It’s Not Mindfulness Without Kindness

Here's one thing that might be missing from your definition of mindfulness.

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The term mindfulness has been mentioned everywhere from front cover TIME Magazine to speeches at the United Nations. But some people are asking…what’s next?

Earlier this year I attended a talk by my favourite monk, Ajahn Brahm. He was speaking at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California—a cool place for a forest monk to hang out. Brahm expressed the problem of separating mindfulness and compassion—they work far better together.

Mindfulness on it’s own is simply a present moment non-judgmental awareness, as researchers say. But to develop the beautiful peace, gentleness, and stillness of meditation, a kindly awareness is required.

So Brahm developed a new term—kindfulness. And I like it!

Mindfulness and kindness are the two wings to help you soar to the dizzy heights of insightful wisdom, unconditional joy, and deep peace.

I think rather than using the word mindfulness, perhaps kindfulness is better—it reminds you to be forgiving and friendly as you practice.

Mindfulness without kindness becomes dry, boring, and cold. Kindness without mindfulness is hard to imagine. How can you be kind if you’re not aware of what you’re being kind to?

Most good meditation teachers encourage a warm, kind, and friendly awareness. But I think rather than using the word mindfulness, perhaps kindfulness is better—it reminds you to be forgiving and friendly as you practice.

Can I give an example? Sure! I often help people deal with stress. In my latest book, The Mindful Way Through Stress, I’ve ensured that the meditations and practises are infused with kindness and compassion, not just mindful awareness.

So let’s consider the following scenario: Imagine you’re feeling stressed right now about a business meeting you have later today. How do you meet that with kindfulness?

Scenario: Meeting Stress with Kindness

First step: Start with mindfulness. How do you know you’re stressed? Is there tightness in your stomach or a tension in your shoulders? Do you have a headache or is your heart racing. That’s the mindfulness bit. You’re getting feedback. Getting feedback is one of the functions of mindfulness.

Next step—kindness. Send kindness, warmth, and friendliness to your feelings of stress. Feel the stress like you’d hold a young baby, a delicate flower, or a cuddly bear. Be with the sensations using your heart, not just your head. Try this for a few minutes or so if you can.

Final step—mindfulness again. Notice what effect your little efforts had. Did the Kindfulness work? Do you feel better or worse? This way, you discover which attitudes work and which don’t. Either way, you learn something.

How to Apply Kindness to your Daily Practice

Kindfulness is not just for stress. You can also apply Kindfulness to your daily practice.

Begin by noticing the effect of your practice, whatever that is—meditation, yoga, mindful movement, jogging, consciously swimming backwards with one arm. Whatever your thing is, notice how you feel afterwards.

  • If you feel warm, fuzzy, relaxed, calm, and generally happy with yourself, you’re probably mixing mindful awareness with compassion. Well done you!
  • If you feel relieved that you can finally stop meditating or walking mindfully or whatever your thing is, you’re probably trying too hard. And lacking in friendliness.

If that’s you, try these simple steps:

  1. As you’re meditating, place your hand on your heart. The warmth of your hand encourages a compassion feeling to whatever you’re focusing on.
  2. Smile (please). This is mindful time for you, not self-tourture. And if you can’t smile, use your two fingers to push up the corners of your mouth and hold them there for a while….I’m serious!
  3. Pay attention to whatever your focus is, using your heart, not just your head. Feel the breath with emotion if you can, rather than noticing the sensation in a cold, non-judgmental way.
  4. Cuddle more. Cuddle a teddy bear as you meditate. Cuddle your laptop when it stops working. Cuddle yourself whenever you feel a bit down. Cuddling rules.
  5. Soften your self talk. Say soothing words to yourself. Stuff like “relax,” “take it easy,” “breathe, Shamash….breathe…..” Obviously don’t say Shamash…say whatever your name is…

How do you mix mindfulness with kindness? What practices work best for you personally? Please do share your ideas if you have a bit of time.

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