The long curve of kindness

January 5th, 2011

Love is kind. 1 Corinthians 13:4

There is a lot of talk about love. There is a lot of talk about kindness. There is a lot of talk about something we might think is a high-potency spiritual blend of the two called lovingkindness. Oh, that’s the kind of kindness I want!

Everything we say about these things is one degree removed from the thing itself. But here I go in my infinite unkindness.

Lovingkindness is the absolutely emptied, undisturbed, vast and open state of mind we realize through meditation practice. Here she goes about practice again. I’ll find my brand of kindness somewhere else!

There is nothing else.

At the bottom, beneath it all, without any intention or elaboration, is lovingkindness. It is what we are; it is what everything is, as it is. When you actually experience it, not just talk about it, you find out for yourself. These days some people in the “help” business might sprinkle the mumbo-jumbo of Buddhist lingo on top of their talk to give it a little spiritual flavor. But unless you practice, the language alone is unfulfilling. It is inauthentic. When you serve it, no one can taste the truth. What is true?

Being is love; being is kind.

It is immediate and eternal. It is ever-present, absent the insidious self-centered spin we persist in putting on things.

Kindness is the long, gentle, never-ending curve we walk on.

Kindness is what we breathe. Kindness is what we eat, when we are not swallowing the bitter aftertaste of our own unkindness. The kindness of real food is what nourishes and sustains life, which is an act of love.

The meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg wrote a beautiful spiritual memoir called Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. To see the title, you might think, as I once did, that lovingkindness is an art, that it is revolutionary, or that it is an elevated form of happiness. At the recommendation of someone else, I sent the book to my mother when she was in treatment for her terminal cancer. I sent it with good intentions, as anyone would. I was hoping for a way to change the outcome of her life. She might have tried to read it; I don’t have a clue. But without finishing it, she gave it back. I’m glad she did. She didn’t need help in the lovingkindness department. But I did. A while later I read it myself and found out something.

Good intentions are the enemy of kindness.

You can’t do anything with kindness. If you do, it’s not kindness anymore, but the imposition of an expectation. Our expectations are implicit judgments that may be hidden to us, but obvious to everyone else. This is a subtle and persistent characteristic of our thoughts and feelings. When we are motivated by our own thoughts and feelings, we give people inducements to think and feel like we do. We want them to be like us. But sharing our egocentric thoughts and feelings is not kind. And believing our egocentric thoughts and feelings is most unkind to ourselves.

Kindness comes from silence. Not the silent treatment, that simmering fury, that toxic resentment; but the nonjudgmental silence of letting things be.

Silence is the kindest thing of all.

In silence, we do only what needs to be done, which is the pure kindness of love.

It’s about time I practiced it. That would be kind to us all.

This is the second in a series of posts that I am reprising in the spirit of Asilomar, the breathtaking patch of Northern California coastline which inspired them in the first place. It is my attempt to motivate you to join me there on the Monterey Peninsula on Saturday, Feb. 12 for the Plunge at Asilomar, my next one-day retreat. Read more about it, and then register to attend.

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Photo: The long, gentle curve of Asilomar.


  1. Amen! Amen I say to you! Silence is the kindest thing of all. It took me over 50 years to remember this truth. The practice of silence DOES get easier.

    Comment by Kathleen Botsford — August 26, 2008 @ 12:44 am

  2. Part of this post reminded me of shopping with my mom-in-law, who is usually kinder than I am. She was looking for a gift for her son-in-law. I pointed to something I thought he would like. She shook her head. “I know he’d probably like it, but I don’t.”

    Oh, but only if she would be like me! ha. and not so ha.

    Comment by mapelba — August 26, 2008 @ 1:26 am

  3. I’d love to read that book … but will you chide me for reading and not practicing???????? lol, friend.

    I do need this lesson. So much right now. Thanks for this.

    Comment by Shawn — August 26, 2008 @ 1:31 am

  4. I feel like you are talking directly to me in the last two posts. I had a daily practice (albeit a small one) that I seem to have lost track of somehow. I keep meaning to get back to the cushion — but keep pushing it off. Your words are a gentle reminder that I already have what I need.

    Comment by MonsoonAz — August 26, 2008 @ 1:47 am

  5. love and kindness. this is one of those posts, karen, that i swoon to read, and as i do i find my eyebrows furrowing as i try to get it, understand it, feel it in my bones. . .
    but then i stop and breathe, and just try to read it and let the words sink into me, and do their work without me doing any.
    i’m still on a learning curve here.

    Comment by Holly — August 26, 2008 @ 1:59 am

  6. Your words are always so timely. I just said last night to my daughter (and more to myself) that we need to stop having so many expectations of the people in our lives. At first I meant so we aren’t so disappointed, but I thought about it later and decided that the better motivation was so there was no judgement. I want to live without judgement. It’s so destructive.
    Love, me…the girl who will be practicing letting things be.

    Comment by Shannon — August 26, 2008 @ 2:16 am

  7. How funny that I just posted about talking less! You said it all beautifully. I want to print it and put it on my mirror. Thanks for your eloquence. Also, thanks for the thoughts on expectations. That really resonates.

    Comment by Mindful Mama — August 26, 2008 @ 2:29 am

  8. creating that silence can be so hard….

    Comment by Phyllis Sommer — August 26, 2008 @ 2:53 am

  9. thankyou

    Comment by the Uprising Crew — August 26, 2008 @ 3:48 am

  10. I’m struggling with silence so much right now, with letting that “I need need need” float away. It is most difficult within the walls of my home.

    Funny, the one place I can find it is with my mom, who will turn 87 this week. We are beginning to say goodbye, as her cancer begins to win. No one lives in the moment better than this tiny woman, who knows nothing of the Buddha.

    This afternoon, my daughter and I sat with her, and time stopped for a bit.

    Comment by bluelikethesky — August 26, 2008 @ 3:52 am

  11. Aaaah – to let things be. That is a lesson I am learning this week. I’m trying my best but the tension in my shoulders tells me otherwise. Maybe I need to stop trying, stop doing and just be.

    Comment by Shalet — August 26, 2008 @ 5:54 am

  12. This is just what I needed to read before visiting my family. Thank you!

    Comment by Jen Lee — August 26, 2008 @ 12:16 pm

  13. loved your blog for the last month since i found it.
    silence and lack of judgements haven’t came easy to me in my life(maybe because i felt it/lack of it from others all my life?).
    delicious food for thought thanks again!

    Comment by Bonnie — August 26, 2008 @ 12:53 pm

  14. Good intentions are the enemy of kindness.

    I know this having been on the end of many good intentions. I need to remember this when my good intentions get the best of me.

    Comment by She She — August 26, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

  15. Your words are such a gift …

    Comment by jakk — August 26, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

  16. …These days some people in the “help” business might sprinkle the mumbo-jumbo of Buddhist lingo on top of their talk to give it a little spiritual flavor. But unless you practice, the language alone is unfulfilling…

    Darnit, and here I thought I was getting by ok with my daily dose of Oprah!

    Very good post to ponder. Thank you.

    Comment by Lana — August 26, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

  17. I, too, am a new reader…

    This post is so masterful, as in zen master and as in so well-written.

    It is also timely… I just posted this morning about my practice of noble silence every other day at home with my two kids… Well, I try to practice!

    Silence, and listening, is such a gift. Thank you.

    Comment by Stacy (mama-om) — August 26, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  18. Amen. It’s the first day of school today…so much talking.

    Comment by Jenell Paris — August 26, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

  19. “Kindness comes from silence. Not the silent treatment, that simmering fury, that toxic resentment; but the nonjudgmental silence of letting things be.”


    Comment by Shelli — August 26, 2008 @ 9:17 pm

  20. I always read and nod through each post. Just what I always ‘need’.

    Comment by denise — August 26, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  21. Again, thank you for your kind words.

    Comment by Anna — August 26, 2008 @ 11:54 pm

  22. It seems that vacation is good for you. Or for us, your readers. But maybe that is already too many words.

    Thank you for the (un)kindness of this reminder.

    Comment by RocketMom Cheryl — August 27, 2008 @ 1:42 am

  23. I am dealing right now with some very unkind words from someone very close to me of exactly the kind that you talk about. I have refrained from responding, but I am not sure where to go from here. I have always had a problem just letting go when things have gone as far as they have. And when do we call someone on their own unkindness? Is it sometimes more kind to tell someone when they are doing something wrong? I know that is what she thinks she was doing, but where to go from there?

    Comment by Rowena — August 27, 2008 @ 2:01 am

  24. You know, Rowena. There is no where to go but here and there is nothing to say. Words do not teach. The way to end a conflict is to end it. We never change anyone else’s mind. We might only, with great self-discipline, change our own.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — August 27, 2008 @ 2:12 am

  25. Wise words indeed…. and I reminder I needed today!

    Comment by Robin — August 27, 2008 @ 2:54 am

  26. Great giveaway, thanks so much! hellomary018 at yahoo dot com

    Comment by Mary512 — August 27, 2008 @ 5:05 am

  27. Hello, What you have written concerning this book really intrigues me! I would love to understand even more. Please enter me in your delightful book drawing. Thanks very much…..Cindi

    Comment by windycindy — August 27, 2008 @ 5:33 am

  28. this sounds like a great book. Thank you. tinawittmer(at)yahoo(dot)com

    Comment by Tina — August 27, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  29. “Good intentions are the enemy of kindness.”

    this is a concept i am very well acquainted with. it takes little reminders to myself that when i enter into a place of trying to ‘spread’ kindness it can often be to earn approval.
    soaking in your post. may take me awhile to grasp the fullness of it. 🙂

    thank you Karen.

    Comment by melanie — August 27, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

  30. I had to think about this a while. Kindness is doing what needs to be done simply because it has to be done. No expectations, no agenda, no editorial commentary (particularly that annoying inner monologue). Am I even close?

    Comment by Mama Zen — August 27, 2008 @ 5:47 pm

  31. Thanks for this post. I have resisted the practice part. I have some sort of block, and many excuses not to, but it feels like a building urge to just sit, silent. Wish me luck.-Amy

    Comment by Ms. Ellaneous — August 27, 2008 @ 5:54 pm

  32. I would like this book because I need to learn to let go

    Comment by jceko77 — August 27, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  33. Being is love; being is kind.

    It is immediate and eternal. It is ever-present, absent the insidious self-centered spin we persist in putting on things.

    Lovely- I just printed and will add this to my gratitude journal I write in each day. thanks for the little gift.

    Comment by Bridge — August 28, 2008 @ 12:06 am

  34. I recently moved to South Africa with my family. I find the struggles here overwhelming and feel a constant urge to DO something, to change something. But it’s very hard, for me at least, to know what to do, how to be. Kindness without expectation or judgment is both inspiring and settling. Thanks.

    Comment by TwinUtero — August 28, 2008 @ 8:23 am

  35. Such a thought-provoking post Karen. I have found it insightful also to read the comments.I am glad this book meant so much to you and you wish to share it with others.

    Comment by Pam — August 28, 2008 @ 9:09 am

  36. Yes. Amazing truths here. Very relevant for me as I’m learning to *be* a life and wellness coach. Need to constantly check in with myself during that process to make sure I’m *be*ing with my clients from the best place possible – for their highest good.

    Comment by Lisa — August 28, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  37. I need a lot of practice with this, as a mom of two young kids. I’m tested every day!

    onlycancan at hotmail dot com

    Comment by CanCan — August 28, 2008 @ 5:05 pm

  38. I recently wrote back to my sister who I have difficulties with – she wrote a nasty email about my reaching out after so much time – and I wrote back – after much thought – I love you and apprecaite your response.

    I felt mixed about doing that until i read this today – Less was more – quiet would have been seen as the silent treatment – so thank you! Cat

    Comment by Cat — August 28, 2008 @ 8:06 pm

  39. Silence. Surrender. Peace, Love. Joy. Laughter. Free stuff. Sign me up!

    Comment by GailNHB — August 28, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

  40. And Spielbee wants one too

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — August 29, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

  41. practice, practice, practice. I’m trying…and trying to be kind to myself in so doing.

    Comment by nyjlm — August 29, 2008 @ 7:18 pm

  42. No words–just gratitude. Thank you Karen.

    Comment by Meg Casey — August 29, 2008 @ 8:20 pm

  43. I want to win.

    Comment by Anonymous — August 30, 2008 @ 1:08 am

  44. I don’t suppose bad intentions are much better. I intended to make it to Colorado today but find myself ecstatic to be here in western Kansas.


    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — August 30, 2008 @ 4:19 am

  45. i missed the boat on the giveaway but this is one of my favorite books.

    thank you for reminding me that silence is the home of kindness. i’m taking that to sleep with me tonight.

    Comment by Leah — August 30, 2008 @ 5:52 am

  46. Hitting PRINT ~ Pasting this into my journal, to read again and again.

    Comment by Swirly — January 6, 2011 @ 2:36 am

  47. Love this post on lovingkindness. It is so true that you cannot do kindness as it has a place of hidden expectation.

    Thanks for the inspiration

    Comment by Gerrianne Clare — January 7, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

  48. Some say Shakespeare’s quote: “Expectation is the root of all heartache” is sad and apathetic. I say, to live without expectation frees us and opens the door to possibility. We ‘do’ expectation all the time. All the time. It binds us and sets us up for disappointment. I’ve learned to replace expectation with gratitude for what is.

    Comment by Angela DiGiovanni | life * poetry * art — January 8, 2011 @ 3:18 am

  49. i am so happy i found your blog…thank you ali edwards blog! this is beautiful!!

    Comment by Tamara — January 8, 2011 @ 3:38 am

  50. thank you.

    Comment by Paul Brennan — January 10, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

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