Kindness just the gift to give ourselves, others

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."

- the 14th Dalai Lama

Did you ever learn a new word and then start to see it everywhere?

Or encounter the same message or theme emanating from a variety of sources?

I've experienced both, and - as you might guess - am currently doing so right now. I keep discovering the same message from different people and places. It's simple and straightforward: Be kind.

While I was home in quarantine with a sick husband, I counted on taking an afternoon walk to preserve to my sanity, in part because I could listen to one of my favorite podcasts, "Ten Percent Happier" hosted by Dan Harris.

I was intrigued by his "Election Sanity Series," even though Election Day had passed a week before I discovered it. I found it works just as well as a "COVID Sanity Series."

Each of the four podcasts focuses on one of the four Brhama Viharas: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Or, as the pragmatic Harris translates them: friendliness, giving a crap, the opposite of schadenfreude and staying cool.

The four mental skills, Harris says, can be "powerful correctives against the vitriol that characterizes the modern political scene."

I discovered they also can be powerful correctives for just about whatever ails you.

Meditation teacher and author JoAnna Hardy kicks off the series, introducing all four mind states and delving in deeper on loving kindness.

The love that kindness leads to, Hardy believes, is not the romantic, sappy sort that we might see in a Hallmark Christmas movie or that makes us feel happy, but the ability to truly open our hearts and be authentic.

She talks about learning to send kindness and love to yourself, which can be much more difficult than it sounds. Fear - something that the COVID-19 pandemic has made abundantly present for many right now - blocks a clear mind and heart. But the rewards are great, she says, citing a favorite quote from James Baldwin: "Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."

Then earlier this week I stumbled on the December 2020 Kindness Calendar on - where else? - Facebook. I'm a big fan of calendars, and not just the cool Jacquie Lawson advent calendar on my computer or one at my house filled with chocolates. Calendars, in my mind, are closely connected with lists - and I love lists. (I learned from Harris that Buddhists love lists, too, which makes me feel more centered, less neurotic.)

This Kindness Calendar is perfect for me. It provides a task for every day of December to help us get past our difference and help each other.

Dec. 1, the day I start writing this, my directive is to share the Kindness Calendar with others and spread kindness. I'm writing this column to do just that, so check. If you're reading this on Dec. 3, the instructions are to offer to help someone facing difficulties at the moment.

And on it goes.

Some days the calendar identifies a specific thing to do, like practicing gratitude by listing the kind things others have done for you (Dec. 17). Other days, the goal seems to be more about changing your frame of mind, say by listening wholeheartedly to others without judging them (Dec. 10).

I'll share the calendar on our Facebook page so you can check it out for yourself.

This might not be the holiday season we imagined, with festive gatherings with family and friends and outings to see our favorite holiday performances. But with fewer distractions, perhaps we can make it more meaningful by focusing on loving kindness for ourselves and others. To borrow a phrase from Charlie Brown's friend Linus, that's what Christmas is all about.

- Pamela Lannom is editor

of The Hinsdalean.

Readers can email her at

[email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean