On Kindness, Compassion and Meaning
If you have a chance, take a moment to foster kindness.
Look for an opportunity, tell yourself that you will elicit one act of kindness today. It doesn’t need to be complex, it doesn’t need to cost money, it doesn’t have to take up too much of your time. All you have to do is give an extra big piece of what we commonly refer to as your heart — that is the energy center within you that is the seat of your compassion. You will become aware of its activation by a feeling of ‘opening up’, of becoming larger than yourself.
Bring your awareness to your breathing during this moment, to tension within your body — take deep, filling breaths, draw from the bottom up (as if you are lifting something) during the act of kindness, and draw from your head down (as if you are about to dive into water) after the act.
Breathe, dispel tension, and give yourself to an act of kindness.
You have to give it away though, away for free. No expectation of return. You have to come away with a deficit there, and you can’t have it filled by the person you were kind to. You can’t look to replace it either, you just have to live with it missing.
If the opportunity comes up again you should do it over, take another piece, and give it away. Spend more time than before to listen, or help, or stand beside somebody, or speak up, or to take the load off someone. Sit or stand with the experience for as long as you can. Leave that experience with less than you came — less time, less energy, less emotional credit, less of yourself.
If you feel that you can’t demonstrate kindness or show compassion, then who will? And if they can, why can’t you? We can all too easily become caught in our own experience, and wonder ‘how can I even give to someone else right now?’
The answer to that question lays in the repeated process of giving your heart away. As you leave it with others, as you interject compassion into the world, you will discover that you automatically regenerate. You rejuvenate the center of your being.
If you happen to receive kindness from another, you discover that it doesn’t go to replace the pieces you have given away, it exponentially increases your potential to give. Like an apple tree dropping fruit that seeds and grows more trees, it increases the orchard’s yield — and we are the orchard, not the tree.
If you find yourself in a situation that pulls more of your heart than you feel you can give, a situation that scares you because the weight of its sadness, or the weight of the need is seemingly so great- then be scared, but be braver than your fears, and you will light a way through the darkness. Even if you are not followed out, the way will be lit, and others will find the way.
Consider this, in your search for meaning in your life: The sole purpose of your life is to help one person, truly to help them. You will not know who and you will not know when, but you will realize it when it occurs. It may occur early in your life or later, this does not matter. Until (and after) it occurs you are to simply, and kindly, enjoy your time on this planet, in gratitude for the people, places and things that resonate with you. If it comes to be that you help more than one person, consider yourself called from retirement for your exemplary prior performance.
Remember, someone will also help you. In this way, we find each other. In this way we serve to create meaning out of chaos. We build compassion.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
- Dalai Lama
The pathway of compassion is traveled one step at a time. This seems trite the moment you hear it, but much like any recovery model begs you to understand that we can only work on today, the fostering and nurturing of compassion within is firmly rooted to the now.The thing is (that is to say the secret of it is), we can transmute that now into always, we can one step, two step, foxtrot our way along a continuum which transcends time and space. This practice has the potential to reflect backwards through time also, figuratively of course, but there is still something in the notion that we might apply our grace retrospectively — in order to find compassion for the past, as well as our present.
It is possible to apply this principle of compassion and active kindness through one’s direct interaction with others.
During my own time accumulating experience as a social worker, and in applying that experience through practice, in order to gain even greater experience (note the key word here) — I have had the fortune of living amongst diverse populations of people that encompassed much of the human condition. This is relevant because it is really only through witness and direct interaction that we might begin to understand something about another human being outside of our own paradigm. Fostering a sense of gratitude for being witness to the existence of another human being is a humbling experience. It can also be a transformative one.
In working with children I gained compassion for adults, and in working with adults I gained compassion for our finality, and in working with older people I enhanced my understanding of the fragility and wonder of childhood, through their memories. Across disorders or dilemmas, hopes, dreams, fears, struggles and victories I have come to understand something about everyone else. Simply by witnessing. I have come to understand that a version of myself exists in all of the people I meet. The same awe, wonder and fear of our place in this world.
Back to the steps. The simplest (read smallest) step I make as a practitioner is to imagine another person forward or backwards in time. No great revelation there, indeed you have likely experienced a similar invitation to traverse space and time:
‘If you keep this up you’ll end up as X!’ or ‘Bet you didn’t want to grow up to be X when you were a kid huh?’
Simple, neat, punitive thinking. Cause and effect. We can too easily become caught in a staggered formation of this thinking — to ‘travel back’ through memory and believe that a singular moment was the pivot for unwelcome decision making, or experience. That is not how etiology works, we simply do not act out of ‘present moment’ thinking. Our actions are loaded / pre-loaded by prior experiences and programing.
Consider etiology always, consider it through a lens of compassion: follow a person’s trajectory and take an extra step back to where the spark we lament as absent in others may have left, or been crushed, or stolen.
I do the following in my direct practice: the parents I meet who have wronged their children, I imagine who they might have been as children, and how they might have hoped for someone to come help them — the absence of a guiding figure leaving them without adequate skills in the present; the children I work with, I try to attune my sense toward their future, to their fears and to the impact of the ‘messages’ they are currently receiving — I imagine the adults they will become, and I work with that concept of empowering change; the obtrusive, difficult client I imagine across years, I imagine them trapped the longest, and perhaps alone the longest — so I give them my patience, a gift of space where they can exist in acceptance.
This represents my own personal mantra: I have hope and belief in the simplest of all wishes, that I can be a better person, and that I am not alone in this.
To give people time, to offer space, to provide an opportunity to retrace their steps through their life, or to ‘take another shot’ at a situation is a gift worth giving. Equally, being ‘there’ for another person brings them into the present moment, it demonstrates compassion and kindness, begs forth that transcendent energy of gratitude to manifest. Suddenly the world is smaller, the universe more expansive, and our lives lighter. We become more fruitful.
I am the orchard, you are the orchard — we can become the trees, we can bear the fruit, but always we return to the flux and flow of being the orchard. A unison of interdependent intention, making something self-sustaining in the midst of chaos, in the midst of our being.
Our lives can be over-run by chaos, they can experience destruction and desolation — and yet, these practices of kindness, compassion and meaning teach us the impermanence of such things, of all things. Of all the moments I have had in session with clients this is the hardest of all concepts — that this too shall pass. We all have examples of how things do not just ‘go away’, of how experiences linger and haunt us. I know I do, and yet when I am at my most real, when I am truly my self, I come to realize that all things linger as long as I look at them, and that other simultaneous realities also exist. My self fades, and I become the orchard once again.
We must take care not to devalue dark and heavy realities, not to promote an overly privileged or immature view, not to shy away from the weight of life — but those other moments, those other experiences and perspectives are some of the kindest invitations toward happiness, compassion for all things, and meaning that I have ever experienced.
The former psychologist and spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, is quoted as saying: Be Here Now. An invitation to being present in every given moment, to existing within the gratitude for each unfolding moment, to be attentive to all that is asked of you in alignment with this reality.
I propose a shift in the structure, thusly: Be Here, Now / Now, Be here / Here, Now, Be.
Kindness, compassion and meaning.