For me, kindness is a practice.
I can have a sharp tongue and an aggressive demeanor and, frankly, when feeling insecure or overly emotional, it's often unfortunately easy to lash out at others rather than take a good, solid look at myself.
When the world surrounding me, and my own special, tiny family, feels unusually harsh, and it seems there are so many terrible things happening that I can do little to tangibly help with, I turn to a slogan that was popular on bumper stickers when I was growing up. (And the older I get, the more I see its relevancy.)
I think globally, and act locally.
I create a better world by making my small world better.
When, expansively, we all crave more love and kindness and general softening, I ask myself how I can transplant these ideals back into the world, from where they already sit inside of my own, individual heart. Over and over again, I find that I can spread these qualities that I desperately want to see exist, for my children and their potential children, by starting with the family cuddled around me as I write this.
Because how we impact the people within our own small orbit--on our own small islands in this world--is a concrete way that I can make a change. I can change the world by changing my daily interactions.
So I do these 8 things:
When I find myself speaking too firmly at someone who doesn't deserve it, I apologize.
I don't apologize when I don't need to, and I'm not a thoughtless I'm sorrier, but I do believe in apologies.
2. Practice yoga.
Practicing yoga won't feed hungry children or bring world peace, but every single time I step onto my mat, I step off of it, after even the shortest, 20-minute practice, feeling softer and more generous, both with myself and with others.
I am reborn every time I practice, so I practice yoga on most days.
Music is powerful. As I sit here writing this, my husband and two daughters are listening to music and dancing, singing and laughing.
Singing--regardless of how we sound--is absolutely a powerful way to both heal and find joy.
Food is comfort. I've written extensively on my battle with an eating disorder, and I do not mean to undermine the intense connections between food and emotions, but I will offer up this: food tastes good because it's meant to be enjoyed. It's also best when shared.
Some days, I feel lonely or grumpy or insert any negative, brooding feeling, and my husband comes home from work and we start cooking. We start chopping and sauteing, and we talk as we move through our dinner making, and the world--or my own little section of it--seems so much lighter, easier and more tranquil.
5. Slow down.
When the world and my own head seem to be spinning at a rate that I can't keep up with, I stop. Sometimes, I literally just sit down on the floor.
My children's reaction when I do this is priceless. They love it. They climb into my lap, or they run up to me and grab my face and kiss it.
Sometimes, slowing down means that I drop things on my to-do list for that day. I realize I cannot accomplish all that I set out to do, so I start with the most necessary tasks and drop the rest. Ironically, when I relieve myself of this pressure, my mind clears, my body relaxes and I get more done.
6. Look at the moon.
My daughter has recently discovered the awe of rising in the morning to a still visible, lingering image of the moon in the sky.
At night, too, with the darkness drawing sooner as winter dawns, she's taken to animatedly pointing out the moon as soon as it appears.
Looking up at the moon reminds me to feel grateful for the day that preceded it--to find genuine thankfulness where I can, and not a made-up, phony sense of happiness. My life and I are not perfect, but some parts--many parts--are truly wondrous.
Thank you, moon, for this reminder.
When I smile, it almost feels as if my heart has adjoining corners that tilt upward along with the edges of my lips. The simplest smile given randomly makes me feel so much happier.
I'm not suggesting we all walk around like Stepford Wives with fake smiles plastered on, but, hey, sometimes you fake it before you make it.
8. Look outside of myself.
Being introspective is wonderful--necessary, actually, if we want to better ourselves and, by default, our world--but there does come a point where it can become self-absorbed.
When I feel stuck on an emotion or situation, instead of over-analyzing it, I become an observer.
I force myself to pay attention, for example, to the way a single leaf looks as it's suspended from a near-empty branch. I fully take in the sound of my daughter's voice as she reads a book. I watch my baby discover how the light hits her fingertips and then becomes a shadow on the cream-colored carpet.
In short, I fall in love with the world, and my people on it, all over again each day by practicing mindfulness and staying present in my life.
Sometimes, all we can do is take it minute by minute and stop thinking so far ahead. The easiest way I've found to do this is to pay better attention to the people and scenery I admire.
And, no, I won't change the world by making butternut squash soup for dinner, practicing yoga after breakfast, or playing with my family. However--just maybe!--the ripple effect from creating a personal wake of kindness and generosity will make its way out to another family, and then another, and then another.
A stranger smiled at me yesterday when I was feeling frustrated while shopping with my two children. After, my shoulders dropped, my face softened and my voice became gentler as I spoke with my daughters.
A stranger's smile extended to me an invitation to find kindness during my everyday difficulty--and I accepted it, gratefully.