Mindfulness is kindness… It took a while for that to really sink in, even though it was the focus of the Mindfulness Immersion weekend at Witherdens Hall, the wonderful Spa Retreat in Kent. Mindfulness is kindness. By Sunday I really got it. Yes, mindfulness is kindness.
Led by Barbara Boxhall, a Mindfulness Trainer of many years who is also studying for an Msc in Mindfulness and Compassion, and Yoga Teacher Sacha Kent, the weekend retreat encompassed mindfulness movement, loving kindness meditations, mindful walking, mindful eating, poetry, nourishing food and discourse. It was a weekend of really delving deep into kindness and mindfulness, with the emphasis on kindness and compassion.
Taking yourself off for a weekend is kindness in itself in many ways, given we all lead such busy lives and have numerous commitments that pull us in different directions. Taking time to really nourish oneself by having moments of stillness, like a mindfulness weekend, in turn nourishes those around you – mostly because taking time out connects you back with you, and it just makes you feel good. So being kind to yourself naturally spills out to kindness being extended to others. It’s the ripple effect. What I do for me is felt by those I come into contact with.
Sadly kindness is something lacking in our society today. Yes, there are acts of kindness around, but more often these acts of kindness are acts given to others, rather than also given to ourselves. The nagging voice, the judgment, the self-critical thoughts, the beating ourselves up, the lack of self-recognition, the lack of self-worth, the focus of what’s wrong with us rather than what’s right. We are so hard on ourselves because that’s how life just is in the West. Get on and don’t complain. Get on and make stuff happen, fast. Get on and don’t show any vulnerability.
Yet true kindness, as so eloquently described by Barbara, is something that we need to cultivate within. It is only when we can extend kindness to ourselves, when kindness is cultivated within, that we are being truly authentic when we extend kindness to others. We can’t truly give what we don’t truly have.
So how do you start to treat yourself with kindness? And isn’t that just being a bit selfish anyway?
Well no actually. In the long term a lack of self-kindness can make us feel bereft and resentful. If we give to others without giving to ourselves, one day we will wake up feeling that we’ve nothing left to give or we’re emotionally and physically exhausted. And that’s where mindfulness comes in. Having a formal and informal mindfulness practice is the ultimate kindness, especially when you allow yourself to just be, when you accept how things are in the moment whether they are good or bad, and when you start to notice that self-critical voice. Mindfulness is nourishing, it softens your heart and opens you up to new possibility and perspective. It gets you off the rat race we call life so you can see, breathe, feel, and experience the richness and beauty that is sitting right in front of you.
Buddhist Monks practice loving kindness meditations and you would probably agree that they are unselfish. The Dalai Lama sums up self-love and compassion quite beautifully. “If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others”.
Here are a few exercises which Barbara shared over the weekend that show you how you can become more kind and loving towards yourself, as kindness is really all about love. In my eyes kindness and love are pretty synonymous.
- When you encounter a difficulty, acknowledge that this is a difficult moment. Don’t try and change it, simply acknowledge it.
- Acknowledge that difficulty is part of the human condition. Being human is a pretty messy business – so just be aware that everyone faces difficulty and that life is not just all about the ups.
- Say to yourself “May I meet this difficulty with kindness” and feel contact with your body. Imagine that you are making this contact with kindness – that your touch is filled with kindness. It could be as simple as touching your heart, or if you’re in a meeting, simply just touching your arm. The same kind of touch as you would touch a child you love.
- Connect to your heart – we all have one, it’s just sometimes we forget! So imagine your breath in your heart region and say some loving thoughts to yourself. Maybe you’ve had a clash with a work colleague or you’re nervous about a presentation you have to give. Take your breath to your heart region and tell yourself that you’re ok. Make sure the tone of your voice resonates. Acknowledge your nerves or your emotions and tell yourself that everything is ok. That you’re ok. Acknowledge what you’re feeling too, rather than pushing the uncomfortable feeling away.
- Look at yourself in the mirror with a gentle, loving gaze and tell yourself that you love you. Hard I know! I think this is perhaps the hardest practice for us all. This exercise takes patience. Don’t expect to be comfortable initially doing this practice. Self-love is a process.
- Repeat quietly to yourself “I love you”. Every time you have a negative thought or you start ruminating, and it’s negative, this works a treat as it dissolves the thought immediately. Try it. You might be surprised.
While having a formal mindfulness practice activates and grows the insula in the brain, the area integral to our sense of human connectedness and empathy (kindness arises through empathy), it takes a conscious effort to become kind to yourself. Whether you practice mindfulness or not, try and find your way to cultivate kindness towards yourself so that over time, kindness grows.
Life is filled with knocks and stresses but by coming home to who YOU are, by accepting yourself with the deepest respect and love, you will in turn be able relate to the world with kindness and compassion. Freedom is the discovery that something you thought of as permanent is actually changeable. Those self-critical thoughts or a lack of self-compassion don’t have to be permanent.
Sometimes it just takes time for things to sink in, as it did for me over the weekend. We can have a knowing, but like a pebble being dropped in a well, the pebble eventually sinks to the bottom. Yes mindfulness IS kindness. Mindfulness is true kindness.
P.S. There are many kindness mindfulness practices available on the internet, and thankfully Barbara offers two free practices on her website which you can find here.