Late in his life the famed Russian author Leo Tolstoy began compiling a book titled A Calendar of Wisdom. Subtitled Wise Thoughts for Every Day, it contained a series of quotes and insights that might be looked at as rules to live by.
They included pearls like, “When joy disappears, look for your mistake,” and “Instead of saving humanity, every person should save himself.” But as pointed out by Maria Popova in Brain Pickings, many of these insights had to do with kindness. For instance, Tolstoy writes:
The kinder and the more thoughtful a person is, the more kindness he can find in other people. Kindness enriches our life…and is for your soul as health is for your body.
Tolstoy believed that we live our best, most fruitful life when we are able to sacrifice our own narrow self-interests for the benefit of others, saying that this is the essence of true love. In his words:
Only when a person forgets himself for the sake of another, and lives for another creature, only this kind of love can be called true love, and only in this love do we see the blessing and reward of life. Nothing can make your life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.
“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”
The above sentiment comes from Lincoln in the Bardo author George Saunders who goes on to point out that “it is a regret we all have from time to time.” How true. Who hasn’t come out of an uneasy encounter with a store clerk, a co-worker or loved one and thought, hmmm, I could have handled that a little better!
So how do we shift our mindset into what Tolstoy calls “perpetual kindness,” a place where being kind to others becomes our second nature? Richard Rohr has some ideas. Rohr is a spiritual author, Franciscan friar and the head of the Center for Action and Contemplation. He puts out a weekly newsletter and in a recent edition the topic was the practice of “loving kindness,” a major component of which is compassion. Rohr writes that in Buddhism:
Compassion includes a willingness to identify so fully with someone that you would be willing to carry a little of their suffering. It is a quality that increases with practice and use. If you don’t choose daily and deliberately to practice loving kindness, it is unlikely that a year from now you will be any more loving.
Rohr tells us that the qualities of compassion and kindness are limitless, because they are already abundantly within you. There’s no place to go and find compassion and kindness, no book to read. They are part of our inherent nature and just need to be brought to the forefront.
He recommends that we use a practice for growing loving kindness that was created by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön and that we should “set aside a quiet period to go through these simple steps with intention and openness.” The steps appear verbatim below:
7 Steps to Being More Kind
- Recognize the place of loving kindness inside yourself. It is there. Honor it, awaken it, and actively draw upon it.
- Drawing upon the source of loving kindness within, bring to mind someone for whom you feel sincere goodwill and tenderness, someone you love very much. From your source, send loving kindness toward this person and bless them.
- Awaken loving kindness for someone who is a casual friend or associate—someone not in your inner circle, but a bit further removed, someone you admire or appreciate. Send love to that individual.
- Now send loving kindness to someone about whom you feel neutral or indifferent—for example, a waiter who served you dinner. Send your blessing to this person.
- Think of someone who has hurt you, who has talked evil of you, whom you find it difficult to like or you don’t enjoy being around. Bless them; send this would-be enemy your love.
- Bring all of the first five individuals into the stream of flowing love, including yourself. Hold them here for a few moments.
- Finally, extend this love to embrace all beings in the universe. It is one piece of love, one love toward all, regardless of religion, race, culture, or likability.
Of course, merely reading these steps will do little to help your sense of compassion and kindness. You must practice them. If time allows, go back to the top of the list and conjure up the appropriate person for each step. When complete, you may find you feel a little better about the people world around you. Rohr closes with one additional reminder:
Remember, spiritual gifts increase with use. Love, compassion, kindness and joy will grow as you let them flow. You are simply an instrument, a conduit for the inflow and outflow of the gifts of the Spirit.