The Force Of Kindness by Sharon Salzberg

Ever wished you could be kinder or more compassionate? I have. Growing up with a big sister for whom kindness came naturally, I had a constant marker for this shortcoming. She is a water sign. I am a fire sign – Aries the Ram. Do not get me wrong, I am no ogre, but I have a mean streak that surprises even me at times. Over the years, especially since I have been sober, I have longed for more consistency, a new default for kindness. And in these current times, I am blessed to have close friends who are naturally this way reminding me it is possible.

My “get sober” journey started in 2008 and includes immersion in Theravada Buddhist meditation. I am lucky to have a Friday night 12-step group at our local center which marries the principles of AA and Buddhism in weekly meetings. It was here that I learned of the practice of Metta meditation. Metta meditation is a mindfulness practice rooted in kindness and compassion. You can learn more  here. You can also go right to Sharon Salzburg’s 2005 book entitled, The Force for Kindness: Change Your Life with Love and Compassion, and be inspired into this practice. It is an easy read and a great audio book. She takes everyday matters in our lives and speaks to the transformation possible with this simple practice.

Sharon is one of the small number of folks who brought Theravada Buddhism to the west in the 1970s. Their  insightful teachings are at the root of many meditation centers around the US, including mine – Common Ground Meditation Center – here in Minneapolis. She has written extensively on the loving kindness practice or Metta, as well as other spiritual journeying. This is one of her most inspirational books. Here are a few teasers for you:

  • She notes that remorse, rather than guilt, is a skillful state in response to having created harm. Remorse allows us to face our actions directly and forgive ourselves and let it go. “We need the courage to learn from our past and not live in it. Guilt, on the other hand, is considered unskillful, because of the component of lacerating self-hatred in it.”
  • “It is because we learn to love and care for ourselves that we move away from deifying any voice within that mocks us, humiliates us, and mercilessly puts us down.”
  • “The Buddha says that if we truly loved ourselves, we would never harm another, because if we harm another it is in some way diminishing who we are.”

It takes courage to choose kindness in our world today, to find a way to connect and care in the midst of anger or indifference. And I am not talking about simple niceties here. I am talking about recognition of our shared longings and humanity, our capacities for hate and for love, and the freedom we have to choose our response. Without intention for better, our responses often make things worse.

Salzburg’s book inspires and guides us to cultivate loving kindness for others and yourself and even for those with whom you argue or feel strife. Not a one-hit wonder, this is a practice of simple recitations of phrases over a 10–15-minute period. You decide how, where, and when you will practice. You can also impromptu practice when you feel your capacity for kindness tanking. Sounds True is the book publisher and they include a CD (remember 2005 publication date) with guided meditations. Just reading the book has you feeling better!

Give yourself the gift of loving kindness and watch it ripple far beyond you. I hope you will join me in this mission to be more kind today than yesterday and inspire our action with this book and its practices.