“Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes a third, a holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love.” – Julian of Norwich

 

 

 

See

Am I seeing? Am I noticing the presence of the Divine in the person in front of me? Or is she just an object that’s sharing the same space with me? Is he just an obstacle in the way of what I want? Are they too different from me for me to see God in them? Is she just there for me to use? Is he just there to do something for me?

Or am I seeing the same light in her eyes that makes me catch my breath at a sunset? Am I noticing the same warming presence in him that makes me linger by the campfire? Are my eyes open to truth? Am I seeing?

Contemplate

Am I contemplating? Am I taking time to stop and examine in stillness, or am I noticing and moving on? Am I holding my gaze steady at the curve of her neck, memorizing its lines, and asking them to tell me their secrets? Am I taking in her story and letting it become a part of me as I sit with it? Am I clearing my schedule for an hour to be in conversation with him, communing with who he is and what he shows me about the universe? Do I stop at acknowledging that they, too, are made in the image of God, or do I engage in the complexities of their experience, letting myself be changed by our differences? Am I wise enough to slow down and fix my gaze on the world around me like the work of art it is?

Delight

Am I delighting? If I’ve done the first two, I probably am. If I have truly seen and contemplated, awe and wonder and delight are the products of that alchemy. My heart spins and dances at all that is contained in his smile – the sadness and the joy and the perseverance and the relief that it holds. I feel the endorphins flood my brain as I savor the words she spoke… yes, they were hard to hear, but they were true and full of the juice of life, of spirit, of THIS. I am energized and excited to work for their good as I soak in the beauty and injustice of their history. 

And with that – all is love. And all is love. And all manner of things is love.

 

“…Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind”

-Bertolt Brecht, “To Posterity”

 

 

Kindness (personal)

As a coach, one of my jobs is to lay “foundations of kindness”. When working with a client (let’s say it’s you, dear reader), beyond any skill or wisdom I may or may not bring to the table, I want you to feel loving kindness coming from me.

The hope is that you can also practice kindness, first and foremost to yourself. That you will look on the areas of your life that aren’t yet what you hoped they would be and, rather than beating yourself up, treat yourself with grace, understanding, patience… kindness. For most of us, learning to do so is what will lead us to treat others kindly.

So that’s the goal.
That’s what we’re shooting for.

But…

If I can be honest, the last couple days I have had a really hard time being kind. Some combination of the ongoing stresses of pandemic and quarantine, a couple nights in a row of poor sleep, and a slippage in my self-care regimen, and… I haven’t been the most pleasant person, either to myself or to my saint of a partner, Sarah. I find myself pulling inward, not reaching out to loved ones, thinking primarily of myself, resenting Sarah’s intrusions on my time and headspace as I work to, well, lay “foundations of kindness.”

Alas, we who wished to lay the foundations of kindness could not ourselves be kind.

Kindness (public)

(The Bertolt Brecht poem quoted above deals with this public realm. Read the whole thing here – it’s really good, I promise!)

Many of us feel a calling to engage with the world around us in ways that generate loving kindness. We practice our religion, we advocate politically for justice… basically we try to encourage ourselves and others to treat one another with kindness and respect, and we try to build kind systems and reform or tear down unkind systems.

The hope is that we can work together to build a kinder world. That we can look on the areas of the world that aren’t yet what we hoped they would be and find ways to work together to make them better. And at the end of a hard day of work we sit back, have a glass of wine, and appreciate that the world is a little kinder place because of our shared labor.

  So that’s the goal.
  That’s what we’re shooting for.

But…

If we can be honest, recently (always?) we have had a really hard time being kind. Our visions for what a kinder world will look like don’t line up. I don’t like what you’re trying to change in the world or the way you go about trying to change it. I feel that I’ve evolved to a kinder, more correct viewpoint, and I have no patience with you who haven’t come to the same place or are still on a journey. We find ourselves pulling inward, cocooning ourselves among like-minded people and vilifying “those other people”, working towards our goals and resenting or attacking others who hinder our work to, well, lay “foundations of kindness.”

Alas, we who wished to lay the foundations of kindness could not ourselves be kind.

And so…

  • I grieve, I lament, I say “alas.” We collectively might do the same. This is different than beating myself up or from saying all is lost in the world. No, instead, it’s giving appropriate attention and emotion to the gap between who I want to be and how I sometimes act, between how I want the world to be and the fact that I am (we are) as often a part of the problem as a part of the solution. I don’t get stuck in the grief or in guilt, but KINDLY remind myself of who I am.
  • I engage in spiritual practices that might help change me. Particularly here I’m thinking of loving-kindness meditation. Click here for a more detailed guide for this practice, but in short it looks like this:
    1. I spend time soaking in love and kindness, visualizing those who love me and/or experiencing the love of God or the divine as we understand it. I receive their kindness and their intention that I be well, safe, happy, and at ease.
    2. Then I begin to visualize others, starting with someone I find easy to love. I think of them fondly and send love and kindness, wishing that they would be well, safe, happy and at ease.
    3. I go through the same process with a) someone about whom I have more neutral feelings (neither all that positive or negative), b) someone whom I have trouble loving, and c) finally the whole world. 

How do you respond when you find yourself being less than kind? How are you trying to live kindness in public? I’d love to hear what you’ve found helpful in the comments. Be well, my friends.

 

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