Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in weakened broth….
—Naomi Shihab Nye, from Kindness
As we enter the season of kindness, I can find myself lost in a sea of self-imposed obligations, getting into the frenzy of shopping for unwanted gifts out of a sense of obligation or duty. It’s at those times that I try to remember the true spirit of the holiday season: to give and receive not gifts but kindness. It’s a false notion that what we have to give is limited to store-bought gifts. Ask someone who really longs to be heard what would be the greatest gift she could receive. It is not going to be another toaster oven, but rather the gift of our true presence, our true self, without trying to save, fix or advise.
This season, resist the impulse to hoard the good stuff for yourself or your friends or to save something good for a later time. There is no better time to show kindness that right now, in this conversation, at this moment. There are many models of this kind of self-giving. Consider people in your own neighborhoods, and closer still people in your own home as role models of kindness. Kindness is contagious, and the science of the brain makes clear that acts of kindness toward ourself and others actually creates new neural pathways in the brain, and being kind feels good.
Try these kindness practices:
- Really give your full attention to the conversation you have with a stranger or a friend.
- Invite a friend you have not seen in awhile for a walk.
- Check in on an elderly neighbor.
Notice how you feel before, during and after these practices.