When I asked Ms Macey what I should talk about for last Thursday’s meditation talk, she said “kindness”. She said lately she’s been asking herself every day how she can be more kind. I found this funny because Ms Macey is one of the kindest people I’ve met. I presume she’s gotten that way partly by continuing to ask herself how to become more kind.
I, on the other hand, spend more time thinking about how to choke people out (which I suppose is more kind than knocking them out). Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on kindness.
Kindness through Meditation
Meditation is a wonderful way to practice kindness. It is the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, and really for others. When we take care of our own minds and become more focused, calm and present, we are better able to take care of the needs of everyone else in our lives. Think of it like putting on your own oxygen mask on first. You can also practice empathy more directly with a visualization technique. Though I don’t consider this strictly meditation, you might practice it before or after zazen.
Try inhaling deeply while visualizing the circle of people you are closest to (close friends and family). When exhaling, allow yourself to feel the love you have for them. Upon the next inhale, visualize the next circle of people (extended family, coworkers); exhale and feel the same love as you did for the first circle. Move on to ever wider and wider circles, including the whole city, state, country, earth, and the rest of the cosmos. Now when you see someone from an extended circle or even a stranger, you’ll find yourself being more empathetic, treating them as you would a loved one.
Partners, Not Opponents
We talk about treating each other as partners instead of opponents in class all the time. It’s not just semantics; it’s a totally different attitude. When we are partners, we take care of whomever we are practicing with. Safety is a priority, but it goes further than that. Our partner’s progress becomes more important than our own. We ask ourselves how we can make this class the best for everyone else. We become better able to see what our partners need. We become more empathetic, yet we also get better at actually delivering. We become able to give our partners what they need to have the best possible experience.
Confidence and Selflessness
Kindness, in my opinion, is to be empathetic to what another person needs and actually provide it. This can only come from a place of complete confidence and selflessness. Often times in class I see a senior student who knows the technique we are repping quite well, yet their lack of confidence makes it much more difficult to be a great partner. When they are worried about messing up and looking dumb, they cannot focus on their partner rather than themselves.
Ironically, being selfless and paying attention to the needs of another can free us from this worry about ourselves. The simple act of letting go of this attachment to what we want allows us to easily flow into what our partner needs. It is the natural place our attention and actions go.
One of my favorite stories illustrates this quite well. Two monks were walking down the street when they came across a beautiful woman trapped on one side of a river bank, unable to cross. Immediately, one of the monks scooped her up onto his shoulder, carried her across and set her down. The two monks then continued along the road.
Hours later, the second monk could contain himself no longer. “What have you done?” he exclaimed. “We monks aren’t allowed to look at a woman, let alone touch one!”
“Brother,” replied the first monk, “I set her down miles ago, yet you still carry her.”
This is a perfect example of effortless kindness. When we stand in complete confidence and selflessness, we stop worrying about ourselves and allow ourselves to flow with the needs of another.