Taking yoga out of the yoga room is certainly the best way to have a practice. But how? Am I to do a triangle pose in the post office lobby? Practice sun salutes on the front lawn? Meditate at staff meetings? Fear not. The first two limbs of yoga, yama and niyama are tailor-made for modern day life. Use the ten guidelines in the studio and out. The first yama, “ahimsa” translates best as “not-harming” i.e. being the opposite of a dick.
Sometimes I meet people who are nice to me before they even know me. Not dicks. I find myself responding to their kindness, their compassion, the downright friendly attitude. I don’t “become” friends so much as I re-discovered our friendship from a past life. Those who radiate such warmth are pleasant. Turn that around to reveal the hidden power within: I can be spontaneously kind, naturally effervescent – and people will like me ! Being nice doesn’t demand liking people, loving them or even getting to know them. My truth is about me not them.
Napoleon Hill wrote about making friends and influencing people. His suggestions indicate sincerity is not required. Generations of marketers have learned that starting out with a “free gift” creates obligation. Obligation implies relationship. Relationship with the giftor in the power seat and the giftee awkwardly obliged. While lounge lizards are real I implore you not to join their ranks. Developing false obligations may seem good for business, but they’re not. People may be won to your side in public, secretly seething in private. Or to put it another way humiliating a child may be expedient but carries the price of shutting down avenues of honest communication.
A case in point, parents may be telling the truth when they tell youngsters they are irritated, disappointed or frustrated – but that fails to increase honest sharing. Students merely work harder at subterfuge. People don’t want to open up to dicks. If you ever really wanted to be understood you’ll have to start with being understanding. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. I just make wry observations on the human condition. I recall I never wished I could talk to my parents about being a writer. They were too eagerly disinterested. By contrast the people I did open up to, were those who were kind. Encouraging. Patient. Curious about my side of the story.
So if I grow up misunderstood, overlooked, low on drama in a dramatic family why would I want to be kind? Watching the news I’m tempted to believe compassion is for chumps. If it’s not to manipulate and sell, if it’s not to influence people, then what’s in it for me to be nice? I boldly suggest happiness and contentment. We’ve all been sold a bill of goods. We’re meant to believe having more equals being more – and that is brought to you by the very people in the business of selling stuff. Question the source.
Happiness comes from stability, security, not the stuff itself. If having a car symbolizes reliable transportation to work – reliable transportation can be fulfilled any number of different ways. As a young mother, the Honolulu bus system and an occasion cab fulfilled all of my transportation needs. Fulfilled them well. I felt stable and secure. I was happy, without the stuff of a car payment, insurance bill, buying gas or paying for oil changes. I spent the money I saved on other things that compounded my happiness: art lessons, karate lessons, swimming lessons – the sort of stuff my kid could do instead of have.
Being kind brought me undeniable happiness. Being unkind? An uncomfortable feeling that twists in the pit of my stomach. I’m not good at playing the mean girl. I don’t enjoy making other people small. It was not a kindness that made the lady in my office refer to me in third person. “If you don’t have time,” the greying blonde asked – jerking her head towards me, “can she help me?”
I’m sitting at the “up-desk” i.e. the desk in the front office that faces the entrance. I’m here to scoop up walk-in customers in need of a realtor. I am not deaf. English is my sole language. Perhaps if the woman appraiser had asked “Can you help me,” while making eye contact I might have acquiesced. Had I thought she was a potential client there’s no doubt I would have said “yes.” But the coldness of her question rattled me. I mentally decided against offering assistance before my colleague dismissively replied, “I don’t know, she might have something else to do.” Still no introduction? No clarification of my status? Unkindness multiplied.
I’m never comfortable with the most dysfunctional person in the room calling the shots. Making excuses for their bad behavior slides under my skin, turning into moral cowardice over time. Any disconnect between what I know is correct and how I act, eventually wears on me. It shows up as stress related illness, depression, anxiety, misplaced rage or as chronic fatigue and persistent pain. I suppose I write as a means for release. Subtle bigotry is no better than overt. If the woman felt my response was under Kristi’s control as if I were her receptionist or gopher that woman was mistaken. I’m an agent in my own right. I decide who I will help.
Even in moving traffic. When I see a blinker light I slow to allow for merging. I suppose that puts me in the minority. That’s why it’s a kindness! I don’t have to speed up to cut off merging traffic. I don’t have to drive like a dick. I find following the traffic rules, slow on the right, fast in the left lane, calms me. I find the banalities of please and thank you lubricate my sense of propriety, decency, decorum. Feeling thankful, much obliged, when authentic – is soothing. Feeling thankful, when forced? Feels irksome and breeds resentment. I can’t fake a kindness and I don’t care to try.
Spontaneous kindness starts with personal kindness. Last night, for example, I was in significant pain. I did what I usually do in such situations, I call a friend. In this instance my friend was not emotionally available. I had to improvise a plan B. I consider alternate actions: a calming meditation, a vigorous yoga practice, a delicious meal, reading an interesting book, crying my heart out. Some of the options on my short list, like taking a nap, struck me as methods of “checking out.” Avoiding my pain was not my intention.
Pretending things don’t bother me is not a kindness. It’s an unacceptable violence to myself. Spontaneous kindness includes allowing myself to cry, to wallow, to express myself and feel my feelings. Granted this is not done for the benefit of others. Don’t cry unless you are safe. Not all friends and family are safe. Some believe in that stiff upper lip. Others have no such excuse, only discomfort. Comport your self accordingly. Don’t let feeling feelings disintegrate into an old fashioned side-show. Be for real.
Only when kindness is real does it have intrinsic value. The other kind of kindness, the kind deployed for show, for manipulation, for the approval of the senses? Is deadly to the soul, is wounding to those all around us.
Now y’all play nice!