Kindness. Contemplation. Creation. Connection.
The other day I was at Banyan Books in Vancouver, and after sitting on several meditation cushions and sniffing wonderfully aromatic things, I wandered into their extensive book section where I came across a book that caught my attention: The Force of Kindness by Sharon Salzberg.
Since the Kindness Flag Project, I’ve been struggling with the notion that kindness is perceived as a “soft” quality, and when trying to figure out what the Kindness Flag Project is, and putting into a pithy statement, I get tripped up in its tangle of dichotomous simplicity and profoundness. It’s soft on the outside with a crunchy filling.
Is it possible that kindness is a force? Sure, I saw it first hand, and so did thousands of others during the post-riot events, but now that those events are behind us, well, now what? How is it possible to explain that kindness can be a force, and that it can be applied to every activity, every day, and not just something that is a response to something else?
It would seem that Sharon Salzberg has answered these questions. I sat down and read the first few pages of the book and was impressed with it. I decided not to buy it though, because I had a stack of other books I was going to buy and the tally was starting to run up! So, I set it back on the shelf but have been thinking about it so much since then, that it will certainly find its way onto my bookshelf in the not too distant future.
In the meantime, I decided to do a Google search for reviews of the book. Here’s one that’s quite informative by Emily Breder from Wildmind. Read on:
Title: The Force of Kindness
Author: Sharon Salzberg
Publisher: Sounds True
Format: 96-page book, plus one-hour CD
Sharon Salzberg has an excellent reputation for creating wonderful dharma books, but when I first saw the title, The Force of Kindness, I thought the subject matter was a little… soft. How much can be said about kindness?
Then, too, the book itself is diminutive in size — a standard Sounds True publication of less than a hundred pages, with a guided meditation CD included.
But that was exactly what Sharon addressed — the incorrect impression that kindness itself is a soft topic with minimal applications. Sure, you can be kind to a lot of people — but how much is there to say about it? In very short order, your entire thinking about kindness changes and you see it for the very powerful and courageous act that it is.
She begins with a walk through kindness as we grow to adulthood, and how we can be unkind to ourselves or not fully kind because it isn’t coming from a genuine place.
“When we are devoted to the development of kindness, it becomes our ready response, so that reacting from compassion, from caring, is not a question of giving ourselves a lecture: ‘I don’t really feel like it, but I’d better be helpful, or what would people think?’” –Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness, page 8
With further reflection, I discovered that she’s right; kindness is a force, every bit as powerful as any other act of inclusion that comes from a place of love and compassion. Unlike many so-called ‘positive’ emotions, kindness is itself the act of application — moving the intent of compassion into action, even (perhaps especially) for yourself.
As I read this book, which I estimated at first I could finish in an afternoon, I fell into the pattern of reading a page or two and then reflecting on it for a day or two. The information was especially relevant to me personally, as someone who is chronically unkind to herself, but in any walk of life there is something here that can be applied.
If anything, this should have been a full-length study book with structured exercises.
The book is a collection of stories to make the force of kindness more apparent, but since the topic itself was demonstrated so well as a way to move forward and into an inclusive way of being, I would like to have had more guidance about exactly how to be proactive with the information from the beginning, beyond the reflections at the end of each chapter. For the most part, the reflections called on one to think, stay open and pay attention to this or that — but not many ways to be kind in a more dynamic, active way.
All in all, it’s a wonderful place to start this study. I’m sure, with a longer book, Sharon would have fleshed out all of those points. As it is, this is an excellent primer for looking at yourself and others in a much more kind way, and for seeing kindness itself as a more powerful connective thread between us.
“It’s easy for us to feel separate from other people and from other forms of life, especially if we don’t have a reliable connection to our own inner world. Without insight into our internal cycles of pleasure and pain, desires and fears, there is a strong sense of being removed, apart or disconnected. When we do have an understanding of our inner lives, it provides an intuitive opening, even without words, to the ties that exist between ourselves and others.” – Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness, page 32
-by Emily Breder
So, kindness might be soft, but it’s not weak. A force is a force, regardless of its origination. Besides, wouldn’t you rather be affected by something gentle and kind than by something aggressive and hurtful?
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength”.
-St. Francis de Sales