An Unexpected Life Lesson on the Road: How I Learned to be Kind in Crowds
The Crowd in Salzburg
One of the challenges of traveling is the number of other people traveling, too. Many are moving in big groups that block the street, stand in front of stuff you’d like to see, or cram the sidewalk where you want to walk. As I was walking down a pedestrian-only street in Salzburg, Austria, I felt myself getting annoyed with the crush of tourists still there in October.
A large group of people was advancing toward me like a line of British Redcoats. I prepared to stand my ground as they neared. I had as much right to be here as they did, I thought. As I squared my shoulders and readied my stance, I heard a little voice within me say two words, "Be Kind!" I listened, stepped aside, and let the crowd of gray and blue hairs pass. It was like I woke up at that moment. Who cares if it takes me a minute longer to walk down the street. What was I thinking? Was “standing my ground” that important?
Flowers in a Picnic Table
We were on our way to a great campsite at the tip of the thumb in Michigan, Port Crescent State Park. We had reserved a beautiful site which was only steps away from the lake AND the bathroom. It was the perfect campsite. As we drove from Lima to the campground, a disturbing thought lodged in my head.
"What if people are still on our site and don’t want to leave?”
I’d read about instances of this occurring and began to worry and feel anxious about our arrival. As much as I tried to dismiss the thought, it was stuck there. We entered the campground and got near to our site, my worst fears were realized. Three trucks were parked on our campsite. When we stopped, I realized the trucks belonged to campground workers who moved their vehicles. One of the workers shouted over her shoulder, “We just finished clearing off your site. But we left the flowers on the picnic bench for you.”
We got out of our car. There on our picnic bench were two bouquets the previous campers left behind. I felt overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness and so foolish about my anxious thoughts. What was I thinking? Such a simple gesture of kindness helped make a great start to the three days we camped.
Accept the Moment As It Is
Stepping aside to let the crowd pass me in Salzburg took three minutes. Leaving two bouquets took only an instant of thoughtfulness. Kindness doesn't take that much effort, but the payoff is phenomenal. Stepping aside, I looked around at where I was and enjoyed watching the gaggle of tourists pass me by as I melted into the background. Leaving a few flowers on a picnic table made the start of our little trip so lovely. More importantly, in each of those instances, I was learning how to appreciate the moment as it was.
Instead of seeing the others as barriers or even enemies, I could experience warm and loving feelings toward them. So the question is this: “How can I learn to spend more and more of my time appreciating the moment as it is and the people in it with warmth and love?” The first small step is to practice kindness.
Kindness is not a big deal. It is a series of micro-actions that are unplanned and unexpected. Sure, you can surprise a friend with a cake you baked or send a note to a loved one, but that is not what I mean by kindness.
Here are a few micro-actions to consider:
Smile at the checkout person and say, "thank you."
Hold the door for the person behind you, even if it takes a moment longer.
Offer to get a refill of coffee, tea, water for the one with whom you share your workspace or living space.
Pick up the empty cup, dropped paper, dirty dish without making a big deal out of it.
Smile at some random fellow shopper.
Smile at the wait staff and person who refills your water at the restaurant.
Greet everyone who walks into a meeting.
There are hundreds more actions which will occur to you. And the more you practice kindness as a part of your daily life, the easier it gets until it feels normal. Being kind is putting aside a "me first" attitude in consideration of a gentler response in the moment. In the right moment, you will hear the voice in your heart, which will tell you precisely what you must do or say or not do and not say.
And what is the payoff of the practice of kindness?
Can you imagine what it would feel like to be perfectly calm and peaceful? Can you imagine what it would be like to feel less anxious and worried? Can you imagine what it would be like to feel inner serenity and quiet?
Loving Kindness Meditation
Here is a meditation that will help you to develop your kindness muscle so that when the occasion arises, you naturally move toward a kind response rather than a harsh reaction. Loving kindness thinking is an easy practice that takes no time at all except for a moment of your willingness. It can take two minutes or thirty minutes. It can happen as you stand in the checkout line or as you sit in front of a lit candle in your room. Try this.
Become quiet wherever you are.
Take a few calming breaths.
You might put your hand on your heart to help you connect with your compassion.
Then begin by imagining yourself surrounded in a flood of light.
Now say to yourself:
Goodwill Toward Yourself
May I be safe and protected from physical and mental harm.
May I be strong and healthy and enjoy well-being.
May I be peaceful and truly happy.
May I be free of suffering.
May I be healed.
May I live my life with joy and ease.
Next, imagine extending this flow of light from your heart to the heart of persons you love.
Toward Friends & Loved Ones (Try to picture each one clearly)
May you be safe and protected from physical and mental harm.
May you be strong and healthy and enjoy well-being.
May you be peaceful and truly happy.
May you be free of suffering.
May you be healed.
May you live your life with joy and ease.
Now extend these same kind thoughts to:
Neutral People (wait staff, check out staff, etc.)
Those Who Upset You (Try to picture each one clearly)
You will be surprised at how naturally you will begin to extend loving kindness to anyone: the mother in the store with an upset child, the aggressive driver who cuts you off, or the police officer who stops you for speeding! And the payoff is lowered stress, more inner peace, and the remarkable feeling of love and warmth toward everyone.