What to Do When You Feel There Is No Kindness Left in the World.
I had one of those days today.
I won’t go into the details because the devil lies in the details. I’ll leave the devil out of it.
All devils aside, today was one of those days where I wanted to rewind. To start over, to hold a heavy bowl of food in my palms and feel it’s weight as I sat on my sofa, the comfort of the bowl and its contents enough to carry me through at least a few good hours.
The kind of day where someone snaps at me, and so I snap at someone, and I realize how we are all snapdragons ready to close a face of fire onto someone else if they so much as breathe the wrong way.
Did you know that we are contagious like that? Kindness works like that too.
I think of all the small kindnesses that have marked the eras of my life—the ones delivered from strangers and the ones I received as I refilled a cup of coffee. I think of the kindnesses I have been offered as well as the kindnesses I have passed on, as if they were light-weighted things I couldn’t bear any longer to hold on my own.
Kindness is like that, though. It’s best when given away freely. It’s best when not tethered to something, like money or need or expectation.
It’s best when it floats up and bubbles to the surface. As shockingly as grass from stone, as large as the heart of the ocean, as quiet as an eyelash about to drop. This is when kindness is at its best. The finest hour of kindness is the one that taps you on the shoulder and catches you so off guard that you rock in quiet disbelief in your sneakers before pointing to yourself to make sure. “Me? You mean me?”
Deserving of so much kindness and also capable of so much.
So today, when I had this crappy day, where a couple people were less than kind to me, I thought long and hard about the small treasures kindness keeps. And how treasures often stay buried.
So I looked deep within me and what do you know, I had a reserve of kindness.
A well of kindness.
Like I stored up all these acorns of kindness just for a day like today when I needed it. When I felt like there wasn’t a drop of kindness left.
It’s inside you. Always.
I’m just writing this to remind you, my beloved tribe, to be kind. Even when you feel there is none in the world. Even when you feel like there is none left inside of you.
I read this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye in my yoga class tonight because, naturally, given the day I had, I made the theme be “kindness.” It’s one of my favorite poems.
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
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 every where
like a shadow or a friend.
I think of another one of my favorite writers, George Saunders. The convocation speech he delivered to the graduating class of Syracuse University in 2013 included these words:
“So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
“Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
“Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
“Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
“It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
“Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?”
(The whole speech is worth the few minutes it takes to read, and I highly recommend it.)
Look, it’s there. Kindness. Dig it out if you need to. Just get it out into the world. We need it hovering up above our heads, even if we don’t know it’s there. Kindness as reliable as clouds.
Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America. She is a yoga teacher, writer, and advocate for children with special needs based in L.A. She is also the creator of Manifestation Yoga® and leads retreats and workshops all over the world. Jennifer is currently writing a book and has a popular daily blog called Manifestation Station. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and take one of her yoga classes online at Yogis Anonymous.
Jen will be leading a Manifestation Writing/Yoga retreat Labor Day Weekend, 2013 in Ojai, California as well as a Manifestation Yoga/Writing retreat in both Costa Rica and Tuscany in 2014.
*Image courtesy of Bryant McGill and Simplereminders.com.