Kristin Neff a professor who first established self-compassion as a field of study, developed a questionnaire aimed at measuring self-compassion. I am going to ask you a few of her questions that relate to the category of self-kindness and let’s see where you fall. They are printed on the back of your bulletin so you can follow along.
For each statement, rate yourself on a scale from 1-5
1=not at all 3=somewhat 5=strongly agree
I try to be understanding and patient toward those aspects of my personality I don’t like.
When I’m going through a very hard time I give myself the caring and tenderness I need.
When I feel inadequate in some way, I try to remind myself that feelings of inadequacy are share by most people.
When things are going badly for me, I see the difficulties as a part of life that everyone goes through.
When I’m feeling down I try to approach my feelings with curiosity and openness.
When I fail at something important to me, I try to keep things in perspective.
How did you do? How many of you got close to 35 points? How many of you received closer to 7 points?
Don’t worry, if you did not score very highly. This just makes you normal in our western culture. When Thupten Jinpa who has been the principal English translator to the Dalai Lama for nearly 30 years helped create a compassionate cultivation training at Stanford University, he realized that the usual Buddhist progression of kindness to self being the starting point for expanding kindness in wider and wider circles that eventually include all sentient beings was not a good way to start. He saw that for his students, kindness to self was not a starting point but an obstacle to further development, so he changed the order of the training. But what this says is that most of us have a deep problem with offering ourselves kindness. Our internal dialogue speaks to us in tones that we would not want to repeat to someone we love. Our internal state of being might even be one of self-hatred instead of kindness. But even that can be a starting point because we hate that which we care about deeply. So that part of us that still cares can be nurtured so that it shifts our internal state of being into a place of kindness.
Our people, the people in our communities that we may or may not know yet, are crying out to find ways to shift their internal state of being away from mirroring the fear, hate, and anxiety that is present all around us. They want to experience kindness in their relationship with themselves and others. If people are hungry for spiritual practices that change their internal state of being and if our bodies are this amazing instrument that God gave us to tune to God’s frequency which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc. then we as the church must reimagine a way to engage the body in our spiritual practices.
Jesus talked about it like this…he said I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will bear much fruit. As Christians, Jesus invites us to experience being one with the The Divine and the natural result of this oneness is that we will bear fruit. The fruit that we are talking about comes from Galatians 5:22 where Paul writes, “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; ”
We are in a new sermon series titled, “Your brain on fruit.” Today, we are talking about your brain on kindness. It is so amazing that we live in a day and time where new discoveries in neuroscience help us understand what practitioners and Christian mystics have written about for 100s of year that our heart, mind, and body are profoundly affected when they are flooded with the fruit of the spirit. We become a new creation and that is what inspires me to share The Good News Jesus came to preach!
We just read Luke 6:36-37 and for most of us we immediately think that this scripture is talking about how we should treat others but let us read it again and focus the reading on ourselves.
“Be merciful to yourself, just as God is merciful to you. Do not judge yourself, and you will not be judged; do not condemn yourself, and you will not be condemned. Forgive yourself, and you will be forgiven.”
Does that feel slightly wrong to change up the words? Does it feel harder to think about? Or does the change resonate with a part of you that longs to be trained in kindness?
I have often struggled to understand the difference between nice and kind. As I read different articles this week, I put a few definitions together that help me appreciate the differences. Nice is extending pleasantries that are in a way required by our society. Nice is agreeing with people when you are supposed to in conversation. Nice is how we should behave and is a surface level, rule-oriented posture.
Kindness is the orientation of the heart towards yourself or another and is not just a matter of our behavior. Kindness extends care to everyone unconditionally, but does not have the need to save everyone from themselves.
Did you ever think about the idea that Kindness may not be nice. Kindness may cause us to share a point of disagreement or call us to share painful truth. Kindness may break the rules of niceness leaving us better for the disruption.
So how do we begin to be kind to ourselves or as the scripture asks us to be merciful, not judgmental and to forgive ourselves. Thupten Jinpa, In his book, “A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives lays the foundation for a more compassionate world by teaching readers how to first cultivate kindness towards themselves.
- Take the position of an observer of your thoughts and reframe negative messages
- Set a daily intention in the morning (scripture, your personal intention, a piece of writing, poetry, etc)
- Self-Compassion practices
- Imagine yourself as a child…be kind and protective
- Change the narrative from humans are inherently selfish to humans are inherently kind and compassionate
These shifts take time but they are remarkable when you begin to notice the difference.
So, now we have some homework this week to offer ourselves more kindness. Let’s begin to expand the circle a little wider, Jinpa’s last encouragement to us was to
Change the narrative from humans are inherently selfish to humans are inherently kind and compassionate but this is hard if you turn on the news at all. So what we need to do to orient our brains in this direction is to look for stories that confirm this narrative.
In the Little Book of Lykke (Lu-Kah), Meik Wiking writes about a man named Clark. He goes by the title “The Free Help Guy.” Clark had a regular job but felt he wasn’t changing the world. So he quit. He posted a note on the internet that said, “If you need help, I’ll help. For free.” He had his first reply in a day. A family wanted to open up their spare bedroom to an unhoused neighbor, so he helped them . Another woman asked for help naming her baby. He helped a man find and reunite with his long lost father. Then, there was a young girl named Margaret who suffered from leukemia and needed a bone-marrow donor. Clark organized a help mob dropping flyers around the area. They found her a donor but sadly she died 10 months later. (240-241)
Clark confirms that showing kindness to others reorients our hearts towards them giving us a sense of purpose and connection. It can bring us the warm fuzzies as well as great sorrow as with Margaret. Clark says, “My heart beats in a way that it never has. My life is vivid. Giving is happiness. The person who has been helped the most by the free help project is me.” Clark now works as a free-lance business consultant and is committed to helping people for life.(242)
Why would someone want to be the Free Help Guy? Neurologically it is because of the neurotrasmitters that produce endorphins and give you what is called the Helpers High. We get a helper’s high when the reward center of our brains is active. This happens because of our mirror neurons that we talked about a few weeks ago. When we help someone and see the joy they experience, our brain and body experience the joy they experience as if we were receiving the help. The brain cannot tell the difference if we are giving the help or receiving the help, so we get a reward too! Isn’t God so good to create us this way!
Kindness neurotransmitters decrease the effect of the stress hormone cortisol, produces oxytocin which is the feel-good hormone for bonding, and serotonin helps with regulating our mood. Research has shown that increased levels of oxytocin increase feelings of trust, safety, generosity and connectedness not just for others but with ourselves! (Neff, Self-Compassion, 48)
If Kindness does good things for us, the opposite of kindness also has a profound affect. The opposite of Kindness which Brian Spoon in his book the Neuroscience of the Fruit of the Spirit says is hate. Hate causes muscles to tense, breathing to become fast and cortisol to be dumped into the system to give us access to quick energy. Hate for self or others actually harms us more than the other person because we poison our bodies through a cascade of destructive neurochemicals.
Here’s another more recent story to help us change our narrative from humans are inherently selfish to humans are inherently kind and compassionate.
Here is a story from January of this year 2021. During the pandemic two rival schools in Cincinnati started an acts of kindness competition to help the restaurant industry. In an article I read, it stated that as of January of this year 100,000 restaurants have closed across the country and about 800 have closed in Ohio. Some hope to reopen, others likely are gone for good.
The pandemic era acts of kindness competition between the university of cincinnatti and xavier began at Zip’s restaurant when a customer tipped $1,000 with a note that ended, “Go Xavier!”
Then, a Bearcat fan had to one-up their crosstown rival — leaving a $1,001 tip to employees at Keystone Bar and Grill.
Next, a person left a $1002 tip on their bill at a local restaurant called Goose and Elder.
The restaurant posted the bill to Facebook, showing the $1,002 tip with a note that read, “Hey Bearcats, ball is in your court.”
At the time of the article, the latest tip at Keystone now puts the ball back in the court of Bearcats fans.
Kindness is everywhere if we look for it and kindness is contagious. Observing or even reading stories of people being kind actually make you more kind through the mind body connection. Next time you see someone being kind, begin to check in with your heart, mind, and body. Notice if your eyes light up? Does your heart feel lifted? Does your mouth shape itself into a gentle smile? All of these indicate a profound internal shift.
We have many opportunities in our weeks to observe kindness. A gentle smile. A verbal affirmation. A pause in conversation to ask how you are doing. I know for me I can quickly gloss over these and think, “Oh, they are just being nice.” But if I pause, I have the opportunity to acknowledge what this is really showing me…the orientation of the heart. We can’t see or hear the orientation of someone’s heart, but we can all feel it. There is an energy, a quality that is not scientifically measurable but very real and present.