“It helps me to think of kindness as water,” I wrote.
My friend shook her head. (This exchange took place via email, but I could feel the headshake in her reply.)
“This makes it sound like you have a hard time thinking about kindness.”
I do have a hard time thinking (and writing) about kindness.
Almost immediately I feel hokey and preachy and self-conscious.
Self-consciousness leads to worry. Do I receive and give enough kindness? How much is enough?)
Worry leads to judgment. What about other people? Is kindness the fundamental nature of the human species? No, look at all the horrible things we do to each other. We’re awful. I’m awful! No hope! No hope…
Seriously, ask me to meditate on kindness and in 10 minutes you will find me a quivering mess, miserably clinging to her blankets like one of Harlow’s poor little monkeys.
So it helps me to think of kindness as water.
We need it to live and thrive.
Kindness is not simply a single element, but a molecule – a combination of ingredients held together by simple, but powerful bonds.
It’s a “universal solvent.” In my experience, virtually everything dissolves (maybe not completely, but mostly) in the presence of kindness.
Kindness can change states, sometimes quite rapidly. Under certain conditions it may be fluid, solid, ethereal. It’s impossible to hold in one’s hands.
Over the years of our lives the average rainfall of kindness we experience varies. We’ve all known times of drought – desolate, tan, and withered times, green, lush, plentiful times, times of excess when it felt we might lose our footing – get swept away or drown in the floods of giving and loving.
Kindness can be a result of our environment. Perhaps you live and work in a place where the climate is predictable. Perhaps there are wild swings in the atmosphere. Your home and work may even exist in completely different microclimates – just a mile or two apart. You thrive in one place; shrivel in the other.
On balance, there’s more kindness on this earth than not. According to the U.S. Geological Survey website: “About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water. But water also exists in the air as water vapor, in rivers and lakes, in icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers, and even in you and your dog.” Even in the driest places on Earth there is water and therefore life is possible. So, too, even in the darkest corners of human history, even in the places that seem made of evil, human kindness exists.
Water and kindness travel in ways you cannot see or predict.
Exhale on a chilly day and you may see the water vapor of your breath for a moment, but it quickly dissipates and becomes invisible. Pour water into the soil and it will be wicked away before your eyes. Where has it gone? Will it stay where you put it?
Some of it may.
I pour water into a glass for someone I love. Some of it nourishes that body, helps it thrive. Some of it leaves. It is breathed out of their face. It seeps out of their skin. (Look at my sweet one exuding watery kindness!) Some of the water doesn’t even make it into my beloved. During the act of pouring some sloshes onto the floor (I can be very sloppy), maybe splashes the person sitting nearby.
Some evaporates right into the air. The molecules disperse. They soar into the atmosphere. They gather with other droplets from other sources and high above me form clouds that grow heavy, wet. It is possible that it may rain right here in my own town, but more likely, those droplets (at least some of them) will travel miles and miles before they shower down in a far away place.
It helps me to think of kindness like water.
It helps me to remember with every sip I take in to feel nourished.
It helps me to remember when I sigh with the satisfaction of my slaked thirst that those same molecules leave my body. With every breath I can send kindness out into the world. And perhaps, a million miles away, someone parched and desperate may turn her face toward the sky as the first drops of rain begin to fall…