Today, we start with a poem:
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
This via Brainpickings.org, where you can also experience it as a short animated film.
Next, the key insight from Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life:
If you don’t find your work in the world and throw yourself wholeheartedly into it, you will inevitably make your self your work. … You will take your self as your primary project. You will… dedicate your life to the perfection of your self. To the perfection of your health, intelligence, beauty, home or even spiritual prowess. And the problem is simply this: This self-dedication is too small a work. It inevitably becomes a prison.
(Yes, I did just use a quote from the author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self to tell you to do less yoga; you’re welcome.)
There is a dark side to throwing yourself wholeheartedly into your work though, isn’t there? Stepping away from it feels like death. Not a little death, but a fairly complete self-death.
Back to kindness: I have found that, when you are suffering the most, it is almost impossible to be kind. There is only pain and survival. But then, a respite, a breath, and suddenly—you are able to be kind again. To hold open the door. To forgive. To understand—or, if you don’t understand, to accept.
When you are able to be kind, you’re starting to do ok.
When you’re not able to be kind… if you notice? That’s the time to worry.
I’m half-kind, half-exasperated, which means, I think, I’m half-ok and therefore on the mend because you, lover, you are not ok. I’m able to be half-kind with you, though, as you are able to be half, quarter-kind with me. Perhaps right now that is all that we can ask of each other, even though each one of us wants more… but neither is capable of giving it.
Tomorrow, a new chapter, a new job. Before that—Easter egg hunt for Ender, maybe Flora. Easter Sushi. In-between, an impromptu visit to a friend, a brief dream of listening to, maybe dancing, salsa on Peace Bridge—aborted by rain—chores, Death in Paradise in the background, reflecting on the meaning, purpose of life, and it all boils down to this:
The most basic, base purpose of life is to survive. That’s it, the beginning, the end.
And the ultimate, most evolved purpose of life? The great work of all of our lives, regardless of what our meta-calling?
To be kind.
Not self-work, self-improvement, self-perfection.
Just… being kind. To your annoying friend. To that bitchy stranger. To the woman in front of you in the line of the grocery store, regardless of whether she’s wearing her mask properly or not.
To your lover.
That’s it, that’s all… it’s that simple… and nothing is harder.
it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,Naomi Shihab Nye
only kindness that ties your shoes
I think Jeff Bezos is a lot of things (destroyer of small business, innovator of e-commerce, etc).
I read something, years ago, where he told a story about calculating the number of cigarette puffs his Grandmother takes in a year and how many years those were taking from her life. Rather than being lauded for calculating that at such a young age, his Grandfather took him aside (with the Grandmother now in tears) to say
“Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”
Whenever I see the word kind, I think of that sentence.
Today I woke up feeling somewhat disconnected. Your post and me thinking about kindness plugged me back in a little. Thanks Jane.
Thank you for the simplicity of these two options. They help me stop the crazy carousel in my overthinking brain.