Apr 25, 2013, 2:29 PM by Fidelma Farley   [ updated Apr 25, 2013, 2:42 PM ]
I’d like to share with you part of a talk I gave to meditators at Oscailt, on kindness. I was prompted to explore this topic by the questions occasionally asked by people in a mindfulness or Loving Kindness class – what exactly is kindness, and what do I do to be kind to myself? It seems to me that kindness is a process.

It starts with seeing – simply seeing that someone is suffering. This can be as simple as noticing that a friend is tired, or that someone is struggling to get a door open while carrying bags. However, it’s not enough just to see. Sometimes we see someone’s suffering but ignore it, or we judge them for it (‘they deserve it’, ‘what else did they expect?’), or we just don’t want to let in anyone else’s pain. Sometimes we feel that because we can’t ‘fix’ (i.e.get rid of) the  suffering, there’s no point in doing anything.

So the next step in the process of kindness is empathy, an imaginative leap into how the other person is feeling. This comes from our own awareness of what it is to feel tired, or stressed or ill, or to have experienced a loss.

Finally, we respond, and if we’re responding from empathy, it’s a heart response to someone else’s suffering.

Practising kindness benefits the receiver and giver – the receiver sees that they are not alone in their suffering, and the giver opens their heart each time they give. Both enhance that connectedness with each other that is so vital to our well-being and happiness.

We can follow this process to be kind to ourselves, especially in meditation: by seeing when and how we’re experiencing difficulties, when we’re suffering; by opening to the unpleasant experience without expectation or desire to get rid of it, we develop empathy for ourselves; and we can then respond compassionately to the difficulty we’re experiencing.

[…] Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and send you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
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.
Naomi Shihab Nye

Fidelma Farley