The Force of Kindness

reviewed by Kristine Morris
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Change Your Life with Love and Compassion

By Sharon Salzberg

There is a thread that runs through all the world’s great wisdom teachings and religions, crossing the barriers of time, place, and culture. That thread is kindness, or what Sharon Salzburg calls “compassion in action.”

When someone looks at us with kindness, we see in that person’s eyes the reflection of our own value; in the absence of receiving kindness, something in us dies. “It is someone’s kindness that essentially affirms us, that conveys a sense of the wholeness they glimpse in us, a wholeness that we ourselves might barely recognize,” says Salzburg. “This is one of the great fruits of the kindness we receive from others — it supports our sense of being someone deserving of love, someone who can in turn accomplish something, who can vanquish difficulties, who can make it through the travails of life, who can be a good person.”

There is a hidden strength in it, and performing acts of kindness where harm or injury has been done and the hurt runs deep is a spiritual practice of the highest magnitude; its power is always multiplied because its effects don’t stop with us but ripple outward to impact the lives of others in ways we may never see. “Commitment to the possibility of kindness cannot be discarded as foolish or irrelevant, even in troubling times when we often can’t find easy answers,” says Salzburg. “If we abandon the force of kindness as we confront cruelty, we won’t learn anything to take into tomorrow — not from history, not from one another, not from life.”

In order to experience the power of kindness, it must become our practice — the default mechanism in our relationships with others. The reflections and meditations found in each chapter (and in an accompanying CD, with four guided meditations) can help us refine our practice so that, in Salzburg’s words, “it becomes a movement of the heart so deep and subtle that it is like a movement of the sea close to the ocean floor, all but hidden, yet affecting absolutely everything that happens above.”

Sharon Salzburg is a nationally known and respected Buddhist author and meditation teacher, and cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts.

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