I had a salutary experience yesterday evening. I was leading Open Soul Space, a facilitated gathering for meditation, contemplative prayer, sharing and teaching that is offered monthly at the London Centre for Spiritual Direction. We had all just settled down for 20 minutes’ silence when a man started talking on his phone in the street just outside our window. I immediately felt annoyed, invaded, and anxious about the people in the group. I opened my eyes, looked out the window, and saw him Skype-ing someone. I considered getting up and asking him to move away. But I reminded myself that distractions are what happen when we pray, that this was simply another distraction, that there was nothing wrong, and to breathe with it. As I continued to watch him he moved a little and his face came into view. Slowly it came to me that he was talking to a child. He was saying that he would not see her this evening because he would be late home, but that he would see her tomorrow, and that he loved her.
The world turned a little on its axis. He became another myself. Here was a father, missing his daughter, doing the best he could in the circumstances to let her know that he was there for her, thinking of her, loving her. And I loved him for it. No longer was he a distraction.
By default my heart is closed. I keep myself defended against intrusion, against judgment, against need. I feel a hardness over and in my heart. Clearly I mean that metaphorically, but I feel tightness in my chest, over and in my heart. Hardness of heart is felt in this body.
In the moment I realised what this man was doing my heart opened all by itself. I felt a physical shift in my chest – melting, softening, opening, expanding. I felt acceptance, kindness, love, gratitude for him. This is You.
The rest of the evening I practised kindness. I am not very good at it. It takes time to change the habit of a lifetime.
To practise kindness changes the heart.
The extent to which I judge other people is certainly the extent to which I project onto them what I do not accept in myself. But it is also the extent to which I limit my freedom to think and act. I box myself in by excluding certain behaviours and potential for life.
To practise kindness is not only accept myself but see that I could open the door into a new world.
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36.26