I have heard recently that according to the Gottman Institute, the single most important characteristic in marriage stability and longevity is kindness. Kindness when arguing, for sure. And kindness in thoughtfulness, cheerfulness, helpfulness.
Did I mention kindness in arguing?
Kindness is one of my favorite things. The choice to be kind connects us with other human beings, with other sibling creatures. Kindness is a choice that treats others—and yourself!—with care and respect, EVEN when the kindness in question doesn’t look “nice.”
The pitfalls of niceness
What I mean by “nice” is what I think of as “good girl training.” Maybe some men have this too, I don’t know, but I know many, many women who struggle with the inclination to be nice, to be good girls at the expense of their own boundaries and well-being. I could give a thousand examples of this deadly niceness, but I’ll refrain. Suffice it to say that being nice, allowing people to tromp all over you, making accommodations that hurt your own power and drain your life force—this is not kindness.
First of all, such niceness is not kind to you. Second, it encourages others to continue blithely, unmindfully hurting others. Being nice in situations that leave you feeling tangled or injured is not kind. Kindness may not look like niceness. Kindness is not the same thing as having no boundaries. Kindness for oneself is essential.
And sometimes what is kind is nonetheless painful for others.
I heard a woman—I’ll call her Amy—say once, “There have been times in my life when I have needed people to set boundaries with me. I haven’t usually appreciated or enjoyed encountering those boundaries. But I have come to respect them and understand that they were not only for the best for my friends, but they also helped me.”
In Amy’s case, she eventually recognized something painful as nonetheless kind. That evolution in her consciousness is not something everyone will experience. Nonetheless, her friends and colleagues treated her kindly when they modeled life-giving behavior for her.
“Darling, I care about this suffering”
Another expression of kindness, is in one of my favorite teachings from Thich Nhat Hahn, the renowned Vietnamese monk and teacher. He suggests a profoundly caring practice, a profoundly kind practice, for when we are not living up to our hopes for our best selves.
Lay your hand against your cheek as tenderly you would touch a child’s face. Say, “Darling, I care about this suffering.” “Darling, I care about this suffering.”
Snapping at your spouse? “Darling, I care about this suffering.”
Frustrated with your work? “Darling, I care about this suffering.”
Feeling isolated or unappreciated? “Darling, I care about this suffering.”
Need a reminder that you are worthy of love and care. “Darling, I care about this suffering.”
What strikes me so powerfully about this practice is that it acknowledges that our snippy, automatic responses, our frustration with the Way Things Are both cause and come from suffering. And that kindness eases suffering—our own and others’.
Kindness eases suffering
Isn’t it good to ease suffering in the world? Isn’t that a desire of our hearts? I find that when I practice easing my own suffering—of feeling into it, understanding it, clearing it—I am more available to others.
I am more available to be kind.
I am more available to be cheerful and helpful.
I am more available to listen with empathy and care, not simply in terms of my experience, but to learn from my interlocutor.
I am more available to set and lean into boundaries, to care for myself and others by encouraging sovereignty in all of us, and to radiate love in the process.
Kindness is a practice that emerges from compassionate understanding that we are each suffering in our own way.
And compassion emerges from practice. For example, from the practices I make of sitting; singing; writing; swimming; yoga, and time spent before the candles, incense, and precious objects of my altar.
Spiritual practice is a mystery
I do not understand fully the ways in which practice connects me to my Deepest, Wisest Self, but I am clear that it does. Prayer may be beyond my full understanding, but I know that my life is better when I hold myself and others in prayerful love.
Might you like to explore these mysteries with me?
I want to help bring all of us to a more compassionate place. One of the best ways I know is to offer classes where we can discuss, bounce around, and consider ideas. Ideas and practices that shape our own ability to be compassionate and encourage compassion in others.
If you’d like to talk more about all these pieces, go to the Discovery and Deepening page and find more information there about the class I’m offering in October and November. There’s nothing I’d love more than to continue these conversations together.
Know that I am holding you in my heart today—everyone who reads this, and everyone you love and who loves you.
Blessings on all of us and on our houses-
(lovely snippet of poem by Dora McQuaid)