Last week a stranger in front of me in the drive through bought my cup of chai for me. She didn’t know me, and I had no way to thank her for the treat. But her kind deed put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. It also prompted me to seek out ways to “pay it forward” to someone else. Kindness is catching, after all.
Maybe you’ve felt a wave of positive energy when you’ve offered kindness to someone else, whether it be a compliment, holding open a heavy door, or donating to a friend’s favorite charity. It turns out that kindness has positive benefits for both the giver and the receiver. An act of kindness creates an immediate positive feeling, followed by a sense of calm that may last several hours. There are theories that this is caused by a release of the feel-good hormones endorphins, similar to what happens when we exercise vigorously. So kindness has physical and emotional benefits, what’s not to love?
Kindness comes in many forms. One of my favorite acts of kindness is a solo project called Lovingkindness Meditation. It is based on Buddhist teachings, but is not a religious practice.The technique is simple: sitting in meditation, first I offer lovingkindness to myself by focusing on these phrases: May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful. May I be safe. As I’m thinking these words, my focus is on feeling them with my whole being, so I truly offer these wishes to myself. Next, I repeat the same process, offering lovingkindness toward someone I love, like a close family member or friend. Then, I repeat the phrases focusing on someone toward whom I feel neutral, like a person I don’t know well. Next, I offer it to someone I don’t like, or with whom I’m in conflict. Finally, I offer it toward all beings. Each time, I’m trying to feel the kindness in my heart, even when it is difficult.
Lovingkindness Meditation offers the feel-good tingle of a kindness given to others, and, as a meditation, it focuses the mind and relaxes the body. Over time, this practice has helped me make peace with some difficult people, and to forgive myself. I also feel more compassionate in general, because the feelings of lovingkindness aren’t lost when we get up from sitting. Finally, it helps me remember that every being is worthy of kindness from my heart, from those dearest to me to those I don’t know and even those I don’t like. The world can use more kindness, and the more I give, the more I receive.