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Don’t Just Be Mindful, Be Kindful

A WEALTHY WOMAN went to her meditation class one evening. Many of her neighbors had been robbed, so she told the guard at the gate to her mansion to be alert and mindful at all times.

When she returned, she discovered that her mansion had been robbed. She scolded her guard, “I told you to be mindful of burglars. You have failed me.”

“But I was mindful, ma’am,” replied the guard. “I saw the burglars going into your mansion, and I noted, ‘Burglar going in. Burglar going in.’ Then I saw them coming out with 4all your jewelry, and I mindfully noted ‘Jewelry going out. Jewelry going out.’ Then I saw them going in again and taking out your safe, and I mindfully noted again, ‘Safe being stolen. Safe being stolen.’ I was mindful, ma’am.”

mindfulness is not enough!

Had the guard been kind to his employer as well as mindful, he would have called the police. When we add kindness to mindfulness we get “kindfulness.”

A few years ago I had food poisoning. Monks of my tradition depend on almsfood, offered every day by our lay supporters. We never really know what we are eating, and we often put into our mouths something the stomach later has an argument with. An occasional stomachache is an occupational hazard for 5monks. But this time, it was far worse than a bout of indigestion. This was the agonizing cramps of food poisoning.

I took the opportunity to tap into the power of kindfulness.

I resisted the natural tendency to escape from the pain and felt the sensation as fully as I could. This is mindfulness — experiencing the feeling in the moment, as clearly as possible, without reacting. Then I added kindness. I opened the door of my heart to the pain, respecting it with emotional warmth. The mindfulness provided me with feedback. I noticed that my intestines had relaxed a little because of the kindness, and the pain was slightly less. So I continued with the kindfulness. Little by little, the pain decreased as the kindness did its job of relaxing the digestive tract. After only twenty minutes, the pain had gone, totally. I was as healthy and relaxed as if the food poisoning had never occurred.


Some may imagine there were other factors involved in my recovery but, personally, I know there weren’t. I know the key ingredient was kindfulness. I took no medication, no water, no massage — it was the therapy of kindfulness, pure and simple. Of course, I had been training in this for over forty years — which may be why it was so effective. The cramps hurt like hell and made me double up in agony — but my suffering was countered by full-on kindfulness. I have no idea what happened to the bacteria that are the cause of food poisoning, but I didn’t worry about that. The pain had gone completely. This is but one personal example of the power of kindfulness.

Kindfulness is the cause of relaxation.
It brings ease to the body,
to the mind, and to the world.
Kindfulness allows healing to happen.
Don’t just be mindful, be kindful.


Kindfulness and Stillness

MANY PEOPLE TRY to practice meditation these days. Their biggest problem is that they cannot keep their mind still. No matter how hard they try, they are unable to stop thinking. Why? Let me tell you a story that may illuminate this.

A woman received a call one afternoon, “Hi, this is C.F. Are you free this afternoon for a cup of coffee?”

“Sure,” the woman replied.

“Good,” continued C.F. “We will go that coffee shop that I like, not the one that you prefer. You will have a short black, not one of those high-cholesterol lattes that I know you like. You will have a blueberry muffin, just like 8me, not one of those silly pastries that I have seen you eat so often. We will sit in a quiet corner because that is where I want to sit, not out on the street where you always go. Then we will discuss politics, which is what I like to talk about, not that spiritual mumbo jumbo that you always twitter on about. Lastly, we will stay for sixty minutes, not fifty minutes nor seventy minutes, just exactly one hour, because that is how long I want to stay.”

“Umm…” replied the woman thinking quickly, “I just remembered that I have to see my dentist this afternoon. Sorry, C.F., I can’t make it.”

Would you like to go out for a cup
of coffee with someone who tells you where
to go, what to eat and drink, where to sit,
and what to discuss? No way! 9

And in case you haven’t figured it out yet, C.F. stands for Control Freak.

Compare this to someone meditating. “Mind, listen up! We are going to meditate now. You are going to watch the breath, which is what I want to do, not wander off wherever you want. You are going to place your awareness on the tip of the nose, which I like to do, not outside on the street. And you are going to sit there for exactly sixty minutes, not a minute more or less.”

When you are the control freak who treats your mind like a slave, no wonder your mind always tries to escape from you. It will think of useless memories, plan something that will never happen, fantasize, or fall asleep — anything to get away from you. That is why you can’t keep still!

You are a control freak —
that is why you can’t keep still! 10

The same woman receives a call, “Hi! K.F. here. Would you like to come for a coffee this afternoon? Where would you like to go? What would you like to drink and eat? We’ll sit where you like, talk about your favorite topics, and stay as long as you like.”

“Actually, I have a dentist appointment this afternoon,” replies the woman. “Heck! Never mind the dentist. I’m coming to have coffee with you.” Then they have such a relaxed and enjoyable time together that they stay much longer than anyone expected. K.F. stands of course for Kindfulness Freak.

What if you meditated by treating
your mind like a best friend?

Treating your mind like a best friend involves approaching it with warm, engaging attitude: “Hey buddy! Do you want to meditate now? 11What do you want to watch? How do you want to sit? You tell me how long.” When you treat your mind with kindfulness, your mind does not want to wander off anywhere. It likes your company. You hang out together, chilling out, for far longer than you ever expected.



Prioritizing Kindfulness

AT A FAMOUS BUSINESS school some years ago, a professor delivered an extraordinary lecture on social economics to his graduate class. Without explaining what he was doing, the professor carefully placed a glass jar on his desk. Then, in view of his students, he brought out a bag full of stones and placed them one by one in the jar, until no more would go in. He asked his students, “Is the jar full?”

“Yes,” they replied.

The professor smiled. From beneath the desk, the professor produced a second bag, this one full of gravel. He then managed to shake the smaller stones into the spaces between the 14bigger stones in the jar. A second time, he asked the students, “Is the jar full?”

“No,” they answered. They were on to him by now.

They were correct, of course, for the professor produced a bag of fine sand. He managed to coax much of the sand into the spaces between the stones and the gravel within the jar. Again he asked, “Is the jar full?”

“Probably not, Professor, knowing you,” the students replied.

Smiling at their answer, the professor brought out a small jug of water, which he poured into the jar full of stones, gravel, and sand. When no more water would fit in the jar, he put down the jug and looked at his class.

“So, what does this teach you?” he asked his students.

“That no matter how busy your schedule,” 15offered one of the students, “you can always fit something more in!” It was a famous business school, after all.

“No!” thundered the professor emphatically. “What it shows is that if you want to get the big stones in, you have to put them in first.”

It was a lesson in priorities.

Please ensure that you schedule in the “precious stones” first, or you’ll never get around to them, to fit them into your day.

What are the big stones
in your “jar”? What is most
important to fit into your life?
Can you find space for the
precious stone of kindfulness?



Cause and Effect

THROUGH MEDITATION and stillness, you acquire the deep data from which you derive insight into cause-and-effect relationships. Much of the Buddha’s teaching is about understanding cause and effect, or where things come from and why they arise. As disciples of the Buddha, if there’s a problem, we investigate it. We use our reason and experience to find out where the problem came from and where it leads. If we see that it leads to a negative or harmful state of body and mind, then we know that it is unwholesome and not connected with wisdom. Next, we investigate backward, to see the process by which that problem arose.

When you have enough kindfulness, peace, 18and wisdom, you see a whole series of causes and effects. You understand where anger, guilt, depression, and fear come from; you see how they grow inside of you.

When you see these things clearly,
you’re able to catch them early;
and because you know they are
unwholesome and unskillful,
you’re able to do something
about them.

Once a negative mental state has taken hold of your mind, you can’t do much except stand back and allow it to pass. The most important thing is to make sure you’re aware of it so that you can lessen the problem the next time it arises. This was the practice of one of my fellow monks in Thailand. He had a very difficult time in his first few years, but I admired 19him because he stood up to the defilements in his mind. Even though sometimes he had so much suffering that he thought he was going to go crazy and that he would have to leave, he stayed. The first time he was going through a really difficult period, he expected the problem to get worse and worse, but to his surprise and relief, it just petered out. It ended because he hadn’t fed into it. He now had a direct experience of the impermanent nature of those states.

Importantly, he also realized that the dark state hadn’t gone away forever. He understood it as a process: he saw how it arose and what kept it going. He saw that he didn’t need to do anything to stop it; he just needed to avoid feeding the fire and allow it to burn out on its own. Because he developed this insight, the next time he had a dark state of mind, it was much easier to deal with. He remembered his previous experience and realized that this problem, too, 20would end by itself. He didn’t make it more than it was, wasn’t afraid of it, and didn’t get upset by it. Consequently, he found it easier to endure, and because of his greater insight, the problem wasn’t as intense and didn’t last as long as before. And when it passed away again, his wisdom was further reinforced. Each time the problem arose, it was shorter and easier to bear, until eventually the problem disappeared altogether. That’s a beautiful example of wisdom in practice — simple wisdom, but wisdom nonetheless.

Every time we’re able to apply
wisdom to reduce or overcome our
problems, that’s kindfulness at work.


Kindful Not Just to People

LET ME TELL YOU a story about a man I’ll call Thomas. Thomas had spent many months meditating in our monastery in Australia before returning to his home in Germany to pursue further studies. He told me this story of how kindfulness had made him twenty euros when he really needed it.

On Thomas’s first day on the campus of a German university, an ATM emitted a strange sound as he passed — “A type of gurgling sound,” as he described it. He imagined that the university ATM was welcoming him to campus.

From that day on, Thomas repeatedly sent thoughts of kindness to his friend the ATM whenever he passed it: “May your bank notes 22never run out,” “May your customers never hit you when they discover they have no funds,” “May you never suffer a short circuit,” and so on.

After many months, Thomas was sitting in the warm sun having his lunch within a few feet of his friend, the ATM, when he heard the familiar gurgling sound again. He turned around to see a twenty-euro note emerge from the machine!

He had been by the ATM for at least fifteen minutes and no one had come close to the machine, let alone tried to make a withdrawal. He went to the machine, took the note, and then waved it in the air to see if anyone claimed it. No one did. Thomas, the poor student, said “Danke” to his friendly ATM and pocketed the cash.

I repeatedly interrogated Thomas as to the 23truth of that tale. He vehemently insisted it was true so many times that I now believe him.

So please practice kindfulness with ATMs — in fact, be kindful to everyone and everything — and who knows, one day they may be kind to you!

Be kindful to everyone
and everything.

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