I’ve talked a lot about benefits of kindness in other articles. For example, I’ve talked about the impact of kindness on mental health, through how kindness feels as well as how it induces changes in brain regions, plus how kindness impacts the heart, immune system, and even aspects of the ageing process. I’ve even described how kindness is highly contagious.
Outside of the physical act of kindness, we obtain many of the above ‘side effects’ when we do kindness in our minds. I call this, ‘kindfulness’. It’s like mindfulness, but where instead of being mindful of your breath, you be mindful of good things about people.
Here’s three simple kindfulness practices:
1) Loving Kindness (metta).
This is a Tibetan Buddhist practice. The idea is to think and feel compassion and kindness towards yourself and others. It’s built around a few key phrases:
May you be happy
May you be well
May you be safe
May you be at peace
There are quite a few variations, like swapping on of the above for, ‘may you be free of suffering’, or ‘may you be at ease’, ‘or may you be healthy’, or even, ‘may your hopes and dreams be fulfilled’. Or you can even personalise it for someone in particular with something like, ‘may you get that promotion’, or ‘may you come to realise how beautiful you are’. Whatever the words, the sentiment is always the same – rooted in kindness and compassion.
The practise usually starts with yourself, so ‘May I be ….’ Etc.
Typically, it’s three times for yourself, then three times for each of a number of people – from loved ones, friends, neutral people, even people you have challenges with. And many who practice it like to end it by swapping, ‘you’ for ‘all sentient beings’, so, ‘May all sentient beings be happy… etc’.
2) Send a ball of light.
This is a practice I created when I first set out to create a range of kindfulness practices (there are many – I’ve just listed 3 in this article to keep it short).
Think of someone you care about. I can even be someone who is no longer on Earth.
Imagine a ball of coloured light emanating from the area of your heart, and let its colour represent your feelings for the person.
Imagine throwing the ball through space and let it arrive with the person, wherever they are.
Imagine the light being absorbed into the area of their heart. Imagine it being wilfully accepted.
Now imagine you are with the person and either recall and indulge in a memory of a time well spent with the person – recalling the place, time, the experience you had, what was said and done – or if you prefer, imagine saying something to the person that you wish to say, and let it be coloured with gratitude, compassion and kindness.
Do this for a few minutes. Then thank the person for being in your life and imagine returning to your starting place, and to your breath.
Now do the same thing for two more people, one at a time. Let the colour of the ball of light represent what you feel for each person.
After the third person, return your attention to your breath and to the area of your heart.
3) What I appreciate
This is a quick and simple practice where you focus on a different person each day.
On the first day, choose someone in your life. It can be a loved one, a friend, colleague, neighbour, a delivery person, someone seemingly random that you are aware of, even someone you’ve had challenges with. It can be anyone.
Now, make a mental list (or you can write it down in a journal if you prefer) of everything that you appreciate about the person. For example, you might think of things the person has said or done, or you might appreciate their nature, the kind or person they are. You might even include how they dress, how they do their hair. It could be the way they talk. It can be anything that YOU appreciate. Your list might not be the same as someone else’s list, but this is an exercise for you, in building your appreciation.
See how many days you can do, while focusing on a different person each day. You might just surprise yourself how many days this daily practice can run to. Do you think you could go a month? 3 months? 6 months? A year?