Cultivating Kindness

The front entry to our small neighborhood has been closed due to some plumbing work, requiring all of us to enter and exit through the back entrance.  One of the neighbors that lives by the back entry has been sending angry emails to the neighborhood ranting about people’s speed and overall driving skills.  After the first 2 emails it became clear this neighbor’s anger was grossly out of proportion to the situation at hand.  To add fuel to the fire, most neighbors responses, albeit with good reason, were defensive.

All of this made me wonder what might have happened if we had killed our neighbor with kindness?  He obviously is hurting on some level to create such havoc. What if our responses would have been laced with more compassion?

Today is World Kindness Day, and this international holiday actually rose out of nastiness in 1960.   Mr. Seiji Kaya, the president of a Tokyo University, was mugged on a train as others looked on without helping.  So disappointed by the lack of kindness, he decided to promote a kinder culture around the city by encouraging people to practice small acts of kindness to eventually wash over all of Japan.

“My religion is kindness”, says the Dalai Llama, and we all know that kindness has a ripple effect as evidenced by the “pay it forward” phenomenon.  When the person in front of you has paid for your Starbucks, there is typically an automatic urge to return the favor.

Kindness and compassion is at the heart of the yoga tradition. The archetype of yoga is the Jivan Mukti.  An archetype is an energetic imprint that we can all align with, and the Jivan Mukti is the “awakened one in this lifetime with an open, compassionate heart”.  The energy of the Jivan Mukti represents our potential as humans –  something we can all move toward.

It is powerful when we consider that our yoga practice is an intentional evolving of our heart and mind.   We all have the power to change, transform, grow, and become more awakened through these powerful intentional practices of yoga.

Yes our world is a mess.  Yes there is violence, hatred, unrest, and trauma.  And, our first step toward creating peace is within ourselves.  The key to evolving compassion, in whatever wisdom tradition you look to, is to start with self.   In the words of Kristin Neff, a researcher of compassion, “fiercely protect the self”, and once we have this down, extending compassion to others is natural and more effortless.

So, on this day of World Kindness, start first with self.  Find your inner nurturer.  Place your hands over your heart and maybe even rock back and forth a bit (research shows this is an act of self-soothing that can calm the nervous system). Repeat, “May I be kind to myself.”  Then, watch how by connecting to your own heart and well being, there is more space to pass it on.