Loving Kindness: Better than Wearing a Red Hat

March 4

I am familiar with the poem by Jenny Joseph that celebrates non-conformity. It begins “when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple with a red hat…” It took me forty years but I am finally getting old, in which “old” isn’t defined by an age, but by the freedom to be myself. For me it isn’t and never was about wearing purple and a red hat. I’ve always worn brightly coloured clothes because I like them. But after 60 plus years of trying to please and impress others I’m finally growing into being true to myself. (This, by the way, is very good for my mental health.) For many people this self-acceptance seems to evolve naturally as we age into the second half of life, and is one of the positive things about growing older. However, this post is for you younger readers also; you are free to be yourself without being “old.”

True self-acceptance enables us to see in a descriptive, rather than prescriptive way. We just see ourselves as we are, recognizing our quirks and our failures as well as our gifts and strengths. A natural development of self-acceptance should be acceptance of others. However, “critical thinking” is a life skill taught from earliest childhood. We learn to compare, evaluate and sort into categories. Evaluating and judging has become an entrenched habit. We don’t realize the negativity that pervades our consciousness.

Having given myself permission to wear what I like and be myself, it is now more imperative than ever that I give this permission to others. It is the season of Lent, a 6-week period in the Christian tradition that many use to focus on becoming a better person. Traditionally people give up something for Lent. But sometimes we can take up something instead. This Lent I am taking up a practice of kindness, in particular, kind thinking. 

I remember feeling embarrassed and apologetic as a young person when my somewhat deaf grandmother would make loud whispers about people in their presence. She would comment on their clothes, their body shapes, their children’s behaviour and whatever else she observed. Even then I determined that I wanted to cultivate a habit of thinking kindly of others, so that when I am old and deaf and my tongue loses its filters, the habit of thinking kindly of others will result in only kind and thoughtful words coming from my mouth. 

Hearing kindly, and thinking kindly fits well with how we pass on news about others. We can use this criterion of Socrates: “Is it true; is it kind, or is it necessary?” Practicing kindness is in fact one of the universal values embraced by all religions. It is a dimension of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”

“Loving kindness is the most powerful enzyme of healing and is always available to us in this very moment.” wrote Wayne Muller in “Legacy of the Heart.” Today I am going to change the world by a practice of loving-kindness, radiating from self-acceptance to acceptance of others. https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/loving-kindness-meditation

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for the capacity to exercise loving kindness.