Kindness and Connection

[These Resources for Recovering Resilience explore what I’ve come to call the 5 C’s of Coping: Calm, Compassion, Clarity, Connection, Competence. (Courage is certainly a part of resilience as well, and will be included in future posts.) The exercise below guides us in connecting with others through the core value or virtue of Kindness.]

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of that is the beginning of wisdom.
– Theodore Rubin

Years and years ago, I switched my disability policy from one provided by the state to one provided by a private insurance company. When I asked about discontinuing the state policy, I was advised (incorrectly) to simply stop paying the premium and the state would cancel the policy.

Two years after that, I received a collection notice from the state for back payments due of $5,000, a hugely hefty sum still, more so in those days. With great fear and trepidation, I called the appropriate state office and reached someone, I never knew her name, who, when she pulled up my file, said, “Oh, honey, you’re in deep trouble.”

I stated my case but didn’t say much more than that. She thoughtfully said, “Let me see what I can do.” Without me knowing exactly how she did it, she began going through months and months of back payments, deleting them from the computer one by one. I didn’t say anything, just listened to the click-click of her computer. When she was finished, she had reduced my payments to less than $500. I don’t know how; I don’t know why. This woman in the heart of the bureaucracy, out of the kindness of her heart, gave me a gift, not just of financial relief, though that was enough to evoke everlasting gratitude, but an unforgettable lesson in how kindness came simply arise, one human being to another, and remind us of the wisdom of kindness being more important than wisdom – or rules.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said and people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Maya Angelou

I could offer here an exercise in performing “random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty,” but I’m going to suggest instead an exercise to practice installing as a resource the kindnesses that we are actually receiving all the time. When we take the time to focus our attention on a moment of kindness that another has done for us, we light up the networks in the brain that can create a positive resource for our resilience. These memories of kindness, intentionally cultivated, stored, and used in hard times as a reminder of the connections that sustain our lives through thick and thin, through difficulties and disasters, help buoy us up and carry us through. They are not a lightweight source of resilience; they are the bedrock.

Exercise of Sharing Kindness

  1. Begin by recalling a moment of kindness you have received from another, today already, or earlier in the week, or earlier this year, even back in the third grade. A moment when someone held open the door, picked up something you had dropped, smiled as you walked down the hallway, sent a supportive e-mail when you were going through a hard time, something that registered in your consciousness as support from the universe, something that gave just a little lift or a little steadiness in that moment.
  2. Notice what happens in your body-mind as you recall this moment of kindness, as you let the positive feeling of it register in your heart center, a sensation of warmth, reassurance, ease.
  3. Find at least one other person who is willing to spend five minutes with you, sharing memories of kindnesses received from others. Notice the impact of the “emotional contagion” of sharing and savoring these positive memories of kindness. Take a moment or two to amplify the feelings, letting them soak in as a resource to draw on again and again. Take a moment to reflect with your partner what it was like to do this exercise together, how the connection between the two of you helped install the resource of connections with others.
  4. Recall this particular moment of kindness, and the sharing of it with your partner at least once a day for a week and notice the impact on your sense of self and your belonging in the world. Intentionally cultivate memories of kindness as an ongoing resource for recovering resilience.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama