Like Tennessee Williams, ‘I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.’
This is not to say that I haven’t been particularly blessed with a loving family and extraordinary friends, but it is that ‘uncalled for’ generosity and connection to me and my fate that has deepened my sense of belonging, by being made to feel that my life matters.
One such incident took place a little while ago, when my car gave up completely in a dead corner at the top of a steep incline, feeding onto a motorway. I was dressed up to the nines in party wear and stranded in a deadly position, obscured even further by the lashing storm and dusky light I was in.
Before the total horror of my predicament had sunk in, my car doors were pulled open by two men - ‘hell’s angels’ no less, in their black leathers and with their ‘rough’ ways - who had me out of the car, lifted to safety and my car pushed off the road, out of the way from oncoming traffic in less than no time. With a mere wave and a smile they were off; into their van as hastily as they’d appeared. Their parting words were that ‘this was no place for a lady to be stranded’, and they were gone.
My joy and humility at the precision and timing of how my life was saved by these two ‘Angels’ remains undiminished to this day, and from it came great learning.
So says the Dalai Lama. (Click to tweet it!)
Only this year have I started grasping what those words really mean. That came about through experiencing the work of Dr Kristin Neff, to whom I was again introduced thanks to a chance encounter with a stranger.
Dr Neff teaches the simple act of self-kindness. The concept is so alien to most of us and yet, when practiced regularly, offers a deeply transformative experience of one’s life; one that the Dalai Lama refers to.
Christmas, we know, is often a fraught time of year for people, with a surge in divorce rates. Not what we are told it should be. I’m sure that many of you are already frantically running around, thinking of all your friends and family; preparing the best Christmas you can for them. In a way, that’s easy and automatic enough.
But here’s a way to experience your generosity of spirit more deeply and with mores lasting effects.
Try these 2 beautiful exercises given to me by the kindness of strangers.
1. Be Kinder To Yourself
Take just a minute - 2 or 3 times a day - perhaps when you’re in a traffic jam, or stuck in a trolley queue at the supermarket, and acknowledge how you’re feeling. Just be honest about the level of frustration, fatigue or ‘short-fallings’ in all that you’ve set out to do. Feel it.
Then take a kind breath in, offer yourself kindness and perhaps, if you can, a generous thought. The way you would if you were a close friend or a loved child.
Notice the subtle change that comes about from this simple exercise, and enjoy the warmth of that generous feeling.
2. Be Kinder to People Beyond Your Inner Circle
Our constant preoccupation with what’s on our mind or on the screen of our mobile phone, removes us from people around us and certainly those we don’t know that well, or not at all. We objectify them and fail to recognise our shared humanity.
Take a tiny second to imagine what it might be like to be that other person. Feel their loneliness, fear, fatigue, etcetera. Sometimes it takes no more than a momentary connection, a smile or just a realisation that we’re ‘all in it together’. Teach your children too, to connect with the plight of others.
My ‘hell’s angels’ gave their kindness no thought. It was second nature to them, a completely natural gesture. They had understood what the American poet Naomi Shihab Nye expresses so well in her poem ‘Kindness’:
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
You must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
And all that leaves me to say is...
Thank you for your constant kindness and encouragement to me this year.
May you have a Happy Christmas and may you allow 2017 be a year of evermore meaningful connections - with yourself, your beloved family and friends, and your fellow travellers.
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based between Woodchurch (Ashford), Kent and the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.
Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.