A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

Version 2

We are living in such precarious and, even, perilous times. Each day another worry whether from natural disasters from hurricanes to wildfires, north, south, east, and west or another unfortunate expression of chaos in our government. I find myself checking the daily headlines for what new disaster is unfolding, what tweets have been sent from the hands of an immature man-child, what undoing has been done for the safety & health of people everywhere, or how much closer are we to a nuclear war. Emotions seen on everyone’s face — anger, fear, grief, frustration, hopelessness and helplessness — is more and more common.

I find myself between wanting to stay home, hibernate, and stay out of harms way OR being more social, nurturing connections, and reaching out. I cling to my practices that calm my nervous system for my sanity and support my health.

On the day of the shocking Las Vegas shooting disaster, I was driving home from North Carolina. The highways were busy and full of trucks carrying their cargo and nearly everyone in a hurry to get somewhere (yes, I’ve noticed more aggressive driving in this last year). I drove along in silence with my inner conversation my companion and my destination of home my focus. After hearing of the devastating number of people hurt or killed in Las Vegas on the heels of an unprecedented number of people who have lost everything from hurricanes or wildfires, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, rage, and fear.

In my silence, I considered answers to many questions: Why is there not more gun control in place after so many mass shootings? Why is there diminishing compassion and instead a growing hatred toward fellow human beings through racism, LBGT, women’s rights, our environment, immigration (supported by this man who is president)? How can I help? How can I pull myself up and out of my own anger, sadness, and fear so that I can help others to do the same? What action(s) can I take to move forward in a positive way and help change the trajectory of our country?

I recall that Martin Seligman in his book, Flourish, speaks of kindness as important and powerful to positively affect both myself and those I extend kindness towards. A simple practice of being kind to others. Am I kind enough? Can I extend more kindness to others in the course of my day?

This recollection and my inner dialogue led me to re-committing to kindness as a mindful practice. Kindness, I know, has a rippling effect. How can I do more to be kind? For the rest of my drive, I practiced mindful kindness — allowing truckers into the passing lane by slowing down, moving out of the way of the person in much more of a hurry than I needed to be, and being mindfully courteous as the miles passed by. At rest stops, I made a point to make eye contact, say hello, and wish other travelers a good day. At gas stations or while getting food, I did the same. I began to feel lighter and a smile peeked out from other emotions.

What I noticed. When I extend kindness to someone on the highway by letting them by or pausing for someone to pull into traffic I notice that within a short period they will also extend kindness to another driver. When I open a door for someone or say a kind word with eye contact, a softening happens and that kindness ripples to others. Quite amazing and simple.

I have made kindness a mindfully conscious practice and am encouraging others to do the same by asking them to join me in spreading goodness and connection. The feedback has been incredibly satisfying! Those who have tried it for a week have also noticed a ripple effect in action (of course, not every time or with every person).

Kindness leads to more kindness.

How easy it would be to hibernate, keep my head down, and stay in the busy lane of life. It feels safer, protected, and effortless. However, it also keeps me in my fear and anger. In practicing mindful kindness, I can feel more hope because I see the positive ripple with each kind action. I may not be able to change the larger picture of discontent. However, I can make a difference toward changing my world one person at a time as I meet them on my way – a smile, a moment of eye contact, and a kind gesture goes a long way.

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Permission to be Human and Self-Compassion

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Even bad days have moments of brightness.

There are those days when I seem to wake up on the ‘wrong side of the bed.’ (My mother seemed to love that phrase, did your mother?) On these days, I find myself feeling uninspired, worried, not my most positive self, and simply down in the dumps. On these days, a concept that helps me through and back on track to my optimistic and positive nature, is giving myself permission to be human.

Permission to Be Human is a concept that I learned from Tal Ben Shahar in the Certificate in Positive Psychology training I took several years ago. It has been a guiding concept when I am not at my best for whatever reason. Yes, I am as human as everyone and remembering that with a Permission slip is something I use often (and also teach in all of my workshops).

This is one of the most useful ways I know to find my way to accepting being down or off my center. Without my permission slip, I can easily spiral downward visiting judgement, negativity, lack of inspiration, and, most importantly, self-judgement for wanting life to be different. Let’s face it life happens, events present themselves, and conversations unfold that can be challenging to rise above.

These last two weeks for me have been filled with frustration over a gnawing pain that has taken much effort to heal. Because the pain has been quite consuming, I have been off of my center. I find that I am more easily pulled into weariness, concerns over world current events (the negative kind), and return home from work ready to call it a day when there is still much to do.

Once I have taken the time to give myself Permission to be Human and begin to embrace whatever is pulling me into grumpiness, I can then begin the journey back to an upward spiral of healing and positivity. My personal journey has been focusing on self-care to relieve this nagging pain (oh, how I love massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic). As I continue feeling frustrated that it is taking longer than usual and rest seems to be most needed, I move onto letting go of my resistance to my feelings around my pain. Resistance is indeed futile!

Once I’ve given myself permission to be with what has my attention and letting go of my resistance, I can then move on to learning, being mindful, and listening to my body, my emotions, or my mental state. One of the ways I approach my frustrations is to consider asking different questions — questions that I would ask any of my coaching clients, acupuncture clients, or students — positive questions that lead me forward and upward.

Here are some of the questions I’ve asked: I pause and ask myself what do I need right now? How can I find a way to enjoy this time of pain? Is there anything I can I learn from this? What benefits can I notice right now?

The answers are readily there — I need my Permission to Be Human with my pain, frustration, lack of creative inspiration, and taking a ride on the downward spiral. This pain has forced me to take a rest from my beloved long hikes in the woods and trading them for shorter walks from home and gentle stretching on my mat. By taking the time to rest, I have the time to happily indulge myself in watching the Olympics (I can even imagine my own body moving with the athletes so I, too, benefit from their goals of personal best. I am certain that I benefit from the visualization and watching!).

I can also use this time to practice self-compassion — extending kindness toward myself. What a freeing and wonderful concept — extending compassion toward myself through kindness! I get to practice on myself what I do every day in my work with others. An added benefit is that I can then extend even more compassion toward those who come to me for their own healing from pain, imbalance, or disharmony with a greater understanding of their frustration, fears, and anxieties.

For now, I feel more in balance by taking the time to write out my process. I hope you will find this helpful the next time you are off your center or have gotten up ‘on the wrong side of the bed!’