877th Week: Cultivating Kindness As a Habit of Mind
I’ve been reading a lot about social justice lately, as well as the challenges of moving out of the assumptions and institutions of white supremacy. The process has been yet another reminder of the importance and impact of unexamined perceptions and beliefs. I’ve written many times about engaging in acts of kindness and my recent reading has brought to the foreground of awareness the importance of cultivating and orienting to thoughts and self-talk focused on and arising from kindness.
Our habits of mind matter more than we may realize. In a sense, they are a form of ongoing self-hypnosis through which we program ourselves and emit the quality and tone of awareness and being that characterize how we move through the world and how we feel about, and treat, ourselves. The goal of the following practice isn’t to create an internal battle, argument, or conflict when noticing the unkind thoughts and actions that we may do without awareness. Because I have such a deep belief in wholeness, I understand that there will always be things arising in me that I may not enjoy experiencing, but they are part of an unbroken wholeness that is true of everyone.
Many times, I’ve written about the foreground/background dynamic of our wholeness. Sometimes something pops into the foreground of our thinking or behaving that we don’t particularly like, something that arises as one of the habits of mind that comes with years of conditioning. The good news is that anything that pops into the foreground can be invited into the background and replaced by something we would rather experience and/or express. It’s a matter of cultivating the kind of awareness that can compassionately notice when we’ve gone off track and that can then gently call us back to ourselves.
For this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to focus on the quality and tone of your self-talk and the thoughts that arise spontaneously in the flow of your ongoing stream of consciousness. When you catch yourself thinking something that you would consider unkind, notice what happens when you stop that thought and replace it with one that orients to kindness. When you do this, you invite the quality and frequency of kindness to move into the foreground of your experience. When you do this, you will find that your thoughts, feelings, and behavior will spontaneously orient to kindness and, after a while, you can discover that kindness is a more constant companion than it may have been before.
As is true with all these practices, it’s important to meet yourself with compassion. We live in a world that currently expresses much that is the opposite of kindness. Because of this, it can take some real focus and determination to keep practicing coming back to kindness when you may have moved into judgment. We hear and see judgment on all sides these days, so it’s also important to be gentle with yourself as you play with blocking that particular habit of mind. I believe it was Jack Kornfield, the meditation teacher, who has said that we can’t ever be completely free of judgment but what we can do is learn to ignore those judgements that do arise, allowing them to move on through without doing anything with or about them.
Also, as with all these practices, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion, patting gently on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move along on the stream of consciousness and on out of the foreground of your awareness. And, most important of all, please offer yourself kindness as you do this practice. Learning to be kind with ourselves almost always naturally develops into greater kindness toward others, as well.