Powerful Kindness

That the world needs more kindness in it is self-evident.  That we take responsibility for increasing the amount of kindness in it ourselves is essential.

Tolstoy wrote "everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."  But yogis do focus on changing ourselves first; of opening ourselves to the unbounded resource of love and compassion (maitri) within and allowing it to shine out on the world.  I long to be kind; the only thing I really want to teach my children is to be kind; I believe that being kind is the most important thing a human can do.

I have been thinking about the different flavours of kindness...  There is the gentle, quiet, accepting sort of kindness, of course, but there are other types of kindness too and I have been thinking in particular about powerful kindness; kindness that has strength and authority behind it; kindness which transforms; brave kindness which is not afraid to speak out. 

There was nothing soft, meek or compliant about the angry kindness of Mohandas Gandhi as he stood up for people, first in South African and then India. There was nothing accepting or quiet about the kindness of Nelson Mandela as he fought for people's freedom from apartheid.  Someone who inspires me greatly, is a woman called Jo Manuel, who teaches yoga to handicapped children; she has taken it upon herself to set up a studio and a charity dedicated to bringing the benefits of yoga to these children.  She is amazingly strong and powerfully kind; she's not the kind of woman who takes no for an answer.

We don't all have such enormous battles to fight, but we are often confronted by scenes of unkindness in every day life and concomitant opportunities to be kind.  It's the kindness that we direct towards others when we stand up for something (an old lady being unfairly treated at the Post Office/a shop assistant being bullied by a customer); where we speak out against that, instead of simply smiling our sympathy and staying silent.  It's the kindness that we direct towards ourselves when we stick up for our point of view or give ourselves something that we need (time, space, the freedom to choose differently).  We don't need to be aggressive, but we can opt to be bold and to stand up alongside someone who is experiencing vulnerability.

This is the powerful kindness that takes it upon itself to effect change for the better, whether it's setting up a charity; changing the attitudes within a large corporation; or working positively with people on the borders of conventional society.

This is the bold kindness that engages with the mad, the sad, the bad, the lonely, the old, the vulnerable, the weak, the weird and the unusual and not from a position of benevolent superiority, but from a standpoint of equality: we are human, you and I, we are the same.

I have two aunts who are mentally handicapped. I know how rare it is to be out and about with them and for someone to engage with them wholeheartedly; to direct friendship and warmth towards them. They are different; they look unusual; they respond to your questions in unpredictable ways. The truth is that there aren't many people around who have the strength of kindness necessary to approach my aunts and to be open and kind to them.

And I'll give you an example from my own life.  It's easy to wander up to someone collecting money for charity and give them some money.  I might take a moment to chat to the collector; give them a smile; make a connection with them.  That's kind.  But when a girl in my local town approached me, explained that she was homeless and asked for some money for a cup of tea, I had to reflect that my response was not quite the same.  I did give her some money.  I didn't judge her, or wonder if she really wanted a cup of tea; it was clear that she needed money more than I did and I didn't need to know what it was for.  That's kind too.  But I could have been kinder: I didn't stop to have a chat with her; I didn't ask how her day was, or comment on the weather, as I might have done with someone collecting for a charity.  And that wasn't good enough really, was it?  Something about the fact that I didn't suggests a divide between myself and the homeless girl, when of course, we are exactly the same species of being, just experiencing life in different ways at the moment. 

I figure that I need to get even braver and more confident with my kindness, so that I can share it not just with the people who essentially look like me and have chosen/are living a similar life to me.  I don't want to give kindness from a position of difference, but from a position of sameness, a position that says: I am very lucky in my life now; you are having a hard time, please let me help you.

So often it is fear that holds us back.  I think I was intimidated by that girl; I was unsure how to respond.  Other times you don't know whether to speak up or not and while you are wondering if it's your place, the moment has passed.  There are times when you are not sure if you will be met with hostility, or if you will say the wrong thing.  But all of these are things that you can and will get over.  I guess I'd like to be strong enough to be kind first and ask questions later.

And I recall the times when I have spoken up; when I have engaged wholeheartedly with people and how rewarding it has been; how those people have taught me something interesting and different about life and how to live it and how I have ended up being grateful to them for showing me life from a different perspective.

The curious thing is, that in the midst of my ponderings about how I can get braver with my attempts to be kind, I came across Kunzang, the Buddhist nun I met on retreat.  She is the embodiment of strong kindness - her Mahakala practice, which had such a strong effect on me, is all about wrathful kindness - and we talked a little about how sometimes kindness needs to be very, very strong indeed.  She went so far as to say, it sometimes needs to be cruel.  The fact that I instinctively recoiled at that idea suggests to me that it is important that I spend some time thinking about it.  One day I'll tell you the story of her 50th birthday and how she drove a 30 ton truck across the border from South Africa to Zimbabwe to give food that she had collected to people who were hungry and in need - powerful kindness.

My work is to keep on cracking open my heart and building my strength, so that I can be brave enough to be more kind to more people, more of the time. That I might see the sameness between us all more than the differences.  That I might let my instinct for kindness override my shyness, my reluctance to speak out of turn, or my fear.


  1. Don't be too hard on yourself. Looks to me like you are getting there. V.


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