Knowing Kindness

Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.

~ George Sand

Tux, a precocious kitty, proudly brought a little bird to where we humans were gathered, visiting, on the porch. She placed her prey down and waited for it to move – re-catching it each time a wing fluttered or the bird attempted to scurry away. I observed, at first, Tux’s disinterest when the bird became still, and her endless re-engagement in the game as soon as the bird began to stir.

After a few moments, I became aware that the bird was very much alive and frightened, and seemed to have an injured wing. Identifying with what I imagined to be the bird’s terror in its cornered position, I could no longer watch with detachment the game underway. With a couple of magazines, I lifted the bird from the floor and carried it to a sheltered place in the bushes and the shade, high above Tux’s reach. Thirty minutes later, I went back to discover the bird still in the same place, though breathing in a calmer way. An hour later, the bird was gone.

This story tells little of the nature of either cats or birds. Although the cat quickly became engaged in other pursuits, I do not know how the story ends for the bird. The bird may have survived its shock and been well enough to carry on its life. Or it may have died of its injuries or inability to feed itself with an injured wing. Perhaps another predator found this bird where I left it to rest… I will never know.

This story does, however, tell of my identification with the bird’s presumed suffering, and my response to that awareness. I was moved to kindness. It was not a thought process that got me out of my chair to come to the bird’s aid – it was a movement of the heart that propelled me. Was this an act of kindness? Certainly Tux wouldn’t have thought so, as her toy was taken away. She was doing nothing wrong – simply following her instincts.

Knowing Kindness

To know what kindness really is, we must first come to know suffering. It is through our personal experience of suffering, and the understanding that suffering is both inevitable and universal, that the response of kindness is evoked. Of course, we can have other responses to suffering: bitterness, denial, envy, despondency, fear or meanness, to name a few. To know kindness in our hearts, most of us need to have observed or experienced it ourselves.

Kindness is not difficult. It may involve simply smiling to a newcomer, or taking a moment to listen to someone’s story or concern. It can result in direct action, as my coming to the aid of that bird. Or perhaps kindness comes from not saying or doing something. I recognize the kindness done to me by a kind of sigh and softening in my heart. How do you experience kindness?

Kindness and Compassion for Oneself

As Christopher Germer writes in The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, “Self-compassion is the foundation for kindness toward others.” If we cannot accept our own foibles and flaws, we will have difficulty refraining from judging others with just as much unkindness. Accepting ourselves for how we are in the present moment does not mean we cannot, or should not, aspire to shift or change in the future. It is precisely our acceptance of another’s present suffering, and the behavior that suffering produces, that allows us to be kind toward them.

Finally, kindness is not an act or series of actions, though kindness can often be recognized in what we do. Rather, kindness is a response of the heart to the suffering of others. It is an internal blossoming that bears fruit in our actions. Practicing kindness is not only an effort of “doing good deeds,” but of opening our hearts to the current suffering in ourselves and others.

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

~ Albert Schweitzer

 

~  Action On Purpose Challenge  ~

Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty!

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Published by

Natalie Eldridge

Natalie Eldridge, a psychologist and life coach, applies her experience with mindfulness practices to help others discover their unique purposes and paths.