"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Happily sailing on a sea of kindness

By on October 29, 2018 in Columnist with 0 Comments

June DarlingBy June Darling

In September while walking the dock at Shilshole Marina in Seattle, I noticed a man with a hat and jacket on that read, “Gratitude Sailing” with a logo of a heart and a sail entwined. Under his jacket was a t-shirt with “life is good.”

I asked about his paraphernalia.

Stephen Lamsom started talking with us and invited my husband and me aboard his 80-foot sailboat.

Inside the galley, “Lammy” (as he’s sometimes called) told his moving story of once feeling like a failure because of various issues including a bankruptcy. He suffered from three serious physical ailments that kept him bedridden and in constant pain.

He had always been a caring sort of person, but as he considered the possibility of being at the end of his life, he realized that he had never shown how deeply he cared for others. He knew just what he wanted to do to change that.

Stephen decided to use his sailing skills to take other people who were in pain out on the water. He felt like a few hours on the water, seeing the beauty of nature, feeling the kindness and care of others would be a healing respite for them.

Stephen had to figure out how to get a boat and navigate many other difficulties, but he succeeded and has now taken over 1,000 people on what he calls “healing and heeling” excursions (heeling being a sailing term for a boat’s leaning over as it’s powered by the wind).

Stephen is a man on a mission. And he’s grateful for this opportunity to help people.

Lammy shared many heartwarming stories about various people in pain who found joy on the sailboat. In the meantime, he is also recovering from his illnesses, which is no big surprise to him.

Lammy believes kindness and compassion provokes mutual healing, happiness and fosters a deep awareness of how good life is — gratitude.

Unfortunately, kindness and compassion are currently out of vogue, according to historians like Dr. Barbara Taylor.

Taylor says that kindness was promoted for many years by the Greeks and even some of the early Romans.

Same for early Christianity. Kindness was talked about as caritas, or charity by Christians. It was seen as a great source of pleasure as well as an important virtue by people like the Stoics, Marcus Aurelius, and Cicero who thought it was essential for the good life.

In the 1700s (and really the stage had been set by St. Augustine in the late 300s and early 400s), Protestantism declared man to be fundamentally flawed. Many people still believe in the basic meanness of man (and woman).

As I look at my own life, it’s easy to see how easy nastiness comes to us. No wonder we’ve begun to doubt our basic goodness.

Psychologists like Dr. Tara Cousineau (author of The Kindness Cure: How the Science of Compassion Can Heal Your Heart and Your World), psychoanalyst Dr. Adam Phillips (popularly known as the guru of Notting Hill), and physicians like Dr. Stephen Post (author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People) say we’d better turn that around if we want to deeply experience the good life.

Neuroscientists like Richard Davidson are trying to help us see ourselves differently.

“Human beings come into the world with innate, basic goodness. When we engage in practices that are designed to cultivate kindness and compassion… we’re not actually creating something that didn’t already exist. What we’re doing is recognizing, strengthening, and nurturing a quality that was there from the outset,” said Davidson.

I’m not sure if it’s important to believe in basic goodness — our beliefs around that obviously come and go historically. What’s most important is that we know we ARE capable of being kind and it feels good to us.

Neuroscientists have found that certain practices can prime the brain and make us all be able to pay attention to others, to notice and care about suffering without being overwhelmed, and to take actions aimed to help, as well as to be able to hold others’ accountable in ways that work.

AND when we are kinder, we become less stressed, more connected to others. Our many fears and concerns fade. We can successfully collaborate and build community together.

If you, like me, would like to strengthen your kindness and compassion, right now is a good time to start. November is the month of gratitude. Gratitude often goes hand-in-hand with compassion and kindness.

Many practices can help build kindness. Here are three sound practices you can mix up for each day this month.

Simply set aside each day for a week to remember acts of kindness you saw, or you received, or you gave.

The more you notice, the more you notice. Smiles, hugs, people holding the door open, encouraging emails, gifts.

Do an act of kindness for a friend, family, member or stranger. Buy a movie ticket or cup of coffee. Take a meal. Pick up litter.

Think about what action you can do that would be a kindness to yourself. It could be a walk, listening to music, reading something fun for 30 minutes.

Researchers have been surprised to find that all types of kindnesses — to one’s own self, to others, and just noticing and thinking about kindness have the same effect of boosting happiness.

People who work with mental illness, like Phillips, claim that it is a blockage of the need to be kind which often makes people unhappy and sends them to a psychiatrist (he claims more than any other issue!). Those who sit beside dying people remark that often the dying person’s biggest regret was not being a bit kinder.

Being kind is rewarding for us — like love, it makes the world go around.  Maybe we are wired for it.

We don’t have to wait for psychiatrist to tell us. We don’t have to wait until we are on our deathbeds. We don’t have to find an 80-foot sailboat, we don’t need to be a winner in life or a big shot. We have easy ways for each of us to practice being kind right now.

How might you practice more kindness and move up to The Good Life?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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