“You too can change your world from the inside out through acts of kindness!” I heard myself say these words to the group in front of me as I drew my talk to a close.
By Anita Neilson
Speaking the words aloud with this new-found confidence, I thought inwardly about how far I had come in the past few years and how much my world had been transformed for the better by shifting the focus from ‘inward looking’ to ‘outward acting’, distress to harmony, self-pity to kindness.
Eight years earlier, my world as I knew it had come to an abrupt end when I was floored by two illnesses, Fibromyalgia and M.E. (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I had a successful yet stressful job as a Secondary School (High School) Teacher, enjoyed foreign holidays, expensive clothes, jewelry and cars. I was living the dream—or so I thought! Yet with hindsight I could now recognise a sadness and emptiness inside which I hadn’t previously realised were there. Meanwhile, tsunamis of fatigue swept over me daily and constant pain seeped into my muscles and bones after the smallest amount of physical or mental effort. It took a huge amount of effort to get myself out of bed each morning to drive the 45 minutes to work, knowing that I’d be exhausted as soon as I arrived and that I’d then have to push myself through eight hours of work before driving home again. I felt as if everyone wanted a piece of me and I didn’t have any more pieces left to give. This may sound familiar to many people reading this. Diagnosis took many years, during which time I fell into depression, anxiety, inertia and, at times, hopelessness. Little by little, capabilities were withdrawn from me – work, housework, exercise, hobbies. It was so frightening to feel my body and mind closing down more and more each day. Friends went by the wayside. Washing and dressing became optional activities. Many times, I thought, “Why bother living?” since I could no longer do any of the things I was once able to do, and there seemed to be no medical cure for these ailments. I wanted my old life back. I felt a desperate sense of loss and helplessness.
At the same time, however, I discovered meditation. I started to read self-help books. Loved ones gently guided and cajoled me to keep positive. Step by step, with surprise then delight, I also found my way back to God. The awareness slowly dawned that there was plenty I could still do if I simply shifted my mental and emotional focus. I may no longer have been a human “doing” but I was still a human “being.” I would often read in the media about acts of kindness and I too longed to show kindness to others. The only problem was that, being ‘housebound,’ I had little social contact on a daily basis. How could I make a meaningful contribution to the world around me when I felt as if my life was in stasis?
And so, a little each day, I noted down all that I had learned in the years since illness came to stay. These ideas became a blog, spiritual poetry and a book on acts of kindness. The focus on sharing these ideas with others in a similar situation has been the greatest act of kindness to myself! Not for me the big, visible acts of kindness, but rather the small acts of kindness within us all. I see these clearly now as threads of compassion which bind the whole tapestry of the world together, a visual representation of our interconnectedness if you like. Where did I start on this kindness revolution? With myself – for I believe that if we learn to be kind to ourselves, we strengthen our spiritual core. This then makes it easier for us to “change our world from the inside out,” just as I would tell the group eight years later.
Kindness starts within:
My inward journey was facilitated when I was given a book on gratitude by a friend. After working through the daily practices within its pages, I came to cherish my new life and accept that none of us is the person we once were. My eyes had been opened to all the blessings I had in life (including the ‘bad’ things) and to the reality of its ever-changing nature. I had never thought about it before, but life is all about change, isn’t it? It is scientifically accepted now that all life is energy and that energy is constantly fluctuating, never standing still. So, it is with us. My negativity held me ‘in stasis’ and prevented me from growing. Not only was I physically ‘housebound’ but I was also mentally ‘bound’ by my self-imposed limitations.
If I asked others today what they could do ten or twenty years ago that they can’t do now, their list would probably be quite a long one. I’ve learned that it’s best not to take life’s challenges too personally. They’re given to us as opportunities to grow, should we grasp them. Through trial and error, I have also come to see that the best way to approach life is to accept our new reality but also to maintain a positive focus on our capabilities and crucially how we can use these skills to help others.
The aim of my book, ‘Acts of Kindness from your Armchair’ is to show how you can not only make a meaningful contribution to the world around you, but also change it for the better. There is an abundance of kindness inherent in everyone. Here are some of the activities that I have found to be so beneficial to my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health that I wanted to share them with you. Being kind to yourself includes changing your negative habits (thoughts, words, acts) to positive ones; mindfulness meditations to ease stress and agitation; choosing positive, uplifting television and media content; practicing gratitude, eating a healthy, plant-based diet and much more. This is just the start because once we can be kind to ourselves, it then becomes effortless to show kindness to others, to the animal kingdom and to the environment. Once we allow love free rein in our hearts, there’s no holding it back! I no longer consider myself ‘housebound’ but ‘home free’!
We are not separate but part of the Whole:
When I am asked “How can you be kind to ‘bad’ people?”, I answer simply: “How can I not?” Each of us is on our life’s journey. We all have our challenges to face in order for our Soul to grow. We are individuals yet have a symbiotic relationship with all of life on Earth. I believe that we are all meant to be kind, and not just to people we like!
When you become aware of this tenet of interconnectedness, it changes your outlook on everything and leads to major acts of kindness to yourself and others. This is a big step forward on your Soul’s journey and the joy it brings to your heart to think loving thoughts about those in need, speak kindly of others whom you would otherwise have judged, or smile at the delivery person and thank him/her for the service they provide, and so on, is immeasurable.
So, commit to making a change today! You are capable of so much more than you believe. You are stronger and kinder than you think. We can all make the change to a new way of living through compassion. We can all become more understanding and lead a life of kindness. We can all, regardless of our limitations, change our world today from the inside out and be ‘home free’ for life!
About the Author:
Anita Neilson is a Writer, Spiritual Poet and Blogger. A graduate in languages, she traveled, lived and worked in Europe before a career in teaching in Scotland. She has M.E. and Fibromyalgia and is now a self-employed writer. She lives in Ayrshire, in the west of Scotland, with her husband and two dogs.
Her book: ‘Acts of Kindness from your Armchair’, published by Ayni Books is out November 24, 2017.