By Ciel Patenaude –
How often do you deliberately – and randomly –engage in an act of goodwill or kindness? I’m not speaking about doing something nice for someone you know or a returned favour for goodness offered to you, but a true extension of kindness to someone or something that likely will not ever repay you, nor may they even know it was you who offered such consideration.
Photo: www.flickr.com, elycefeliz
Such acts are the focus of Random Acts of Kindness Day, observed this year on February 17 (within the Random Acts of Kindness Week from February 12–18). A generous tradition that began in New Zealand, the week is now celebrated throughout the world, encouraging individuals and organizations to offer expressions of goodness to those around them without conditions or expectation.
The organizing body behind the day –The Random Acts of Kindness non-profit – states on its website that they believe kindness and acts of kindness can change the world. I would absolutely agree, but it’s beneficial to look at what kind of relationships we generally form with kindness and with giving in general, so it’s fully understood what such an act looks and feels like.
Kindness or Selfishness?
According to therapist David Richo, author of How to Be an Adult in Love and other marvelous books, most people give ‘kindness’ and extend what they think of as ‘love’ but they do so with conditions. We offer goodness to others but it generally comes with a subconscious or conscious contract, meaning we are expecting a return of the favour in some form, or at least an acknowledgment of what we have done.
According to Richo, such ways of being cannot actually be called love or kindness, for the ultimate desire of the person doing them (even if they are acting with no awareness of their unconscious motives) is to serve the needs of their own ego—to make themselves feel better, not to truly benefit the other.
Ego gets in the way of kindness. Whether it’s through reducing our desire to be kind because of our sense of competition with others, or through the co-opting of our kindness so our motives are less about the other person and far more about ourselves, our egos often prevent straightforward kindness from being a possibility. When we were children, prior to the development of our solid ego self, it was much easier to be kind. We did it because we wanted to (and only when we wanted to). We truly desired to offer something to another. But once we realized that we could get attention for giving and/or that attention might not be offered to us if we came up short when compared to another, kindness became a complicated thing.
We are often told it is the easiest thing in the world to be kind. Admonished by Facebook memes to ‘Throw kindness around like confetti,’ or ‘Just do it! Just be kind!’ one might assume kindness – real, honest, no-expectations kindness – is a straightforward and natural way of being, available to everyone at any moment. And sure, it is. It’s just that we have to do the work of healing our neurotic egos in order to achieve that state, and that’s not generally easy. We have to get back to early childhood, in a sense, so we can remember what it is like to give without fearing not getting or not being noticed.
Learning to be Kind
In Buddhism, it is considered one of the highest paths of the Vajrayana school to commit to becoming a Boddhisatva, a person of ultimate love and compassion, a spiritual warrior.
In this work, the focus is on becoming loving to all beings – even and especially those we don’t like – and offering kindness – called Boddhichitta – without ego involvement. When our intent is just to be kind, to be loving, the idea is that we are able to dissolve the imaginary boundaries between ourselves and the rest of existence and free ourselves from the binds of the ego. It is through loving and seeking honest kindness that we come to a state of inter-being and non-duality, seeing clearly that if there are any who suffer, we suffer too, and so it follows that kindness is always the best path.
To do this work requires great dedication. To release the ego and live from our hearts is the work of a lifetime, and especially so when our culture is so often oriented towards fearful, separatist mythologies: the realm of the neurotic ego. There are many practices in Buddhism that assist in the cultivation of kindness and of reducing the influence of ego on our choices and state of being, including but not limited to meditation, yoga, Tonglen, and raising Lungta, a practice to cultivate the bravery needed to face and override our fearful selves.
All of these practices take dedication and bravery to learn, along with an initial willingness to honestly take stock of our own acts of kindness and ask ourselves if we are truly being kind. Unless you are already an awakened Buddha, is not likely to be the case. Your ego will be involved.
However, if we want to start on the path to ego freedom right now, a random act of kindness might be just the ticket, so long as you truly make it random. What that looks like is you offering goodness in some form to someone you don’t know –you may not even know who it is on the receiving end – and, most importantly, that you don’t tell anyone you did it. The moment we feel the need to post on Facebook about our kindness or even congratulate ourselves quietly for the greatness of our altruism, we have lost the plot, for it is no longer about our giving, and has become about us.
Ciel Patenaude is an Integrative Health & Shamanic Practitioner based in Williams Lake, BC. A highly trained and naturally gifted intuitive healer, Ciel holds a BSc in Biology, an MA in Integrative Healing, and is a certified yoga teacher & wellness coach.