Tag Archives: kindness

Savage T and Cultivating Gentleness

At the high school school where I teach, my students call me “Savage T.” The nickname came from a simple physics formula for distance, which is average speed (Savg) multiplied by time (t). When I free-style rap during lessons or make jokes, I hear my nickname and wonder who it is they see. Nothing is casual when cleaning up one’s game. Not even fun nicknames…. Another nickname I had was “Miss G.” I know I can “spit fire” all too easily.

As part of healing my PTSD, I’ve returned to actively cultivating gentleness. Gentleness is the first to go when feeling small, afraid, and threatened, which is the unconscious undertoe for those with PTSD. Now that I’m aware when I am in a flashback, I am also aware of how my ability to be gentle fizzles. Frankly, I’m amazed that I’ve demonstrated as much gentleness as I have in my life – thankfully with my own children and students – given that my own sense of safety had been compromised at a young age.

I’ve only met one person in my life who has been consistently gentle. I have studied her tone, her choice of words, and her ability to pause and listen with full attention. She also pauses before speaking. She asks if it is OK to bring something up. She often says “I don’t have any answers, just some thoughts…”. She “sends hugs” and cries at sad stories. She is the opposite of force, and is a calming breeze and a soothing balm.

There is nothing more irritating than people with “answers” for someone struggling – probably because such people make too many assumptions and turn complex situations into trite suggestions. Answer-givers are condescending, especially when their assumptions – due to lack of listening and understanding – are wrong. Know-it-alls are ignorant of others and only see themselves, and are thus really always talking to themselves. A minute of someone listening is more precious than an hour of someone spirting advice. However, it is easy to listen when there’s no personal investment in what someone has to say.

In my case, what can be an issue is my response to people. The perception of threat has given me an edge since my teenage years. While I was mostly quiet as a child, I gradually became more vocal – especially when kids attacked me after school after I first arrived in America.

I was different and a target. Although I was small, I realized that, to my surprise, I had an uncanny force latent in my scrawny body. I stood up for myself in broken English, colored by street slang and intonations. I studied Martial arts for at least two decades total, and started as soon as I began “winning” after-school fights, which took place just outside the tall wire fence of a New York City public school. I was not gentle. I was vicious – defending myself in real-time and was also, unknowingly, triggered into flashbacks.

When my flashbacks began to dominate my life again, about six years ago, I became aggressive to anything that even mildly resembled a threat. It was not conscious and I could not control my response. I got better at choosing my moments of when I shot flames, but I had made no progress distinguishing real threat from perception. I began to fail in diffusing situations which was actually a skill I had used often at work.

Now, I am practicing gentleness as my default. This requires conscious effort while sorting through the mess of flashbacks nipping at my heals. I must assume first that someone means me no harm. I must tell myself that. I must connect with their humanity and vulnerability to turn on my own gentle response. It is easier to do this when I feel no personal investment in what anyone is doing and am not bothered by their agendas. All of this takes effort on my part because I am in the thick of healing. The default is to feel imminent attack, but this must transform to offering service. This is something I can do.

If I notice myself reliving pain, which is frequent these days, I pause and practice PTSD grounding techniques I was taught by a therapist. I put myself in the present by looking, noticing, describing, and touching. I sooth myself by visualizing images that are calming to me. I distance myself from the flashbacks. Now, I am also adding a feeling of deep care to my interactions – to permeate my affect and words with the calm, quiet kindness I am more than capable of offering. As difficult as all of this feels now, I know I can do this.

It’s Not Easy to Be Kind

Kindness is a complex enough act that it requires some context. During a genuine act of kindness, a being feels united with something greater than he or she previously imagined themselves to be. The spark of that union is sacred, and it is expressed in the moment as a gift. This gift is unconditional caring and a recognition of the Divine as another. In this moment the individual expression is at its peak, shining the union into tangible words or acts. Even the air is charged with this energy.

Kindness is not sacrifice in the sense that nothing is lost – full individuality is intact and purified in the moment of self-delusion. Kindness is a sacrifice in the original sense of the word – a moment is made sacred by a connection between the Divine and its individual sparks to exceed the sum of the parts.

As with any gesture, there are many levels of depth and consciousness with which that gesture can be made. Certainly, uttering a kind word to someone without making real connection to a seeming other is a start. However, this gesture can unfold deeper and broader into the more profound gesture of relationship, which transcends the superficial human-generated boundaries. A kind word can encapsulate Divine-inspired generosity of heart, and the heart can shine Loving-Kindness unbounded.

However, I’ve learned that there are many people who distrust kindness – and, perhaps, for good reason. In the tradition of doublespeak of our social structures, it is likely that people have appeared kind to disarm, betray, or take advatage of someone in a vulnerable moment. Many have been trained to avoid kindness because there are probably strings attached and debts accrued. Such a precious gift cannot be freely offered, can it? This is true, and one has to be streetsmart about reality. Not everyone will welcome kindness and many will avoid it as a snare.

Of course, the energy vampires will be glad to gain sympathy, empathy, and kindness as an opening to suck someone dry. The people who make you tired are probably feasting on you and are unprepared for the true exchange of kindness. In this case, you must see through and avoid or neutralize such traps.

Another possibility is when a recipient of kindness views it as a weakness on your part. Then, you have no choice but to be a bitch to that person because that is all that person can respect at this time. However, you can act like a bitch without feeling and identifying with the bitchiness. It is a necessary act to maintain balance.

In other words, it is likely that your genuine kindness will be thwarted, feared, avoided, or taken as an invitation to destroy you. Nonintuitive to an innocent, but true. Just try it – be a bitch to people who don’t respect you and see what happens – they may grumble at first, talk about how you’ve changed, but quickly settle in.

Nevertheless, there are those who are ready for you to be authentically kind. They will be your friends and companions on this journey. They will treat you with care and compassion, and you will be free to do the same. Such relationships are magical friendships, surpassing any #relationshipgoals. These connections ignite creativity, energize, and heal.

One would think that everyone would welcome kindness, but careful study of human dynamics proves otherwise.

During the dry spells of absent genuine human interaction, there is only a deepening of Divine connection and finding spontaneous creative expression in the sanctitude of your space. No dry spell lasts, but the connections you share down the road will be much more potent and profound. Never be anybody’s patsy – if you are giving up yourself to others to be torn apart (like a hyena kill), you are not respecting yourself and are incapable of being truly kind anyway.

Kindness offers what is needed in the moment, whether delicate flowers or hard boundaries. Take care never lose your innocence, even when the world demands it. It is the way, for now….