The more we practice mindfulness—which means being present in the present moment without judgment—the more we realize something additional is needed: kindness. In fact, mindfulness and kindness are like two wings of a bird. Without kindness, our presence in the moment may be shadowed by a subtle aversion. We accept, but not really. We try to mindfully experience something or someone we don’t like, but underneath hostility is still present. Frequently, for many of us, that hostility is directed most strongly towards ourself. We are highly self-critical; we beat ourself up at the slightest excuse. Have you noticed?
In MBSR, we teach formal kindness meditation, which can be practiced daily, as a complement to mindfulness. A ten-minute guided kindness meditation is available for download at our Mindfulness Center website (www.uvamindfulnesscenter.org–resources–audioresources ). For me, an informal kindness practice has also developed over the years, almost without my knowing. The practice has become reflexive and arises on its own during the day. It helps offset aversion and sweetens life in a deep and intimate way. It involves using an endearment in internal conversation. It goes like this:
Select an endearment that appeals to you, like “friend,” “darling,” “buddy,” “honey,” etc. Then use it in your internal conversation when you are stressed. You have computer problems? Rather than cursing at your computer, why not silently use an endearment: “All right, friend (or honey, etc.), we’re going to work this one out.” You may or may not work it out, but using an endearment will reduce the stress you are experiencing. It will brighten your day.
When you’re sitting in a traffic snarl and are late for a meeting, rather than drumming your fingers on the steering wheel and repeatedly checking the clock to see how late you are, you might say to the situation, “All right, buddy (etc.), we can go any time now.” Then relax into your breath. You can’t hurry the traffic, but, by accepting the
situation with kindness, you can reduce your stress level. You’ll arrive at the meeting in a more relaxed frame of mind.
The practice is powerful in situations involving interpersonal conflict. When someone has made a statement with which you disagree or has repeated the same point at mind-numbing length, you can notice your opposition and silently think, “You’re wrong, buddy” or “You’ve already said that ten times. I’ve heard you, honey.” You are freer to respond skillfully because it is hard to snap at someone after you have called them “honey” in internal conversation.
Most of all, using an endearment toward yourself is important. You can’t “darling” yourself too often. Notice the times when you are harsh and unforgiving toward yourself, perhaps criticizing a mistake not once but repeatedly, maybe over weeks, or where you are unable to accept praise because you think you don’t deserve it, where instead of saying “thank you,” you demur and say “Oh, no, it was really nothing.” That’s the place to use your endearment: “All right, sweetheart, it was a mistake. I’ll try to do better next time.” Or, “Darling, I am worth it. I did do a good job.”
Thinking is not required in this practice. There is no need for an existential investigation: “Do I really want to call my computer or that x!@ x#! or myself ‘darling’?” Simply do it. Be kind. You might want to consider: When on your deathbed, do you want your last conscious thoughts to be a curse or an endearment, aversion or kindness? We can’t know for sure, but it is important to practice kindness now. As I said, the practice becomes natural and reflexive. You are gentling yourself by bringing kindness and open-heartedness into your life in the dicey moments when you have closed down.
Of course, there may be times when one can’t manage to link a person or situation and an endearment in the same thought. Notice these, and bring an endearment to yourself for your inability: “It’s okay, buddy, I’ll try to do it next time.” The places where you are resistant are places you need to do internal work. It helps to remember that the Dalai Lama, whose religion is kindness, calls the Chinese, who have occupied his homeland, “my friends, the enemy.” If he can do it, we can, too.
Filed Under: Monthly Musings