The medical research shows that the acts of giving, kindness, and helping others do wonder to the giver.
There are ripples from inside that have a soothing, calming effect on me when I give. It can decrease cortisol, a stress hormone, helping me lower my blood pressure and loosen the grip of worries/anxieties/tension. Doing nice things for others boosts serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Altruism also releases endorphins, giving us a “helper’s high.” From Carl Safina’s Beyond Words, I learned that species in our genetic lineage cultivated empathy millions of years ago: it helped them survive in the wild. Being sensitive to how others might be feeling or going through is hardwired in us even before becoming humans.
I think science and religion are converging and pointing in the same direction when they show virtues in compassion, kindness, and mutual care. It is part of our DNA: it unlocks healing, soothing, nurture, relaxation, and nourishment from inside.
Is it any wonder that we see acts of compassion and care all around us? The family members take care of each other. Friends reach out and are there to help. People help out in local neighborhoods. Initiatives spring up to rescue animals. I saw a touching narrative on the Instagram of garbage collectors in Turkey picking up books from trash and starting a library for kids. A group of artists and songwriters create an outlet for children fighting cancer to express feelings using music. Read a touching story of individuals transforming unused corner lots into gardens of creative expression. Doctors serve for free to give a gift of vision to blind people. I could go on forever.
The stories about acts of kindness make me feel good, as they are expressions of the genuine and priceless treasure of abundance we carry inside. It isn’t necessarily about what or how much people give, but how simple actions create small, positive ripples in small circles.
It brings questions for me. If compassion and kindness do us so much good, why do we see/hear news of friction, animosity, hatred, terrorism, legal battles, exploitation, etc.?
On a personal level, am I being compassionate and kind? Sometimes, yes – hopefully often. In every moment of my life or all the time, honestly no – even if I may not be trying to hurt or hate someone, my guard could still be up to disconnect myself, or my sensitivity to someone/something may not be the same.
What is stopping?
I think the modern socioeconomic and political fabric has an idea weaved in that people act only out of self-interest. Humans fiercely compete and so get busy creating empires to fight and dominate. We (humans) started seeing the ecology of the universe as a set of resources to have or consume, coined a name for it – the environment. Instead of being an integral, harmonious part, we started pillaging and plundering it. Over the past 500+ years, our external conditioning has led us to chase material things. I am part of the chase as well.
The scarcity mindset disconnects from the universal abundance around me and inside me. The attachment to material things and fear can be a self-sustaining spiral fueled by – and at the same time fueling – my ego and reactive thinking patterns.
Space of Abundance!!??
Can I cultivate a space where I can connect with or be a part of the abundance again? I think it starts with compassion for myself. A few ideas emerge for me while trying to be aware of my thinking patterns and exploring answers.
ONE: Can I lose myself at least some of the time doing something that I enjoy?
Can I focus on something fun, creative, and constructive? In the moments when I lose myself into it, I think it allows my inner abundance to emerge through my walls of ego, insecurities, worries, etc., and enrich me. Reading, writing, and creating presentations is one outlet for me. When I coach youth, it brings so much joy and energy from inside for me. Cooking is turning into one more outlet; grateful to Covid-19 for that. Running and its endorphins release connects me with joy and positive vibrations. Going back to learning a little bit more harmonium sounds like a fun outlet, too, if I can find a guru to teach me. I have seen artists creating wonders with paintings. I think Bela (my wife) finds it in gardening in the backyard.
TWO: Step outside from time to time and feel the ambiance.
Hear sounds of birds and wind and vehicles passing by, see plant leaves move with the wind, feel a puff of air on my face, see things around me with childlike curiosity and a “new” pair of eyes. It can pause my thinking, keep me in the present moment, open space inside, and unlock healing powers. When I go for a vacation, the newness automatically yanks me into present moments, giving me a healthy boost of energy and relaxation. Can I “go on a vacation” at this moment – it is new and the first time, after all.
One priceless nugget that I have captured from mindfulness programs and readings about mind-body stress reduction medical research is that I am the one that observes my body sensations, thoughts, emotions, or physical pains & aches. I am not my mind, nor my body, nor my feelings, nor my pain – I am the one that observes them. Just that one idea of being a witness has tremendous power to unlock healing and happiness from the inside.
When I let my ambiance soak in through my physical senses, it also makes it easier for me to witness all that is happening now.
Khalil Gibran: And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
THREE: Have a sense of gratitude.
I could be taking so much for granted and complaining about what I don’t have. Breathing happens automatically, keeping me alive. I can think, write, read, walk, run, eat, smile, talk, brush my teeth using the coordinated motion of my hands and mouth – each of these is nothing short of a miracle. I have a place to live, family, and friends. Every day at home, at work, with family, or with friends, many things work: so many small details make my life easier, simpler, smoother, and more comfortable. If I slow down and think about it, I may not have to go too far to count my blessings. The gratitude opens a space of abundance inside and connects me with positive vibes.
FOUR: Do small acts of kindness.
Can I listen with more patience while talking with family, friends, colleagues, or customers? I think it is a gift when someone feels understood. Can I do tiny bits to create soothing ripples of resonance: call a friend, take care of small details for someone, or maybe appreciate someone. Smile when I talk with someone, let go a bit, donate something, share a positive thought, or spread the good news? Join a voluntary activity and figure ways to contribute. Look for opportunities to make a difference for someone in need.
I wish I knew this in my teenage if not even earlier – my feeling follows the action and not the other way round. A small act can change how I feel and think, opening flood gates for potentially an even more significant change. Small actions, when done consistently over time, can transform me from inside.
A Cycle of Compassion and Kindness
When I feel I am happy from the inside, I am willing to smile at others. When I think I have something meaningful to create, I am eager to contribute. When I am comfortable allowing my emotions to dissolve in my spacious awareness, I am willing to understand and empathize with others. When I feel secure from the inside, I am eager to embrace and surrender to new possibilities without worry or fear. I am willing to give when I can feel my inner abundance. Act of giving connects me again with the limitless abundance and the universal happiness. The cycle can be so beautiful, empowering, and self-sufficient.
I have seen plants sprouting through tiny cracks in the walls. I have heard stories of children playing carefree inside the warzones where people could lose lives at any moment. I think the nature of every living being is to heal, grow, develop, smile, and give no matter how difficult external circumstances might be. The universal consciousness and spacious awareness – the Atma – permeates and heals the world. I feel blessed to be connected to it.