Kindness Is a Resilience Booster
We can build greater resilience by becoming skilled in how we relate to our life experiences. How can we do this? It’s simple, actually. And why make it complicated? We develop resilience through approaching situations with kindness, patience, and flexibility.
Kindness is definitely a resilience booster. In fact, kindness is the foundation of any living moment. We often think that we choose to be kind, but in reality, life cannot exist without kindness. I would go as far as to equate life with kindness. And I welcome any challenge to that thesis statement.
Without kindness we can’t have a life, nor can our life be sustained, for that matter. There’s always kindness there, giving or sustaining life. And there’s always kindness somewhere creating opportunity for someone. There is always a kindness somewhere helping you to succeed. And there’s always a kindness that is giving you strength to transform adverse conditions.
So kindness is indispensable. And it is indisputably present in our life. Kindness is, in fact, a necessity. It’s not optional. However, to express kindness takes considerable dedication and power. Especially in the midst of difficult conditions, such as when you are physically challenged by physical pain, or when you are in great despair. When we are experiencing losses or insecurities, all of those experiences can decrease our capacity to act kindly towards others as well as toward ourselves.
In those situations, we usually think there is a burning issue stopping our kindness. We think, “This matter needs my immediate attention. I have to deal with it right away, so I will put kindness on the back burner.”
For some reason we think we can handle the situation better without kindness. But in the end, that approach backfires. Because not treating yourself with kindness makes it harder to cope with that pain or loss. Then that lack of kindness actually stands in the way of healing or solving our pressing problems.
Without a sense of kindness, it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting too much pressure on ourselves. We may not even notice that we’re making too many demands on ourselves. We can usually see very clearly when someone places unreasonable expectations on us. But when we do that to ourselves, it’s harder to see. And instead of easing our stress, we end up causing ourselves more stress.
We tend to think that, by being hard on ourselves, we can accomplish our goal, that we can beat this obstacle or challenge by a sheer force of will. But it backfires. Then we end up thinking, “It’s not working because I didn’t do enough. I have to do more, I’m not smart enough or working hard enough,” and so on. Being hard on ourselves makes the situation worse. And any sense of a coping mechanism disappears.
If you want to become skilled in coping with difficult situations, being kind to yourself is the key.
That kindness is indispensable. Without kindness, how can we heal? How can we solve difficult problems, and how can we bounce back with resilience? Therefore, it’s very important for us to verbalize kindness and bring it into our physical actions. We can start with small expressions of kindness, very easily. For example, when you go through a door, just keep it open for the person behind you. Or smile and wave at a stranger. You don’t have to go into their car, but just smile. Go kind.
Expressing Kindness to Yourself: An Exercise
• Think of a situation, or a point in your day, where you often feel worried or challenged.
• Make a plan to apply kindness to yourself when that situation arises. Decide what you will say to yourself. For example: “I can be calm. It’s all right to stop and watch my breathing for a few moments, and relax a bit. I, as much as anyone else, deserve to experience peace and happiness.”
• Smile. Even if you still feel a bit worried or pressured, let your face smile.
• Smile and wave at the next person you see.
• It may take getting used to, but even making these small changes, applying small kindnesses here and there throughout your day, will add up to greater clarity and resilience.
The teachings on which this article is based were given by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche at the retreat “Be Wise, Go Kind: Joy on the Path of Resilience” in April 2021, hosted by Nalandabodhi International and Nalanda West.