Do you struggle with kindness? Are complaints seeping into your thoughts or speech? Do you find yourself losing patience with people or situations?
For most of this year, my daily intention was kindness. As part of my yoga practice, I would set an intention for the day—something to focus on and aspire to—and every time it was kindness. The problem was, it wasn’t really working. When my stress level rose, I still found myself super frustrated, exasperated, and raising my voice at my kids.
I also have to admit something else: I’m a complainer. Always have been. Wouldn’t have admitted this in the past. But my sister and I had a conversation that opened my eyes to how much of my “comments” were actually complaints. It’s been particularly striking since we’ve lived in Oregon and I find myself complaining about the weather at least six months out of the year. And you know I go for bonus points in the other half of the year by fretting about the dreary weather that’s coming.
So there I was, beating myself up because I’m not kind enough and and I complain too much. I thought a lot about this downward path of complaining and negativity, and how it needed to be interrupted. But how? It was pretty easy to see the connection between gratitude and complaining (probably because I’ve read about it approximately one thousand times).
I knew that if I was complaining, I was focusing on the negatives in any given situation. But there are always positives too and if I could just notice and be grateful for those, maybe I could shift my mindset. And like magic, it works! Well, sort of. The change isn’t permanent. I still have to consciously choose to notice and be thankful. Like dozens or hundreds of times every day. Turns out we call it “cultivating” or “practicing” gratitude because it takes time, attention, and care to develop. And it doesn’t come naturally.
Getting back to kindness.
I’m thinking that for me at least – kindness isn’t a primary virtue. It’s not something I can just choose and force myself to embody. Sure, I can be nice. But the kindness I’m after is tangled up with patience, and its absence is most keenly felt at home with my smaller humans who have the sort of selective hearing (not to mention selective instruction-following) that would make anyone’s blood pressure rise.
I chose kindness as my daily intention because I wanted to maintain my cool – inside and out – when stuff was hitting the fan. But just willing myself toward kindness didn’t work. As I’ve worked to cultivate gratitude, though, kindness and patience flow naturally from it. It feels magical in a way, although again – it’s conscious effort.
And I don’t always choose it. But when I do, the air in our home feels lighter. I couldn’t see how much my negativity was infecting the rest of my family until I started letting go of it. Now that I realize how much influence I have on the tone of our home, I’m even more motivated to keep practicing gratitude and resisting the tendency to complain.
What strategies have you found helpful in cultivating patience and kindness? What changes do you see in yourself or those closest to you when you’re practicing gratitude?
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