I have always admired people who are exceptionally kind, but I’ve never felt like I am necessarily a particularly kind person. Smart, talented, accomplished, inspiring—perhaps. But am I kind? Sometimes. Sometimes not. I think my soul is yearning to express more kindness more often, so I’ve found myself pondering kindness as a sort of meditation all month.
What is kindness?
What does it mean to be kind?
Is there a way to be kind without selling out your essence?
What is the difference between love and kindness?
Am I kind?
Who is kind to me?
Could I be more kind to others?
Could I be more kind to myself?
Such are the genuine questions that have been rolling around inside of me lately.
What Is Kindness?
I think kindness is an underrated value in our culture. We tend to value intelligence, charisma, coolness, talent, inspiration, beauty, and other bright sparkly attributes that can radiate out of even the most narcissistic individuals.
But what about kindness? Kindness is quiet. It tends to float under the radar. Kindness doesn’t draw attention to itself. Unless someone happens to capture true kindness on video, kindness doesn’t necessarily attract a lot of attention on the internet. Perhaps kindness is even more effective when offered anonymously.
What is kindness? It’s not what you might think. Kindness can get mistaken for people-pleasing and approval-seeking, which isn’t the same thing as true kindness. Kindness is an impulse of love. People-pleasing and approval-seeking are impulses of fear. When we sell out our own needs in order to do nice things for others, we grow resentful and fail to be kind to ourselves. Kindness isn’t about being selfish and insensitive, but it’s also not about sacrificing your needs and desires in order to make other people happy at the expense of your own happiness.
True kindness feels just as good to the kindness giver as to the kindness receiver.
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Kindness stems from love, but love is a feeling inside. Kindness is a behavior. It is love in action. You might say you love someone, but kindness talks less and does more. Kindness arises from the impulse of love as it intuits and responds to the needs of others. Kindness eases the suffering of others and increases joy in the world.
Do You Attract Kind People?
I tend to learn my soul lessons the hard way, so true to my patterns, I have had a tendency to attract unkind people in the past. But as I have learned the fine art of discernment (discernment, not judgment, allows inner discrimination to determine who you allow into your inner circle), kindness has become one of my core values. There are many people who may impress you with their gifts, talents, charismatic personalities, intelligence, and magnetism. But are they kind? How do they treat the people who serve them in restaurants or hotels? Do they take other people’s feelings into account when they make decisions? Do they go out of their way to offer up acts of generosity and sweetness? Are they kind and loving to themselves?
Inner discernment allows you to be wildly loving without fear of others taking advantage of your kindness. In response to one of my Facebook posts, Susan Graf Burlingame wrote, “Having learned the art of boundaries, giving is no longer about people-pleasing or approval-seeking. I have always been an innately kind person but my motives were not always in alignment with my soul. With healthy boundaries, I can be kind all day, every day without the fear of having a motive attached.”
To be kind to others, we must first be kind to ourselves. Once we promise ourselves that we will be kind to ourselves first, we can practice kindness without losing ourselves or self-sacrificing. When we know we can trust ourselves to only give when we have bandwidth to give, when we trust ourselves to create gentle and nonjudgmental distance from unkind people, we can practice kindness without limit. We can give without expectation of reciprocity. We can open our hearts and let kindness flow through us as Love Itself pouring through us, offering up its bounty to ourselves, and overflowing onto others without depleting us one bit.
Then, kindness becomes a side effect of self care and self love. When we are kind to ourselves, we are kind to others and we tend to attract people who are kind to us.
Being a Benevolent Presence
In Adyashanti’s book Resurrecting Jesus, he talks about the spiritual path and the resulting “death of self” as a sort of crucifixion and resurrection. I love what he has to say about kindness.
“What comes back to life out of the ashes of the death of self is something that’s really quite simple, but quite poignant. From that place, the only thing left to do is to be a benevolent presence in the world. I don’t say this because one wants to do it or tries to do it. All attempts to be spiritual or pure or compassionate or loving, all of that striving is just what the ego or self tries to do or to be. But when all that falls away, there’s literally nothing left to do; there’s no life orientation that makes sense other than to be a selfless and benevolent presence. This may happen on a big stage, but it may just mean being a benevolent grandmother or a mother or daughter or son or business owner. It doesn’t have to look any particular way, and in fact, the resurrected state can actually look quite normal.”
I like that, the idea of being a benevolent presence as an embodiment of kindness. Makes me think of the Hippocratic Oath, which at its root, is about harmlessness. At the root of kindness is a sort of harmlessness. First, do no harm. When we clear out what is not our true essence and allow ourselves to be vessels of love, harmlessness is a side effect, and kindness arises from this place of beingness.
Be Kinder Than Is Necessary
In the children’s book WONDER, the school principal challenges his students to practice being “kinder than is necessary.” What would it mean to be kinder than is necessary? What would that mean for YOU? What act of kindness might you choose to enact today? What unkind act might you avoid choosing today? How might you tune into the needs and desires of your loved ones so you can surprise them with kindness? How might you touch the heart of a stranger? How might your heart crack open if you dared to be kinder than is necessary?
Tell us, what does kindness mean to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Lissa Rankin, M.D., New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine and The Fear Cure, is a physician, author, speaker, and founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, a training program for physicians and other health care providers. She is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual; it also heals the collective. Lissa also co-teaches teleclass programs about spirituality, such as Medicine For The Soul with Rachel Naomi Remen, MD and Coming Home To Your Spirit with Martha Beck, PhD. Read her blog and learn more at LissaRankin.com.
If you’re a health care provider interested in enrolling in the 2015 Class of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, we’re accepting new students until the program begins with a live event in the San Francisco Bay area on June 5. You can register here. Along with me, guest teachers include mind body medicine pioneers like Rachel Naomi Remen, Larry Dossey, Bernie Siegel, Bruce Lipton, Kelly Turner, and more.