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  • Leela Kirloskar

Contemplating Kindness


My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. ~ Dalai Lama XIV

Through the window of my gym early one morning two weeks ago, I spied a homeless man across the road, bundled up in a dark blue sweater; he was scarfed and capped (November mornings are very cold and foggy in Berkeley), sitting low in a wheelchair on the sidewalk outside the local Starbucks. Several people who walked out of the coffee shop dropped coins into his cup, or handed over packets of food, which was heartening to see; others walked past with a shrug or just didn’t see him, as is also all too common (yes, I’ve done that too, sadly). And then there was one man, clearly familiar with the sight, who stopped and chatted with him. They laughed and talked for a few minutes and then the man left, still smiling. I could feel the warm energy all the way across the road, with that small act of kindness. The part where the man in the wheelchair was seen.

And then I experienced a lovely act of kindness towards me, while I was on my way to have lunch with my cousin sister a few days later. I was getting on the Bart bus to get to the station to meet her and suddenly realised I was a dollar short for the ticket (they require exact change). I could sense a restless queue beginning to grow behind me and the driver began to look impatient at the delay as I scrambled through my handbag and in all my pockets for change, thinking I’d have no choice but to get off. So you can imagine how surprised I was when a woman sitting in the bus suddenly came up to me and smilingly offered me a dollar, which I accepted very gratefully. I thanked her again when I sat down and said I’d pay her back as soon as I got off at the station but she just shook her head and smiled, saying nah, just pay it forward. There was kindness, warmth and much generosity in that small act towards a perfect stranger.

It got me thinking and reading about what kindness looks like in every day life. And how it’s so easy to limit it to doing conscious acts of kindness to others in need around us. Perhaps it’s because we want to be seen as kind people, who do good, kind things for others, and in doing so we nurture something in our own selves that tells us we’re good people. At the same time, we don’t often offer the same kindness to those closest to us, to those we’re in relationship with. It’s easier to be kind to the outside world than it is for the people who are right in front of us. What does it take for us to be more conscious that kindness too starts at home? How come it’s missing in so many everyday encounters with each other? In how we treat each other?

If you’ve experienced kindness in your life, you’ll know what it feels like – it shows up as a soft connected shape, a gentle tone and caring language, warm eyes, and an open heart that listens to how you’re feeling, to be able to respond to you in a way that’s thoughtful, loving and grounded in a commitment to the relationship. It can bring people closer to each other in ways that are deeply enriching. And the incredible human experience is this – it grows if you begin to practice it, like gently rippling waves across that endless ocean we’re all part of. On the other hand, unkind behaviour pushes us away from each other through harsh abrasive language, narrow bodies that hold back from connection and simmering emotions that are not felt or acknowledged, leading to destructive consequences, in the relationship and in the spirit. A dear friend said the other day to me that kindness is like a gentle rain: it nourishes, renews and is self-generative. And it’s also a gift we give to ourselves.

What will you choose to cultivate? And what do you need to let go of to invite kindness into your life?

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