Reflecting for kindness: one pebble at a time
from the Mental Health Foundation (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk)
This is "Mental Health Awareness Week" (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week) and the theme being highlighted by the Mental Health Foundation is kindness. Often kindness focusses on how we treat others, whether by helping when we see someone in need, or spontaneously. We are also reminded of the importance of being kind to ourselves but this is something that can be more challenging. The following are some personal reflections on kindness to oneself, influenced by talks heard, things read, and words and deeds done and seen over the years.
Our kindness aims to alleviate someone's pain, or help them overcome a challenge, or even simply to surprise them with something they enjoy. Whatever the context in which kindness manifests, one thing I've noticed is that it has the greatest impact when it is rooted in a good understanding of the other person's situation. Without this, even with the best of intentions we can end up doing things that are perceived as insincere and, in some cases, end up causing more hurt. Understanding the other person's situation takes effort, we need to spend the time to listen, observe and reflect before we act.
I think that kindness to oneself requires similar effort to understand one's own situation and nature - otherwise we end up doing random, automatic things that seem to plaster over the symptoms of the challenges we face without addressing any underlying causes. So in my own experience, out of a sense of kindness I give myself permission to binge-watch a box set (most recently 'The Expanse' ), but without understanding the reasons why I need a break from the tasks in front of me - as a result I end up several hours later still facing the same pile of work but now with less time to complete it. This type of experience led to me thinking about how to make kindness to oneself more reflective (and effective!).
I think the first thing to acknowledge is that self-reflection and awareness of our context is hard. A metaphor that has stuck with me is that it is often like trying to see ourselves reflected in a pool of water, the stillness of which is constantly being disturbed by pebbles being thrown in. We all have a pile of pebbles to throw in - the tasks that we need to get on with. These can get in the way of us reflecting and seeing ourselves and our context. Worse is when we try and throw in lots of pebbles at once, thinking that will help get rid of the pile more quickly - we end up with a roiling mess that threatens to overspill the pool and wash us away. So what can be done?
We could stop anything being thrown into to the pool - this would be akin to shutting ourselves off from the world and putting our tasks on hold. This would enable the pool to become calm and for us to see ourselves more clearly. However, we can't do this forever so this is not sustainable in the long term. So what's an alternative?
We could pay more attention to the pool - making sure not to throw our own pebbles in when the surface is already rippling due to other stuff. Avoiding throwing handfuls of pebbles in at once also helps here so that the surface can clear and settle. The key here is focussing on one task at a time.
Of course there are times when a retreat from the world is needed - just to let the surface our our reflective pool calm down enough for us to see ourselves again and perform the acts of kindness that will help ourselves re-establish a pattern of dealing with one thing at a time. However, this is also helped by paying more attention to the pool and realising that this time and space is becoming necessary.
The longer we are able to maintain and develop a clear picture of ourselves, the more effective our kindness to ourselves will be. It can also help us be more attentive to the context of others and tune our outward acts of kindness to have greater positive impact. So here's to maintaining this self-reflection by focussing on one pebble at a time.