A Call for Kindness

There have been so many changes in a short amount of time due to COVID-19. Several people Steve has known personally have died from the virus, health care workers across the country are exhausted, overwhelmed, and dying as well. Folk scramble to try to figure out who to believe and what to do. It’s stressful for everyone!

The human body was designed for three responses to stress—fight, flight, or freeze. When triggered by a stressor (like the ancient tiger about to pounce), a flood of hormonal responses prepare the body to take immediate action to save itself. This works well in a brief moment of peril (e.g. the real tiger ready to pounce), but when it is a long-term stress, this same mechanism for survival is incredibly toxic both to our bodies and our emotional wellbeing. Living under prolonged stress can cause us to close down, losing our sense of hope, trust, or even good will to others. We become focused on ourselves and our pain, feeding fear and it’s many masks like anger, resentment, anxiety, even apathy.

There is, however, an antidote to this stress response, and that is cultivating lovingkindness. Choosing a practice of kindness opens the heart and mind, allowing the biological stress response to take a break and let your body find some ease. It allows us to feel empathy for others in their struggle and to part the fog of fear to find ways forward towards a better future.

Tending kindness is a daily practice on our homestead farm. Having animals that need me every day pulls me out of myself and serving others. Their pure joy in simple pleasures like fresh water, green pasture, or new bedding help me also find joy in the small but meaningful things in life—a hot breakfast prepared by a loved one, a cozy bed at the end of a long day, or a steaming hot shower after cleaning that chicken coop. The world can still be a mess but focusing on the goodness of the moment helps me stay grounded and able to keep going.

Choosing kindness is just that—a choice. A choice you make over and over in the face of stress and fear. It is a brave choice, an altruistic choice that defies the claws of fear.

Prolonged stress can express itself in irritability and hostility—traits that are unfortunately starting to show up at Farmstead’s door. It’s certainly not comfortable thinking that someone’s unresolved stress response could turn deathly violent, as we’ve witnessed in the news. Is this necessary? Does this actually solve anything? No, of course not. We can all choose kindness and create the space each of us needs to cope with the stress of all these changes to our daily lives.

Steve was leading a lovingkindness study a few years ago, and he asked me to help lead one of the classes when he had to be away. From that session came brainstormed lists of the attributes of lovingkindness and its antithesis (what it is not). From these lists, I created a mind map drawing to bring visual aid to the concept, which I’ve used in all my Artist Way classes since. I’m offering it here as it may be helpful for you to think about what happens in the stress/fear response side of the fence, versus the lovingkindness side.

This week, I urge us all to choose kindness. When you feel your stress response welling to the surface, take a breath, refocus, and choose a better, gentler response. We all are going through this trying time, and offering kindness to each other is a tremendous gift that can ripple out through the community. The first step is to see your entrapment in the stress response, to pause, and then to choose.

There is already enough fear and pain in this world. Let us be the antidote for each other. See you down on the farm sometime.