“Be kind. It shakes the world.”
— Cleo Wade
I’ve come to understand there are two places where we meet our full unfiltered humanity. One is in the journey between heartbreak and healing. And the other is where we deal with this inevitable process—on the meditation cushion. The latter is a place where humans have gone to metabolize our most unearthing and life-affirming experiences while being in the uncharted terrain of discovering what it means to feel whole, complete and at ease in our own skin.
I’ve also come to learn that the very same qualities that make us human, from our ability to love someone thoroughly to spontaneously smiling at someone as they walk by on the street, also enable us to make it from the rumbles of setbacks, breakups and great losses to rebuilding ourselves in the aftermath. This is the quality of kindness. Kindness is what the human heart is made of. It gives us the wisdom, strength and perseverance to face our most vulnerable and difficult life moments. And it guides us in uncovering the bottomless depths of our love, our compassion, and our most genuine dreams and intentions. Through kindness we realize healing is possible, feeling good is possible and meeting our full authentic selves is possible. And it is the very quality that enables us to make it through one meditation session, one messy human moment at a time.
The ways of kindness
Whether we realize it or not, we all live on kindness. We rely on the good-heartedness of complete strangers who give us directions when we are lost or hold the elevator door so we can make it to that meeting just on time. I’ve depended on kindness too many times to keep track of. In fact, kindness has been the very gift that has supported me through my biggest life-altering mistakes, megamoments of disappointment, and all the small unfoldings of life’s daily prickliness and pain. We learn the way of kindness by being on the receiving end of countless selfless acts, caring concern and bighearted compassion—such as when a friend calls to lend an ear and words of encouragement, or when a coworker senses we’re not quite ourselves that day and stops to make sure we’re okay.
Another way we come to know kindness is by learning how to extend to ourselves this same good-heartedness and care we receive from others. Really, kindness is the way of love and the foundation of self-love. It is how each and every one of us heals from all that breaks our heart, and it is how we come to know the very fabric of the human heart itself—our own true nature; our trustworthy, wise, loving self; what Buddhism calls our “basic goodness.” I like to think of basic goodness as our authentic essence coupled with the innate kindness we already possess within us. This innate kindness automatically ignites when you accidentally cut your finger or scrape your knee and a few minutes later you find yourself carefully placing a bandage in gentle protection over the newly acquired wound. Or when you tend to your own basic needs, from making sure your financial life is in check, to feeding your body right, to finding a safe place to rest or call home.
Kindness is even expressed through self-care. Those daily rituals of going to the gym, painting, creating, or—yes, you bet—meditating are all ways we learn to be kind and loving toward ourselves. Don’t worry if self-kindness feels really far away right now or if when you read the word self-care your eyes glaze over with guilt at the very thought of taking time for yourself.
Through opening our hearts to receive kindness from others and by bravely learning how to be kind to ourselves, instinctually we also become adept in the third way of kindness: being kind to others. Whether responding to a friend’s cry for help or to the racial, gender and social inequities we see being overtly displayed in our own neighborhood and city, or offering a helping hand to a total stranger we notice needing assistance, kindness carries us and reminds us of our common humanity. It reminds us just how much our self-love and self-worth flourish when we share our basic good-heartedness and care with others while healing their hearts and reminding them of humanity’s capacity to live kindly.
Kindness unites us. It connects us from birth to death, where in two of our most vulnerable and defenseless moments, as we transition in and out of this world, 100 percent reliant on the fundamental care of the human heart. Kindness is how we channel this basic good-heartedness and care, our empathy, and our shared humanity beyond personal ideologies, belief systems, political views and interests.
Understanding that kindness is the very matter weaving together all of our existence, we can allow our own undertakings of kindness to be our conviction of love and stepping into our authentic, wise, compassionate self. I know it is how I really began to live a life where I felt whole, unbroken, purposeful, and fully alive. This is what kindness does—it points us to what is really important, to what really matters and to what is meaningful. It brings us home to the love that we already are.
Meditation holds the key to your own healing, recovery and journey back to wholeness, happiness and health. In truth, this is what meditation does. It waits for you until you are ready, and no matter why you show up at its doorstep, you soon discover how it does indeed hold the answers your heart has been looking for. In other words, it points you to what is real—the kindness, love and inspiration we all need to keep greeting another morning, and to help others along the way realize they too are not alone in wanting to uncover a sense of home and belonging and to rest in the natural goodness of their own heart and mind.
Kindness is the missing ingredient that will allow you to actually meditate. And if you are a longtime meditator, this practice of the heart will deepen and transform your meditation practice, and also change how you interact in every single relationship and life circumstance in which you find yourself. No one else can meditate for you. You have to show up, do the work and apply the principles of practice yourself. Real meditation holds within it the innate teachings on love, presence and the healing transformation of kindness. Being kind is both a way of being and a choice we make in the present moment, just like mindfulness is.
From Kindness Now: A 28-Day Guide to Living with Authenticity, Intention, and Compassion by Amanda Gilbert © 2021 by Amanda Gilbert. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.shambhala.com