"It takes boldness, even audacity, to step out of our habitual patterns and experiment with a quality like kindness — to work with it and see just how it might shift and open up our lives," writes meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. She continues: "For kindness to be more fully realized it needs to be distinguished from being ineffectual or meek. It needs to be infused with wisdom. Kindness needs to be supported by courage and threaded with balance."

Salzberg has been leading meditation retreats for 35 years and is the author of many books including The Force of Kindness and Faith. The spiritual practice of kindness consists of little acts — a word of thanks, a nod of approval, a greeting on the street, or a hug of a friend. In this warm and salutary guidebook, Salzberg presents meditations, anecdotes, and readings on this civilizing and humane quality.

Kindness grows naturally out of our sense of interconnectedness with others. Salzberg believes that "a loving heart is our natural home" and that compassion is "a state of mind that is itself open, abundant, and inclusive." Compassion enables us to reach beyond the walls we construct to separate ourselves from others. For many of us it is easier to be compassionate for others than it is to be compassionate with ourselves and our failings. In a very wise piece of advice, Salzberg writes: "The cultivation of contentment is also a way to cultivate kindness toward ourselves." We have so much to be thankful for and the gifts keep arriving at our door.

Another important ingredient of kindness is generosity: "The Buddha said that a true spiritual life is not possible without a generous heart. Generosity is the first quality of an awakened mind. The spiritual path begins there because of the joy that arises from a generous heart. Pure unhindered delight flows freely when we practice generosity. We experience joy in forming the intention to give, in the actual act of giving, and in recollecting the fact that we've given."

This same spirit of unselfishness animates what the Buddhists call the practice of sympathetic joy. We are used to thinking about wanting, getting, and holding on. But in this practice, we rejoice in the success and good fortune of others. Such joy banishes the thought that if someone comes up a winner, there will be less for us. Kindness also is activated by equanimity, which engenders inner calm.

Salzberg delivers what she promises: a practical companion which celebrates this overlooked quality that can heal our lives and transform our world.