When Kindness Comes From Joy

Have you ever wondered where kindness comes from? Is it innately inside each one of us or does something need to happen before it appears?

It feels to me that we operate with different definitions and ideas about kindness.

I say this because I recently heard someone suggest that ‘we should be kinder than necessary’. While I appreciate the idea that kindness is important, two things about this statement challenge me.

The first is the use of the word ‘should’. Personally, I’ve gone to great lengths to eliminate this word from my vocabulary, because it is a ‘shaming’ word, meant to enforce one person’s opinion on another.

I wonder if you react the same way that I do when ‘should’ is used. I am immediately suspicious of the motivation of the one using it. Why do they think I ‘should’?

The second concern I have about this statement is the word ‘necessary’. I have a difficult time reconciling the use of the words kindness and necessary in the same sentence. The implication being that there is some sort of requirement or obligation involved with kindness. That isn’t how I conceive of kindness.

I went looking for references to kindness and found one that seemed to mesh with my understanding. It suggested that it is any selfless act of caring or compassion and can easily be recognized in both our own or others large and small actions.

I wondered how often kindness flows to me and through me. I paused for a few minutes to see what would come.

If you sat back right now for a moment or two, what do you think would come to you?

Two events jumped to the head of the line for me. In each instance they were infused with joy, not only for the receiver, but also for the giver. And it seemed to me that joy was the real source for the acts of kindness. I recognized a deliberateness to the actions, a meaningful opening to spirit and a flowing from abundance, as if kindness was an endless source.

I’d like to share mine with you in the hopes that you see some of your own and let them wrap you up in a feeling of joy.

The first one happened a few weeks ago while I was at a workshop at Kripalu Retreat Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. After classes were over for the day our group decided to get together in the evening for a kind of impromptu ‘talent show’. One of my friends, whom I’d met six years earlier at the same workshop, stood up and mesmerized the group with her divine performance poetry reading. We sat spellbound. I could not believe the incredible growth in my friend and went over to her; hugged her and told her I was so proud of her. Some might view this as an act of kindness, but she and I knew it was more than that because it came from a deep well of joy we share.

A few days later I received an email from her with an attached video of her reading a poem she wrote just for me. I was touched to my very core and a kindness born of joy was returned to me.

The second event happened a few days ago, while my wife and I were on a day trip together. We stopped at a restaurant my parents loved to visit and sat down at an empty table. Our waitress came over and engaged us in a conversation and asked if she could get us something to drink. When she returned, she inquired if we were ready to order. She took my wife’s order and turned to me. I said I’d like to start with a piece of their coconut cream pie (knowing that they sometimes run out of it). She told me she liked the way I ordered the best first and from there we had an extremely pleasant exchange throughout the meal.

After our meal was over and she came to our table with our bill, I told her that I was awarding her my ‘best waitstaff of the year award’. She absolutely beamed with pleasure and told me I’d made her whole day…maybe her whole week, as she went to help the next customer.

I took the paper ring that encircled my napkin and silverware and made it into a small award certificate for her and gave her a tip that matched our bill total. I handed everything to her, and my wife and I started walking out. She ran after us and called out to me, that she was going to keep the certificate forever and that I’d made her whole year!

There was such joy in her voice, and I knew that my simple act of kindness came from joy and reached out to create more joy.

Each of these things are important to me because they represent a connection to our divine source, where joy and love exist in abundance.

Altruism

What motivates someone to perform a selfless act which benefits another? Perhaps there are many reasons why this might happen. I would be fascinated to know the answers.

According to Wikipedia, altruism is described as the principle and moral practice of concern for happiness of other human beings or other animals, resulting in a quality of life both material and spiritual.

It feels like this is a fancy way of saying that a person’s primary concern is for someone else, rather than their own gain.

I believe I witness this to some degree every day. I see folks letting others get in line in front of them in traffic. I see people open doors for others, especially when they are weighed down with something. And I have seen folks pay for the coffee of the next person in line.

I enjoy observing these intentional acts of kindness and usually join in some way. It makes me feel alive and engaged in the world around me.

And then there are the incredibly beautiful and sensational acts that show up in the news and social media.

They are about everyday people who come to the aid of others, often with no concern given to their own safety.  They do it because they feel it’s the ‘right’ thing to do at the time.

They ran into traffic to push someone out of the way of an onrushing bus. Or they help shove a car off the railroad tracks before a train crushes it. Or they swim into the ocean to pull someone to shore. These are heroic acts of love and compassion and wonderful statements about the character of human beings.

But the altruism I’m thinking of right now transcends these marvelous actions. It moves beyond, to the level of sacrificial, heart-centered majesty.

In my travels in this life, I have only encountered one person who demonstrated this kind of altruism. She donated one of her kidneys.

She was reluctant to share much about this, but I discovered that she didn’t even know the recipient. They were not close family to her, nor a dear friend. In fact, she had no relationship with them at all, other than knowing that their life was in jeopardy.

I don’t know all the facts, so I can’t tell you a great deal about her story or that of the person she saved. I’m not sure that’s even relevant, because what has stayed with me all these years is her uncomplicated view of the situation. They would die without a kidney, and she was a match for them. That was enough for her.

I don’t know of a greater sacrifice than this.

Recently I signed up to be an organ donor…when I die. She signed up to be an organ donor…while alive. That’s a big difference to me.

I wonder to myself, could I do this? I realize we have two kidneys and humans can live with only one, but how do you get past the idea that you have two for a good reason. They function together. They keep your body healthy and if, for some reason one fails to function properly, the other is able to continue your life.

I am amazed at her courage, her compassion, her strength, and her love.

It seemed as though the sharing of this selfless act with me slipped out of her. A momentary lapse. I truly do not believe she had intended to tell me about this, nor has she told others. It’s her personal story.

She remains one of my hero’s, not because of what she has done, but because of who she is and the love she carries inside of her. I live in awe of her.

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Kindness

Here’s an opportunity to try something new. To open a door in your world and see where it leads. What beautiful shift might occur in your outlook if you allowed yourself some freedom. Freedom to explore some new spiritual practices. Ones that appeal to you and offer hope and excitement and a sense of connection, perhaps to an inner part of you or perhaps to what you think of when you hear the word, ‘divine’.

Ready? I’m going to assume that you said ‘yes’, and I’ll keep going.

Although there are literally hundreds of directions we could go, let’s take just one step and see what happens.

Spiritual practices offer us every possible direction, so we can go inside or stay outside. For this exercise, let’s do both at the same time.

It will be fun. I promise.

So here it is…spend a little time and create an “intentional act of kindness plan” for the next seven days. I say, “intentional”, rather than the more common term of “random”, because I believe the creation of a plan IS “intentional”. You’re doing it “on purpose”, not with a specific idea of how it will turn out, but because you want to be present and somewhat purposeful.

I’m going to suggest that you start out with creating ideas. What acts of kindness come to your mind. Just let them pop into your head and write down a bunch of ideas that appeal to you. Once you have them captured, say each one out loud and see which ones your heart is drawn to.  Make a list of 3-5 ideas (or more) that you want to put into practice during this week.

Once you have your list, imagine what you need in order to perform these acts of “intentional kindness”. Remember that they can cost you nothing or something. That part is entirely up to you.

How are you going to create some magic for someone else? Who will it be? When will you do these things? Plan it out a bit, but not too much. This isn’t intended to be a chore for you. It’s not another “to do” item, but rather an overflowing from the joy that lives inside of you, now and what is to come.

Okay, so now you have your plan.

One more thing. I’m going to suggest that you perform some acts of kindness anonymously and some where the person you’re doing this for knows that it is you. I’m very curious to know if that changes anything about the experience for you, so I’m going to ask you, if you are willing, to record your feelings about each one of the “intentional acts” you perform. That’s really a big part of this exercise.

That ought to be enough to get you started.

I would like to share with you that for my sixty-third birthday I performed 63 intentional acts of kindness. It was an amazing adventure. I learned so much about myself throughout the process, which actually took me all month to complete.

I was constantly surprised, amused and overjoyed by my experience. I found deep connections are always within reach, as long as I was willing to take one simple step.

I wish you well on this journey and would love to hear whatever you care to share.

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