Kidness

Much needed today and always.

“Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

 

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Kindness and Saying “No More”

Early this morning, I read the poem, Kindness, and it cracked my troubled heart open. I wept. It is an unflinching and powerful poem that doesn’t look away from suffering. The kindness the author Naomi Shihab Nye advocates doesn’t preclude standing up and saying, “no more, this has to stop.” Dr. Martin Luther King, said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” His advocacy of love and non violence in the face of hatred never stopped him from protesting, speaking out and doing everything in his power to end oppression and racism.

Kindness allows my heart to break open and stay present in the midst of otherwise unbearable suffering. It allows me to touch the center of my own pain and the pain of the world, no matter how difficult, to not give up, to not turn away.

Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Presence, Vulnerability and the Wise Heart

I gave this dharma talk shortly after finding out that a long time friend had died accidentally. I explore how cultivating presence and vulnerability, even in such difficult times, will open the door to the wise heart that knows the way to compassion and kindness for self and others.

Kindness and Compassion Daylong Retreat

Saturday, December 6, 2014, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Nashville Friends House
sunrisemaryhelen

During the busyness and outward focus that often accompany the holidays, this daylong retreat will offer a quiet time to slow down, connect with our bodies and extend kindness and compassion to ourselves and others. Slowly, in the simplicity and silence of the day, we will learn to let go of distractions and touch our experience with a kind and open heart.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, this silent retreat is suitable for newer and more experienced meditators. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, practice instructions and dharma talk.

Retreat fee is $50. A reduced fee spot is available, please inquire to the email below. Paypal is here. If paying by check, make it out to One Dharma Nashville. There will be a separate opportunity at the retreat to make a dana offering (donation) to the teacher.
For questions, contact onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

Bridging the Gap: When Compassion Starts Here

As with many spiritual traditions, Buddhism emphasizes cultivating compassion as vital to a spiritual life. Most of us want to be compassionate at heart yet at times we may struggle to manifest it skillfully in daily life. What happens when we see a homeless person on an empty street and we recoil rather than feeling a warm prod to reach out and help? Maybe a family member needs our support but we’ve had a long history of conflicts and misunderstandings and we struggle to extend a hand. Perhaps a co-worker who always seems aloof or combative has a tragic loss. Instead of feeling a sense of caring and interconnection with their suffering, we feel neutral, detached.

At times like these our response to misfortune and suffering is misaligned with our ideals. When we see this gap, we may feel even more separate. This can easily turn into self judgment and criticism: “I’m not a very compassionate person;” “I don’t have the courage to help;” or even, “that person doesn’t deserve kindness.”

When our response doesn’t conform to our ideals, it helps to remember that compassion won’t blossom until we accept our immediate reaction. This is the gap—when our response and our ideals are out of sync. Instead of identifying only with our ideals, or judging ourselves for an unwanted response, we can learn to stay in the gap, the open place where we can experience our fear, our hurt or our frustration when our desire to help goes nowhere. This is where compassion begins. Returning to this place, our bodies, our hearts, what is truly arising at this moment?

If you’re walking down the street and encounter a homeless person, can you see the moment aversion arises and just experience it? It may not happen immediately, but once you’re aware of it, take a few breaths and stay in the midst of your experience. As you learn to do this, your conditioned response will begin to diminish, even dismantle. The contraction of fear will soften, the sense of separation, born of that fear, will also dissolve. As we lose identification with ourselves as a separate entity, we experience the homeless person’s suffering directly. We know its not different from our own, just another flavor made manifest. Maybe there’s nothing we can do in that moment to help. Sometimes the correct response is to distance ourselves if the situation seems unstable. But if there’s no immediate threat, perhaps simply a smile, an acknowledgement that we actually see this human being, is the kindest response. Longer term, we may seek out concrete ways to help if we feel moved in this direction.

The roots of suffering run deep. As we learn to stay in the gap, not turning away from our fear or aversion, a skillful and compassionate response is closer at hand. As Ajahn Chah puts it, “There are two kinds of suffering. There is the suffering you run away from, which follows you everywhere. And there is the suffering you face directly, and so become free.”