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Thread: Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

  1. #1

    Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

    A friend of mine sent me this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye today and it really struck a chord. In my experience, loss has definitely made me a kinder person. When all was well with me, I was much harder on others.

    The story Naomi tells behind the poem is interesting too:

    "My husband, Michael, and I were on our honeymoon in Colombia in 1978. We knew we were in a difficult country filled with drug smugglers, but we were both optimists and felt we would be able to make it through. We ended up being robbed on a bus in the middle of the night. They took everything we had—passports, tickets, cameras, all our money—everything. It was a very stark experience. An Indian on our bus was killed, and there was the feeling that we could be next.

    We got back on the bus, and the Indian was just left by the side of the road. We decided that Michael would have to hitchhike, even though it was very dangerous, to a larger city where he hoped he could get our travelers checks reinstated. I was left alone in this unknown town. I had no idea how would I eat or where I would sleep for the days until he returned.

    I sat down in the plaza at the center of the town. All I had left was a little paper notebook and a pencil that had been in my back pocket (talk about traveling light!). I was trembling. It was twilight. I took out my pencil. I need a little guidance here, I thought. I need to know what to do next. And the poem “Kindness” seemed to float through the air of that little town and land on my page. It was like automatic writing; I wasn’t writing down concepts that I already knew and took for granted or had seen in practice. The 'you' in the poem is really me. I felt like some element in the air was speaking to me: “Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things.”




    Before you know what kindness really is
    you must lose things,
    feel the future dissolve in a moment
    like salt in a weakened broth.
    What you held in your hand,
    what you counted and carefully saved,
    all this must go so you know
    how desolate the landscape can be
    between the regions of kindness.
    How you ride and ride
    thinking the bus will never stop,
    the passengers eating maize and chicken
    will stare out the window forever.

    Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
    you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
    lies dead by the side of the road.
    You must see how this could be you,
    how he too was someone
    who journeyed through the night with plans
    and the simple breath that kept him alive.

    Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
    you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
    You must wake up with sorrow.
    You must speak to it till your voice
    catches the thread of all sorrows
    and you see the size of the cloth.

    Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
    only kindness that ties your shoes
    and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
    purchase bread,
    only kindness that raises its head
    from the crowd of the world to say
    it is I you have been looking for,
    and then goes with you every where
    like a shadow or a friend.

  2. #2
    Senior Member KellyRok's Avatar
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    So very beautiful! Thank you for sharing.


    Kelly/Jinmei

  3. #3
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    _/\_
    gassho, Shokai, still learning the way and knowing nothing
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    Just another itinerant monk; go somewhere else to listen to someone who really knows.

  4. #4
    Thank you Karasu, that was very moving. Kindness is the single most important quality we can have.

    _/\_
    Ade

  5. #5
    Treeleaf Unsui Yugen's Avatar
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    Thank you Andy. Naomi's work is beautiful. I also appreciate your remark regarding kindness to others. Change in my life has definitely made me more aware of the impact of my actions on others, and I'd like to think, kinder and more compassionate. This is a nice reflection with which to start the day. Thanks again.

    Deep bows
    Yugen
    Please take all my comments with a grain of salt - I am a novice priest and anything I say is to be taken with a good dose of skepticism - Shodo Yugen

  6. #6
    Beautifully kind Andy.

    Gassho
    Shingen
    真 眼

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Myosha's Avatar
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    Thank you.


    Gassho,
    Edward
    Practice with humility, respect all beings, avoid attachments, give rise to praja from your own awareness, put an end to delusions - Hui-neng

  8. #8
    Senior Member Bunny's Avatar
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    I've read this poem countless times but never knew the back story. Its meaning is much richer now for me. Thank you.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    Andy, I am so grateful that you posted this. When I was a child, I had some very, very difficult things to overcome. And now, here I am, 37 yrs old, and still sometimes struggle with the "why" Why did that have to happen to me? Why? But as I read this poem, the why can become the needle that threads events in my life together, instead of creating a dualistic mind, perhaps it can weave a tapestry together where it is no longer the why that matters, so much as the notion--what have I done with it?


    Treena

  10. #10
    Senior Member Heion's Avatar
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    Poems can convey so much in so little.

    Gassho,
    Alex

  11. #11
    Senior Member Troy's Avatar
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    Thank you for sharing!


    Metta, Troy

  12. #12
    Just witnessing kindness is transformational. Thx for this post.

    Sent from my RM-860_nam_usa_100 using Tapatalk
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    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

  13. #13
    Beautiful and touching. And I agree, all the early tough times of my life made me think "When Im on a better track Ill share as much as I can and will be kind to other beings, specially the ones going through similar circumstances as I". And in time, I do that as much as I can.

    Thanx for sharing.

    Gassho.
    Meditate and Defy.

  14. #14
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Sometimes we have to lose it all and hit the bottom hard to really see life for the first time.

    Thank you.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

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