Kindness in Action is Dharma in Action

by Bart Van Melik

Why cultivate kindness? Why put kindness into action?

These questions are so central to my exploration of the dharma and to my teaching practice. Kindness may look soft, but it is so very strong – strong enough to take in all the contradictions, aggressions and mistakes of life and transform them into connection, growth and awakening.

“The greatest protection in all the world is lovingkindness.”- Buddha

This is why relational dharma practices such as Insight Dialogue are so powerful. These are the practices that strengthen our resiliency so that we can be open and vulnerable enough to learn from others, not only from our internal awareness practices. When we take in the anger, the fear, or the disappointment of others, we can also experience their love and hope. When we have the power to embrace the full range of the person in front of us, we can help reduce their pain and our isolation to reach connection and true healing.

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” – Dr. Martin Luther King

This is how we change the world one relationship at a time. Some close, some not so close.

When we rise from the cushion and go out into the world, kindness embraces the many acts of gratitude, generosity and service that we share with ourselves and with others. Sometimes they’re random acts of kindness, and sometimes they’re most definitely intentional and not always easy acts. This is what makes us human, and makes life not only bearable, but also joyful.

Kindness strengthens my practice and my practice strengthens my kindness so I can put it into action. Some may not know this about me, but in addition to teaching at dharma centers, I am blessed with the opportunity to teach mindfulness to veterans, public school children and others in very challenging circumstances. This work stretches me and strengthens me. I learn from my students everyday how to be a better person, a better father, a better husband, friend, and, of course, teacher.

I teach meditation in a NYC public school for students living in challenging circumstances. One day I invited a group of high school students to practice meditation in dialogue. This was met with lots of skepticism and laughter. Is it possible to be mindful while listening and speaking they wondered? Everyone was paired with a meditation partner and similar to Insight Dialogue practice, I asked the young people to be present for themselves and the other while reflecting on a universal theme. When we finished, a young man shared with his classmates that he was so greatly relieved to learn that he’s not the only one judging himself. The room got quiet and almost everyone nodded in recognition of the shared human condition.

Strengthening one’s resiliency is another way of saying strengthening one’s heart so it has the reserves to still reach out even under the most trying conditions. Are we strong enough to connect? Are we strong enough to be vulnerable? Strong enough to release the judging mind? Will we put kindness into action?

I am looking forward to returning to New York this month and hope that many of you will join me as we explore relational dharma practices together.

Beginning September 9th, I will be leading Insight Dialogue Sangha on the second and fourth Monday of each month from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. I will also be co-teaching a Day of Meditation on Sunday, September 29th with Rosemary Blake on Spiritual Friendship.