Learning Kindness – by Sarah Dunning

I have always been deeply impressed by the kindness of others. There’s something delightfully confident about the person who exhibits kindness “just because”. We can have a cup half full or half empty. The generous person, through his actions is saying, “another tray of cups is coming.”

I’m pretty sure my best friend and I first bonded because when lunchtime swung around she’d always agree to swap her homemade sushi for my sandwiches. To my younger self this was the highest level of kindness. She made no big deal of these trades, which added to the brilliance of her in my mind. Let’s face it: homemade sushi is a big deal. Fast-forward 20 years, and she still models a level of kindness to which I continually aspire. Watching her thoughtfulness of others has had a big impact on how I view human connection. If one wants to improve in a skill, surround yourself with people who exhibit it to a higher degree. And so I do.

Among my other relationships I see this pattern repeatedly. A friend who sends me hand-written letters and always remembers a card on my birthday, the neighbour who invites me over to pick the mandarins off her tree when it’s citrus season, the yoga teacher who lights up with smiles when I enter the studio door. These people add so much joy to my days by their acts of graciousness. They don’t have to do any of these things but precisely because they do, life feels exceptionally good in their presence. They matter to me and I feel a sense of well being because of them. In fact, this is how I’ve learnt kindness. Monkey see; monkey do.

I might not have started where I wanted to be, but by watching those around me, it is a trait that I’ve become more adept at. Kindness requires a degree of thoughtfulness. That follow-up email to a friend asking how their job interview went; the fresh baked treats for the neighbour because her trees don’t grow oatmeal-raisin cookies, so she probably needs some; lighting up with smiles when people come to the yoga class that I teach.

Kindness can be cultivated like any skill, and a daily practice shows quick progress.

Here are some of the things about kindness I’ve learnt so far:

It takes awareness.

It takes presence.

It takes trying in the first place.

It looks a lot like a yoga practice in how you approach it.

We can all nod our heads and say that kindness is a wonderful trait. My question becomes how do we add it to our own practice on and off the mat, and can we notice the things that get in the way of our good intentions? To paraphrase an earlier sentiment, can we agree that yoga is more than asana practice? And then, how to use the asana practice (and perhaps some other limbs of yoga) to become more kind?

I’ve found that kindness happens more easily when the foundation of other things is in place. I could say that this is practicing ahimsa, or “do no harm”, to my self. When there’s a sense of enough time – to listen to the person in the line at the supermarket tell you about their cat, to ask the barista how they are doing today and really mean it. Kindness in some part comes from feeling on top of things, which in fact means paying attention to how harried or balanced my world is, i.e., kindness is an extension of how the cup runneth over.

I’d like to say that I’m skipping through the universe with daisy chains all day and leaving flowers wherever I go (#LifeGoals), but the reality is I’m just doing my best, as are you. What I do know is that by being aware of acts of kindness around me, my reciprocation improves too.

Kindness acts like a Rube-Goldberg machine, and it doesn’t matter if the efficiency of transfer falls short of 100 percent. My inner hippie can hope that all those I hug at the end of yoga class then pass on hugs and warm smiles to the rest of the town. It matters that we start and that we try. It matters only that in some way, somehow, there might be a domino effect, and those people feel it and share some kindness too. And in a parallel world somewhere, someone swaps their sushi for their friend’s sandwich lunch just because they can and they’re feeling kind.

Sarah is a 300 hour certified yoga teacher. Born and raised in New Zealand, she spent significant portions of her life abroad, acquiring funny accents and learning wonderful lessons from those around her. You can find her teaching in a studio around Auckland (sometimes further away and over water) or else she’s marvelling at the fact the beach is just “right there.” Really… it’s so close.

© The Yoga Connection 2016

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