How do we learn to love if we have never felt loved? How do we learn to be kind if we have never felt kind acts towards us? How do we accept others and ourselves if we have never felt accepted? So many questions we could ask ourselves. Where to start?
Recently I earnestly had to consciously practice kindness. I was living in what could only be described as a half-way house while I looked for somewhere to settle. The place was an old, hardly renovated hotel that had been made into budget accommodation.
As with the era of the times in which it was built, there was only one layer of thin wood between rooms. So any noise from a TV, fan, fridge or even conversation was heard in adjoining rooms or down wooden, echoing halls.
Most of those in the place seemed to be on Disability pensions, although they all seemed to have stereo systems, the latest digital TV’s and plenty of booze and cigarettes. Bad backs, drug abuse, alcoholism and mental problems seemed to be the main visible challenges, while for the younger on unemployment benefits, they seemed to have depression, no skills, no enthusiasm, recent stints in correctional facilities, or drugs and alcohol seemed to be part of their way.
The language was just horrible to my mature-aged, dignified ears. I hadn’t heard so many swear words in one sentence since I was a Police officer more than 30 years before. I didn’t like it then and didn’t like it now, even though I have been one who could certainly pull out any word in anger in my day.
Just by showering, walking, ironing my clothes, having a selection of clothes to wear, not smoking and not being drunk from 10am in the morning seemed, in itself, to alienate me from them. I was certainly different.
I kept my voice quiet even when they tried to push me to react. I kept my spaces clean. I washed up the dishes in the sink without grumbling. I did what I could to keep my own peace.
If I had more food than I needed I would give it away, but that still didn’t stop someone from stealing my food if I made the mistake of buying something ahead for the next day. I learned fast.
Eventually a padlock was put on the women’s fridge but there was only one key which used to play hide and seek because of the mental state of my next-door neighbour.
I had to lock my cupboard with a padlock to keep safe such things as sugar, tea bags, biscuits, herbs etc that one needs to use. That didn’t stop someone from jemmying the top off one night and helping themselves to whatever they could reach with their arms in the hole they made. I then put everything on the bottom shelf in case it was done again after it was fixed.
I stayed out as much as I could, began volunteer work while I looked for employment and used the swimming pool in the morning so I wouldn’t have to use the disgustingly filthy bathroom. And I was thankful for house-sitting assignments from my sister and friends which got me out of the place, out of my neighbour’s hair, and put me into some peacefulness away from the chaos.
I had to keep changing my attitudes. It was a daily conscious effort to find my own peace and to change my attitudes and opinions about the people I was surrounded by. One lady kept calling me dog-faced and when drunk, she would scream it off the balcony whenever I politely asked her if she could please turn her very loud television down before or after the noise curfews.
Years ago I might have slapped her or punched her. What was my reaction now? I decided that as she spoke like that about everyone and every second word was F or C then she was expressing how much she loved me and when she was screaming her description of me over the balcony then she was telling the world how much she loved me. I grew to smile when I heard it.
The less I was affected by this the more she seemed to want to do this.
I did tell the manager about it eventually and he told the woman that as I was a lady he would appreciate it if she would stop calling me such dreadful names and if she didn’t he would personally throw her down the stairs and all her stuff would follow her. She stopped. But then started to do other things to try and get me annoyed (like hide the fridge key!).
Being angry and screaming at each other seemed to be the only way by which most of the in-mates communicated with each other. So I just kept practicing kindness.
In the end I figured it was like trying to befriend a feral dog. Give it bone and it wouldn’t want it but would be tempted anyway. It might eventually snatch it away from you and go hide it, but would come back and bark and snarl just to show you who was boss. If one continues to offer a bone and just allow it to trust then perhaps it might not be necessarily tamed, but at least wouldn’t bare the fangs.
So that was my plan. Just be kind.
After two months of practising kindness I found a lovely little unit to move into. Perhaps to show me that karma does indeed work, the real estate property manager showing me the place noted my address and said, with a look of horror on her face, No. You don’t live there. Surely you don’t live there.
I said, Yes, I do. And am very keen not to live there any more.
She said, You poor thing. You don’t belong there.
I said, Tell me about it.
So she did.
Apparently she used to be the one who would have to take rents from some of the lodgers. The one in the room next to me who used to cause me no end of problems with his noise, swearing, cursing, punching the wall threatening to punch my face, electric fan noise, TV, fish tank noise (yep, all through paper-thin walls could be heard), apparently threatened to knock her head off her shoulders because one day he didn’t have enough money in his account to pay the rent. And apparently it was her fault according to him.
Anyhow, because of all this I think it helped me to find this lovely little haven of peace and quiet and security in which I have had time to find more of myself and deeply question my life.
As I looked at the concept of kindness and just being kind when I came across someone that I would have otherwise judged as being difficult, I began to find more empathy for them.
As I became kinder to myself I was able to look more deeply into my own life. I didn’t need to understand what someone else was actually going through, but through understanding my own life, I began to find a place of understanding for others in the way of just seeing they perhaps needed kindness and were going through a difficult time.
It wasn’t my place to judge them, or tell them to do anything differently. Because I had no idea of their story. And it was none of my business unless they wanted to tell me.
What was my business was just to be kind and compassionate.
The more I began to feel kindly towards others, I also understood or felt that when I was young and growing up, I don’t ever remember any act of kindness being done in my family. I have searched my memories and have found no time that I can isolate where I might think, Oh, that was kindness.
So how does one practice something they don’t think they have learned?
It is a question I have asked myself about love, and about compassion, and about acceptance. Because I don’t ever feel that I have learned these things from example in my family unit.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying it wasn’t there. Perhaps in those times of peace was when I felt loved, accepted and connected and so I don’t remember it. Do we only remember what causes chaos or disharmony?
But what I am saying is that I don’t feel I ever felt it. Perhaps it was there and I didn’t identify with it because I was so busy feeling unaccepted, unloved and disconnected from everyone.
These days my daily mantra when I wake up is Let me love as I am loved And I mean loved by God. Not necessarily loved by another human because that comes in all shapes and sizes and expression and is dependent up it staying.
What I mean is the fully conscious, unconditional love that I believe is our core and base and Source of All That Is.
And that is never-ending.
I touched it once and it changed my life.
And it is a carrot to which I reach and strive.
For a start, just being kind to myself and changing my self-talk to be positive and not the negative, put-down that I have done for so long, has made a difference to how I see myself.
And as I have begun to respect myself and my journey the triumphs and the losses, the happiness and sadness, the anger and generosity, the love and the non-love ALL that I am the more my journey seems to bring respect.
As I am being kind, so too I am finding more kindness around me.
As I am accepting myself so too I am accepting of others and I am feeling more accepted and valued from external sources.
As I am consciously practising love through compassion and kindness, so I am feeling more loved and understood.
The mirror is working.
Do I get it right all the time?
No, but my goodness I am closer now than I ever was, and life is so much easier because I took the leap to change myself, change my thoughts, change my attitudes, to ask for help and to commit to the intention of higher conscious living.
It isn’t easy. But then, I believe, nothing that is valuable comes without an exchange of energy in some form.