Kindness is not just an additive, something we add to our normal behavior to make us better more adaptive people. Kindness expresses itself radiantly and creatively through absence; through the stilling and eventual stopping of what the Buddhists call <em>kleshas,</em> or mental afflictions (harming mental states) like anger, jealousy, pride, greed, etc. A very special wisdom allows for the eventual stopping, but more about it later.
There is an incredible body of literature dedicated to identifying and describing the mind and mental factors in Buddhism. Without knowing which mental states are toxic for ourselves and others, which ones inhibit or distort progress on the spiritual path, regardless of the path we follow, we may endlessly experience misery and never connect the dots.
For example, kindness naturally surfaces through checking, reducing, and eventually stopping anger, whether expressed through what the Buddhists call the “three doorways of body, speech and mind”: in gestures/expressions, verbal habits/patterns, or thoughts. We think our thoughts are “private”. Um, okay, it might be comforting to believe that, but negative thoughts, like radiation, though not visible leave their ugh factor everywhere, while positive mental presences are evidenced in the sweet light energy that kids and animals tend to see instantly.
For a great read with a mind-boggling kid anecdote you may enjoy reading: Loving-Kindness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana
News Flash: The worst victim of our toxic mental states is ourself.
The reduction of toxic mind states in us brings stillness instead of turbulence, peace instead of malaise, ease instead of obstacles. We gain peace and others can sense this.
Our ability to refrain from acting out of anger etc is directly correlated with the degree to which we feel safe for ourselves and safe for others.
No one wakes up in the morning and sings: Please may I come across any and all (to the tune of Amazing Grace please) dangers, toils, and snares!
Our need and wish for safety is natural. No one wants to feel threatened. Some may think safe people are boring and they very well may be. But would you rather be boring or make people want to run away from you? Having said that, what appears threatening to us might be experienced differently once our stuff is faced.
Safe people, the Buddha understood, are refuges for others because safe people, people who have their mental afflictions and therefore their physical, mental and verbal actions under their conscious command, lack the treacherous landmines of ugly behavior that disturb oneself, others, and the environment.
Crucially, though, and I really can’t overstate this, we are not denying, suppressing, stuffing down, dissociating from, fearing, or otherwise being ashamed when we feel anger. We are feeling it and not jumping to identify with or believe the content of the thoughts that issue from it; we are looking at it, holding it, observing it, witnessing it, embracing it, and developing an awareness of exactly how it conditions our experience.
Actually the process of staying with feeling the sensations in the body of fear, anxiety, anger is hard at first. Very hard. We’ll do anything to run away from staying there. But as we stay with the sensations of the emotion, we start to experience resolution.
What triggers anger and why? Add to this an understanding of our evolution as mammals and developmental psychology and we start to get a much more nuanced picture; that it’s not just a question, as some less nuanced presentations insist, of “getting rid of” or “doing battle with the mental affliction of anger”. I don’t find the military metaphors so helpful. We can think of this in terms of healing our minds, not forcing or bullying them into submission. It helps to understand our biology, our brains, our context, as well as our impulses to transcendence.
Annoyance, irritation, and anger (all degrees of aversion), are easily, and often understandably, triggered by various factors. Unfortunately, once triggered, we join the countless others on this weary planet who “caused” our anger, thereby reinforcing our fundamental misperception of the problem as being strictly outside of ourselves.
If we think about this carefully, we will come to realize that reducing harmful mental states in ourselves is a vastly underrated exercise that can yield inner and outer treasures far beyond patience.
If we get a handle on what Buddhist nun Robina Courtin calls our “garbage mind,” we can strengthen the habit of at least stopping for a moment, if not forever, before we give voice to that caustic tone, sarcastic or hurtful remark, facile judgment; before we flip the bird at the guy that cut us off in traffic (whose mom might be dying at the hospital), before we explode with the customer service rep, or before we cudgel ourselves for losing concentration in meditation, or think miserably of ourselves and the latest news.
Doing that can make us light-hearted conduits for spontaneous acts of kindness which are really so much fun, and create a field and contagion of palpable joy, love, gratitude, and synchronistic delight.