This week’s morsel comes from Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness by Deborah Schoeberlein David. In this book, David shows teachers of all subjects and backgrounds how to tune into what’s happening, inside and around them, she offers fresh, straightforward approaches to training attention and generating caring both in and outside of the classroom. Today's selection focuses on kindness (and how to remember kindness in the classroom and beyond).
Many people experience kindness as a byproduct of mindfulness practice. Purposefully generating and extending kindness naturally enhances this outcome. The more you feed the flame of kindness, the greater your warmth and capacity to radiate it to others.
The first step is to take a few minutes to practice mindful breathing. Purposefully fostering concentration and heightened awareness leads to an inner state conducive to generating and experiencing kindness. Then take a minute or more to repeat the Kindness Reflections below (or your adaptation of them) silently or aloud. When you’re ready to stop repeating them, you can simply remain alert, but restful, without any particular object of attention, or you can return your awareness to mindful breathing.
KINDNESS REFLECTIONS (FOR TEACHERS)
• May I feel joy.
• May I heal from pain.
• May I find peace.
• May I gain greater wisdom and skill.
This progression of four reflections begins with the wish for joy, which is an expression of kindness toward the self. The desire to heal from pain is about directing compassion inward toward oneself. The hope for peace supports kindness as well as compassion. Finally, the intention to gain greater wisdom and skill focuses on developing both a strategy and the capacity for cultivating the first three reflections.
Although the Kindness Reflections send kindness toward the self, they also extend beyond and through the self toward others. My happiness can bring joy to others. My healing from pain can also reduce other people’s suffering on my behalf and thus reduce the pain I inadvertently cause others. If I live in peace, those around me will benefit as well—and I can bring my greater wisdom and skill into my actions and relationships.
Once you’ve practiced the kindness technique of focusing on yourself, you might wish to change the wording and intention to offer the same wishes to those you love. So, the next version of the technique could sound something like this:
KINDNESS REFLECTIONS FOR LOVED ONES (FOR TEACHERS)
• May my loved ones feel joy.
• May my loved ones heal from pain.
• May my loved ones find peace.
• May my loved ones gain greater wisdom and skill.
After practicing with the Kindness Reflections for Loved Ones, you can choose to extend goodwill toward others such as people for whom you have neutral and even negative feelings. Imagine that you are at the center of a circle surrounded by rings of people; those closest are dearest, and those on the farthest ring are people toward whom you have antipathy.
It’s important to begin using this kindness technique while focusing on yourself. As you cultivate your capacity for generating— and receiving—joy, healing from pain, and so on, you will also increase your ability to generate and direct the same wishes toward others. Start with your loved ones, and then, moving at your own pace, extend these wishes to the other people in the rings further and further away from the center.
The next series of reflections could focus on a neutral person, “May my neighbors feel joy,” and eventually lead to many neutral people, “May everyone in my country feel joy.” Another progression moves from “May my loved ones feel joy” to “May my colleagues and students feel joy” on to “May ______ (someone you find frustrating or difficult) feel joy,” and eventually, should you feel ready, to “May _________ (someone you absolutely despise or of whom you feel resentful or jealous) feel joy.”
You might experience some discomfort wishing the best for people toward whom you have neutral or negative feelings. It can be very challenging even to consider extending compassion, much less kindness, toward someone who has deeply hurt you or your loved ones. Don’t worry if you don’t think you can go that far. Just take it one circle at a time, and keep attending to your experience in the moment as you practice this technique. At the same time, also try not to get caught up in any storylines that arise in you.
I encourage you to approach kindness practice with curiosity and openness. Commit to trying it for at least a few days, or a couple of weeks, before deciding whether it offers any value for you. With regular practice, you might notice an increasing sense of inner happiness or contentment. You might also begin to find alternative ways of handling people and situations you’ve had difficulty with in the past.
Kindness practice amplifies the capacity to help other people manage their own pain and challenges. Increased confidence smoothes the steps from kindness to empathy and then compassion.The benefits also extend in the other direction so that sharing, if not rejoicing, in others’ happiness and accomplishments becomes even more natural and fulfilling.
To read more from Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, click here.