Last night I attended an open house at the Madison Shambhala Center. The resident teacher, Mark Blumenfeld, spoke on the Paramitas, and, as it was a short talk, in particular focused on the first one: generosity.
From the first line I was struck that his approach was going to differ from what I normally associate with generosity—giving: money, time and attention.
He started with, “We begin the practice of generosity on the cushion, while meditating.”
He went on to describe having a fundamental friendliness towards ourselves and the racing content of our minds: “As if you were at a friend’s house and accidentally opened their bathroom door with them in there, naked.”
When we see our raw mind and what it is up to, instead of judging ourselves (“Look at those awful stretch marks!”/”I can’t believe I am thinking that!”) we can feel a kindness, a tenderness, because we love ourselves.
These kinds of teachings are pretty common in Buddhism—at least in the Shambhala tradition; the connection he made that I had never heard, however, was that generosity and kindness go together.
If we train ourselves in being generously kind with ourselves, we can be that way with others.
It lead me to ask this question of Mark:
“So, what you are saying is that we can afford to be kind with ourselves and others?”
“Yes, that’s a good way to put it.”
“You know, that means that normally we believe we can’t afford to be kind.”
Everyone in the room winced and nodded. Ugh. Yes. This is what we believe.
This is what messages I know go through my head about Kindness:
- Kindness is indulgent.
- Kindness is a waste of time.
- Kindness won’t get stuff done.
- Getting stuff done is the most important thing.
Mark touched on some of these, mentioning that the “hitting ourselves over the head to be productive” motivation is a direct antithesis to self-kindness, being generous with oneself and to real happiness.
This is what it suddenly struck me that Kindness could be:
- Kindness is a necessity (“What if you went into work one day and everyone was kind to each other and you? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Doesn’t everyone want that?” Mark noted).
- Kindness takes no time away from “getting things done.” It costs nothing.
- Kindness is an efficient way of being (Imagine all the effort we’d save not having to keep up lies, distort our stories to selves or others, or keep up fights long ago lost).
- Kindness is the most important thing.
The next time you are in a rush—speedy, feeling stingy about time, money, energy, slow down. Do the exact opposite of what you have been trained to do.
Normally, we act as if there is even less available to you than there is; instead, let yourself take in the rich vision of early spring unfurling, feel the sun or wind or snow or tears on your cheeks, hear the myriad sounds of city or mountain or countryside life.
Is it really that simple, you are asking? Yes. That simple. And that difficult.
Simple because we always pick the hard way, thinking it will give us the most gain. Difficult because we always pick the hard way, thinking it will give us the most gain.
There’s plenty of present moment available—a new one every millisecond.
Act from that place and there will be plenty of space—and kindness.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise