“Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
- John Watson
Kindness is underrated. We seem to think that protecting ourselves and getting what we want and not getting what we don’t want is the way to be happy but I can tell you, if you want to be happy, being kind is a great place to start.
And I’m not talking about being nice to people we like and doing a bit of volunteer work to make ourselves feel good. I’m talking about open-hearted generosity of spirit towards other human beings and animals.
Kindness is stopping to help someone move their car with a flat tire out of the busy road in the middle of rush hour even though it means you’ll be late for work. Kindness is taking our headphones out of our ears and our phone from our pocket to help a lost tourist figure out where they are going. Kindness is getting off your bicycle to help an elderly gentleman in a push wheelchair get across the street before the light changes.
Kindness is giving our time, energy and effort to the comfort and ease of another person because we recognise that life is hard enough without people being assholes or sarcastic or just downright indifferent.
This is not about pity but recognition. Kindness comes of recognising that every single person we share the planet with just wants to be happy, to feel loved and live full lives. That we are no different and no more or less entitled to that than anyone else and we are all capable of contributing to other people’s wellbeing by being kind.
“Helping others is a question of being genuine and projecting that genuineness to others. This way of being doesn’t have to have a title or a name particularly. It is just being ultimately decent.”
- Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
In one of her talks Pema Chodron describes being genuine as not pretending or thinking you’re any better or any worse than you actually are. In order to do this we must be willing to look at ourselves, fully, and see everything. It’s about being honest with ourselves but also incredibly compassionate, because we are going to see things we don’t like.
It’s difficult to look at and accept that we cause harm to ourselves and others, no matter how unintentional. But if we pretend we don’t then we have no chance of ever addressing our harmful thoughts and actions.
Maintaining a balance in this is essential. This isn’t about telling ourselves we’re the worst human being ever as more and more of the negative detritus we tried to bury comes to the surface. It’s about recognising and accepting our humanness. To be human is to be capable of both good, beneficial acts and bad, harmful ones.
When we can be genuine and see ourselves this way we are then able to see that the same is true of everyone around us. This understanding of our shared humanity is what makes us capable of infinite compassion.
Work with your mind
“Unruly beings are as unlimited as space;
They cannot possibly all be overcome,
But if I overcome thoughts of anger alone
This will be equivalent to vanquishing all foes.
Likewise it is not possible for me
To restrain the external course of things;
But should I restrain this mind of mine
What would be the need to restrain all else?”
- Shantideva, the Bodhicharyavatara
We cannot change our external circumstances, we can only change our state of mind. This is the best news you will ever hear. It means every single situation, every single moment is entirely workable. Things only feel unworkable when we rely on situations or people to change in order to regulate our emotional state.
The mind is an incredibly powerful tool and contrary to popular belief, it does belong to us and not to itself. We are capable of expanding and changing it in the same way we are capable of developing muscles, controlling our weight or improving our stamina.
It requires discipline, of course, but consider it the way you would your regular daily hygiene. We brush our teeth every day to maintain them, to ensure they do not rot and we are free of expensive dental bills. Meditation and mind training are mental floss.
“There is not fear for one whose mind is not filled with desires.”
- The Buddha
You are going to die.
I am going to die.
Everyone you know is going to die.
We cannot take the people and animals we love with us, nor our phones, computers, netflix accounts, videogames, photographs, music, designer jeans, $200 shoes or flash car. We can have all these things in our life. We can enjoy them thoroughly while we are alive, and be humbly appreciative of the circumstances that enabled us to have so much in life.
But they aren’t coming with us.
So don’t hold on too tight to anything. It’s all fleeting and the only thing you get to take with you is your state of mind.
“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
- Pema Chodron
In the West and the ‘developed’ world we have become a very spoiled culture. We stamp our feet when a text message, which has to go all the way to SPACE, takes more than five seconds to go through. We complain about widely available public transport. We get stroppy when the supermarket, which carries an unnecessary abundance of out of season, internationally sourced food-stuffs, doesn’t have the particular brand of soy milk we prefer.
We think that things we see every day are boring, despite the fact that we have such advances as glasses and contacts with which we are able to see them. We think our life is hard when we don’t get exactly what we want when we want it. And when life really is hard, when someone we love dies or we lose our job or our partner leaves us, we think that it’s unfair.
We need only look back 100 years to see the incredibly fortunate and glorious time we live in, and in doing so we can cultivate a sense of wonder.
We have computers small enough to fit in a pocket. We have the ability to communicate with people on the other side of the planet in real time via video FOR FREE. We have such advanced medical treatments and improved over-all health that our biggest growing killer is dementia because we’re living longer and longer. We can start the path to learning anything we want by typing a sentence into a search engine.
There is so much to appreciate when we look beyond what we think we are entitled to and see the incredible benefit of being alive in this day and age. And never mind the day and age. Just look at the incredible benefit of being alive. You get to live - to experience love and grief and joy and pain and discovery and connection and loss.
So learn how to appreciate by learning to see how much you have to appreciate.
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. In fact, I invite you to share your thoughts. What are things you’ve learned (and are still learning) that help you win at life?
When not writing, making art or recording podcasts,
Kaitlyn can be found in trees, listening to Dharma talks on her iPod, Boon.
Thusly named because
Brian Froud = Awesome.