Tag Archives: relating to others

THE POWER OF ‘KINDNECTION’

Okay, I’ve stolen this word from David Hamilton. He made it up to express the importance of connections of kindness. I love it because it covers so much.

And right now, we are witnessing many acts of kindness on the news, in the midst of the horror of the war in Ukraine. People are doing everything they can and more to help those who are suffering because of the war.

The connections of kindness are both the connections made between humans through kindness, and the connection of kindness to other parts of us. Every kind act, gesture, or even expression has a health benefit for both the giver and the receiver. Kindness calms stress, boosts our immune system, ups our mood, and generally makes us feel better.

And it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can just be being friendly, smiling, listening to someone’s woes. We don’t have to do a lot, and we benefit from doing it – seems obvious, doesn’t it!

I often think that people who are being mean-spirited, unpleasant, unfriendly, must be very unhappy, unhealthy people. After all, if kindness benefits our physical and mental health, surely unkindness does the opposite!

Wouldn’t it be great if the research on this topic were built into our health system and published in the media in different forms, so people took it seriously and actually practised being kind more often!

In the meantime, let’s all remember that small acts of kindness make a big difference to all of us, and keep doing them, even with those mean-spirited people. Maybe they’ll get infected with it.

MORE THAN JUST MUSIC

I love live music. It has given me joy since I was very young. Going to a good concert has always transported me, made my heart sing.

Articulating what it is that has such a profound effect on me has been difficult, until I read a statement by Bruce Springsteen about his performing:

‘I come out there at night and I believe that I can inspire you through hard work, the deep development of a philosophy, and the incorporation of spirituality. And that I can inspire you to develop those things within yourself.. That is what I consider my job – as well as making you dance!!’

Well, he does it for me! And I think that, whether they are conscious of it or not, it’s what all great performers do: they remind us in some visceral way of the fundamental values and emotions that human beings have.

When someone offers out their best gifts to others, it touches a chord inside all of us that is way beyond the surface performance or act. It isn’t only in music performances: we have it in films, theatre, paintings – all the arts.

And we can also emulate this in simple everyday ways. Every time we act from our hearts with others, we evoke their heartfelt reaction. Every time we are fully present with others, we give them a gift. Every time someone displays joy, they remind others of joy.

And we need more of this in the world. So let’s play our part, as well as appreciating every time someone offers ‘more than juts their music’ to us.

WE ARE UNIQUE BUT NOT SEPARATE

I marvel at the myriad ways in which human beings express themselves. Each of us is a unique, wonderful creature, with a combination of talents and characteristics which distinguish us from each other. But this does not make us separate from other humans or from the world in which we live.

We are all part of a larger whole and depend on the health of the whole if we are to thrive. Our world is a complex and dynamic living organism, and we all need to play our part in it, if we are to maintain its wonder.

Yet our philosophy seems to be based on as level of self-centredness that is leading to more and more crises. There are the crises in climate change: extreme weather, desertification, flooding. There are the crises in biodiversity: species dying out deforestation. There are the crises in population movement: refugees from war, poverty, and lack of safety. And of course, the crises arising from the pandemic.

Yet those of us who are presently relatively protected from the negative effects of these crises often act as if it’s not our problem: ‘I’m alright, Jack’.

It’s nearly Christmas. Whether you believe the story of the birth of Jesus or not, it’s a powerful parable. His family were forced to leave their home and go to another town – twice! They met with rejection: ‘no room at the inn’. And then someone offered them the stable, so they at least had shelter.

We are still repeating the story: shutting refugees out, ignoring the homeless, keeping our vaccines for ourselves and letting others die, consuming like mad, and stripping our natural world in the process.

I know I can’t effect the change I want to see, where we all recognise that if some part of this living organism is not able to function well, it affects us all. But I can do my bit, by recognising my own inter-connectedness with everything and everyone.

This means standing up against the narrow self-centred approach taken by our ‘leaders’. It means showing care for other human beings in whatever way I can – those I know personally and those I don’t know. And it means consuming less, and caring for my little piece of the planet.

I would love to be a healthy part of a healthy living organism – our world. Let’s all wish for that this Christmas, and do our bit to help to make it happen – a true peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind.

AS YE SOW, SO SHALL YE REAP

I was picking beans and tomatoes yesterday. I have had a good harvest, although there are always some things that don’t work, and some that I forget to pick until they’re past their best.

As I was doing it, I was thinking about the biblical quote I’ve put as the title. It’s a useful analogy in many ways.

Firstly, it’s about the process of sowing. As any gardener knows, you put care into the sowing of seeds and nurturing of young plants, with the knowledge that not all of them will grow and thrive. It doesn’t matter, you still do it, and have another go if it doesn’t work. Similarly, we do kind things and treat others well without the expectation of reward.

Then we have the process of growing to fruition. It takes a long time with most plants, and requires attention: watering, weeding etc. Again, our relationships are built when we make the effort to keep in touch, show care.

And the harvest is a lovely reward. We are given something delicious which delights us. It’s not guaranteed, so it always feels special when it happens. And when it doesn’t, we shrug our shoulders, and say we’ll have another go next year, and maybe try a different approach. Or else we conclude that our soil is just not right for that particular plant and take it off our ‘menu’. Doesn’t that sound like what happens with relationships as well?

Of course, if I’d chosen to sow weeds, or even just let them run riot, it would be a different matter. They spread like mad, and use up all the goodness in the soil, starving the other plants, and I would have very little harvest at all. Again, being neglectful of our relationship with others, or scattering our negativity around us is a great way to kill off any fondness people may have for us!

And for me, one of the other ways in which the analogy works so well is in the unexpected lovely bits. If you take care of your plants, nature often gives you extra treats. You find tomato plants or flowers that have seeded themselves and grown without you trying. Or something you thought had died off despite your care comes back to life the following year. Similarly, when your overall intention is to show kindness, you often receive kindness from unexpected sources or from people you thought had moved out of your life.

Now we all sow weeds sometimes, or neglect our relationships with others. Do something about it, so it doesn’t spread. And we all feel disappointed sometimes because we have made an effort and it doesn’t seem to be appreciated or reciprocated. Just let it go, and delight in the ones that do grow. Just by having the intention to care for others, we are enriching our own lives – being kind always feels good – and we also receive delightful surprises where we receive kindness we weren’t expecting.

Be aware of what you are sowing in your life, and appreciate whatever harvest you receive.

ARE YOU BEING SELFISH ENOUGH?

We are taught from a young age that being selfish is bad. We are supposed to share what we have and to put others first. If we follow this precept to the nth degree, we would be selfless – that can’t be right, can it? It would imply that there was nothing left of us.

Of course, most of us don’t ‘stick to the rule’ to that degree – we just feel guilty if we think we might be being selfish!!

I believe there is a distinction between being narcissistic – I only care about me and ignore the needs and wants of others – and being properly selfish.

The bible says: ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ – not instead of yourself. We need to take care of our own needs and feelings to the same level as we do those of others.

When we really care about others, we make sure that we are able to give to them from the heart, not out of duty or obligation. This requires that we have filled our own fuel tank first. As they say when you take a flight: ‘put on your own mask first, before you help others to do so.’ You can’t help someone else to breathe if you can’t breathe!

So don’t say yes when you know you’re running on empty – you will only end up resenting it.

And do give yourself room to be properly selfish – allowing yourself to top up your energy, your good mood. Others will appreciate what you have to give them so much more, because it will be done with a good heart. And the giving will top up your positive feelings even more, because making others feel good is one of the ways we can add to our own good feelings.

We are all sources of happiness and love when we have allowed ourselves to ‘indulge’ our selfishness without guilt. Isn’t that a better way to be in the world?

FRIENDSHIP

It’s the growing season for us gardeners. I have little plants making their way in the garden, in my conservatory, and I do my best to nurture them, so they can grow strong and healthy. I water them, feed them, and check on them regularly. If they’re not doing very well, I try to find a way to help them recover themselves. My reward will be some lovely vegetables to eat, and some beautiful flowers filling my garden with scent and colour.

What has this to do with friendship? Well, it’s made me think about how we need to nurture our friendships as well, if we want the benefits of those strong, healthy relationships.

I am very lucky: I have a number of really good friends. They are valuable to me, and have been a saving grace for me over the last year or so particularly. And I don’t take them for granted.

Nurturing friendships means checking in regularly – that phone call to say how are you doing when they cross your mind. It means accepting and taking notice if friends are going through a rough patch, and offering the sympathy that makes them feel heard. It means encouraging the change of perspective that shared laughter can bring. It means celebrating with them when things go well for them.

Real friendships also need honesty about our ups and downs. If I don’t ever admit to bad moods, being upset, or just ‘off’ for no good reason, nor can my friends with me. If I don’t say how I’m over the moon about something daft like finishing a hard jigsaw, they can’t tell me about the perfect loaf of bread they made and how chuffed they are.

And when you know that you can be just however you are that day with a friend, it allows us to relax into the moment, allow bad moods to pass, enjoy the good moods, and look forward to each other’s company no matter what.

My friends are fab – thank you! And I hope I am a good friend most of the time, but there is always more we can do to nurture those relationships. It’s worth it, the rewards are great.

So, who’s crossing your mind as you read this? Give them a call, ask them how they’re doing, bring a little extra sunshine into their life today – they deserve it for being a friend.

WE DON’T KNOW SOMEONE ELSE’S ANSWER

I was talking with a friend a while ago, and she was describing a camping trip she and her husband had been on. It was obvious how much that had recharged her batteries – joy and energy exuded from her. Now that would be something I would endure rather than delight in, especially if the weather was cold!

It reminded me that we’re all different, and yet we are prone to suggest solutions to others that would work for us. For example, I always think going in the garden to do something is a great positive mood-changer, because it is for me. But for others, it may just be another chore to be done, and have the opposite effect.

I know I often say: ‘What you need is…’, but I hope that most of the time that is followed by either a vague generalisation – ‘a pick-me-up’ or ‘a distraction’ – or if specific, is something that I already know works for that person, rather than for me.

If we really want to help someone to feel better, or solve a problem they have, the most useful thing we can do is to ask them the right questions, to help them to find their own answers.

  • What would help you to feel better/solve this/cope with this?
  • When have you dealt with something like this in the past, and what did you do then?

If they don’t come up with something, we can make suggestions, but we need a repertoire of possible solutions, garnering ideas from all the different ways in which we see people sort things out. And we need to make it clear that we’re not invested in giving them ‘the answer’, only in helping them to find it.

And don’t forget, if someone does try to solve your problems for you, don’t get cross – they’re trying to help. Use their suggestions as a springboard to find your own best answer.

Now, I suggest you go and spend some time in the garden!!!

JUST ONE SMALL ACT OF KINDNESS

The other day three different people were kind to me. It wasn’t ‘big stuff’ – just small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. I wasn’t having a great day, and it transformed the feel of the day. I felt cared for, appreciated, loved. And it made me think about how powerful kindness is.

We don’t have to become saints to be kind. It comes naturally to human beings, particularly when we switch on our caring button – the part of us that listens to and cares about other human beings. It is an important element of our inter-connectedness, and we gain almost as much from being kind to others as we do from them being kind to us.

Physically the act of kindness produces the same chemicals in both parties – and even in those who just observe an act of kindness – the ‘happy’ hormones. And these create that feeling of worth, gratitude, appreciation, thus enhancing our mood.

Right now, we all need kindness – it has been a tough year for most. So make that small effort: phone someone and say something of your appreciation of them to make them glow; give a stranger a compliment as you pass them on the street; offer to help a friend with a chore; move something heavy for someone who isn’t as strong as you – the possibilities are endless.  

And really show your appreciation for the small, everyday acts of kindness that others offer you. Let them know that it helped to make your day a good day.

And of course, don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well. When we ‘let ourselves off’, give ourselves a break, we make ourselves feel better.

If we all just did one small act of kindness every day, we could transform the world!

CAN YOU STILL SMILE?

My friend Rebecca and I were talking a short while ago, discussing, as we all do, the effects of the pandemic. We got into the subject of masks and how they affect our interactions.

Not only do glasses steam up when we wear them, and our verbal communication become less clear, but they also significantly affect our non-verbal communication. We all express our emotions most strongly through our body language and our facial expressions – but half our faces are now covered a lot of the time in our interactions.

So we don’t see each other smile or grimace in that unconscious way we used to, giving us feedback about others’ reactions. It requires us to be conscious, if we want to come past that barrier to making friendly contact with others.

If I really want to smile at someone, I have to make sure that I take that smile beyond my mouth and put it into my eyes and into the tone of my voice. And I need to look at others directly, and notice their voice tone, what their eyes are saying.

We have learnt almost to do the opposite: we look away from people so we don’t breathe the same air, and we are already feeling isolated from others because of the mask, so often we will retreat into our own world.

Yet we also all miss that human contact – with loved ones of course, but also all the peripheral relationships we have, with people in shops, on the street, in transport.

So let’s make a real effort to show our friendly smiles and provoke others into smiling too. Light your eyes up, soften your voice tone, smile at people despite the masks.

APPRECIATING OR JUDGING?

I was listening to a talk by Ram Dass, my teacher, the other day, and he said something that I found really challenging, about appreciating difference. He was proposing that we needed to learn how to simply appreciate the difference between different people who weren’t like us, rather than judging them as better or worse. He compared it to how we are with plants: we appreciate their diverse beauty and distinctiveness rather than judge them.

My initial reaction was to agree with him and castigate myself because I certainly judge other people some of the time.

As I thought about it more, I began to wish that he were here in the flesh, so I could debate it with him! I am good at appreciating our differences to a certain level: different histories, cultures, skin colour, shape, interests talents. I enjoy meeting people who are different from me because it is an opportunity to widen my own horizons.

The sticking point comes when they demonstrate values or behaviours which are at odds with my core values. I cannot accept cruelty, abuse, manipulation, misuse of power, to name a few. These go against values which are fundamental in every religion.

I then went back to the plants! I love my diverse mix of plants, I love woodland, but there are some plants which are definitely thugs! They may look attractive in the first place, but they take over the space, bullying other plants and using up the goodness of the soil. These ones I have to take out.

Now I know Ram Dass well enough to know that he would say that we should look past the behaviour and see that the soul of that person who’s behaving badly is either a ‘young soul’ that we could feel sorry for, that it has this incarnation, or that it has come to each us a lesson by being a nasty person, so we can remember what goodness and kindness is.

He was an amazing being, who could do that a lot of the time. I’m not there yet. I do judge some people for their behaviour and find it unacceptable at a fundamental level. I believe that kindness and consideration for others are crucial in this world and we need to stand up and speak out against those who offend these values.

What do you think?