I see it everywhere – gestures of all different sizes done on the behalf of another. These moments combine the awareness and acceptance of someone else’s needs along with the willingness to act. I call this kindfulness – a combination of mindfulness and kindness. And I believe that kindfulness is what is needed to save the world, that each of us is profoundly capable of this, and that is a skill that is strengthened with practice.
Recently I was the beneficiary of someone’s kindfulness. I am undergoing treatment for leukemia and, in order to know if the treatment is working, my doctor needed to extract bone marrow for a biopsy. However, a massive mudslide had blocked all routes to the cancer center and keeping my appointment for the test looked impossible.
Then a friend sent me a link to Jeff Moorhouse’s Facebook post that began with the following:
“My plane is available if you have a personal emergency and need to head south or north, please spread the word.”
I messaged Jeff with my situation and he warmly agreed to fly me to my appointment. It was an incredible relief, and it turned out to be a wonderful morning. I learned a lot about Jeff, about flying, and it reminded me, once again, of how much good will and generosity there is in the world.
As we flew over the area that had been burned in the Thomas Fire (an enormous area!), my mind went to the thousands of firefighters who had worked relentlessly to contain the largest wildfire in California history.
While we were at the airport, we saw dozens of National Guard personnel who were flying rescue missions into the mudslide area. I was, once again, filled with gratitude and admiration for their dedication and expertise.
In a time of the twenty-four hour, conflict-based, news cycle, it is easy to lose sight of how much kindness is going on all the time.
It is true that human brains are wired to self-defensively prioritize our own needs – to look out for number one no matter what the cost to others. It is also true that we are wired to compassionately connect with the needs of others – to look out for those who might benefit from our support even when if comes at some cost to us.
Each of us has the capacity to be a miser or a saint. A fundamental choice is which of these tendencies we feed on a daily basis. Do we practice focusing on ourselves and hoarding resources, or do we practice empathizing with others and sharing what we have?
Research on happiness and overall well-being points to significant benefits for being kindful. Ironically, being more selfless may be one of the best things you can do for the quality of your own life.
As someone who teaches mindfulness practices, it is easy to see how all the hype around mindfulness can be used to fuel our selfish tendencies. “Be more productive.” “Enjoy life more.” “Be more focused.” Mindfulness without kindness can become self-indulgent really quickly.
It is a powerful practice to shift your attention to the ways people are supporting each other everyday. Look around you and you will see acts of kindfulness everywhere. And, you can look for small ways to help others. There are unlimited opportunities to lighten the load for someone else.
In her poem “Kindness,” Naomi Shihab Nye makes it clear that before we can really see how important kindness is, we must pay attention to how much sorrow there is. When we see this “then it is only kindess that makes sense anymore.”
We can do this. We can save the world with kindfulness. It begins by looking around as well as looking within. Then we can offer what we can as often as we can to those who need it. This is a practice that builds the skills we need more than ever.