At the beginning of the year, I made a commitment to pay attention to my behaviours and thoughts. I picked a ‘word of the year‘ – a guiding principle and conscious focus for my choices.
Since leaving university, I’ve lost my weekly meditation practise and become caught up in the instant-gratification, media-led world. Especially working with social services, I began to see a skewed vision of the world, over-exposed to cynicism and constantly assessing other people.
For this year, I want to view the world and control my effects on it using a lens of compassion.
The exact phrase I picked, was Metta bhavana; the cultivation of kindness.
Because the idea of acting with kindness seems like a good way to combat fear, sadness, loneliness, anger and injustice. Generally, at least in my experience, kindness doesn’t hurt anyone, and allows us to connect with one another.
So I picked my word, and as usual, after a few weeks I forgot about my conscious decision to encompass grace, rest and compassion.
But it’s been six months, I’ve certainly had a few moments of introspection. I’ve looked back on my behaviours and watched my thoughts — looking for that understanding of others views.
Mostly, I’ve noticed where I failed.
I have moments, like most people, where I do something ‘helpful’ or offer support. I try to boost other creatives in small ways. I drove to see a friend. I do the washing-up. I support charities. I let people out of junctions in heavy traffic.
But they don’t seem to match the number of times I’ve made an assumption, or been frustrated with someone. Those moments I’ve whined about someone’s actions only to reflect later and realise I misinterpreted or became upset about something which really doesn’t matter. I still take things personally sometimes.
I’ve usually forgotten to see their point of view, to realise we’re different people with different experiences and beliefs. And to remember that it’s okay to have different opinions.
With the new job coming up, I read up on Non-Violent Communication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Solution Focused Approach in an attempt to give myself better communication tools. And this is where a lot of my understanding has shifted.
There are some specific circumstances where I have a set of internal rules for the world, and the moment those are ‘threatened’ by someone else’s views, I shut down and this is where my kindness cuts off. But thoughts can be changed, and habits can shift.
A couple of weeks ago, I read a post by Delilah S. Dawson about constantly correcting others, and it reminded me to be kind. I want to build people up. When I was younger, and I thought about future careers, I couldn’t quite settle, because there wasn’t a role for “teach people to keep themselves afloat”.
This year has been challenging so far. Two major health issues in my close family, a new role in my day-job, leaving that day-job, starting a new day-job, finding a new house, planning a wedding… I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t been the most fun person to be around for the last few months, and that’s partly why blog posts slowed.
Especially in those darker moments, when all the uncertainties gathered round, taunting me like a parrot constantly asking “what-if’s”, I became self-critical and judgemental. My ‘standards’ of expectation rose substantially, and no one could meet the expectations, especially not me.
Irrespective of what happened in my day-to-day life, I was not acting with self-love, understanding or kindness.
But over the years, I’ve learned that the best way for me to encourage kindness when I don’t feel like it, is to actively undertake kind behaviours. I went home and cuddled my cat. My OH and I took my parents out to dinner. I donated 470ml of blood. I signal boosted some friend’s creations.
These things might be kind of ‘forced’ but the result doesn’t change. Someone ill will be helped because I spent an hour filling in forms and being stabbed with a needle. My parents enjoyed a meal out. My cat purred throughout her cuddle. People saw my signal boosts and bought/shared those items; benefiting their creators.
The fact that I consciously decided which acts of kindness to do doesn’t make me a bad person. And in time, my brain will be re-programmed to act kindly on its own again. When things settle, I hope to be back to my usual self. Until then, I can maximise my positive effect in the world.
And the more time I spend finding ways to be kind, the less time I’ll be spending wallowing in self-pity or getting caught up in frustration. And that’s what my word of the year is really about.