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Kindness is a Skill

Mentor Spotlight: Sharon Salzberg | Women who have personally shaped our lives.

If you are fortunate enough to find a good mentor, they can teach you any number of skills. Sharon Salzberg taught me how to be kind.

At a time when 9/11 threw the outer world into chaos, and a lifetime of unprocessed emotion wreaked havoc inside me, she gave me the tools to find compassion for myself. And through forgiving myself, I was able to generate compassion for others.

Reading Sharon’s book, Faith, gave me the first real inkling of that kind of self-acceptance. The practice of loving kindness meditation (LKM) prompted the first loosening of the tight bands of self-judgement and denial that I had carried through life. She gave me the tools to become aware of and to begin unwinding the victim within me, and the pattern of behaviors that I had developed to cope with emotions trapped inside.

Through this process of self-compassion, I could begin to release my “inner judge” and to understand the impact it had on others and on my relationships. From there, I could develop my ability to recognize when others were also acting from pain and choose to offer compassion instead of judgment.

As someone who has struggled with using the sharp bite of anger as a defensive mechanism, developing tools in kindness has provided lasting benefit for me. The LKM practice has developed my awareness of the moment of choice before I respond. I ask myself – is that true? Is that necessary? Is that kind?

Practicing loving kindness has also helped me to be more centered and aware when others are speaking with a lack of kindness. I ask myself – what unconscious pain prompts their words or actions? How can I respond with compassion and empathy - and integrity? A deep breath or a moment of silence can provide the space to dismantle my own triggers.

And in the moments when I do not act from kindness, can I forgive myself? If I react from anger and say something hurtful, can I make it right and release it? Recognizing that we are all doing the best we can in the moment we are in offers the way forward.

Sharon has had a profound impact on my life as a teacher and role model, and as a transformative part of my personal development.

Sometimes mentors come in the form of close personal or business relationships. But sometimes mentors with the most powerful impact can be the great teachers whose words move you and wisdom guides you even from a distance.

In the midst of our current world in crisis, many people are acting out from pain and suffering. It’s easy to paste on a label and ignore their common humanity. The choice to react unkindly and pay forward the suffering – or to offer compassion and build bridges through empathy – is yours alone. Sharon’s latest podcast offers insights on how to make that choice.

To learn more about the benefits and science behind the practice of loving kindness meditation (LKM), read our feature here.

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