5 Steps to Move from Fear to Kindness
Fear is an obstacle to kindness. Fear can stop us in our tracks and prevent us from taking kind action, from being the person we want to be and making the choices we want to make.
Standing near the top of an escalator, I watched a middle-aged woman fallas she got off, bags scattered around her. “Help her!” I thought. But I just stood there as I watched my partner leap to her rescue. Standing there, I wished I could be like him – kindness without hesitation.
Fight, flight or freeze are the classic signs of fear, and there I was, frozen in fear. It wasn’t a big emotional storm and, looking back, I see how easy it might have been to miss the fact it was fear that got in the way.
So what can we do to increase our capacity for kind action in the face of fear? The obvious answer is… practice! Here are 5 steps to move from fear to kindness. It’s best to write down what you find to create the foundation for action.
Step 1: Identify Situations where Fear Prevents You from being Kind
There are so many possible situations where fear can prevent you from being kind. Perhaps you don’t stop and talk to the homeless person because you don’t know what to say. You don’t offer someone a ride because you fear getting up early. You don’t say hi to co-workers when you arrive because you fear being seen. Or you don’t call you parent or child because you worry it will be uncomfortable.
Sit down with pen and paper, relax, become aware of your breath, your body and your mental state, and make a list of situations where fear has prevented you from being kind.
Step 2: Consider the Impact of Acting Differently
Next, write down how you would have acted differently and how that would affect you. Write down how would it affect the other person. Thinking about the benefits helps get clarity and motivates you to act.
When I recognize fear, and do the kind thing anyway, I’m always happy with the results, if for no other reason than it feels good to overcome fear! The biggest payoff though is the warm feeling inside from doing something kind. There is no better source of happiness.
Step 3: Investigate what’s Underneath the Fear
If you’re really brave and want to go deep, consider investigating what’s underneath the fear. In each situation, what are you afraid of? What is it that you don’t want to happen? Ask yourself “why do I care if this happens?” Keep asking these questions to go deeper and deeper and better understand your fear.
Now ask “what do I want?” How do you want things to be different? This can be difficult. A deep aspiration will usually be based on love (manifesting as kindness, compassion, happiness, etc.) and not something like “I want a new kitchen.” (For more detail of this method, see “Discovering the Intention of the Heart” by Paul Baranowski.)
Step 4: Make a Commitment to Act
Whether you investigated what’s underneath the fear or not, an effective way to move towards kindness is to simply practice being kind. If you want to change the neural pathways in your brain, remember that “what you fire, you wire!”
Make a concrete commitment to act. Start is with small acts of kindness, ones you can prepare for in advance.
For example, commit to one act of kindness every day for the next week. Make a list of a few situations where you might be able to do this. Start with easy things like giving a $5 or $10 grocery store gift certificate to a homeless person. Or letting your spouse or friend choose where to eat or meet, putting their preferences before your own. Or holding the door open for the people behind you. Maybe just really being present in situations where you’re often not. Paying close attention (i.e. mindful listening) when someone is talking to you can be a real gift!
Step 5: Check In Regularly
As meditation teacher Shinzen Young says, it’s important to have an accountability structure, and that means checking in regularly on your progress.
One way to do that is each night before bed, write down what you did or didn’t do. It’s not about blame, it’s about remembering! If you didn’t remember to act today, it’s no problem. You’re human. Just resolve to act tomorrow. Love never says “this is the last.” Smile, knowing that you are on the path to a braver, kinder you.
Laurie is the Centre’s Director of Finance and Development. He has been practicing mindfulness and meditation since 2001. In 2002 he spent three days at Plum Village, the home of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. He returned there many times, spending well over a year in total, learning how to touch life deeply simply by opening to present moment experience and to the wonders of life. In addition to teachers at Plum Village, Laurie has trained with several of North America’s best meditation teachers, including Joseph Goldstein, Ken McLeod, and Shinzen Young, as well as training in MBSR with Susan Woods and MBCT with Zindel Segal and Pat Rockman.
A great way to Be Brave and Be Kind is to participate in Mindfulness Challenge 2017, a fundraiser “meditate-a-thon” to help bring mindfulness-based mental health programs to marginalized people. On October 15, come meditate for mental health!