Earlier today, I was sitting on a bus, stewing over what I perceived to be life’s “injustices” — comparing what the “good guys” (including myself in this category, of course) have accomplished, versus what people I deem “unworthy” have accomplished. You see, recently a sequence of events has transpired in which someone I consider a truly good person has received bad news, while someone I consider kind of a jerk has landed a good opportunity.
So there I was, stewing away on the crowded city bus, when an old woman boarded. There were no seats, and no one else seemed to be offering her a seat, and so I gave her mine. She smiled, and thanked me, sitting down while I found my place in the aisle. That interaction knocked me out of my little funk, and reminded me of the power to be found in kindness.
You see, to engage in kindness requires us to get out of our heads; it requires us to reach out toward another human being; it requires us to see the world beyond our own worries; and it requires us to appreciate the present moment. An act of kindness is not one-way — it moves outward in all directions, affecting the person offering it as profoundly as the person receiving it. It is a fleeting moment of enlightenment. It may only be a fraction of a second, but in that instant, we can touch enlightenment.
Practicing kindness can also help us overcome many of the psychological struggles associated with diabetes. It can offer us peace, acceptance, and wisdom. It can be the practice that transcends pain, disappointment, and all of our perceived “failures.” It can offer us peace in the midst of troubled times and difficult situations.
Get out of your head
Getting out of our heads is a good thing for us Diabetians. We have to be so vigilant, monitoring our food, our insulin, our blood glucose, our activity levels, 24 hours a day. It is so easy to become locked in our heads, obsessing over it and trying to get everything perfect. Before long, we can start making ourselves miserable measuring every shortcoming, every imperfect number, shaming ourselves for every misstep.
We need to remember that monitoring our condition and obsessing over it are two very different things. Monitoring can be done without stress; obsessing cannot. Be on the lookout for the kind of obsessing that leads to the stewing bad mood I landed myself in on the bus. That was over something else, but I’ve found myself stewing over diabetes more than a few times over the years, and it never seems to help anything get better.
Reaching out, and working for the benefit of another human being, forces us to see a world that is bigger than our own successes and failures. It forces us to see the world with a “global eye” that understands that every human being has ups and downs, successes and failures, joy and pain, and that our own pain doesn’t need to consume us. It reminds us that our life is, to a greater extent than we often care to admit, defined by how we live it moment-to-moment, not by the successes or failures of our various endeavors.
Reaching out gives us a sense of meaning that is bigger than ourselves. It gives us a reason for action beyond our own selfish interests, and it can help us to keep going even when our own lives ARE filled with some pain. For those of us who struggle with a chronic disease that can cause significant pain, fear, and anxiety, life must mean more than just our own comfort.
The moment, the moment, the moment
Finally, practicing kindness forces us to put our attention on the present moment. That’s what my morning-bus-ride-moment did for me: it took me away from thoughts about other people’s accomplishments, the past, and projections into the future, and brought me back to the present moment; a moment in which I was riding the bus to meet up with fellow musicians to go play music. That’s a perfectly good moment, and one that I was failing to enjoy.
We tend to spend a great of our lives in the future; we are always planning for what will be, or fantasizing about what we hope will be. In so doing, we fail to live our lives. We sleepwalk through our daily experiences, never truly experiencing anything. And for those of us living with diabetes, living in the future can mean worrying about complications, worrying about losing control, and filling our lives with anxiety about might happen.
It’s been said many times, and it can sound trite, but it’s deeply powerful if approached the right way: We need to practice kindness. To practice something means we make a conscious commitment to it, and we come back to it everyday. And so, I’m making a commitment today to practice kindness. Each day, I commit to offering kindness wherever I can. I invite all of you to do the same; do it for the world around you, and do it for yourselves.