Discovering Kindness In The Storm

(Photo: Guillermo.D)

Sand storms bring out interesting conversation.

That’s what I was thinking as fine dust hit every inch of my face, flooding my sunglasses and burning my eyes. I pulled a white bandana up over my face, and then — as suddenly as it started — it ended.

The three people seated around me came back into view, I took a sip of water, and we continued where we left off. Just another late morning at Burning Man.

I’ve since returned to San Francisco from the middle of the Nevada desert, but I brought a few things back with me. My camp, called Maslowtopia and organized by famed hotelier Chip Conley (author of Peak), gathered a motley crew of around 100 all-stars from around the world, including incredible artists, organic chefs, and wise Fortune-100 co-founders…

One of those all-stars was an A-list entrepreneur and former top-tier investment banker. Trained at Harvard as a lawyer and forged into the consummate dealmaker, she had literally built economies from scratch. Moments before the sandstorm, she had passed me a piece of paper.

Like me, like my mentors, like the billionaires I’ve met, she had her moments of doubt (I’ve written about this before).

No one is immune.

Her solace, and her elegant remedy, was on the piece of paper. It was the below poem, titled “Kindness” and written by Palestinian-American Naomi Shihab Nye.

I am not a poet. Furthermore, I almost never “get” poetry, as sad as that sounds. This prose, however, immediately hit me (it was visceral) as relevant and valuable enough to share. It’s from Naomi’s short collection, Words Under Words, which is now the only book of poetry I’ve ever purchased of my own free will.

I hope you’ll pass this along to those in your life who may need it.


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 everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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169 Replies to “Discovering Kindness In The Storm”

  1. Isn’t Burning Man that event where al gore types hang out and get high while waiting for the hope and change or free stuff from Obama? In think I will pass.

  2. Hey Tim, this is off the subject of the specific blog topic, but invoking the concept of seeking forgiveness not permission, I thought I would pass it along.

    I have been working my way through the audio book and today was Ch 13. As I was running (more like lumbering) I heard the MAD LIB bit about ending a bad job. I tried to surpress my laughter but after the line referencing “The 7th shot of liquor” or words to that effect, I started laughing at loud. I am sure for those on the Bettendorf bike path the site of me barely running and laughing out loud had to be a wierd site. So be it. It was the most fun I had exercising in a long time.

    Great stuff Tim. Thanks for sharing both the book and the blog.

    Best rgs,


  3. Tim – such a small world, I just realized why you look so familiar, I think I met you this past summer at a fourth of july party in southampton – could this be correct?

    I tried to contact you, but realized you don’t give out your contact due to sheer volume of emails lol (congrats, didn’t realize this was you)!! A friend recently sent me your blog as it is something I would be very interested in (and am now a fan of yours too).

    Hope you’re well!


  4. An excellent poem. Kindness toward others can increase happiness, which increases kindness, and so on in a positive feedback loop.

  5. Tim, a powerful and very true poem. Thanks for that. I’m going to go off the immediate topic and let you know about my and my family’s experiment in the Four Hour Work Week priciples. As I posted before, we rented out our house as a vacation rental (we live near the beach) in order to fund a six week vacation in San Francisco. Over the last three years, my wife and I have been through turmoil of good and bad flavors – death and illness among family members, the birth of our daughter, we built a new house, the market crashed… and more – the upshot is, our six weeks in San Francisco was a fantastic trip to an amazing city, but it was more. It marked the point where we finally feel like we have our feet under us again. The was a success on all levels. Financially – I think we made money by living in San Francisco for six weeks. Personally – we spent some of the best time together as a family that we have had in a long time. We also spent time with my favorite cousin and his wife and kids. Spiritually and professionally – it led to some realizations and new directions. We’re glad to be home, but we will travel like that again next year and hopefully for a long time to come. It was your book that got us going. It is your book (and your blog) that motivates me. This life is an amazing journey if you don’t let yourself put on the shackles. I forgot that for a while. Thanks for the reminder. Now that I think about it, (funny, this didn’t occur to me before) I should have used the methods in your book to meet you while I was there. Maybe next time!

  6. When I started reading this post, I thought it was going to be an exciting story about a sandstorm. After going through it though, and realizing how you actually went through the sandstorm, but chose to focus on the more important details, I changed my mind. I’m not much for poetry either, but the prose above is a lot easier to understand than most “traditional” poetry. Thanks for posting it though, got me to slow down a bit, and re-assess my goals for the day.

  7. Tim, will the spirit from the playa at Burning Man be carried into the voting booth and translate into votes of YES! on Prop 19 to regulate, tax, and control cannabis in California in 2010? Are cannabis users criminals? Will you be voting yes for Prop 19?

    And to Nicholas Gammell, thanks for the parkour links and the story about Burning Man sandstorm love…the story is a great lesson in remaining open to the joys of humanity which surround us. With appropriate caution we can accomplish a lot if we cooperate with child’s minds.

    Ty Palmer :: Founder

  8. Thanks for the poem, Tim. I’m not usually one for poetry (I’m like you – it just doesn’t click with me), but that’s powerful stuff.

    Ever consider poetry writing as an intense skill learning experiment?

  9. Hi Tim, I was referred to you by Sandy Corso… I need a publisher to publish my board books for very young readers. Agents seem to be a huge waste of time & energy. Do you have any advice to offer ? Thank you for your time & attention. Sincerely, A.L. Rossbach

  10. Welcome back Tim. All the buddies I’ve spoken with have done more than convince me that I need to take a place at the fire for Burning Man next year.

    Two poems have changed my life in awesome ways. I have you to thank for one.

    1. I have one poem framed in my office. It’s The Road Not Taken.

    2. I have one poem framed in my house. It is Slow Dance. You introduced me to it. We included a poem on the back of our wedding program when I got married last month. It was Slow Dance.

    For a guy who doesn’t get poetry, you’re on to something.

    Many thanks,


  11. Hi Tim,

    Wow, great poem and a great surprise in your article. 2010 was my first burn, and in my solo wanderings I recall coming upon “Maslotopia”, and can still picture your camp’s Hierarchy of Needs poster hanging behind the remote-controlled propane fire art towers. Who knew that was your camp!



  12. When we cut thru the high degree of pretention and we are forced to drop our pride, when we experience the depths of sadness, injury, or fear, the visceral impact of kindness saves our sanity, if not our lives. I have shared your poem with family and friends as we should all be so fortunate as to benefit from its wisdom.

  13. Really nice post and great poem. I just can intensify what the others said. It is inspiring to me and really nice to read… Thanks for sharing this lines…

  14. Hey Tim, thank you for being who you are. just want to tell you how much pleasure your posts have given us all.

    I’m re-reading your book and trying hard to incorporate those many little tips into my life. Glad to have picked it up to read.


  15. Hi Tim,

    I just read your book, it was great! One thing though, I was trying to look at the advertising mock up you mention in the book, but the site is not working. ( Otherwise, you’re awesome!

  16. Dear Tim,

    I’m not sure you will actually get this message, with all of your email/blog filters/helpers etc.! But I just wanted to let you know (or your blog filters!) in any regard that you via your book has in all seriousness made a huge difference in my life. Thank you very much. Really. You will never know how much! Thank you again.


  17. I do not think that the poem was about kindness at all.

    It was really about the world being a dark, desolate, unforgiving hellhole that no one can escape. The small moments known as kindness are pretty much anomalous events that happen for no reason at all.

    All of the talk about suffering in order to get to kindness really makes kindness not seem so cool. I would rather just have a nice boring time instead of getting caught up in year’s worth of madness for a second’s worth of bliss.

    Happiness is nothing special.

  18. Someone has already posted it, but Invictus by Henley has always been the only poem I’ve ever bothered reading more than once, let alone memorizing.

  19. Wow – what a reminder — how differently would we be if we lost everything? And how immune are any of us really from that?

    Most of us are kind people, but it’s quite a different thing to become truely intimate with that which is empathized…thinking a person who becomes hardened and bitter through life’s cruel tragedy versus Viktor Frankl, for example.

  20. haha Maslowtopia – just caught that one! Did you experience something similar to the buttered cat paradox? Will have to read Peak…

  21. This just reminded me of the storm that hit Manila last Sep. 2009. Yes, it killed and destroyed a lot of people, houses, establishments and roads because of flash floods and heavy rains. But behind that gruesome incident, a lot of people also exhibited goodwill to one another. I have a lot of friends who got victimized by said storm, and one valuable lesson that they learned would be in times like this, money is worthless, what saved them would be the kindness of other people, particularly strangers, each become an outlet of one another, shared their life stories while trapped in train stations/malls, others went an extra mile to almost risking their own lives just to give help. Those are just little but amazing things that you also need to see apart from the total negative picture.

  22. Tim,

    While I didn’t make it to burning man this year, several friends did – one a great yoga teacher. And I can’t help but thinking that our paths to greatness and power must take us through insignificance and powerlessness. It seems that no one can be trusted even with their own power until they’ve been on journeys of powerlessness. Of course power comes in many forms, most are just cleverly disguised manipulations, but there is good power too. I would say that kindness or gentleness is the greatest expression of “good power” and I’m grateful you shared this. Kind of you.



  23. My idea of poetry is listening to Garrison Keilor’s prairie home companion; which I find witty, hopeful, insightful. Comparing to that style, I didn’t like this poem, (too rambling and obtuse for me, but I am a simple man). Your burning man acquantaince must be anything but simple if this is her version of an elegant solution for finding solace 🙂

  24. Wonderful poem Tim, thanks for sharing. It is, however, bizarre to me that there can be such conflicting stances on various important life issues, which go hand it hand but are not also considered – for example the meat promotion on this site. I hope that maybe these quotes also speak to you like this poem has….

    The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.

    —Charles Darwin

    Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.

    —Albert Schweitzer

    A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.

    —Albert Einstein

    As long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap the joy of love.


    It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.

    —Albert Einstein

    A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.

    —Leo Tolstoy

    There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.

    —Elie Wiesel

    Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures

    – The Dalai Lama

    I suppose its a case of practicing what you preach. Preach kindness, practice kindness. Your work has had a profound affect on my life and for that I am grateful to you, but your meat promotion elsewhere here, I’m afraid both violates good science (the science for a vegetarian diet outweights all evidence for an omnivorous diet ten fold), and human morality.

    All of us cherish our beliefs. They are, to a degree, self-defining. When someone comes along who challenges our belief system as insufficiently well-based – or who, like Socrates, merely asks embarrassing questions that we haven’t thought of, or demonstrates that we’ve swept key underlying assumptions under the rug – it becomes much more than a search for knowledge. It feels like a personal assault.

    —Carl Sagan

    Be the change you wish to see in the world

    – Gandi

    Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they are only animals

    – Theodor Adorno

    Any religion or philosophy which is not based on a respect for life is not a true religion or philosophy

    – Albert Schweitzer

    May you find a more peaceful path.

    All the best


    Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.


    1. Thank you for your comment, Ste. I know it’s easy to think I promote meat eating on this site, but the reality is that I have nothing to gain from others eating meat. For what it’s worth, I have two chapters in the new book (I spend several months on them) for people who don’t eat meat.

      All the best,


  25. Tim, Great Poem, I’ve been there in the despair. I know it well. The kindness does mean so much more when you know the emptiness and sorrow.

    One question, this post was posted sept. 6th, and I am just now today, getting this in my inbox? Is there something wrong with the scheduling of your feedburner?


    Hey how about Wasteland Weekend? going to go there? It’s like Mad Max meets Burning Man. Google it.

  26. @ Lupercalla

    A riff on Nash’s famous poem (attributed to Dorothy Parker, but I can’t confirm that): Candy is dandy, but sex doesn’t rot your teeth.

    @ Charlie

    Don’t know who to attribute this to, but it certainly became my life’s philosophy after reading/implenting 4HWW: Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!”

    Make it real!!!

  27. I am not sure why i received a notice for this post by email now (I can see it was posted around a month back) but anyhow reading the poem i thought to leave a comment:

    I also don’t get poems and not sure if i got this one rightly…but if it says you need to lose things in order to know what kindness is, then I don’t agree with it.

    I used to be naive enough to think that and choose my friends from the less fortunate people, thinking they’re the ones who are deep and most humane. In return, I found the cruelest people in them, and the best excuse i heard was that, when u have nothing to lose..humanity also loses its meaning…

    Less fortunate people [who are less fortunate not by choice but by force] can be very dangerous and their assumed kindness is spiced up with strong selfishness.

    I honestly think it is easier to be kind when you’re spoiled.

    P.S. I am not trying to insult anyone, just attempting to share what I perceive as ‘knowledge’.

  28. This is so very true. I never realized true kindness until I lost my son last year to a brain tumor, 15 days after he was diagnosed. And it’s funny, the people that I thought would be the kindest, weren’t. It was the strangers, complete and unknown to me, some who have become dear friends. The one that touched me the most was a hand crocheted bookmark sent by a total stranger who wanted me to know that I was thought of. My boy was 29, left a 2 year old son, and grieving parents. You learn to recognize those of us who have “been there”; to be sensitive to others pain and loss…and kinder. Lesson learned.

  29. Hey Ste!

    Your grammar is fine. No apologies needed.

    Your communication is clear. Thanks for your statements RE meat.

    I feel much the same; have tried to figure out where shrimp and crab fit into that thinkology.

  30. In a lot of ways losing something can shift our perspectives on life. I am personally drowned in sorrow this last year. My family and I do not see eye to eye. In order for me to achieve my own happiness, I have to go after my own goals vs making others happy. So I am leaving the nest rafting down a river of guilt.

    I know that things will change once I achieve my own happiness, no matter how hard it is to leave.

  31. My idea of poetry is listening to Garrison Keilor’s prairie home companion; which I find witty, hopeful, insightful. Comparing to that style, I didn’t like this poem, (too rambling and obtuse for me, but I am a simple man). Your burning man acquantaince must be anything but simple if this is her version of an elegant solution for finding solace

  32. Tim,

    Fantastic post. It’s wonderful hearing about stories from Burning Man. I went for the first time this year and it’s getting me to change my life for the better. I’d be delighted if you (or anyone else reading this comment) would check out my Burning Man set on Flickr, just because I love sharing my experience. =)



  33. Hi Tim,

    The poem speaks for most of us. This really had me thinking and brought me back to my senses.

    I’ll remember your poem if I loose track and forget the tender gravity of kindness.


  34. Thank you for sharing this. Sad but true, sometimes we need to get a smack in the face to realize everything.. i cannot anymore count the times that kindness from friendship help me get through, and its time for me to offer kindness too.

  35. Nice poem, i had an idea on the parkour “free running” you should try doing the Ninja Warrior competition the Japanese one not the American one…would be a cool to see Tim Ferriss in subtitles for the next Ninja Warrior!!

  36. My idea of poetry is listening to Garrison Keilor’s prairie home companion; which I find witty, hopeful, insightful. Comparing to that style, I didn’t like this poem, (too rambling and obtuse for me, but I am a simple man).

  37. Hi!

    Ever since I found out that you are a fellow burner I have been wondering if you have considered gifting a talk or seminar at burning man? There are a few camps that have little classes or events like that and I think your work is so motivating you could really inspire a lot of people like you already do in the default world. I have had some of the most inspirational moments in my life at burning man and so I really enjoyed this post. See you at home this August!

  38. Howdy, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam responses? If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can recommend? I get so much lately it’s driving me crazy so any help is very much appreciated.

  39. I like the poem that you shared in your blog. It sounds very nice. It is an inspiring poem, which motivate the people for doing Act of kindness.

  40. Hi Tim,

    I came here from the link on the tao of seneca pdf, which I started to read today before going to sleep, since it wa listed in the suggested short reading and the title sounded like a conforting thought to close the day… Next thing I know, it’s 4am and I’ve been remembering all my childhood and adolescence. The first paragraphs of your post sounded like a great intro to a science fiction story (I loved reading those when I was a kid), and the poem somehow reminds me of my teen years in the 90’s, but the first part of it is something I know my past self never would have understood. As I write this answer, a poem in spanish of Francisco Luis Bernardez brings to my mind:

    Si para recobrar lo recobrado

    debí perder primero lo perdido,

    si para conseguir lo conseguido

    tuve que soportar lo soportado,

    si para estar ahora enamorado

    fue menester haber estado herido,

    tengo por bien sufrido lo sufrido,

    tengo por bien llorado lo llorado.

    Porque después de todo he comprobado

    que no se goza bien de lo gozado

    sino después de haberlo padecido.

    Porque después de todo he comprendido

    por lo que el árbol tiene de florido

    vive de lo que tiene sepultado.

    BTW, I got to this page just a few weeks ago when I was unsubscribing from a lot of stuff, but I couldn’t resist the five bullet friday (from where I got the links for the seneca pdf files), then I started listening to the podcasts and watching the youtube channel like a crazy person. I love the interviews, and the Random Show makes me laugh a lot! Also, as an Argentine, I get super silly happy every time you mention yerba mate!

    Thank you so much for all of this material!


  41. Kindness is the door to unconditional love, self compassion and creativity!!!! Thanks for sharing Tim

  42. Tim,

    My name is Justin Cude and I am writing with want to send you a copy of my first published collection of poems and short stories, [Moderator: title withheld], as a small gesture of gratitude.

    Your work, especially your writing, has influenced me and moved me in many ways along my own writers path, and because of this, the least I can offer now is a copy of your influence’s reach and my appreciation.

    I released the book in November, but would like to offer you as gift a free copy.

    Please, if you are intersted, provide me with an appropriate address to send it, and I will do so right away. I understand this message may seem out of nowhere, but that is the magic of writing (of poetry); it’s reach is largely invisible.

    Hope to hear from you. However, I respectfully understand if I do not.


    – Justin C [Moderator: name edited down.]