I listened to Naomi Shihab Nye read her beautiful poem during an interview with Krista Tippett at OnBeing studios. To listen to the podcast, visit OnBeing.org.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
What is behind all of the actions of one's life? What makes one wake up in the morning? And when joy, hope, and light seem to vanish, what is left?
At some point, after questioning life and meditating, people can believe that everything is meaningless. There can be what Czech author Milan Kundera so aptly called: The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Even if one lives with intent, acting out of love, another can still feel hurt, betrayed, misunderstood, frustrated and angry in response. If life is so subjective, if words can be interpreted in so many different ways, if actions can be so easily misunderstood, what is there to say, what is there to do?
Sometimes life can take away everything. In the blink of an eye. Even the kindness of others is absent. It can be a desolate, unforgiving world in which to exist. One can see the terrible, self-serving acts of humans; and even the kind acts committed with selfish motivation. There is a deep sorrow in this. But why should there be sorrow, unless one feels quite deeply, that this is part of life, however unfortunate it is, and yet there is a better way to exist within such a world?
Within oneself there is exists kindness. Kindness is the loving response to sorrow. Kindness sees sorrow and says, "I know, I am sorry you are hurting. I am here for you."
The only way to change the world is to change oneself; the only way to love to the world, is to love oneself. We are the first and most importance practice ground. We may awake with sorrow, and know it in every moment of our lives; but we can choose to hold the hand of kindness within our hearts, within in each moment. We can choose to say, "I know, I am sorry you are hurting. I am here for you." And though we may feel inadequate, we can generate that space and simply allow it to be filled with loving kindness.
In letting go within that space, one can essentially dissolve into that moment and become whatever kindness needs to be. Let go of preconceptions about what kindness is. Be fully present in the moment, and let kindness be the guiding force.