Looking, seeing and not seeing - do we notice kindness?
How much do you see kindness in your life? And what has Fuji-san (Mt Fuji) got to do with it?
You must know that experience of walking along the street, eyes open, negotiating the traffic and not banging into anything - and yet completely missing seeing someone or something. And then wondering - how on earth could I have missed that?
But it makes sense that we can only take in a little of what we might see, there's just so much - the texture of the pavement, the shoes of the people walking ahead, the ways that people walk, the faces of the people passing by, the colours of their clothes, the styles of their clothing, the shop signs - their fonts, colours and words, the merchandise in the store windows, the road signs, the traffic, the people who are looking down from the buses, the movement of the tree branches, the colour of the sky and patterns of the clouds, the little plants growing in the cracks of the pavement...and so on.
We can't give our full attention to all of it. It passes quickly, leaving only vague impressions, especially if we're off in our thoughts and worries. If you know the route well, you can get there almost without noticing - on automatic pilot. (It can be quite freaky arriving somewhere knowing that your mind was somewhere else the whole way.)
We usually narrow down what we really take in. You'll pay much more careful attention in situations where there's something specific you need to know - if you don't know the route you'll be looking for the things that help you figure out where you're going; if you want to find a particular place you'll be looking carefully for signs or street numbers; if you think the route is dangerous you'll be on alert for signals that convey danger or safety to you, and so on.
Paying attention to kindness:
I'm guessing that you don't spend a lot of time looking for kindness. When something really kind happens, it can grab our attention. And if something really terrible happens, we'll quite likely notice kindness. But otherwise, it's unlikely to be near the top of our list of things that matter to us moment by moment.
So here's a challenge - quite like a Fuji challenge! What do I mean? It might be like trying to see Fuji - but I hope not so elusive.
An explanation - I've visited Japan several times to see a friend in Kamakura, which is on Sagami Bay where there can be good views of Fuji from the coastline. But that's only on clear days and when the weather doesn't create the mist and clouds that hide the mountain. On one visit my first view of Fuji was when I was on the train heading for Narita airport and my departure home, alas. But, like many, I really enjoy the impressive sight. So I was determined, and excited when there was a clear day after an early autumn snowfall. I knew that I might get a good view. And I did. See the image at the beginning.
But my general experience was much more like this:
It had been an effort - it was a clear morning, so I rushed to get to Enoshima (the island in the top photo) and I was standing on the bridge - so I was much closer to Fuji, with almost nothing in the way. Grr - except the rapidly forming haze and cloud cover. Can you see the mountain?
Here's the challenge - to try looking for kindness:
- Is it as elusive as a good view of Fuji?
- What are the conditions when you can find it readily?
- What are the conditions that seem to make kindness difficult to find?
- Where are you most likely to experience it?
- When is it most natural for you to be kind or able to accept kindness?
You might keep a "map" of the kindness you find in your life (like I kept ideas - a "map" - of places I might see Fuji most easily). This could be a mental map, or you could keep notes - probably that's more lasting.
And why look for kindness? Well, if we're not paying attention we may not notice or really take in what's happening for us. If we want to feel better, we need to start with some detective work and uncover:
- can I experience kindness clearly from myself or others or is it clouded by mixed messages?
- will I recognise it when it occurs?
- is there enough kindness in my life?
- does it matter?
You could keep a note of what you find, or make a comment. Where, how and when are you spotting kindness? where is it lacking? what does this mean for you?