Sunday, October 9, 2016

Feeling Powerless? Be Kind

Kindness and power are related. No, not the "power over" kind of power. The power that is exercised with kindness is the power within. Our inner power gives us our sense of being. Kindness shows us we have power "over ourselves and our choices, and over whether this world is a cruel or wondrous pace to live." (A Short Course in Kindness by Margot Silk Forrest.)

Exercising the capacity for kindness strengthens our power to change our thoughts, our behavior, to reach out to someone we've wronged, and the power to treat ourselves more kindly. Personal power is all about choice. When we are aware of our choices and our ability to make different choices we are truly in charge of our lives.

Viktor Frankl learned this truth in Auschwitz where he was imprisoned during WWII. In his book Man's Search for Meaning he wrote: "the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way... Fundamentally . . . any man can . . .  decide what shall become of him - mentally and spiritually." [If you have never read this book, I recommend it. He tells the story of his imprisonment as an inmate who was beaten, starved, deprived of sleep, worked beyond endurance, humiliated, hated, and his friends massacred in the cruelty of concentration camp and how he survived as a whole person.]

How often do we find ourselves feeling powerless over situations because we cannot change them. And our attitude toward those situations cause us great distress until we decide to change our attitude to become more positive. We are not asked to like the situation. We are charged with the responsibility to determine what to think, feel, and behave in the face of it. This is our personal power.

To be kind to ourselves and to the world around us we are charged with the chance to live fully in every moment and to look at all that is with eyes of compassion. To do that we let fear and anger and resentment drop away and see ourselves and others as creatures with the same needs and desires, dream, and vulnerabilities.We have more in common that differences.

And this isn't an instant conversion. It is a process of constantly exploring our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, and choosing how to respond. It is an evolution. And it requires that we be truly kind to ourselves. Personally, I find this to be the hardest part.

I look in the mirror and instantly see all that I consider to be wrong with how I look. I feel remorse for things I've said or done, or failed to say or do, and have difficulty forgiving myself for unkindnesses in the past.

Why has kindness for ourselves turned into a bad rap? It is labeled self-indulgent, selfish, self-pitying. However, being kind to ourselves only means taking care of ourselves as we would take care of anyone we lived. Without self-care we don't have the energy to care about others. Self-care is the root of kindness to others. If all we do is give to others we are soon empty and eventually rather pathetic.

After showering kindness onto others, take time to rest and take care of yourself. Otherwise you will burn out and not have any energy for others.You will end up angry and resentful and see only the bad in the world and in other people. Putting yourself first in your life is vital to your health. And it is better for others if you do. It is the reason the flight attendants instruct you to put your own oxygen mask on first so that you are better able to help others with theirs. Life is like that.

How do you take care of yourself? What replenishes you? Do you struggle with feelings of guilt about taking care of yourself first?

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