For the first week of May I attended a retreat at IMS (Insight Meditation Society), which is located about two hours outside of Boston in Barre Massachusetts. The retreat was titled, “Mindfulness, Kindness and Discovery” and it was lead by teachers Michael Grady, Susan O’Brien, and assistant Sara Schedler. After I returned to Omaha I felt strongly that kindness was the subject I wanted to highlight in the May 2015 edition of the MOI Newsletter.
Kindness is the generous expression of an open and free heart that isn’t dependent upon conditions or the fulfillment of expectations. We can discover the freedom to embody a kindness that is universal, omitting no one, and inclusive even towards our most challenging interactions.
The power of kindness is not just a quality to admire in the noble exemplars of our lives. Kindness can be practiced and developed within ourselves. Kindness truly is a superpower and as we develop our capacity for kindness we relationally begin to heal, to forgive, and to remember that holding on to the burdens of a hardened heart impedes our ability to live fully.
When we’re faced with hurt feelings and resentments the idea of being kind can seem like a lofty goal. Pretensions of kindness only lead us to a niceness that is shallow and more concerned with self-protection than with acceptance. This type of “nice,” in contrast to kindness, invests in being polite for the sake of social inclusion, approval, and validation.
So how do we develop genuine Kindness? We can evoke feelings of lovingkindness and friendliness towards ourselves and others by practicing metta and compassion meditation. The transformational power of these practices allows us to gently turn towards our suffering and others.
Metta is generosity of the heart that wishes happiness to all beings, both oneself and others. The feeling of lovingkindness expresses the simple wish of goodwill, such as “May you be well.” When we cultivate metta we experience a less reactive, more understanding quality of mind. The practice of lovingkindness unties the hard knots of resentments, illuminates the mind, and softens the heart to greater joy and love.
Compassion as a meditative practice is the loving expression of heart that recognizes suffering, in oneself and others, and wishes to alleviate it. When we enact compassion we express wise action that moves skillfully to meet suffering with understanding and kindness. Compassion enables us to see the suffering in the world while Metta provides us with the wisdom to know how to respond.
What are the feelings that hinder your own ability to be kind? Can you take a moment now to reflect on how it feels to carry burdens of being disappointed, mistreated, diminished, and discriminated against? Be gentle and understanding with yourself as you look to your own suffering, practicing self-compassion, “May I hold this experience with kindness and care.”
As you explore your experience, can you make room to simply be with what you’re feeling? Trust the inherent strength of your heart and express metta to the challenging obstacles to your freedom, “May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live your life with ease.” When we can lay down the hurts we’ve identified with we find our superpower. The healing power of kindness is needed. Those who have it are healing heroes.
To practice Metta (lovingkindness), follow this link to OnBeing’s segment with Sylvia Boorstein as she guides an audience through a simple lovingkindness exercise. For a deeper introduction to the practice visit Jack Kornfield’s website. If you would like to investigate metta and compassion practice in a more personal, supportive setting MOI welcomes you to join the meditation classes we have available.
By Johnathan Woodside
MOI Founder, Guiding Teacher, and Executive Director