Monday, October 11, 2010

Turning the picture upside down

"Kindness is based on a fundamental notion of self acceptance, rather than guilt, blame or shame for the ignorant acts we've committed or the fears that still remain within us... this self-acceptance is at least half of our spiritual practice.  We are asked to touch with mercy the many parts of ourselves that we have denied, cut off, or isolated."
  -- Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart

I read this passage this morning, and thought how perfectly it turns all our pre-conceived Christian notions of self-sacrificing kindness upside down. Which is not to say this is a completely new concept: I'm sure I've mentioned before the words of the dear priest who counseled me through the painful ending of my first marriage -- "You can't pour out of an empty cup."

And one of my other favorite variations on that theme is that important admonition from the stewardesses on every plane flight: "Put the oxygen mask over your own face first."

But as I look at this quotation today, I begin to suspect that I may need to begin approaching this from another angle.  Yes, self-care is important; yes, it's good to be making sure I balance my time wisely and  keep my soul and body nourished.  And over the years I have gotten better at those things, and at asking for (and knowing) what I need.

But I'm thinking that a lot of the kindness I've seen and experienced over the years seems to flow out of the dark places in people's souls, and that that kindness seems often to be fueled by a sense of indebtedness, or out of a need for reparation for past sins, imagined or otherwise.  Which probably means -- given the human capacity for projection -- that my own kindnesses have also tended to flow from that space, which prevents me from even seeing the other types and sources of kindness -- which could in turn explain some of my trust issues?

What if we were to turn that whole picture upside down, and allow acceptance to flow into and embrace our own dark spaces (which we see in this picture goes against the natural gravitational pull) so that then, in transforming those dark places, the acceptance itself is also transformed, and flows naturally out again as a selfless, agenda-less kindness that offers itself to others free of expectation?

I think I may have caught myself giving out of that space over the course of this past weekend -- and I have to say it felt very different.  Clearer, somehow, and free-er.  Which is not to say I didn't run into the usual distasteful self-aggrandizing voices in my head -- I'm not perfect, after all!  But they were muted, and easily silenced, and the overwhelming feeling I had was of joy and gratitude that I was able to be there and speak on behalf of love.

It makes me think of Logion 108 from the Gospel of Thomas:

Yeshua says...

Whoever drinks what flows from my mouth
will come to be as I am
and I also will come to be as they are,
so that what is hidden will become manifest.

Somehow,  in learning to accept and love myself as God does, I open myself in a way that allows God's love and generosity to flow into and through me to others, further transforming me as it flows.  At least, that's what it feels like.  Eventually -- to paraphrase the title of a book I remember from my days working in a children's library -- "I'll get there -- and I suspect it'll be worth the trip!"


Louise Gallagher said...

I'm really enjoying your reflectionson A Path with Heart -- very powerful!

Maureen said...

I don't think I've come across a definition of kindness such as this. It's thought-provoking, to be sure.

I like the use of water as an image; it flows and ebbs, according to some rhythm we don't hear, is capable of taking in until it must necessarily overflow.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Your post reminds me that we never know how we influence others. Through you, your priest helped me through one of my darkest hours. Regardless of where kindness comes from, it radiates outward further than we can imagine. Your posts are a kindness to all of us and, hopefully, we pass it along.