I was sitting in the park this morning in the big arms of an old oak tree. You could say that we are good friends. She’s a lot older than me. I’ve never been so bold as to ask her age but judging by her grandness and her quiet steadfastness, I would say she’s well over a hundred. In my humble opinion that’s worth leaning in to. She never says much and yet from the high tip of her branches and the equal depth of her complex root systems she is never quiet. If I listen in I can almost hear her breathing. As I approach, no matter the season, or time of day, she seems to communicate one thing, “Sit a while and listen.” And like a loyal subject, I always obey.
Today she gave me the word kindness. Not exactly something I am unfamiliar with. But she asked me to listen to the height, depth and scope of this ordinary concept. I was musing over the simplicity of kindness when I suddenly heard a father negotiating with his young toddler: “If you don’t share your toys then Father Christmas won’t give you any more. You’ll have nothing but a bag of potatoes. You have to share and be kind.”
Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, he’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice.
I laughed remembering my own father saying something similar fifty-odd years ago. ‘Teaching kindness is still alive!’, I thought. And kudos for the leverage – it’s mid-March and dad has still got negotiating power from Christmas. I felt into the memory of being good to get my presents. The end of November and December were the months of asking if I’d been naughty or nice?
The oak tree shook in the wind and a few crisp leaves fell into my lap. She gave and I received. The leaves drying. Their unique skeletons appearing through the translucent skin. Each year the same cycle: the same offering after the acorns lay scattered all around. I pushed my back into her and I think we both sighed as loud as each other.
I thought about Father Christmas with a big kindness calculator. A pseudo-omniscient God adding and subtracting our naughty and nice equations. As a child, I was certainly on my best behaviour when I imagined him pressing the big equal symbol and waiting for the final result and depending on the figure, the ratio of presents I’d get. I guess we were both keeping track of my acts of kindness and ways of being ‘nice’. It kept me on track. It gave me an awareness of my behaviour. It might not have been the most altruistic of motives but hey, I was a kid.
I picked up an acorn still in its little cup and I imagined the squirrels filling their big cheeks. Gorging in the now and storing for the Winter. The oak tree looked blithely on, I imagine she looks out to sea. Was she happy to feed the squirrels? Happy to see one of these acorns take root nearby and keep her company? I felt she wasn’t preoccupied with her DNA disposition but rather is absorbed in the presence and magnificent mystery of her glorious life.
I thought about designing an App where I could easily count my acts of kindness _ really examine and keep a track of how I was bringing more love into the world. How I was truly taking the feeling of love, that intangible warm glow, and transmuting it into quantifiable acts of kindness. An acorn fell on my head and with it came a clear thought, “The first act of kindness should be self-kindness.” And this felt both true and also a little incongruous to what I had been taught was kindness: always benevolent and always for the other. I picked the acorn up and it separated from its cup. I held the cup in one hand and the weighty-potential of that little acorn in the other. Another simple thought arrived, “Always give from a full cup. Fill your own cup with love and passions so that it overflows and as you celebrate your life you will naturally want to share the surplus and abundance just for the sheer joy and gift of giving.”
The leaf of every tree brings message from the unseen world. Look, every falling leaf is a blessing. – Rumi
It felt completely true for me and yet I felt all my conditioning lead down a path of superimposed guilt at being kind to myself. I thought about the actual times in my life when I felt in flow, in abundance, content with my lot, at peace with the good, the bad and the ugly and how that had facilitated more connection and welcomed collaboration with the world. I recounted the times when I felt disgruntled, full of complaint and deficient and that led me to isolation and withdrawing from the world – a contracted and, in some ways, unkind state of mind and being.
I can trace those periods in my life when there was generosity of spirit, in both thought and deed and I could see clearly how it was a fertile and rewarding time. I knew my reflections were true: kindness begets kindness. I made a commitment to write down and explore my relationship with kindness.
1) Self-kindness. Ensure my needs are met in nourishment for good health, for emotional satisfaction and connection. To also pursue healthy mental stimulation and interesting discourse. And to always receive any incoming kindness with grace and enthusiasm.
2) Practice at least once a day being kind to my friends and family. A call, a visit, cook something, send a text pertinent to them and where they are at in life. Track them and their internal landscapes (make notes if necessary). Reflect back that I see, hear and care for them.
3) Practice at least once a day being kind to strangers. Be extra kind to people in service industries no matter their current disposition. Smile often. Say hello more. Stop and compliment a garden and the old couple working it. Ask the shop assistant how their day is going and wish them a wonderful evening etc.
In doing this I feel both connected to myself and to the world. It feels like I am in right relationship with the humanity of myself and others. The humanity of oneness that bleeds into the oneness of the entire planet. The focus on what is wrong with the world shifts to all that is right in the world. Trust and hope and faith swell in my heart. Perhaps nothing changes on the outside, the circle of life continues and the big wheel keeps on turning but my inner landscape is an enchanted meadow, with buttercups, daisies, bluebirds and the glorious shade and safety of an old oak tree.
What is your relationship with kindness? How do you measure and maintain your commitment to bring more love into the world? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Steer your focus to all that is good in the world. Feed your soul with the nourishment of kindness.
Have the most wonderful day.
Paul and Team UPLIFT