Nature & Health, February - March 2007

"Kindness is compassion in action." This was my partner's thoughtful response when, in preparation for this column, I asked him how he would define kindness. A pretty good definition, I thought. 

His words made me realise the countless ways we can express kindness in our lives. Every single moment, we have the choice to be kind, in thought, word, and deed. When our thoughts are compassionate, our actions become more considerate, and we are more generous with our hearts.

Consider, for example, how you get up  in the morning. If you're in a foul mood, then that will set your intention for the day, and even the simplest act will be a struggle. If, on the other hand, you choose to feel confident and hopeful about the day's possibilities, your actions will reflect this state of mind and you will move through the day with considerably more ease. We are constantly choosing, how, what and when we will think, feel, do and be. Choosing to be kind is essentially the same mindset. 

Buddha said, "The thought manifests as the word. The word manifests as the deed. The deed develops into habit. The habit hardens into character. So watch thought and its ways with care, and let it spring forth from love borne out of concern for all beings." This directive may be summed up in one word that is integral to the Buddhist tradition of 'lovingkindness', or etta. This is the practice of making a conscious and continuous effort to always treat others in a loving, kind and generous way - even those who have done you harm, and those who you do not know and may never meet. 

The real power of lovingkindness is that it is not just the recipients of your behaviour who benefit - you do too. When you act with malice or greed, you become a smaller, meaner, less secure person; when you act with love, kindness, generosity of spirit and selflessness, you put yourself on a path towards becoming happier, more contented and more at peace with yourself and others. 

Once you decide to move forward into the world as a person of compassion, your actions will have the capacity to impact further that you can believe possible. We can never really know just how far the smallest kind action will travel. Chances are that the boy you gave up his seat for an elderly lady on the train this morning had receive a hug.