Kindness reflects a warm, open heart. When we start a new relationship, our ability to be kind is often tested. Suddenly our potential mate is rude to our best friend, she's late and doesn't apologize, he says he'll help us out and then breaks his promise. We're jolted, disappointed. It's easy to react by being judgmental and self-righteous — the insensitive clod, the self-centered brat, we say to ourselves. We might feel hurt and wounded and want to say I can't believe you'd do something so mean. When we become critical it's time to back off for a moment and reflect so we don't have two people separated form their hearts.

Kindness was embodied in the words of Jesus of Nazareth: "Let he who is without sin cast first stone." Instead of instantly pointing a finger at others, we can look inside. We'll find that everyone is inside us, because the whole range of human emotion lives in us. When we distance ourselves from someone else, we create distance within ourselves. This does not mean we should tolerate abusive behavior, it means we learn about ourselves by observing our behavior in relationships.

Other people are constantly holding up a mirror for us to see ourselves. If someone comes to us with their grief, and instead of attuning to them, we start crying, we've bumped into our own unresolved grief. If we are constantly afraid of someone being angry with us, we need to look at our own buried anger. The more we have acceptance and compassion for aspects of ourselves, the more we can relax when others act the same way. When someone is upset, for example, we can remain a compassionate witness instead of feeling compelled to calm them down; shut them up; fix, analyze, or judge them; or push them away.

Kindness doesn't suggest we have to like everyone's personality or want to spend time with them. We get to choose people we enjoy. But you don't have to throw anyone out of your heart either. You don't have to fix their hurt, take it away, or give them a patronizing pat on the back. You can simply observe them experiencing their feelings as part of their journey — and decide if or how you'd like to be connected with them.

Another aspect of loving kindness is to remember that it's not being free of imperfections that's crucial to relationships, it's being honest about our faults and mistakes. When we accept our humanness we become able to apologize (not grovel) for having been rude, insensitive, or dishonest. Our apology to another is a form of compassion to ourselves because it signifies acceptance. This is at the heart of intimacy. If we are struggling with various fears and foibles, instead of hiding them, we can reveal them, hopefully with compassion and amusement. By revealing ourself we find out if our new friend can join us on the journey.

Meditation on kindness: (You can imagine this or remember to do it when you are in a crowd.) When you are in a crowd, look around at all the different people. Notice their clothes, faces, hair, sizes. Look at their gestures and movements, noticing if they are loose, stiff, or free. Just take it in, without judgment, as if you were looking at a garden of people. Then see them all as energy fields, the same as you. Just energy. As you continue watching, think to yourself, Every person here has had to live every day of their lives, just like me. They have had to get up every day, decide what to wear, face loss, success, hurt, shame, just like me. Everyone fell down while learning to walk, everyone probably felt anxious the first time they kissed, just like me. Each person has a story to tell. Some of the chapters are heroic. Some of them are about loss, some about fear, some about achievement or joy, just like my story. Then continue to think of them as energy, conceived as an egg and sperm, just like you.

When you say good-bye to someone or decide not to see them again, remember you are a moment in their story. Make it a story that doesn't leave a scar.

Charlotte Kasl in If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path