The philosopher Socrates is credited with offering this rule engagement:
“Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
You may have, in recent months found yourself on one end or another of an agitated engagement. Or, perhaps you are the type to hold agitation inside yourself, not letting it out in an attempt to follow the above instruction.
In the winter months, when the atmosphere can at times feel harsh, and the light and warmth of the sun is more scarce, the state of agitation can override our sense of well being. This can cause us to feel and act without kindness either to ourselves or others.
I was sitting in my very first day of teacher training. It was a very large room with about 60 people in it, I was scared and excited, jetlagged from the long flight, and all of a sudden something my teacher said changed everything about how I live my life to this day. In one lesson, poof, a life long understanding of yoga was planted, never to leave. It changed everything about how I interact with myself and the world.
She taught us that...
1. The key to enlightenment was to “be kind.”
2. Being kind begins in our thoughts
I knew myself to be a good and kind person. I didn’t generally say anything to anyone that was unkind. I kept to myself and didn’t make too many waves. But suddenly bringing the yoga practice into my thoughts, was a whole new level of cleaning house that I wasn’t prepared for. In a funny sort of way, I was surprised that my teacher even knew that I had thoughts. You just don’t usually think about the fact that other people know that you have thoughts. You keep thoughts to yourself, you try to act nicely, that’s it.
I felt a new kind of nakedness in that teacher training. I was suddenly aware of a whole host of thoughts that maybe weren’t so kind, necessary, or even true running through my mind every minute of every day. Thoughts about myself, thoughts about others. These thoughts were blocking me from being truly peaceful and free with others. I felt like I had to hide away much of the time. I lived in fear because of the bad vibes my own thoughts gave me.
The truth is, my thoughts mostly affect me. So any unkindness within them, leaves me the one feeling unkind. Not at peace. Even if the thought was supposedly about someone else!
Ever since that day, I feel as though there is a loving teaching inside my mind. Helping me distinguish my thoughts from one’s that are enlightened or not. Frustrated or angry thoughts about other people, have the opportunity to melt into compassionate accepting ones. (Although at times that does take a little bit of work and time.)
Do I still get upset? Sure I do. But now I understand that my experience extends to my thoughts, so if I want peace, I first must change my own mind about something. Then if something necessary can be said, I can say it from a place of peace.
Additionally “true” took on a whole new meaning. The fact is, we know so little about what’s true. Much of our misguided agitation stems from assuming other’s were acting in a way that was unkind to us. But we do not know what is in the mind of others. On the other hand, when we assume kindness in others, the world takes on a whole new dimension. The world does start acting more kind.
Then there is the practice of being kind to yourself. How do we act kindly to ourselves? Over indulging in things we know don’t serve us well? Over doing things we think bring us happiness? Ultimately being kind to ourselves is having a special blend of balance whereby we attend to our own needs with kindness, compassion, and honesty.
We can’t change the weather, or even other people’s states of being, but we can control our thoughts and actions and shift them over to the kind side.
This month, fill up your well, so diligently with your yoga practice, and meditation, and loving kindness to yourself and those close to you, that you are abundant with kindness. Then the next time someone seemingly is unkind to you, you can just break off a little of your own kindness and give it to them, no charge.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” -Socrates