I’ve never regretted being kind to someone.
And don’t get me started on being the recipient of good will. It’s like a permanent and positive imprint on the soul when a person takes the time to share a little niceness. Conversely, think about how rotten it feels to be on the receiving end of ill will.
It’s much easier to be kind and have compassion for someone you like, but it can sure feel like a monumental task when mustering up a little love toward someone you don’t like, or who has wronged you. That’s where Metta, the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness, can help. Metta can have a huge impact on health and well being and there are studies to back this up. Metta signifies friendship and non-violence as well as a strong wish for the happiness of others. It not only develops concentration, but the quality of good will and forgiveness which can seriously tip the scales away from the tendency toward being angry or agitated with another being.
Stanford University research suggests that a short seven-minute practice of Metta can increase social connectedness. A study published in the Clinical Psychology Review show that loving-kindness meditation (LKM) and compassion meditation (CM) may reduce stress-induced subjective distress and immune response. Neuroimaging research found that LKM and CM may enhance activation of brain areas that are involved in emotional processing and empathy. Loving-kindness meditation has also been shown to reduce pain and anger in people dealing with chronic physical maladies
Speaking from personal experience, practicing Metta meditation has kept my negative emotions in check, brought on a more positive way of thinking and has increased my overall sense of well-being. Each and every time I have chosen to step outside my comfort zone to help a fellow human or even to just empathize with a friend, colleague or student, I have experienced both personal growth and joy.
More importantly, when I am kind to myself it is much easier to be loving toward others. I have learned to move my ego aside during my asana practice. If a child’s pose feels better than an arm balance, I really try to listen to and honor what my mind and body are in need of at that moment.
In her book, Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi writes that Yoga “can affect deep change only when practiced within a larger context. We shall see that Yoga has less to do with standing on our head than standing on our own two feet and that the physical practices of Yoga remain mechanical gymnastics until transmuted by our intentions to clarify the mind and open the heart.”
Something I practice daily is making deep eye contact with others. Even when I am face-to-face with someone I don’t know, a person in line at the store or maybe a cashier, I look for humanness and it is always easy to see. You’ve heard the adage that the eyes are the window to the soul… It becomes challenging to be annoyed with others when you see they are really just like you. I also try to imagine what it would be like to be in another person’s situation by repeating in my head “what is it like to be her/or him?”
Honestly, it is not always easy being kind and I get derailed pretty regularly. But as Farhi writes, there are “many obstacles and distractions that will undoubtedly rear their heads along the way. These temporary road blocks are predictable and often necessary components of any serious spiritual endeavor. Obstacles offer us an opportunity to rub up against what makes us uncomfortable instead of using our practice as a means of evasion.” She suggests that challenges are not a sign of failure, rather they show us that we are growing and deepening our humanity.
As a yoga teacher, I am constantly scanning the room thinking about the myriad professions and roles of the practitioners in class. Doctors, dancers, athletes, accountants, parents, PhD’s, pharmacists, artists musicians and others. I am see them each as rich souls with multi-dimensional lives. It then feels super easy to offer kindness, respect and compassion
“Remember there is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” - Scott Adams