Letting Kindness be my guide

I was lying on my bodyworker’s table this morning when I had an insight. I’ve been reading this book, and am constantly appreciative of having recently read this one (I am determined to read everything by John Holt since finishing it). Given that I’m often talking to people about their bodies and helping them to find support that works for them with respect to their bodies, I frequently find myself describing the sort of body work that I find most helpful. As my body was doing its thing with helping hands, I realized the common thread that runs through so much of what I attempt to give and am grateful for receiving: kindness. (I could also have written non-violence but I figured best to set forward on a positive note, and so kindness will lead us forward.)

Thanks to reading this book, I’ve been mulling over our combative interactions with the rest of the natural world. I found myself surrounded by nature this weekend which did a lot for keeping the thoughts rolling. Imagining a way of living in this world that is in union with nature rather than in combat with nature is a challenging prospect for me – I am a city mouse who has always fantasized about the country, but most of my time thus far has been under the city lights. Amidst these musings I was struck with the realization of how we live in combat with ourselves too, which I suppose shouldn’t have really been such a thunderbolt since we are part of the natural world. We just seem to think that we aren’t, and because that erroneous assumption is probably my basic framework for considering our place on the planet, I’m ashamed of it.

This gives me the idea that we would have to usher in a different sort of communal approach to our “intra-special” interactions if we are to have even a hope of changing our relationship with the rest of the natural world for the better. In the past few days I’ve been presented with a few opportunities for considering the important potential of kindness, and the common theme amongst these is bearing witness.

Faber and Mazlish describe over and over in their book the power of an attentive and caring witness to the process of addressing our feelings. They encourage us to go beyond the knee jerk reaction of offering solutions to others’ “problems” which I feel necessitates our resisting the tendency to analyze as listeners. To be in conversation and be able to sit in the unknown is the approach that facilitates bearing witness. From that place of unknown so many amazing and surprising possibilities are there for us. With a sense of wonder we can see what others are capable of accomplishing, and I always feel more inclined toward kindness when I’m reveling in the wonder of life.

Bearing witness is what I’ve come to understand as the underlying principle behind all the body work modalities that I prefer. Rather than imposing relaxation upon some area of my body with a lot of forceful effort from the practitioner and a lot of discomfort for me, I prefer the sort of work where the practitioner bears witness through compassionate and knowing touch. It is amazing to sense my body’s self healing with that sort of facilitation. The effects are far more lasting and profound. When I’ve been treated with kindness, it is much easier for me to go out into the world and extend that kindness forward toward others.

From what I’ve read of John Holt so far, I feel that the foundation for his work is in a deep and abiding respect for humans, expressed in his relations with children. It bears clarifying that having respect for others is the same as having respect for oneself. The two can not truly be separated without some sort of serious fracture. Through my work in psychotherapy I’ve come to understand having respect as a form of bearing witness. If we can bear witness to ourselves, we can bear witness to others. Holt bore witness to children and came to learn much about our human ways. Given our tendencies toward combat and violence, I feel that Holt’s work is very important in that it reminds us of ourselves. He gives us the information to bolster our efforts be guided by kindness.

All this leads me to envision circles of kindness in our world. Kindness toward all other species, kindness within our own species. I imagine that so much of what we abhor would be swiftly eliminated if kindness were our guide. After writing that, I feel the need to support the statement because it is the sort that generally would elicit cynical criticism. My quick defense (because I’ve really got to start cooking dinner) is that what I’m suggesting hasn’t been tried, so we don’t really know what would happen. And if one is to sit just with the possibility, rather than considering the how, I’m pretty sure that kindness would win. Because who can turn down kindness?

It is not difficult to find examples of ourselves being contrary to this notion of kindness. I reserve the right to mention those another day, when I’m really desperate to reconnect to the idea of kindness. Then again, perhaps it’s best to make a space for kindness. You know kindness, give it an inch, it’ll take a mile. Wouldn’t that be an inch worth giving?

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