Each interaction we have with people opens a metaphorical circle. Simple interactions, like those we have passing a stranger on the street, cause the circles to open and close quickly without much work on our parts. But those interactions we have with people in which something significant takes place create larger circles with larger openings. To close these requires a more mindful awareness of our responsibilities in the relationship.
If we move through life learning to open and close our circles with mindful awareness, we live happier, more fulfilled lives. Those of us with lots of unclosed circles experience a “cluttered” feeling in our interactions because we have so much unfinished business with others.
With this explanation, I introduced my kindness class to their new assignment — to do something kind for someone who at some point in their lives had helped them. At its core, the assignment was intended to help my students identify circles that were left open in their lives and to try to close one.
“If more people did this the world would be a better place.” So said Elizabeth at our next class session. She was actually quoting what was said to her by the wife of one of her college professors, the person she chose to be the recipient of her kind action.
Elizabeth explained, “In college, I was in my senior year and paying my own way. I got a notification that my bill was unpaid and I wasn’t going to graduate. My professor and his family suggested I stay with them to save on room and board. After all these years, I was able to thank him for his kindness. Without it, I don’t think I could have gone on in my schooling, met my fabulous spouse and got my wonderful job, also teaching. I think we will correspond for a long time, a kindness for both of us.”
People who have helped us, been generous toward us, or have served as a source of inspiration for us are our benefactors. These folks come into our lives to help light our way on our own unique paths. And they often come into our lives in a way and at a time in which we may not fully appreciate them. This can be, perhaps, for reasons having to do with our youth, how hectic our lives are at the time, or for a number of other reasons. We often best recognize their influence in hindsight.
Other students shared their experiences, including these comments:
“When I suddenly found myself alone with five small children and very little money, a friend offered help without unsolicited advice or criticism, including organizing a painting party for my dilapidated house. Today, ten years after her untimely death, I placed flowers on her grave. Her widower and (now) grown children were surprised and touched to find me there…”
“I called my cousin this evening to more fully express my gratitude and why I sent her the mum plant. We both had tears and laughter as we talked. A full 35 minutes of deep connecting and appreciating of each other. Yes, we’ve said it and we say it often, but decidedly acknowledging and honoring that gratitude more fully makes it come alive in my own being, and my heart expands from the activity of expressing this gratitude.”
This assignment required Elizabeth and the rest of the students to think about the past, to bring something positive from their lives into the present to both relive and more fully appreciate it. Bringing these stories into the present helped the students acknowledge their importance.
Expressing their gratitude for their benefactors then helped them close the “circle of the story” and feel a profound sense of satisfaction. In closing a circle left open, some of them also were excited to open a new one.
Also of importance, the kindness extended to the benefactors included a solid kindness for the students, too. The statement, “my heart expands from the activity of expressing this gratitude” summarizes this concept perfectly and poetically.