I realized the other day that sometimes, rather than wanting to be a kind person, I want to be a kind person so that people see me as a kind person.
Okay, there are a lot worse things in the world than wanting to appear kind to others. Mainly because in order to be successful at this endeavor, I must actually be kind.
But are these actions actually being kind?
I’ve spent a lot of time in the practice of selfless service. Karma yoga, or the yoga of action, teaches us that we will always be doing some sort of action even if we’re sitting around simply breathing, eating, or digesting.
Watching the ways in which we are attached to the outcomes of our actions is a step towards selfless service. Yet having methods and mentors won’t make doing the work of spiritual practice any easier—we each need to reflect for ourselves on what selfless service means.
Doing an action for the sake of it needing to be done regardless of the attainment of praise or the repercussions from not doing it are powerful ways our personality aspects—the parts in our minds that just beg us to falsely identify with them—hold us in their grips.
And so I’ve realized that kind actions I partake in are not always of the selfless sort. They’re of wanting recognition, not only from those that may directly or indirectly benefit from any act of benevolence I may bestow, but also those that would witness said acts.
I see multiple layers of my ego at play here: I want to have a direct impact on those my charitable act effects as well as have an impact on those that are, like me, standing by in quiet observation doling out judgements on the world around them.
Here’s where things get tricky because not only am I now dealing with falsely motivated actions, but I’m also seeing how the world around me is simply a projection of the world within me.
Pretending to be a kind person so that others see me as kind implies that others have the same ideas of what it means to be a kind person and has nothing to do with true kindness for its own sake. Naturally, this multi-layered realization points out various ways in which I impose my understanding of the world onto itself and have attachment to the outcomes of my actions.
Since my training and experience has taught me that karma yoga is best accompanied with reflection, my next step is a step back. The actions I take are done not only to add kindness to the world, but to have the added benefit of making me seems a particular way.
Okay. I can work with this. I can work with this because, at its heart, my practice of yoga has taught me how to hold space.
Holding space can mean something as tangible as leading a classroom full of students, and as subtle as watching a feeling arise within me and allowing it to be there without judgement. Allowing a yoga practice to deepen means getting to know the Light within and, like lighting a candle in a dark room, directing the Light towards myself is bound to reveal some places I didn’t previously know were part of me. Like my sometimes-tainted motivations for kindness.
So what exactly is needed in order to express true kindness? Two things come to mind.
First, I need to know what is happening. This powerful question has popped out of many of my teacher’s mouths and now often finds its way out of mine. What is happening? When I am clear about what’s going on, I’ll have a better sense of what is needed.
Secondly, I need to accept what is happening. I can search for blame or question how something could have happened, how anyone could have ever wrangled themselves into a situation, or I can set my judgement aside and work with what I’m presented with.
Sometimes these steps include my own selfish reactions to my behavior: wanting to appear as kind. Those, too, are taken in and accepted time and time again as they are uncovered. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about bringing forward the best in myself.
I know that kindness makes the world a better place. It’s in the simple moments where our lives are nourished and woven with quality. When we can inject kindness into our lives and the lives of those around us we begin momentum to change our reality into a softer and more compassionate experience. True kindness comes from a desire to let Light flow through thoughts and actions.
I’m learning to let go of expectations my actions be seen a certain way, and allow the true kindness of space held and accepted to flow out of me.
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Asst. Ed.: Linda Jockers/Ed: Bryonie Wise