Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of June 4, 2012

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The Habit of Kindness

(Spiritual Habits: Part 5 of 7)

Acts of kindness are a natural expression of the Great Heart of Love, where no distinction exists between self and other. The practice of kindness leads toward love, toward the vision that we are not separate.

We appreciate the person who is habitually kind; we trust, respect, value, and gravitate toward them. There is a purity about them, a selflessness, and other qualities we aspire to. Many years ago, I briefly met a young man, fresh out of seminary, whose eyes and mannerisms conveyed such a perfection of purity, selflessness, and kindness, that I felt a strong sense of shame in his presence, shame at my own imperfections, which led to the questions: can purity and kindness be attained by spiritual inner work and, if so, how?

Kind acts emanate from wholesome attitudes of being. Do we erect and nurture a great inner wall between ourselves and others? In learning to be, just be, that wall grows porous and eventually dissolves. We discover we donít need walls to be ourselves, that in fact we are more ourselves without them. That is how meditation and presence lead toward kindness. Prayer also promotes kindness, for in prayer we address our common Creator. Before that Greatness, we are all the same. And in that sameness is the seed of kindness.

To practice kindness, we first cultivate awareness of how we treat people, both inwardly in our thoughts and judgments, and outwardly in our speech and actions. We notice our interactions with people and the thoughts and emotions driving those interactions. We practice watching this and attempt to see objectively, not only from our own point of view, but how others might see us and how what we do and think affects them. We notice when we are less than kind and we notice the justifications we think up both before and after.

Then opportunities arise for us to treat people as they would want us to treat them, for us to act in their best interest, without betraying our own. We move beyond looking out first for ourselves. Of course, we do this in moderation and reasonably; we do not, for example, give away our home and life savings and thereby impoverish ourselves. For kindness to thrive and become habitual, it must also extend to ourselves. And there are many forms of generosity and charity, not all of which include donating money.

Inner kindness also matters. How do we treat people inwardly, in our thoughts and emotions? Again, we notice how we are inwardly unkind and we look to go beyond this. For that we need to see a little deeper into ourselves, into the source of the particular unkindness. It may be strongly held opinions and points of view that the other person does not share. It may be jealousy or envy. It may be competition. It may be a reaction to their unkindness toward us. We can let go of our attachment to opinions and not insist that others toe the line. We can see that jealousy and envy pollute our hearts and derail us from being ourselves, from confidence in and satisfaction with ourselves. Cooperation and competition are the twin drivers of natureís way of evolution. And competition has its healthy side in spurring us on to do our best. But when our self-centeredness latches onto being the winner, depersonalizing and demonizing our competitors, and putting them out of our heart, then competition passes over into unkindness or worse. And though vengeful unkindness may feel good and justified in the moment, it poisons our heart. To be free inwardly and to move toward love, we need to let go of unkindness and all that drives it.

The basic motivation for kindness is the recognition of our sameness. Our immersion in our thoughts and emotions, in our attitudes and intentions, color, obscure, or even overwhelm our perceptions of other people. Looking beyond all that, when we see another person and ignore our differences, we are left with our sameness. On the surface, we each have our own body and personality, different than anyone else. But there is more. Beneath those differences there is pure awareness, the consciousness that we all share. When you see another person and look beyond your surface differences, you can see that their awareness is the very same as yours ó not just similar to yours, but actually the same consciousness, the one consciousness. Even the differences in perspective are on the surface of the fundamental consciousness we share. We look into the sky; regardless of where we look from, it is the same sky.

Going deeper still, beyond consciousness, differences reemerge: we each have our own unique I, distinguished from anyone elseís I. To transcend that difference, we recognize that our very uniqueness derives from the nature of the Source of our I, the Sacred, which is the one root of us all. Our will, our freedom, derive from the Divine Will. As children of the same Creator, as particles of the Divine, the extent to which we remember and connect with our Source is the extent to which we honor, respect, and treat with kindness all our fellow children of the Unique.

The result of such seeing is to recognize our sameness with others, that here is a person like I am. Seeing their personhood, we see our own. This person is aware just as I am aware, indeed with the very same basic awareness. This person has hopes and dreams and concerns, just as I have hopes and dreams and concerns. Kindness flows naturally.

From the place of sameness, kindness can become a habit, our normal mode of interacting with our fellow inhabitants of this planet. When we notice an unkind impulse arising in us, we see it and let it pass. When we notice an opportunity to be useful, courteous, or kind, we go with it. Practicing this, our whole way of being moves toward the way of kindness.

For this week, practice kindness. See your own lack of kindness. See your sameness with others. Make kindness a habit and make room in your heart.


     

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