At the beginning of the year I did an 8-week Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course at the Institute for Mindfulness in Cape Town. One of the meditations that I learned at the course was the ‘Lovingkindness meditation’. You will start with evoking feelings of love and kindness towards yourself and then go on to evoke feelings of kindness towards a person whom you love. Later you extend the practice to include people who are known or unknown to you as well as a person who has caused you harm.
Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the MBSR programme and wrote about the benefits of the ‘Lovingkindness meditation’ in his book, “Full Catastrophe Living”. According to him ’the process of uncovering in ourselves deep feelings of empathy, compassion, and love towards others has its own purifying effects on the mind and heart…It can help us to cultivate strong positive emotions within ourselves, and let go of ill will and resentments…When practiced regularly, it can have a remarkable softening effect on the heart. It can help you to be kinder towards yourself and others.’
What I found interesting about the meditation was that it was easier for me to direct feelings of kindness, goodwill and generosity to a person that is closer to me than to myself. It was even easier for me to evoke feelings of forgiveness towards a person who caused me harm than to direct it towards myself. I realised that I did not know how to be kind towards myself. I started to wonder what kindness means to me (other than to treat myself with chocolate when I achieved a goal)?
The dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. These are all qualities that I’ve been taught to extend to others but never learned to cultivate towards myself. I realised that if I want to feel at home within myself I need to learn to be kind to myself.
In the past six months I started drawing up a list of what being kind to me means. The list is not complete but these are the top 10 items on my list. So far kindness towards me is:
1. Listening to my body.
2. To do exercise such as yoga and dancing.
3. Letting go of ‘could have’ or ‘should have’ thoughts.
4. Journaling and doing a spiritual practice daily.
5. Watching a good movie or reading a good book.
6. Getting enough sleep.
7. To open myself to new experiences.
8. Eating healthy food that gives me energy.
9. Surrounding myself with inspirational and creative people.
10. A warm cup of coffee in a cosy coffee shop on a winter’s day or a gelato ice cream on a sunshine day.
I am definitely kinder towards myself than I was at the beginning of this year. But I do realise that in order to maintain the softness I need to consciously practise kindness towards others and myself. What does kindness mean to you?