The How of Cultivating Kindness Through Practical Strategies

Part 4 of a hopeful multiPart Series: Exploring the origins and experience of Kindness, Belonging, and collective heart-centered Transformation

By Steve Ray, HBI Advisory Board Member

Steve Ray is a groupwork facilitator who helps groups learn the art of working well together. In the hundreds of groups Steve has facilitated over 15 years, he believes that people’s ability to connect deeply with each other is often limited by their capacity to act with real kindness. He feels that the true potential of kindness to change the world has yet to be realized as disconnection from nature, each other and our own selves has become normalized. He puts forward a challenge that we need to consciously change the way we interact with others and bring kindness into all our relationships to overcome deep unconscious habits that limit the kindness that would otherwise naturally flow to everyone, everything, everywhere. Explore more…

The how of learning and practicing kindness

Learning and practicing kindness in moments where kindness is the last thing on our minds can only happen if we open our hearts and let go of our limiting internal narratives based on fear, shame, denial, separation, and unforgiveness. These stories block the kindness that lies within the heart of every human, stopping it from flowing naturally. As mentioned in Part 3 of this series, this can only happen when we have done the deeper work of forgiving ourselves and knowing that the stories are not the essence of who we are: rather, they are blocking that essence from being expressed.

Image by Micha from Pixabay

“IN THE MOMENT” KINDNESS STRATEGIES

To stop ourselves from being unkind, guarded, judgmental or aloof there are some practical strategies that can help us transform our unconscious fear-based reactions and create new habits and ways of being. When faced with a challenging comment or actions from someone we can:

  • Take a breath and allow your nervous system to relax. This will move you from a reactive place to a more connected one. It will happen naturally. If you have more time, go for a walk outside in nature. Nature is a powerfully reconnecting place.
  • Be curious about what’s going on…instead of judging what’s just been said or done. Ask “can you tell me more about that?” It will both buy you time and help you to be more responsive and less reactive. In the process you will build connection as the other person see you are willing to listen.
  • To help you regain some composure/calm after something challenging that’s happened, it may be helpful to voice what you experienced. For example, “Whoa, I found that pretty heavy, I just need a second to compose myself.” This helps to normalize any discomfort with whoever else is involved and also assists in letting go of the emotion and processing the experience.

KINDNESS STRATEGIES TO DEVELOP OVER TIME

To change long-term self-defeating and negative, unconscious patterns takes time. We need to not get dis-heartened. We can’t ever give up! It takes commitment to create new foundations based on kindness instead of disconnection and fear. Kindness strategies in this category include:

  • Discover how to open your heart or feeling center directly so kindness starts to flow more automatically. One organization has committed itself to helping people discover how to open their hearts to Love and connection. The Natural Way of Living runs workshops and shares stories from people who have discovered the vast potential to connect with others through our heart’s connection to true unconditional Love. Though it may sound like a fantasy, there are very simple and practical ways to do this that can provide immediate wins.
  • Explore your different emotional reactions or ‘selves’. Give them some shape and form, color, voice, volume, even a name, so you can see them more clearly. Write them down. How are they trying to help you? What is their gift? Speak to those aspects of yourself and let them know that you can hear they mean well, and you are going to take action…but intend to do so from a kind place. When you take action in this way, you will build a ‘muscle memory’ for being kind over time and the reactive parts of you will become less intense. Our reactive parts are trying to help and simply want something to change but we first have to drop the emotion for there to be a productive outcome.
  • Keep a diary of how you show up in different situations. What happened? How did you react? What emotional parts of you got in the way? What went well? How could you be kinder next time…what would that look like? Each time we journal in this way, we again, lay down a new pattern that can replace the old reactive one. Eventually kindness will show up more often that the reactive emotional you!
  • Take time to forgive yourself for things that you have done that you regret. Feeling guilty about something is not forgiving yourself, it’s blaming yourself and simply reinforces the pattern that caused the problem in the first place. Admitting your mistakes, feeling remorse and asking for forgiveness when connected to your heart will help you to let go of the old pattern and let your innate kindness come through more often.
  • Walk in nature as often as possible. Let your senses connect to the aliveness around you and over time you will be able to draw on the peace and calmness which nature evokes.
  • Limit your exposure to the constant shock of the media cycle. Absorbing bad news can skew our reality when we are receiving it in a 24/7 world.

Using “our inner critic” to fuel growth and change

inner-critic

One common ‘self’ many people experience is our “inner critic”. The voice of the inner critic is directed inwardly and says things like “you’re hopeless at this, you’ll never be good enough, etc.” Yet there is a gift in this part of ourselves; it drives us to improve. The problem is that our inner critic’s strategy is fear-based–scaring us into change. So, the danger is that it can simply reinforce the critical pattern unless we consider it more deeply.

When “to do” and when “Not to Do”

Kindness is natural. It’s in our core, the heart of who we are, but it’s been covered over by generations of conditioning that so often gets in the way of that natural way of being. These days we even wonder and question openly the idea that our natural state is truly kind. It’s like we have to learn it again, but the truth is we have to “unlearn” the things that tell us we are different to who we truly are. In the words of the poet David Whyte, we need to “stop what you are doing right now and stop what you are becoming while you do it” (Sometimes).

It’s why no-one ever says “DO kind” we always say BE kind. Some part of us knows that kindness should be something that happens as a gift from one person to another, naturally, without question, without reason, simply because – like breathing – it’s our very nature. We have forgotten our true nature, and we need to wake up from the trance that has created a version of us that is so often driven by fear, greed, hatred and other destructive emotions. These traits are not natural, but they are definitely part of our “human condition”; conditioning that causes us to act in certain ways that so confuses us. How is it possible that we act in such destructive ways, AND yet at other times we can be so kind and loving?

The negative emotions that spring up in us are not “bad”, but they can take us down some very dark wormholes when we act from those emotions and follow them. If instead, we start to see them as signals that can help us – remind us – to listen to what is happening in the moment, and take the gift that lies beneath the reaction, then we can find the path out to action that responds to what is needed – but with kindness as the delivery package.

Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning spoke from his own experiences of suffering that took him to the ultimate edge and gave him great insight in his darkest moment. He realized that there was a choice point where we are liberated from our conditioning of the past. He wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” So, when we are faced with moments where we can feel every fiber of us wanting to react out of emotion, out of our condition, here lies the great point where we can choose NOT to do so. We can pause, breathe and allow the kindness within us to come through instead: to know that it is there, and if we allow our heart to open to the light of awareness, we can change from reactive to responsive. We truly can be kind.

THE END OF SUFFERING AND THE BEGINNING OF KINDNESS

As human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson urgently reminded us at the beginning of this series, we have arrived in a world where disconnection is disrupting our very ability to be kind because of what comes with the disconnection ‘package’: deep fear and strong emotion–or ‘suffering’ as Buddhists commonly refer to as the experience of life. As human beings, we all long for connection and when connection happens, kindness naturally follows. But finding and choosing that environment, that world, for connection to happen more often is our great challenge.

Are we prepared to give up on actively searching for and prioritizing ways of being in the world that ensure we are able and willing to let our guard down for heart-felt connection to occur? Surely this is the very point of being alive…?

Bryan Stevenson, human right lawyer and founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative

When we experience kindness, we feel valued, we feel appreciated, and we feel like we matter. All these things directly feed into our overall well-being and our ability to live a rich life. Knowing what it feels like to receive kindness, we are more willing and able to reach out to others in acts of kindness, which further lifts our spirits and reinforces our willingness to be kind. The great gift of kindness is that we don’t have to wait for others to be kind before reaching out and being kind ourselves because kindness is a reciprocated event that has a built-in two-way flow between the giver and receiver: we feel deeply touched as the giver because the receiver’s acceptance of kindness is being felt by us at the same time.

Affirming Our shared Humanity

In cultivating kindness, we must acknowledge our shared humanity and act accordingly. We are all connected, and our positive and negative attitudes as well as our actions and reactions always impact the whole.

When we are uncaring, when we lack compassion, when we are unforgiving, we will always pay the price for it. It is not, however, we alone who suffer. Our whole community suffers, and ultimately our whole world suffers. We are made to exist in a delicate network of interdependence. We are sisters and brothers, whether we like it or not. To treat anyone as if they were less than human, less than a brother or a sister, no matter what they have done, is to contravene the very laws of our humanity.

Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu from their article Why We Forgive

Cultivating Kindness Is some of the most important “Work” We Can Do

Being kind to others is the “work” we need to do to ensure we remember what kindness feels like and how important it is in protecting the integrity of our humanity. If our operating norm is not kindness and understanding, but judgement and disconnection, kindness will wither on the vine, and we’ll stop remembering why it is so important in our lives. At some point, we need to arrive at a place where we can admit that we are ALL responsible for the disconnection and separation we see in the world. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but it’s clear that we are ALL responsible for blocking the pathway to the world when we either forget or actively choose to be unkind. Arriving at the realization that there is something so very significant that we CAN do about the nature of the world we live in, should fill us with incredible joy and relief! Being kind is something each of us has the natural capacity to cultivate. It’s our choice.

“So, the end of suffering has to begin with you. And then it spreads. And because that changes the way in which you experience the world, it affects others and then … your relationship with other human beings changes fundamentally because only when you are in connectedness with the essence of who you are, can you have harmonious relationships with others … and can you feel a deep sense of goodwill towards other human beings, not conditional upon whether they happen to agree with you or belong to the same political party, or belong to the same religion or belong to the same nation.”

Eckhart Tolle

Kindness and Love…Let’s continue the conversation…

Throughout this article I have intentionally used the word “kindness” where I might have used “Love”. Love is so huge and used in so many different contexts that it can be misinterpreted. Kindness on the other hand evokes goodwill without expectation. When there is kindness, there is the possibility of friendship. In a way it’s less intimate, easier to access, but still deeply personal. It connects us but there is a lightness to it and yet can take us deeper when we’re ready. Kindness we also use in the context of other living things as well…pets, nature, the Earth.

So, suggesting we could/should/must be kind to anyone and everyone, all things, anytime and all the time is a deliberately provocative idea that I hope encourages everyone to consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe it’s possible. Hopefully it helps us to dig a bit deeper into how we might live life more consciously, as if the possibility of making a friend is always on the table, no matter how different we may be from each other. Maybe difference can be the great connector instead of the great separator that it seems to have become?

Thank you so much for being a part of our Cultivating Kindness series. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 if you missed it! Please share these articles in the hopes of helping to build bridges, invite forgiveness, heal hurt, and fulfill our longing to belong, which will ultimately create a kinder, more loving world.