Visiting my local tea shop, Epoch Coffee, I found some inspiration this week. There was a quote from the novel, Earthseed, by Pamela Sargent gently nested on a shelf: “Kindness eases change.” I just stood there for a minute, soaking this thought in. Does it really? Does kindness really ease change, that enormous thing that engulfs us if we do not find ourselves surfing? I guess so. On second thought, ya know, kindness really can ease change.
I found myself digging deeper into this simple statement; what is kindness, who or what receives this kindness, and how exactly does kindness ease change? Reasonable questions, to be sure. A quick search on Google tells me that the definition of kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”
But kindness means so much more …
This could really be a form of meditation as kindness can mean different things to different people. People express kindness in different ways such as kind gestures, empathy, and being helpful. Kindness also is more than being nice. Being kind is doing intentional, voluntary acts of kindness. Not only when it’s easy to be kind, but when it’s hard to be.
Most of all, I believe kindness is a grace. Grace is defined as a “courteous goodwill.” I think this resonates with intentional consideration and generosity that is the highlight of kindness. This also, brings us to the who or what is the recipient of our kindness. We can be kind in our response to ourselves and others when mistakes occur. In relationships, this could translate to not assuming the worst in our partner’s words or actions, even though we have fears and insecurities.
Having the grace, to be kind, for ourselves might mean we soften through change in the way we manage change, experience change, and more. As a therapist, I have been a witness to the myriad of ways clients (and myself) are so hard on themselves for the way they are thinking and feeling during times of change. Let’s face it, whether you won the lottery or are grieving the death of a loved one, positive or negative, change can make our emotions and world tumultuous. I consider the therapeutic process around change as one that eases change through normalizing the experience of change, and providing support, compassion, kindness, grace through change.
This morning, self-compassion impacted my morning strength training. I did not sleep well last night and although I am feeling energetic and happy, I have a side dish of cranky from the disrupted sleep. Mid curl, I stopped, recognizing, and acknowledging my cranky feelings while empathizing, with compassion, why I was feeling this way. I have the right to my feelings and a little kindness helps me move through them. This kind of self-compassion includes warmth and understanding toward ourselves (and others) when we feel the need to be hard on ourselves. Rather than flagellating ourselves with self-criticism, self-compassion is the power to be kind to yourself.
This is not nicey nice. Kindness is not flattering or indulgent. This is grace, intentional consideration, and generosity. When we feel compassion, rather than pity or criticism, it means that you can understand that failure, imperfection, and suffering is a part of our shared human experience. I find that, oftentimes, we can have kindness and compassion for others before we are able to capture it for ourselves. Instead of beating ourselves up with self-criticism, judgement for how we feel we should have been or what we should have said or done, grace would recognize the disappointment and pain and acknowledge the difficulty. Compassion would take it further by asking “How can I soothe and care for myself, right now,” to honor and accept our humanity.
Yeah, so how do I cultivate kindness to ease change….
While it is a relatively simple formula, it is by no means an easy one. First step is to be curious about how we are treating ourselves (and others). Mindfulness practices can help us become more aware of our negative self-talk. Once we can identify the ways we are talking down to ourselves, we can look at the motivation of the self-flagellation. Often, there is a positive intent, to work harder, do more, be more. This positive intent is well meaning, though we can likely find other ways to care for ourselves that do not involve beating ourselves up.
What those other ways to be the person you are aiming to be may include are cognitive restructuring. Start thinking differently, man. Even with a change in our thinking and understanding, we can also practice mindful acts, to generate more kindness and grace through change. When the pandemic began, and my child was sent home from school, we were anxious with all the uncertainty. For me, painting rocks to spread out through our neighborhood, became the act of kindness we needed to get through the difficult change the pandemic produced through our social isolation. And kindness creates a chain reaction. Soon, other families were painting and exchanging rocks in our neighborhood.
It is funny to me now, how this very modest sign at a tea shop, really inspired me to consider the role of kindness and its ability to ease our challenges. Though, I am grateful, that my work has taught me to be more kind to myself. I still catch myself, being hard on myself, though I am acknowledging my feelings, and giving them space to exist with all the other feelings and parts of me.
Here are some interesting links to consider self-compassion further. Feel free to explore further!