"Human kindness lies at the core of peacemaking practice. Kindheartedness flows naturally and effortlessly toward those people we consider to be close to us, toward those we know wish us well, such as members of our own family (when these relationships are working!). When human connection is ruptured, conflict emerges, and the natural good-heartedness between people freezes or erupts into animosity. To the degree that we — either as parties to the dispute or as third parties — can bring more kindhearted intention into the situation, the possibility of reestablishing human connection is naturally enhanced. Peacemakers thus embody the theological truth that all of us are family, therefore all in a necessary web of caring for one another. When the web is torn by painful alienation, much less violence, all of us suffer and long for repair.

Kindness Practice

"Consider dedicating five or ten or twenty minutes each morning for this practice. (When your mind protests, 'I don't have time for this!' consider responding, 'You don't have time not to do this!') In a quiet place where you will not be interrupted, sit comfortably on a chair or on a cushion on the floor, in a physical posture that evokes both alertness and calm. Spend a couple of moments noticing physical sensations: places where part of your body touches the floor or the chair, where your arm touches your lap, or where there is a bit of discomfort. No need to do anything complicated or struggle to get anything right. Just notice. Then bring your attention for a couple of moments to the sounds in the room. Even in a very quiet indoor place, you may hear sounds of nature outside, the hum of the fan, or even the sound of your own breath.

"Then bring your attention to your breath itself. Again, nothing complicated. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Do not be the slightest bit surprised if you find all sorts of thoughts springing into your mind, including whole lines of narrative thought that draw you far away from the breath. This is precisely what minds are supposed to do. But very gently, without force or judgment of any kind, coax your attention — just for these few moments of dedicated practice — back to the breath moving in and out of your body, filling you and emptying, moving through you without any need for your control.

"Then begin to recite these phrases, first toward yourself, in a Jewish adaptation of the Buddhist metta practice. 'May you be blessed and protected from harm.' 'May your life be filled with light and grace.' 'May you be loved and blessed with peace.' Try saying each blessing on the in-breath, then feel it resonate in your body on the out-breath before moving on to the next phrase. If that pacing leaves your mind too open to distraction, try saying the first phrase on the in-breath, then the second on the out-breath, the third on the in-breath, then release on the out-breath.

"When you notice your mind carrying you away into judgment ('this is a stupid waste of time'), self-doubt ('I'm sure I'm not doing this right'), or just plain thinking (the to-do list or the task of planning this or that encounter you might have later in the day), gently invite your attention back to the phrases. Start by offering them toward yourself, then experiment with offering them to someone who evokes gratitude or love in you, then to someone with whom you have a casual relationship. If you find yourself loving the practice, ask yourself how many times a day you might be able to wish these phrases of well-being to people who randomly cross your path.

"The practice of offering kindness to others and to oneself lies at the very heart of the practice of peacebuilding (as well as being a central aspect of a virtuous life, by any definition). Particularly in the midst of conflict — when we encounter frightening difference or strong disagreement, when we are wounded or pained by the actions of others in our lives or in the world — fear, pain, and anger naturally crowd out the natural flow of kindness that arises when the heart is at rest. The spontaneous stream of positive regard we may have for a child or in response to the unexpected kindness of strangers emerges from a heart that is broad and expansive, feeling safe and appreciated. When we work every day to train the heart for kindness, as in the practice I have described or by some other method, we make it much more likely that we will be able to call on our own natural goodness even in the midst of a difficult conversation or challenging situation."