“I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”   ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Kindness has not traditionally been easy for me.

I don't remember ever fitting in well with other kids, and so from elementary school I became hyper aware of the ways others would trick me into thinking we were friends or someone might play with me, only to make it clear that the idea someone would talk to me willingly was laughable. By middle school, I was pretty deeply paranoid. I suspected everyone was talking about me as I passed, whispering, planning something. I imagined that my classmates could sense me coming, could feel my wrongness and they would unconsciously part in the hallway, making room for me.

This was, of course, an incredibly unhealthy position to be in, but I didn't know what else to do. The intrusive thoughts from my OCD scared me, but also seemed like an almost rational response to the way I was treated. Eventually it evolved into a sarcastic cynicism and a certainty that no one would help me but myself. If I wanted kindness, I had to settle for the scraps I was given.

I took this lesson into my early attempts at relationships. In high school, the adults around me encouraged me to "be nice" to the boy who stalked me, and at some point I internalized the idea that I deserved to be treated badly, that boundaries were not something I got to have if I wanted to have people in my life.

A Call From Guanyin

I fell back on cynicism and distrust. Eventually I learned that the name for that kind of boundary-stomping in the name of love was abuse, and I realized that I had to claw my way out of both things simultaneously- both the cynicism and the niceness, for lack of a better word. In looking for a way to do that, I started seriously engaging with Buddhism.

I was suffering from severe vertigo, and panic attacks that made all of it worse. I began praying to Guanyin when I was too dizzy to sit up and too scared to move, chanting as a way to try to get the panic under control, and one day it was like she reached out and flipped a switch, decoupling the panic from the vertigo. It didn't solve everything, but it let me sit up and start learning to function with it.

It's hard to describe how it feels when I interact with her. Most of my spirit interactions are very thought-based. Ideas and images will pop up, or I will use automatic writing to transcribe a conversation. Guanyin is more like a presence like a hug; I feel her more than I speak to her. When I'm in a thought spiral, she'll bring a feeling of pressure like a spiritual weighted blanket, stopping me from feeling like I'm so flighty I'll just sail away. When she wants my attention on something, reading or thinking about it will feel almost cozy. That draw toward something is how I ended up focusing on lovingkindness meditation.

The way I was taught lovingkindness meditation is this: First you think of someone you truly believe loves and wants the best for you, and imagine the good things the feel toward you, and in turn wish them joy and happiness. That's pretty easy, which is why it starts there. Then you do so towards acquaintences and people you don't know, people you're neutral about. Then, if you can, you reach for people you have a complicated relationship with. When you're done, you reach inward and try to direct that same feeling toward yourself.

That last one was the hardest for me, long after I started managing to practice it toward others.

Though shadow-work and therapy and a lot of support from my now-spouse, I learned the trick of seeing other people as neither enemies nor masters but just people. People who had bad days and good days. People who had their own triggers. And once I knew that, I could make the decision to be kind because I wanted to, because sometimes people will respond to kindness with kindness of their own, and even if they don't I can be kind because it often feels better afterward.

Kindness, I learned, is not always nice. Sometimes the kind thing to do is to call someone out, because I think they can do better or because I think it's important that other people see the challenge. Sometimes the kind thing is to listen, and sometimes it is to encourage someone to do something different.

It's been a long road since then, and a lot of loving-kindness meditation. Sometims I act with the intention of kindness and my action is not correct, and I need to apologize and reset. Sometimes the thought loops are still there. Sometimes I still tell myself that I cause every bad thing, that certain things are punishment for my thoughts, that I poison everything I touch. But I've learned to reach out when that happens- to Guanyin, to my spouse, to my friends. I know those thoughts will fade again.

My Prayer to Guanyin
Om mani padme hum.
Hail to the jewel in the heart of the lotus,
multifaced, hermaphroditic goddess
of compassion and bodhisattva of patience.
I often cause suffering. My mouth moves faster
Than my regret, coughing up
Emotional acid reflux.
Share your infinite compassion
With my fucked up self, a minty chewy taste
When my foot’s in my mouth.
Teach me how you love all beings
When they’re so fucking stupid.
Teach me how not to
Call them all so fucking stupid
Since that doesn’t seem very kind of me.
I really am a terrible at this, O lady of compassion.
Luckily for me you put up with that.
Show me how to save everyone
Or if you can’t, I’ll settle
For learning when to shut up.
Thanks, o bodhisattva
Who sees the suffering of the world.
Namo guan shih yin pusa.

It's You I Like, Mister Rogers

Originally posted: 2018-06-24
My spouse took me out to see Won't You Be My Neighbor? as a delayed Father's Day gift, since it just opened in town this weekend. I went in expecting to cry - I cried at the trailer in the middle of the work day - but I was surprised I didn't sob so much as I wept quietly, almost continually. I read an interview that suggested many people have had that reaction to the trailer in part because Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was aimed at kids young enough that we often don't remember the show in detail, but we remember the relationship we had with Mr Rogers on an emotional level.

Four years into watching Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, having seen some of the episodes dozens of times, I still find myself occasionally caught off-guard by something that echoes, a series of notes that strikes the feeling of being four and sprawled on my Yaya's carpet in front of PBS. The Neighborhood of Make Believe is as primal as the Land of the Wild Things in my heart.

The hardest thing for me, and the most important thing I took away, was the glimpses we saw of his self-doubt. He worried in the end whether he was good enough, whether he had done enough. If even Fred Rogers wondered if he was a good enough person, how can I blame myself for my self-doubt and the weasels in my head?

If Fred Rogers wasn't good enough, what chance do any of the rest of us have? So I have to believe that what he did mattered, and I can translate that past those intrusive thoughts, into the knowledge that what we all do matters. What I can do is enough, if I can just do it.

For months and months now I've been circling around radical kindness. Being kind has become suspect. (At one point in the documentary they refer to the "backlash" Mr Rogers got in certain circles for telling kids they were special. Because haven't we learned yet that basic dignity and respect makes for special snowflakes?) More than that, being kind has become subversive.

So that's where I'm trying to approach everything from. What can I do to be kind to the people around me? To my family, to my neighbors, my friends in chat rooms, my coworkers and clients?

"Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now." - Fred Rogers

His show was his calling, and it's stunning to me as an adult to look at how clearly he saw his work as ministry, as something his God had put into his hands, and how little of that I needed to care about as a kid. I've been struggling with some burnout with the UU church, but I just committed to teaching OWL again in the fall. Because my kids may be middle school, but they still need someone to listen when they're working through the important things going on in their lives, and if I can do that for any of them, then it's worth it.

I don't know that I have a calling, really, but when I find something that matters, I know I have to hold on with both hands. One of the values I learned as a very small monster was kindness, and I lost it along the way, but I've learned to find it again and hold on, somehow. And I want to share it, because you're special and I like you just as you are.

"There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind."   ― Mr Rogers

"The Norse concept of frith is a central ethical principle in Norse paganism. Frith refers to the state of peace and goodwill between individuals and communities, and it is considered a sacred duty to maintain frith with others. This includes not only one's friends and allies, but also one's enemies and those who are considered outcasts or outsiders.

"In modern times, the principle of frith can be seen as a guide for how to interact with others in a respectful and honorable way. It emphasizes the importance of mutual respect and kindness, even towards those who may hold different beliefs or lifestyles. It also encourages a sense of responsibility towards the wider community and the natural world, promoting the idea that we are all interconnected and must work together to maintain balance and harmony.

"Overall, the principle of frith is a powerful reminder of the importance of kindness, empathy, and cooperation in creating a better world, both for ourselves and for future generations. As Norse pagans, we can strive to embody this principle in our daily lives and interactions with others, recognizing that our actions have a ripple effect that extends far beyond ourselves."
  ― w-y-r-d

"In [fairy tales], power is rarely the right tool for survival anyway. Rather the powerless thrive on alliances, often in the form of reciprocated acts of kindness - from beehives that were not raided, birds that were not killed but set free or fed, old women who were saluted with respect. Kindness sown among the meek is harvested in crisis."   ― Rebecca Solnit

"Kindness is the beginning and the end of my religion and yet “why can’t we just be nice” and “why can’t we just treat people decently” sort of of get on my nerves, honestly. Most days I can take them in the spirit in which they’re meant, but…

"It’s the “just”. Just be a good person. Just be kind. As if that isn’t actually a massive effort.

"Kindness and niceness and compassion and consideration mean fighting with your basest instincts, with the anger and anxiety and fear that have kept us as a species alive for millions of years. It means being able to understand how other people see the world and how our actions affect that, which takes a massive cognitive effort. And not just people in general; we have to understand that different people will see different things as kindness. To be genuinely kind all the time, you have to mentally model the interior states of everyone you meet. That is an ENORMOUS expenditure of mental and emotional labour.

"And then you have to perform kindness. Kindness is getting off the couch when someone comes in staggering under the weight of groceries. Kindness is not laughing when a child shows you something they’re proud of. Kindness is not lashing out at the person who just thoughtlessly hurt you. Kindness is not giving the curt answer.

"Empathy takes work. Kindness takes energy. These aren’t just no-cost solutions.

"And if we don’t talk about how kindness is difficult, we can’t talk about how to change circumstances so other people have more time and energy and freedom and space to be kinder too. We can’t talk about the systems that make people dehumanize each other, the poverty and scarcity that lead to helplessness and isolation and cruelty. We can’t fix things.

"And if kindness is the beginning and end of your religion, well… that makes it kind of hard to do the thing you set out to do."
  ― star anise