I'll get right to the point because 1) it's way past my bedtime, 2) I'm mid-flight from SFO after a long delay, returning home from the first of several training weekends for my certification in psychedelic-assisted therapy, and 3) I am surprisingly still dedicated to these weekly letters, at the very least until we reach the letter Z.
I vaguely recall writing that my intention for my 39th year was to cultivate more kindness, towards myself and others. Current progress reports state that progress has been limited, at best.
One of the requirements for this training was a commitment to the principles of beloved community, which I translate as boiling down to, in a word, kindness. Radical kindness, if you'll permit me two words. The radical kindness of which Jesus was purported to practice, that unimaginably generous benevolence, the likes of which can feel impracticable at any given time, and, perhaps most especially, now.
I've seen glimpses of it, sort of. I've sensed its absence, definitely.
Learning through fleeting examples what kindness is has highlighted my shortcomings in this area, where kindness isn't. "Areas for improvement," if I'm being a bit kinder to myself.
After observing a few deeply charged and emotional exchanges throughout this weekend, someone in one of my breakout groups put it best:
We must go into any conversation willing to be changed.
I can't think of a better definition for kindness than this. Going into any interaction willing to be changed, and willing to change our point of view, means that kindness begins well before we even open our mouths to speak. It starts somewhere in the heart, maybe even deeper than that, before the other person begins to speak, or even thinks the thought. Kindness begins before, before before. Kindness begins. It becomes the jumping off point for... anything.
Kindness is the garden in which all of these have the freedom to blossom:
generosity, patience, openness, flexibility, curiosity.
Very recently, a dear friend extended such kindness to me in what could have turned into a really heated and ugly thing (would have, really, if not for her), that I was moved to examine and reconsider the way I approach others, in my thoughts and in my words. She approached me in such a way that both challenged and softened me.
It made me see that I haven't been going into conversations willing to be changed. I've been entering barging in, full steam, with an agenda, a clunky set of armor, and ear plugs. It turns out it's quite exhausting to move through life with such defenses. Perhaps I bear more responsibility for friendship goings-on than I realized.
I always begin my art therapy groups with a few gentle reminders. One of those gentle reminders is for them to treat each other and themselves with kindness, and to leave each other and the space better than how they found it. Now, I'm not so sure I've been living by that rule.
I'm not under the illusion that cultivating radical kindness won't take deep work, attention, and practice. But I'm ever-committed to the easier route, and if kindness ultimately begets ease, that must be the way.
With love and thanks,
Kindness on a personal level - Calling in versus calling out
Kindness on a structural scale - Belonging Design Principles