Unconditional kindness… Tales from times of uncertainty #4

This has turned into a long piece… I do get there eventually! To the theme of this blog, the inspiration.

If you want you can skip down (about 2 thirds) to where I find my way back to unconditional kindness. I thought of making it two separate blogs but I like this blog as it is written and will leave it up to each reader’s own discernment whether to read it all, skim it or jump to the end. Or not read it at all. I am resisting the urge to follow mainstream guidance on how to ‘grow your audience’ by keeping blogs at max 800 words. Because I trust that each reader can and will do what works for them.

I have also made an audio recording of this blog which is available here – you may have to sign up to anchor to access it though. Apologies if that is the case, I am still trying to figure out the podcast side of things…


Difficult days

I’ve had some really good days recently. Even a couple of days in a row where I felt pretty alright and managed to do enough to feel engaged in life and be enough to feel at ease in myself.

Today is not a good day. I am counting my blessings but I also try to honour how awful I feel physically and how vulnerable I feel emotionally. Tune in and make sensible adjustments to my plans for the day.

I am sitting outside and feeling the sun on my back and neck. The neighbours are playing music and luckily I am onboard with their choices so nearly feel like singing along. I love our front garden which we recreated ourselves a couple of years ago. It pretty much takes care of itself and it’s got a lovely mix of spring flowers coming out of the ground and blooming at unbelievable speed at the moment.

Whenever I have a crap day I could weep with relief that my life is stable and flexible enough for me to not have money worries or feel overwhelmed with personal or work responsibilities. This is partly down to me and the choices I have made over the past 20 years but it is also down to life/fate/destiny.

I do not believe that we are in control of life – I have seen too much injustice and ‘misfortune’. I do not believe that you can do anything you want in life if you just dream big, work hard and think positive thoughts… I do not believe in a individualistic, goal oriented approach to life. I do not believe in a life lived in fear of being forgotten when you die or of missing out in some way.

Life. Nature. Humans.

Life is nature. And nature is the single most amazing, powerful and magical force that makes everything happen. Everything. It is SO beyond us puny little humans; we are deeply embroiled in it and yet we fight so hard to be above it and in control of it. Most of us have been raised within cultures that have a prejudice against nature – a deep belief that it is there to do our bidding. That life and nature are our servants and our stepping stones to make us feel good and achieve so-called success.

There is a lot of rhetoric around about have we have ‘mastered’ natured or that we are at war with nature. And indeed we have cultivated and manipulated nature for thousands of years, probably even longer. And definitely for so long that we have forgotten our vulnerability and powerlessness in the face of nature’s ways. So when we are confronted with it we are outraged and cowered at the same time.

Life and nature is not about us. We are not the most important thing in the universe or on this planet. Nothing is… Everything is part of a dance, organisms intertwining and coexisting, living off each other, killing each other, cycling, spiralling, transforming and nothing is more important, more entitled than something else…

We are just organisms in this dance and most of the time we are powerless to control life within us and around us.

out of control and disconnected

Powerlessness is terrifying. As babies we are completely dependent on how attuned our surroundings are to us and our needs. We will have powerful physical and emotional experiences of hunger, pain, restlessness, exhaustion, fear and excitement and they will arrive as tsunami like waves crashing down on our tiny bodies and we will need help to regulate our systems to navigate or ease what is happening to us. We are in a constant state of co-regulating and if our immediate surroundings are not supporting us in this, not in tune with us – our little bodies and minds – we are caught in sensory storm on our own.

No parent or adult can be everything all the time for a baby. So I believe we all carry with us deeply imprinted experiences of powerlessness and loneliness and that these shape us to a much higher degree than we realise. We make decisions and behave in ways that help us avoid feeling like that again. Our life could become a dance of avoidance.

We struggle to trust that we are interdependent beings because our experience of being separate and alone was so intense. We tell each other stories about heroes on their individual journeys achieving their goals, slaying the dragons, saving the kingdom and winning the price. We talk about role models who have ‘singlehandedly’ changed the ‘course of history’. And we are keen to believe that this is what is in store for us in our loneliness. That the individual journey is all that matters, that we create our own fortune and that being alone ultimately brings us happiness. That it is not what our body remembers as overwhelmingly distressing and impossible to deal with. Our lives could become a dance of proving our bodies wrong, punishing it for reminding us of how painful it can be to be human.

We can acknowledge and deeply feel our powerlessness and still have agency. They are not mutually exclusive. We can acknowledge and deeply feel our separateness while also experiencing how interdependent we truly are.

Making conscious choices is hard

I believe we, as humans, are at the mercy of life and nature..

But I also believe there are choices we can make that can shape us and the path we walk.

Those choices are about the here and now. How do I choose to navigate this moment, and this moment, and this moment.

Sometimes life is too much and we dont get to choose. Autopilot kicks in or we go in to survival mode and our less conscious mind and patterns dictate our responses, words and actions. This is okay. Its natural and understandable. Always. We are complex organisms engaged in multiple simultaneous dances of nature – not mechanical instruments controlled by willpower.

Making conscious choices about how to navigate the here and now is hard. Really hard! Especially in the kind of culture and society I am part of where speed, efficiency, appearances and productivity at highly valued. To stop, feel and think almost feels like a radical act. Some people say it gets easier with practice and that is why meditation and mindfulness is a daily aim. I don’t know about this… I know that a rigid, self-discipline driven practice is not for me and also there are just so many possible situations and scenarios that I couldn’t practice enough to ever feel able to navigate in a conscious way.

To make conscious choices about how I can best navigate the here and now I lean heavily on my core values.

One of those are that dualism is a construct, imposed and reinforced by language. There is no oppositional difference between right and wrong, black and white, day and night, woman and man, up and down, in and out, good and evil, victim and perpetrator and so on. There are differences but they are not in opposition to each other, they exists as part of a spectrum and a lot of the time these things that we perceive as fundamentally different have more things that overlap than things that separate them. And they are deeply dependent on each other even if we choose to see them as opposites.

Another value I hold strongly is unconditional kindness. It is tied into my belief that dualism is a construct, because if nothing is either right or wrong then where we offer kindness cannot be reliant on our preferences for what we perceive as good or deserving.

Kindness for everyone?

Social media has brought us the possibility of practicing public shaming without inhibition- but rather than some authority deciding which offender sits in the pillory, now anyone who has internet access and the skill to use social media can create a pillory and put someone there for everyone else to throw rotten fruit at.

This is very anxiety provoking for me. Not because I feel like I have loads of things I deserve punishment for but because I have always felt on the edges of what is considered socially acceptable and normal. Even writing this my body starts shaking. This is okay and it is useful. It tells me about passions I have and emotions I feel, while I am sitting here trying to articulate something difficult.

I want to say a bit more about my belief around unconditional kindness. First of all it is a value I hold while acknowledging it is an ideal and not something easy to apply when in the throws of daily life dramas. Kindness is universal but I have many associations to Christian beliefs and values when I hear the word kindness. ‘The good samaritan’, ‘turning the other cheek’, ‘be kind and compassionate to one another’, ‘do to others(..)’, the idea of jesus as kindness in action etc

Kindness to me is the practice of least harm. No harm is impossible – we do not know the full consequences of any action and in a world full of diversity what feels good to one person will feel hurtful to someone else. However, there are guiding principles for doing the least harm which we can try and follow – and then keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best (acknowledging our powerlessness and agency at once).

Where I live we have a lot of big signs saying ‘KINDNESS’. They are put there by some groups within of our community and I quite like it. However they do not represent our local community as a whole – there are people who find them offensive, uncalled for and just plain silly. And I guess they have a point too. Can kindness work when one part of the community imposes a ‘kindness policy’ on everyone?

This is where unconditional kindness comes in for me. Not as something I want everyone else to practice but as something that helps me deal with tensions around me and the impact these have on my body and mind. It could probably sound pretty horrible to a lot of people – just like the concept of forgiveness can create a lot of strong emotions.

I find unconditional kindness helpful to myself because it is kindness practiced without expectations and without discernment… It is something I do for me first and for me as inseparable from the world second. I can approach everything within me and around me with the intention of being present, observant, thoughtful and of doing least harm. I can do this without expecting anything in return. And when I do this I find freedom.

An intense, humbling and annihilating sense of freedom.

I am separate and intertwined at the same time. I am free to respond the way I feel is most appropriate while also experiencing how important the response back from my surrounding is for my existence. This is maddening, scary and wonderful.

Real life challenges to being kind

There are some posts going around in our local facebook groups about a man being rude to a woman working in a shop who requested him to put on a masks. The rudeness was so intense that the woman ended up in tears. This incident was written about and the man is now being publicly shamed. So far without being named.

There are expressions of support for the woman, support for the shop and their way of doing things as well as comments about how some people are exempt from wearing masks. And there is a lot of damnation of the man and his outrageous behaviour.

But one of the arguments people are using to write off this man and support the woman are our local ‘kindness policy’ which the man has offended against… And no one is pointing out the double standards that are shining through in this argument. How come we are not supposed to show both the woman and the man in this painful incident kindness?

I just dont get it.

On a physical level everything in me bucks against stuff like this. My physical response is so strong that at first I can’t think what it is that feels so off for me. And when my head clears and I can articulate to myself what I feel and think, I am then faced with the frustrating reality that I don’t feel safe enough to write a comment to say my piece. So I stay quiet and process my responses in other ways. Express myself in other places.

Like here in a blog.

These posts about the rude man and the shop assistant in tears have been going around for a day or two. I tried to make facebook hide them but facebook is doing its own thing. When one of the posts popped up again this morning I started to write a comment. After 5 words I started shaking so much that I decided to leave it. I was reminded how, when I do comment on things much less tricky than this, it affects me for days. I keep checking for responses, keep thinking of how to respond to imagined comments and I feel excited and vulnerable at the same time. And it is just not worth it.

I want to change the world by speaking my truth. I want to change people. I want to be the hero, the one who get’s it right, the magician who has the key to unlocking the door to communal harmonious coexistence. But I can’t, I am not and I don’t.

So I decided to be unconditionally kind to myself. To offer myself space and time to just be. To hold myself with fierce compassion, to create space where I can express myself in ways that make sense to me. Without expectations and without an end goal.

And here I am. Exhausted, with a head ache and deep uncertainty about how the rest of the day is going to pan out. I had hopes and plans for today. They are not going to happen. Something else is going to unfold, and I sit and I wait and I try to stay in touch with the things that make my life meaningful.