I started the day as I typically do. I sat up in bed upon waking, propped my pillows to support my back, closed my eyes and began meditating. I thought briefly about the allure of a hot cup of coffee then quickly focused back to my mantra. Other thoughts came and went and after about 20 minutes, I opened my eyes. Still sitting in bed and still thinking about a having a cup of coffee, I felt thankful for my meditation practice. I acknowledged how it helps me to focus on the present, with the strength I need to show up in the moment and be mindful to situations throughout my day. “Great, I’m mindful,” I said to myself, so now what?”
I started to wonder if I was really thinking about mindfulness in the right way or if I had succumbed to some mainstreamed buzz-feed version of it. I learned quickly that I was not the only one trying to re-center on the topic of mindfulness. And not only was I not alone in wanting to engage with it better, I was in great company. In researching why mindfulness might be leaving me feeling a little empty, I stumbled upon a small but powerful book called Kindfulness by renowned meditation teacher and Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm.
In his book, Ajahn Brahm tells a very funny story which adeptly illustrates why mindfulness needs to be activated with kindness. In his story, a wealthy woman who was going to her meditation class one evening tells her security guard to watch her home while she is out and to be alert and mindful at all times. When the woman returns, she discovers that her home had been robbed. She scolds the guard, telling him he failed by not being mindful of burglars. “ But I was mindful,” said the guard. He told the woman he mindfully watched the burglars go into the house and come out with her jewelry and a safe. He said he mindfully noted each activity of the burglars. Obviously, being mindful was not enough. Had the security guard also been kind, he would have done something to stop the robbery. Ajahn Brahm believes that without the added ingredient of kindness, mindfulness doesn’t go beyond present moment awareness. Adding a kindly awareness helps define action beyond the mindful moment.
While research has proven time and time again that daily meditation can help you focus your mind on what is happening in the present moment and therefore be mindful, also being kindful can make any mindful moment even more beneficial.
When we were kids, we were taught the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated. Unfortunately, the stresses of work, money, family and other outside influences can sometimes cause us to forget this adage. The Golden Rule doesn’t always follow us into the adult world. But as the benefits of mindfulness are well documented and known, the benefits of kindfulness are also backed by science, proving that being kind is not just kidstuff. When you help someone through an act of kindness, your brain boosts your serotonin and releases endorphins, giving you what is called a “helpers high.” Acts of kindness have the power to reduce stress, relax your body and mind and allow healing to happen. Being kind to people can reduce internal inflammation, lower blood pressure, ease chronic pain, help you develop meaningful relationships and strengthen your connectivity to friends and family. All this kindness-giving leads to a longer, healthier, happier life. Now that’s something to be mindful about!
So back to my original question that emerged after meditating of, “What now – what do I do with my mindfulness?” Mindfulness is a state of being that needs to be activated. Since kindfulness can be defined as mindfulness in action it’s important to note that in every mindful moment, we all have the power to recognize the present then do something altruistic to improve it. Meditation and mindfulness don’t come with built-in goodness and virtue – you have to add that – you have to add kindness – to your practice. I love the phrase, “Just Add Kindness.” I use it as a catch-phrase reminder to myself that my intrinsic mindful moments can also benefit those around me if I activate them with kindness. So if you want to get more from your mindfulness practice, just add kindness. It’s just that easy.