health & kindness

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Getting started

 

 

 

Where to begin...

Do you seriously want more kindness in your life?

This question isn't as silly as it sounds.  I doubt you've been going around thinking "I need more kindness in my life."   It's much more likely that you've thought "I want to feel better" - less overwhelmed, less stressed, fitter and healthier, more upbeat and positive, managing time and money more effectively, less fearful about the future...

But - maybe you're curious about this kindness thing - after all you do want to feel better and you've tried so hard to make changes,

or you know that you beat up on yourself a lot and it really hurts,

or you feel quite crushed about your health problems and the way that you are treated because of them,

or you're just so riled up by the awful things happening in the world that you feel stressed out and unable to be positive, let alone kind.

And I'm suggesting that not enough kindness hurts.  Maybe that fits with your experience and is obvious to you, maybe not.

So - how to approach this idea that increasing kindness in our lives will increase our well being - in a do-able way? 

We may not feel as if we're on a rocky shore, but getting started on making any change can seem very daunting. 

Before we begin to embark on anything it helps to check out the territory - how are things for me now?  really?   is something lacking in my life?   does it matter?   Can I get my head around yet another thing?  

If we're experiencing a grumbling discomfort about life or ourselves - feeling tired and fed up, or miserable and lacking in pleasure, or put upon and resentful, or lost as if we don't really know who we are any more - we can be so demoralised it can be hard to say yes, it matters, and I want to find out more.

If we're in pain (and pain doesn't just mean physical hurting - it also includes emotional distress, and hurtful thoughts and behaviours that don't serve us well or kindly) then trying to do something to feel better appeals more.  Our bodies don't like pain and become agitated, giving us a sense of urgency to change things.   But that very desperation undermines us by ramping up our stress levels and decreasing our capacity to learn new things.

A kind approach

Whether we're feeling overloaded and unprepared to try yet another thing, or desperate and wanting things to change yesterday, we might be able to slow down and do just a little bit. 

Research shows big benefits from starting with very small changes ("tiny habits.")  These can be very small bits of time and action - Dr BJ Fogg of Stanford University who has done this work suggests trying something that takes no more than half a minute a day!  You may be able to elbow out a little bit more time than that, but even starting with half a minute can bring about change. 

The approach that I've found most useful is a kind of gentle discovery.  It's like being an open-minded curious scientist/researcher - observing ourselves and our situations, developing understanding and trying out new things - with interest, respect, no judgement or criticism, and a thoughtful caring attitude.  So we are giving attention and noticing, becoming more aware of the patterns of suffering that trouble us and gathering that information about those experiences and our responses.  We then give ourselves time to reflect so that we have more understanding of what happens, so we can try out new ways of thinking and doing things to see how they feel.

It's a circular process:

Discovery - paying attention and increasing our awareness,

Developing understanding - making sense of what we experience,

Doing - practising kindness, testing out the ideas, learning more...      

And repeating them all with an attitude of curiosity, interest, non-judgement, checking things out for ourselves and finding the ways that work best for each of us.  Kindly!   

In order to do this, we strengthen a number of skills - ones that we all have but that may not have been mobilised much in the service of our well being.  And although some bits may be difficult (nonjudgemental attitudes towards ourselves are often in this category) the process of strengthening these skills benefits us in all areas of our lives.  We are worth it!

What can we do?

I am not suggesting a "quick fix".  Increasing kindness in our lives is like a gentle warming up from the cold zone of unhappiness and struggle - taking little steps, uncovering interesting ah-ha's, finding ways of bringing more kindness into our lives - especially around the areas of struggle, and developing a sense of resilience and well being.  And often things can feel much better quite quickly.

You don't have to take my word for it or read up the many studies that support these ideas.  The best way of finding out for yourself is to ask "is that so?" (not in a harsh cynical way, but being genuinely curious and open-minded) and make a little space to try out these kindness ideas.  There will be more and more information and exercises and resources for you to consider and use. 

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Awareness (looking closely)

We need to make space so we can observe what's going on - to focus and pay attention, and discover:

  • is there much kindness in my life?
  • how am I feeling in my body, what are my emotions?
  • what am I thinking, what am I hearing and who am I listening to?
  • what am I saying and doing - to myself and to others? 
  • how does my environment affect me?
  • who are the people I encounter?
  • how are my relationships for me?
  • what are the values and ideas that I am exposed to?
  • do I have the support I need?
  • am I safe?  do I feel safe?
  • what is the impact of the physical environment on me?
  • is there beauty in my life?
  • do I have much contact with nature?
  • what bothers me, what causes distress for me?
  • what happens when I think about trying something new?
  • what happens when I do something differently?
  • what might get in my way?

The challenge is to do this

  • without judgement,
  • with interest and curiosity
  • and no blame, shame or beat-ups. 

In doing it in this way, no matter how inconsistently, we are already practising kindness, in our in our attitude to ourselves of respectful interest.  And by increasing our focus and understanding, we cangenerate more ideas of things we could do to find more kindness.

 

 

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Understanding (seeing the big picture)

As we observe and notice more and more, we get a picture of the place of kindness in our lives.  It can help to see our difficulties in context, that they are part of being human - and that how we are is a big mix of:

  • what we have inherited - our genes
  • the environment we grew up in
  • the experiences that we have had along the way
  • important relationships - helpful or not
  • the "story" - what we have come to believe about ourselves
  • how we see our path in life
  • big bad things happening
  • disruptions over which we have no control
  • our physiological responses
  • how we have learned to manage pain and emotional distress

Making sense of things is not about trying to get to the "truth" about ourselves, or to construct limiting stories about ourselves eg victim, depressive, addict. The insights we develop can be familiar or new. 

It is all about acceptance -

  • yes, there will be aspects of myself that can cause problems
  • I can see clearly and without judgement that that is the case
  • I pretty much knew about it but didn't want to face up
  • now I have a chance of seeing those parts of me with kindness
  • in doing this, I can care for the parts of me that are vulnerable
  • I can learn to manage the distress unkindness might cause myself and others

Understanding helps us to increase the kindness in our lives

 

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Practising (play - a great way to learn)

Can we approach trying out new ways of responding to distress and caring for ourselves?  Can we be gently playful with this - like a curious child?  Can we experiment and test our ideas without getting into ideas about getting it "right" or "wrong" or our efforts being "good" or "bad"?  What really works for us?  What are some delicious new ideas for our well being?

We can:

  • start with small, tentative changes
  • build on what we are already able to do
  • give ourselves time - no rush, not expecting that doing something new will be easy or hard
  • not have unreasonable/unkind goals or expectations
  • practice encouragement as part of any change
  • get help - a buddy to do things with, a coach or mentor, a group or workshop
  • keep a record - writing can be a very useful and effective way of maintaining momentum and it helps us not to forget what we are doing and learning
  • uncover resistance - "blowback" - when we do something new we discover what might be in the way of change
  • get more and more awareness of how we do things

We can aim to be light-hearted in trying out ways of having more kindness in our lives - what we think, do, and say, how we treat ourselves and others.  This is not some heavy demand or goal. 

And we can rely on continuing to use our awareness and understanding to increase our capacity for kindness, opening up our eyes to the relief, energy, creativity and happiness that kindness can bring. 


These are broad outlines - and may stimulate you to go off and try them.  For some of us, that is enough.  For many if not most of us, it helps to have a structure and some guidance and feedback about what we are trying.  I will be adding more detailed ideas about what we might do, with information and inspiration to help you discover what is most important for you on your quest for more kindness.

I will be addressing the expected issues that arise with making any changes - resistance, blowback, finding the road bumpy, undermining by others who resist change in you, our emotional thermostats, dealing with cynicism,  misnaming things as kindness when they are really not, either/or choices, and much more.  This will be in the form of a weekly blog, but I will also be adding resources which you can access when the navigation link appears.