“It takes boldness, even audacity, to step out of our habitual patterns and experiment with a quality like kindness—to work with it and see just how it might shift and open up our lives. This book is an invitation to do just that.” – From The Kindness Handbook
Many of the world’s religions teach that kindness is a desired virtue, something to be practiced towards those we love—and those we don’t.
In her book The Kindness Handbook, author Sharon Salzberg shows us that kindness is much more than being nice or living altruistically. Kindness involves mindfulness—that present-moment awareness that accepts and allows whatever might be happening at the time, engendering intimacy with our surroundings.
Yet, this doesn’t disqualify protesting perceived injustice or taking action to alleviate suffering, but rather invites us to be fully engaged with clarity of mind and openness of heart towards everyone we encounter.
Amid the pursuit of kindness, however, there is one person that often gets overlooked: ourselves. Salzberg maintains that we are often quite harsh with ourselves, more than with any other, participating in self-castigation and lack of faith towards our ability to succeed.
But what are we to do in the face of physical limitation, illness, death and disaster? How do we cultivate kindness not only for all people and the Earth, but also for ourselves? What might kindness look like in the midst of poverty, relationship challenges, dashed hopes or criticism?
The Kindness Handbook paints a gentle portrait of ways to meet each person and circumstance with loving kindness—an approach of ease, curiosity and permission that nourishes our spirit and leaves us emotionally fuller, rather than depleted.
Providing a self-compassion test, thoughtful anecdotes, personal examples and the profound wisdom that arises from awareness, Salzberg creates a sacred space inviting healing, understanding, peace and joyfulness to all who will partake of the living water of kindness and dare to step out of cycles of reactivity.
• “Compassion is the trembling or the quivering of the heart in response to suffering. Equanimity is a spacious stillness that can accept things as they are. The balance of compassion and equanimity allows us to care, and yet not get overwhelmed and unable to cope because of that caring.”
• “Instead of thinking that growth and understanding will come from doing battle with aspects of ourselves, or thinking they will come from enmity towards emotions, memories, and longings that we actually can’t keep from arising, we discover that kindness and compassion for ourselves is the best and most healing trajectory for transformation.”
• “…painful times can be an opportunity to find out what really is important to us. Pain wears away superficial concerns, leaving us with a powerful urge for freedom, happiness and wholeness of being.”
• “We can explore other ways of seeing: confronting the stereotypes we often hold of anyone who appears to be unlike us, the indifference we assume toward those we don’t know. We can examine all the ways we create an ‘other’ unworthy of our care, with people or nature or religions or nations. Doing this will continually undermine the walls of our conditioning has constructed and open us beyond their pain.”
My favorite story from The Kindness Handbook involves Salzberg and her friend, fellow author Krishna Das, as they were planning to travel to Hawaii from their separate points of origin to co-lead a retreat. Krishna Das advised her not to try to get to Hawaii from the East Coast in one day, but she decided to attempt it because of convenient connecting flights offered by her travel agent.
Well, Salzberg encounters unexpected delays and begins berating herself for making such a “poor choice”. After meeting up with Das in Hawaii, he bemoans at how “stupid” he was, because after staying at an airport hotel, he found he couldn’t sleep—only snagging two hours of rest before he had to catch his flight.
What a familiar scenario! So many times, we assume that if we had only done X, it would have turned out perfectly: We would have avoided the hassles, enjoyed the sights, gotten the discount, and saved time—the contempt, self-blame and shame starkly evident in our self-talk and feelings of humiliation.
If you’re looking to follow a path of kindness, starting with yourself and radiating outward, The Kindness Handbook is a tender, but penetrating, guide to new ways of seeing, doing and being in the world. Caregivers will especially benefit from this book, as will anyone desiring to rise above reactivity, cruelty, or plain old indifference in order to bring peace on Earth and an end to all suffering.
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