913th Week: Returning to Kindness

I find myself continually returning to a commitment to express kindness as I move through each day. In a world filled with contention and disasters, it can be hard to remember to stand on a foundation of kindness rather than a foundation of fear or upset. There are a couple of concepts in psychology related to the developing understanding of what is called “memory reconsolidation”, which is how our brain adds new information to old learning. Drawn from the teachings of Juliane Taylor Shore, our experiences generate the “psychological floor we stand on” and the quality and tone of our “emotional knowing,” which I think of as a filter through which we understand self and the world. While I’m not going to go into these dynamics here, I want to draw on the idea of the “psychological floor we stand on” and our “emotional knowing” as we think about kindness and how we express it in our world. 

In the psychological sense, these dynamics are unconscious and automatic. For the purposes of this week’s practice in conscious living, I’d like to propose that if we consciously hold the intention to stand on a “psychological floor of kindness” and hold the intention that we will look at the world through a filter of kindness, our everyday actions and states of mind would more naturally orient toward experiences and expressions of qualities of kindness.

When you imagine internally standing on a psychological floor of kindness, what comes into your awareness and experience? Are there images that arise? What physical sensations do you experience when you imagine standing on this “floor” of awareness? Spend a few minutes simply resonating with the quality of kindness and notice what else comes into your experience.

When you imagine viewing and interpreting the world through a filter characterized by kindness, what kinds of thoughts and emotions arise in you? Do mixed feelings arise, as well? How do your thoughts and feelings register in your body? Do you find yourself more settled, your heart more open or do you find yourself pulling back from what you experience?

Keep in mind that acts of kindness don’t need to be dramatic or big. They can be small moments of taking an insect outside or of remembering to send a friend a text to let them know someone is thinking of them. Opening a door for someone or allowing someone to enter before you are acts of kindness. Letting someone step out of an elevator before you is an act of kindness. Smiling at people is an act of kindness and being polite is, as well.

An aspect of offering kindness to your world is to orient to your heart intelligence—what you might think of as your heart brain. The heart brain has a different take from the head brain on many if not most things, and I always check in with my heart when I need to understand or respond to something. Living with an open heart can be a powerful gift to yourself and to the world around you. 

To orient to your heart, become aware of your chest right now and notice if it is soft and open or tight and constricted. If you find that your chest is constricted, take a few easy breaths in and out from your heart and notice your experience. Breathing in and out through your heart—gently and with ease—can become a reliable way to settle when you need to do so.

And, please remember that because of our inherent wholeness, there may well be mixed feelings and responses as you explore this kind of practice. Awareness allows you to notice the mixed feelings, perhaps to put an internal arm around them for reassurance, and then to go back to your practice in kindness. Orienting to kindness doesn’t mean to become oblivious to what’s unfolding in the world. It also doesn’t mean not to respond with appropriate action or whatever else feels warranted when circumstances call for this.

As with all these practices, please bring along curiosity as your constant companion, as curiosity opens us to the unexpected, to something new. Also, be sure to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through without your having to do anything with them right now. You can work with them more deeply later, if you need to—bringing kindness to the process as part of this ongoing practice.

Here’s the audio version of this practice if you’d rather listen to it. Also, please remember never to listen to guided audio meditations while driving or using dangerous machinery.

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