The idea of kindness, and what it means to different people is of particular interest to me. As I speak with people I occasionally hear, much to my surprise, how one person thinks something is an act of kindness, and the other person questions if it was. What is kindness?
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
By: Naomi Shihab Nye
In an article in Psychology today, Tara Brach retells the story of Father Theophane, a Christian mystic looking for spiritual renewal. http://www.psychologytoday.com/em/152690
The lesson in the end, is about paying attention to other human beings and seeing them as us. We distance ourselves from others by seeing them as different from us. At times we may not feel the call to be kind to to others who are not the same as us.
Father Theophane was given this question for contemplation: “What do they need from us?” A question of compassion and empathy…what does the other person need? ” But as the wise man reminded him, spiritual awakening is inextricably involved with others. As Theophane focused on the needs of those he had been given to serve, he would recognize their vulnerability and longing for love—and realize that their needs were no different than his own. “
Understanding that the “other” person’s needs are not so different from our own makes them more like us than not. In this light, kindness may flow a little more easily, unblocked by the barriers of differences and freed by similarity.