A day full of turkey and remembrance is over. I hope you had a lovely gathering and a delicious meal, and that the table conversation turned to thoughts of gratitude.
What would it feel like to feel as much gratitude every day as we feel on Thanksgiving?
Well, until recently, that’s what I thought I was doing.
A while ago, a young student wrote to ask me about my healing practice. She was very concerned about competition. Here’s what I told her:
I find Competition an interesting concept, because, as a Reiki practitioner, my "mission" is to bring Reiki energy to as many people as I can. If I can teach them how to use Reiki to bring themselves back into balance, I am delighted — even if I lose them as a regular client. There is enough abundance to go around, just as there is enough Reiki energy available to serve every living thing. I’m not making a killing with that philosophy, but I sleep well, have abundant energy, find kindness and synchronicity in most of my interactions, and somehow the bills get paid.
Thing is, last month, for the first time, the bills almost didn’t get paid. I felt myself nearly paralyzed by fear, and I wasn’t sleeping well — waking at 4 am with dire worries about losing my home and having nowhere to go. I even began thinking about who would take care of my pets if I jumped off a bridge.
In the end, however, everything got paid; I didn’t even incur any late fees.
So I was just beginning to feel calm and secure again when my car died — gave up the ghost right in downtown traffic. I had it towed to the repair shop, and got a short-term rental so I could complete all my appointments. At first I didn’t think of this calamity as an opportunity, but it has become one.
The next day the garage called to say the car needed a completely new engine. I realized it was time for a different car — at 308,500 miles, that one had served me long enough.
I knew I couldn’t afford much, but I started looking — and there were actually working vehicles in my price range! Friends were emailing me suggestions, and it was getting exciting. And scary — how quickly could I find a car before the rental fees became exorbitant?
Then, a huge gift: a friend offered me use of her spare car for as long as I needed it. Suddenly I could breathe again! And I realized yet again how blessed I am to be surrounded by kind people with generous hearts.
So what can I do to open up my own heart and give back — or pay forward — what my friends have done for me?
In one respect, I’m already doing it: I’m offering free sessions using the new healing modality I’m learning, Jin Shin Jyutsu. [If you’re interested in taking part, please email me for an appointment.]
But beyond that, how can I translate my gratitude into acts of kindness each day?
On Friday, November 29, the 5th annual National Day of Listening, we are encouraged to record stories for posterity. Even simpler than that is just listening to our loved ones. How often do we do that? I, for one, am grateful for the opportunity to keep my mouth shut and my ears open.
And the rest of the week, and next? I intend to begin each day with gratitude, and trust that I will find a way to share kindness before the day is over. What will you do? I welcome your comments.
It has been conventional wisdom among scientists and philosophers that kindness, compassion and empathy are learned behaviors, taught by elders, society and religious leaders. Now more research is coming to light that shows how empathy is actually embedded as a basic instinct -- an instinct we share with other mammals, not a “humane” exclusive. According to Frans de Waal, in his book The Bonobo and the Atheist,
“We started out with moral sentiments and intuitions, which is also where we find the greatest continuity in primates. Rather than having developed morality from scratch through rational reflection, we received a huge push in the rear from our background as social animals.” (p. 17)
We can trace the connection between kinship and kindness linguistically. Follow the etymology of “kind” back to the Old English gecynde meaning “natural” and “genial.” In other words, it is natural to be nice. Gecynde itself is a cognate of cyn, “family.” Our modern word “kin” stems from this, and is related to Old Norse kyn, Latin gens, Greek genos, Sanskrit jánas … you get the idea.
Our innate sense of kindness is not always indiscriminate, however. As de Waal states,
“All of nature is build around the distinction between in-group and out-group, kin and non-kin, friend and foe. Even plants recognize genetic kinship, growing a more competitive root system if potted together with a stranger rather than a sibling. There is absolutely no precedent in nature of individuals that indiscriminatingly strive for overall well-being.” (p. 183)
Just because there is no historic precedent for unbiased altruism, it doesn’t mean it is impossible. Consider Neuro-Linguisting Programming (NLP): “the use of word-meanings, which describes how the language of our mind produces the qualities of our behavior.” Although Wikipedia, having defined the concept, offers lukewarm support at best, I believe it makes sense. As we learn through our five senses and an increasing command of language, we develop identifiable patterns of behavior. We can also use the senses — and language — to modify these patterns of behavior.
We already have a limbic-brain predisposition toward kindness and compassion -- at least toward those we recognize as “kin.” Our challenge, indeed our hope of survival, lies in expanding that recognition to the whole global community.
Again, de Waal’s research with primates shines hope on extending kindness to all our “kin” on the planet:
“But even if there can be little doubt that morality evolved for within-group reasons, without much consideration for humanity at large, this is not necessarily how it needs to be. … The more we expand morality’s reach, the more we need to rely on our intellect, because even though I believe that morality is firmly rooted in the emotions, biology has barely prepared us for rights and obligations on the scale of the modern world. We evolved as group animals, not global citizens. Nevertheless, we are well underway to reflect on these issues, such as universal human rights … [W]e humans have a long history of building new structures on top of old foundations.” (p. 235)
There are examples everywhere you look of improbable acts of kindness between very different species, as between age-old human foes. The opportunities for altruism are as boundless as our imaginations.
What can you do today to contribute to universal kindness through global kinship? I welcome your comments.
Christin Whittington is a practitioner of energy medicine – helping people restore balance in their bodies, their health and their lives using a combination of Reiki, Reflexology, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Qi Gong and herbal medicine.