Kindness isn’t always natural.
In my little corner of reality, it has been a get knocked down, get back up rollercoaster this year. Such is life though, ebbs and flows of successes & failures, joys & pains, happiness & sorrows. In truth, it wouldn’t be as much fun if it weren’t. T’is the season. ( A little heads up, I started writing this in the fall, and somehow life just happened. Now it’s March. Screw it – the thought remains. )
Fall can be an excellent time of year. The foliage does its final dance of fire before blanketing the ground. Harvest is in full swing, and vegetables are the best prices of the year. The high tempo of summer slows down. It’s also when I tend to be the most introspective and reflective. The awareness that hibernation season is upon us always leads to reflection on how the year has gone – what went well, what I could improve upon, and my general sense of the world. Perhaps it is because I have a fall birthday this is amplified, my real new year if you will.
It’s the season that makes me think of my grandmother the most.
But then she was on my mind a lot this year. There were qualities of hers that I thought of often over the months and during my rollercoaster sessions.
She was the embodiment of many contradictions, on the surface. Once a victim of polio, she had a relatively frail body. To lift one of her arms, she would have to push it up with the other. She slept with a respirator – the humming sound and beeps as she would move are still something I hear when I think of her. But good lord, she was tough. Resilience, I believe, is something I learned from her first. She was always working on something – usually keeping the lot of us fed. Harvest season was preserve season, which meant very long days in the kitchen and the garden. The only real break time was if someone stopped by for tea (she always had a pot on).
She also very rarely expressed anger. Quite possibly, she had a capacity for forgiveness that far outweighs the sum of all others I’ve ever known. She was a soldier of loving kindness.
Freefall into pickles.
This fall, nearly without realizing it, as my roller-coaster-called-life was going into a freefall of rapid-fire struggles – I found myself searching for a coping mechanism. I spent a day in near silence with my journal, reflecting, assessing, and searching for a meaning I could assign to the events. The events themselves don’t matter as much as the recognized need to create the space required to foster understanding and significance.
Somewhere in the back of my mind sat the image of my grandmother, though I don’t think I realized it at the time. The resolution to persevere kicked in, and then seemingly without conscious thought, I found myself at a local vegetable stand purchasing a trunk load of top quality candidates for pickling.
A quick search to find a couple of recipes that sounded close to grandmother’s, and I set off chopping.
Working in the kitchen is a form of active meditation for me. Just occupied enough to let my mind wander and observe the thoughts that come up. Like a steam engine getting up to speed, I start slowly, then overlap the tasks enough that I’m entirely maxed out. I love it here in this state of flow.
It feels like mere minutes have passed, but 7 hours later, liters of pickled beets, tomato sauce and cucumbers brining for mustard pickles are filling the counters, and my mind is now resolute. The path forward is clear.
The temptation to hate.
When we feel attacked, slighted, hurt, betrayed – the temptations and instincts are to lash out, to be angry, to get even. Something important to us is challenged, and our animal minds rise to this aggressively. Someone does something that we perceive to be wrong, and we shun or shame them. These days, it seems incredibly rare to take a deep breath and step back. Look at the situation and triggers with our “selves” removed. Step into the third-person view.
Hurt people, hurt people. Have you ever seen a happy, glowing, healthy person lash out and cause someone else pain? If you think you have, I suggest you look a little deeper. Beneath the surface, I’m willing to guarantee; something is happening. This person is lashing out to cause the pain that they are feeling. They inflict the pain and further deepen their situations, often leaving themselves outcast and secluded, even if temporarily. It is a shit, broken coping mechanism.
So, the original hurt person starts a chain reaction. They cause you pain. You reciprocate. You lash out again because you too are now hurting.
Stop the fucking cycle.
Precisely because it is not the easy thing to do – choose to stop perpetuating these actions. The easy way hasn’t been working has it? The easy way is how we end up with world leaders in pissing contests and child-like insult hurling. I feel like mentioning a particular president’s Twitter feed, but I don’t want to distract from the point. Isn’t it vaguely ironic that we don’t accept, “but he was mean to me,” dialogue from children, yet we do it on an automatic level as adults? How arrogantly hypocritical of us.
So here we are in the face of anger and hurt, what to do?
Respond to hurt with kindness. Take as many deep breaths as you need, and open your heart.
Start with baby steps, cause it’s a big leap from old habits. First, try remembering that whatever you are facing – it has way less to do with you than you think. Whether it’s the guy yelling at you in traffic cause you aren’t moving fast enough, your partner angrily throwing insults about how you’ve failed to clean up again, all the way down into the darkest depths of assault and tragedy…that shit isn’t about YOU. It’s about them and how they perceive their world at that moment. It’s a choice that they are making not you, and probably the best one they can make at that exact moment. As impossible as it may seem, it is imperative that we choose the believe that those around us are doing the best they can at any given moment. It is the pinnacle of arrogance to assume that you would react any differently if you were living that person’s experience, and dealing with their interpretation of the inputs.
Sure, you can see other ways to behave — you are not in the map of reality they are drowning in.
It is an act of profound love and kindness to be forgiving with the transgressions of others. To lay down the torch and choose empathy.
So what the hell do pickles and kindness have to do with each other?
Pickles – sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, sometimes mild, sometimes intense. Paired well, they add a depth and brightness to any dish – enhancing the qualities of everything around it. They are the punctuation mark that makes everything so sweet.
Kindness – that something extra that doesn’t always come naturally. Without it, things turn sour – moods, relationships, thoughts, stories. But it is so powerful, over time it can turn even the most acidic things sweet. It adds incredible depth to both our internal and external lives. It enhances everything that it touches. And when it is the most challenging choice and is still chosen – it makes everything around it brighter.
Perhaps it is best summed up by a thought relayed to me by one of the most inspirational people I know:
It’s frustrating to me, that people think that things are meaningless. We look at the scope of the universe and then decide things don’t matter. But there’s this man, walking down the street, he’s sad, he’s dirty, he’s scowling. Person after person walks by him, sometimes crossing the street to avoid him, none of them make eye contact. But you see him, and lock eyes, maybe you offer him a cigarette – a little gesture of kindness. And then as he continues to walk, there’s a little light in his eyes, a little more of a smile. Then people aren’t crossing the street to avoid him. That little gesture ripples out, has a butterfly effecti – until he’s met with more kindness.
That’s far from insignificant. All the little things matter.