Fundamentally, nothing can respond to a stimuli it doesn’t perceive. Whether a robot car, a wolf, a rose bush, a person, or a rock. Not a single one of them can respond to things they aren’t aware of.
Bubbles limit kindness, primarily because they inhibit awareness. When you’re caught in your own story about how broken American politics are, triggered by the stupid bumper sticker you saw on an ugly, beat-up old car that shouldn’t even be on the road, you’re a lot less likely to notice the ducklings trying to cross the street in front of you. And you can’t brake for ducklings you don’t see.
Frequently, when I reflect on a time when I felt I was unnecessarily rude, mean, or harsh in either speech or action, I find that the reason is that I wasn’t really there for the encounter.
We are tremendously sensitive when we focus. Most of us can tell that another person is even slightly uneasy in a situation when we make the effort. We can tell in all the micro-cues something about their internal state that they probably wouldn’t disclose, and may not themselves be aware of. But we have to be paying attention to notice it.
And we have to be paying attention to notice how the reality of their reaction feels to us. If you’re not careful, noticing someone uneasy in your presence can set you off in any number of directions.
And we have to be paying attention to notice how the reality of their reaction feels to us. If you’re not careful, noticing someone uneasy in your presence can set you off in any number of directions. Maybe you yourself suddenly feel uneasy. And that can becomes its own cycle, spiraling toward any array of emotions, from fear to anger. None of which you formally choose. You’ll just later find yourself in one.
Awareness is an incredibly hard thing to cultivate. When you start trying, you’ll likely find yourself frustrated by just how little active awareness you have in a given moment. And that can becomes its own cycle, spiraling toward any array of emotions, from fear to anger. None of which you formally choose. You’ll just later find yourself in one.
But awareness of the present situation is utterly essential if you’re going to find a way to act kindly inside of it. So you must, if you truly aspire to be your kindest self, cultivate it. Call it mindfulness or presence or awareness or embodiedness or prayer or whatever you want. But work on it. Make it something you aspire to do, that you spend time getting better at.
You can start now. Just notice your breathing. You’re breathing in, you’re breathing out. Don’t try to change your breath, just notice it passing in and out. When you notice that you’re no longer noticing it, return. Stay with your breath as much as you can. When you drift away, don’t fret or analyze — that takes you back into your bubble. Stay with the breath. In. Out. In. Out. It’ll go like that until you die, so you can always come back to it.
Breath meditation seems a bit dull, but it’s the simplest and best tool you have to cultivate awareness. Awareness that can stop you from suddenly waking up in a state of fear or anger you haven’t chosen. Awareness that can enable spontaneous kindness you can’t possibly imagine.