Each time I see a video go viral on the internet showing simple acts of kindness--a police officer giving a pair of shoes to a homeless person, a man rescuing a dog from a flood, a passerby giving a few coins to a stranger on the street--I realize just how hungry we are for these stories and images of kindness. And I realize also how disconnected from others we are if our idea of "sharing" an act of kindness is to click a button on a social media site.
We have somehow lost our ability to move through the world with an aura of visible compassion, with obvious gestures and words of kindness for others. Why is kindness so difficult for us? Why do we prefer to watch others being kind through the safe distance of our computer screen rather than offer our own hands and hearts to others in need?
I believe that we are suffering, as individuals and as a society, from a lack of inner compassion and wellbeing. We go through the motions of daily existence with barely enough life energy to accomplish our own "to do" lists--there is nothing left over for others we encounter who might need a little help along the way.
Our inner "wells" of kindness and compassion are depleted--and, as the saying goes, "You cannot draw water from an empty well." We are running on empty largely because we have forgotten how to take in and store the love and life-force energy we need in order to overflow with lovingkindness toward others.
The focus then needs to be on how to extend kindness first to ourselves--to fill our own "wells"--so that we have an abundance to share with others. Here are some ways you can restore your own inner supply of love:
1. Spend some quiet time alone each day.
Many of us lead hectic lives with packed schedules and double-booked obligations to others. We spread our time and energy very thin when we try to accomplish everything that we and others expect from ourselves. It is important to build in small spaces of time each day to do nothing--to be alone with your own heart and to listen to your own guidance. These are the still moments when renewal and inspiration can occur, but you must first create and protect the time for solitude in your schedule.
2. Indulge the 5 senses.
During your alone times, you may want to include music, art, food, textures and scents that you find enjoyable. Allowing yourself these small pleasures will remind you that life is filled with beauty that is meant to be shared. Expanding your own storehouse of beautiful experiences will increase the supply from which you draw acts of kindness toward others.
3. Actively focus on self-love.
While we may have been brought up to believe that it is selfish to love ourselves, the reality is that we cannot give to others what we are unable to give to ourselves. Utilize a regular practice of deep breathing and envision love filling your heart-space with each breath. As you focus on bringing more love inside of your own heart, you will gradually increase your own capacity for kindness toward others.
4. Practice forgiveness.
Harboring resentment for events of the past is one of the greatest obstacles to overflowing with love for others. If you are aware of carrying tension and anger inside about some part of your history, you need to learn to forgive. Hanging on to old bitterness exhausts your storehouse of positivity and empties your "well" of lovingkindness. Letting go of all that negative energy will free you up to take in more love and share it freely with others.
5. Laugh every day.
Laughter is an incredible gift of grace that has been bestowed upon humans, but it is under-utilized. Simply laughing every day can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure and improve your sense of wellbeing. Find some cartoons or videos that always make you laugh, learn to see the humor in your day-to-day situations, and engage in laughter with your co-workers and friends whenever it is appropriate. Laughter can "clean out" the old stagnant energy in your inner "well" and make room for new lighthearted joy, love and kindness that will overflow to others.
These are some simple suggestions for opening your heart to more love and allowing it to spread to everyone around you. But simple does not mean ineffective: when you focus your intention on bringing love into your life a profound shift can occur that will change everything in your life.
The path to increasing kindness in our world, where it is desperately needed right now, begins with your own heart. The more you love yourself, just as you are, the more you will extend love to others, without even thinking about it or trying: you will become the well of infinite love that nourishes the entire planet. And that is definitely worth sharing!
When you are filled to the brim with love, consider your first act of kindness--perhaps helping one of the 578,000 people who make up the ranks of the homeless here in the U.S. You can download a "Kindness Counts" handout for a simple way to care for the homeless right here.
About the Author:
(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book "What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying." She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at http://www.karenwyattmd.com.)