What are all of these musicians doing?

“My religion is kindness.”
– The Dalai Lama

What are all these musicians doing?

In my last newsletter I offered a question to promote meaningful conversations between people like family or friends or co-workers. That question was “What did you do today that you would like some acknowledgment for?” I heard from people about the beneficial conversations that emerged in asking it – things like more connection, lightness, gratitude, feeling supported and cared for.

I’m continuing this month with another question that shines its light outside of us.

“What acts of kindness did you witness or hear about today?

Our world is more focused on observing and reporting all sorts of “acts of unkindness” that range from the mild to horrific. Acts of kindness go unnoticed and yet, intrinsic to them is a basic human power to transform our experience.

Kindness wakes us up to new possibilities and can change our mood in an instant. Many people believe it is the most powerful way to change the world. But it’s not sexy or attention getting. Most kind acts are not dramatic or sensational. They seem like ordinary occurrences that aren’t big deals.

And yet when we witness an act of kindness, it appears that the brain takes note for the particular purpose of learning. There is a system in the brain called “mirror neurons” that are the subject of much speculation. Cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology provide the view that this system is the physiological mechanism for understanding imitation – the “monkey see, monkey do” as a learning process. One researcher at UCLA, Marco lacoboni suggests that mirror neurons are the basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy. There is still much to learn about this system. However, based on the principle of what we put our attention on expands, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that seeing acts of kindness, creates and promotes more acts of kindness. So to ask someone about what acts of kindness they witnessed or heard about during the course of the day could very well bring more acts of kindness into the world. What a good idea!!!

In my experience, kindness is good therapy and medicine.

Consider these benefits:

  • Relationships thrive on kindness, and wither with criticism.
  • Health and wellbeing improve with receiving kindness from another, but are more strongly affected by doing something kind.
  • Some noticeable physical benefits are: heart rate slows, breathing becomes deeper, muscle tension is reduced, and the positive outlook eases the mind.
  • People report a reduction in pain.
  • Sorrow and grief may be softened and diminished.
  • Frustrations melt, opening the possibility of seeing them in a new light.
  • Social isolation dissolves into connection.

Trio of musicianRecently, I volunteered for a fund raising project that took place on State Street here in Madison, WI. State Street is a happening place running the distance between our capital square and the UW campus. This fundraiser was for one of our community non-profit agencies – The Literacy Network. The organization itself is a kindness incubator offering literacy services free of charge to 1000 people a year. The project was called “Busking for Books” which involved over 20 musical groups playing on the corners up and down the street inviting people to make donations to the organization. My job was to pass out literature about the network and encourage people to donate. It was easy. The musicians had the real work. They played and sang for two hours non-stop. Many people asked me what was going on, which of course was the perfect opening to describe the event. But it also was a great opportunity for me to witness the positive affect the musicians had on the passers-by – the affect their kindness in giving their time, talent, and efforts had on people. Joy, playfulness, and kindness in return were evident. Kindness ran this fundraiser. Kindness opened the hearts (and wallets) for all those who choose to pay attention. In my book that’s authentic power.

This might sound to you like I’m hawking a magic elixir. Well, I guess in a way I am.

In my work and life, I’ve witnessed countless acts of kindness and have seen the transformations that follow. If this was a pill, it would be prescribed more than any other psychotropic drug. But fortunately it is not. Kindness is available immediately at any time and completely free of charge.

I highly recommend watching for and committing deliberate and glorious acts of kindness. Start discussions with an act of kindness you’ve witnessed. Ask family, friends, and co-workers what they’ve witnessed and how it affected them.

Let’s be part of creating more kindness around us.

About the author

Suzanne Kilkus

Suzanne Kilkus is a Soto Zen meditation practitioner and teacher and has practiced as a therapist and counselor for over three decades. She is dedicated to assisting people in expanding their capacity for giving and receiving love, and for recognizing and expressing their basic goodness in everyday life. Her path to live with wholehearted compassion and care is an invitation to everyone. She is a teacher with Open Door Zen Community in Madison, WI.