Mindfulness and altruismOften when we think of self-improvement, we think we need to turn inward and direct our energy towards ourselves in order to be successful. But we can also find success – and be better people – if we look inward and direct our energy towards others. Mindful practice of compassion and altruism can lead us to happier and better lives. Altruism is a selfless regard for the welfare of others without the expectation of a reward. We can use this practice to benefit both ourselves and the rest of the world.

The Dalai Lama wrote, “In my experience, the calmer you are, the more you think about and practice altruism and other good things, the more you benefit. This mental state, these qualities, are very relevant and useful for a happy and successful life. By thinking along these lines, you will eventually be convinced that anger and hatred are very bad for your life and health. A compassionate attitude and a sense of caring are good not only for your peace of mind but also very good for your health… It is very important to utilize our existence for constructive purposes.”

Many of us use mindfulness practice to help us be more aware of ourselves. Breathing exercises help us learn to watch our thoughts and feelings come and go in our minds. This also teaches us the impermanence of things. Walking meditations help us clear the mind and become more connected with our environment.

But how much have we thought about using mindfulness to help us direct our attention – and our intentions – towards others? If we’re mindful about spreading love wherever we go, is that going to wear us down? Is it going to be weird?

It’s not difficult to smile. Nor is it a strain to share in the laughter of a child. Is it hard to open a door for someone? What about picking up a piece of trash in a public place? None of these things require much effort to do, but if we make mindful decisions to perform these and similar acts on a regular basis, we will start to see love returned our direction.

It’s in the mindfulness of the moment – your smile at a stranger might pick up his spirits on a rough day and he’ll smile genuinely back at you. Seeing you pick up some litter might encourage someone else to do the same somewhere else. Practicing love and kindness for the sake of love and kindness is contagious!

And yes, it might be awkward at times. Not everyone you smile at is going to return the favor. Some people are overprotective of their children and may not take well to your laughing with their kids. But most people respond to kindness with kindness, and way more often than not, you’re going to be spreading joy.

And it’s easy to find love within ourselves to give us a place from which we can start. Can you find joy from going outdoors? What about playing with your favorite pet? Perhaps you just heard from an old friend. Or maybe there’s a happy memory you hold dear. Meditating on any of these can bring you to a place of calm and love, where you can begin projecting those feelings and good intentions out to others around you.

We can also cultivate altruism by going about our lives with a sense of compassion. If we approach others with empathy and sensitivity we can spread love and warmth. If we are able to recognize when others are in need or are hurting or just want to be left alone, we can compassionately make decisions about our actions toward them with the intention of causing them no further pain. Thoughtful, compassion acts from us might bring a small amount of relief to someone who is suffering.

Compassion might bring about larger amounts of good, too. Suppose you’re having a bad day, and you go home to find your spouse has had a bad day as well. Rather than jumping in and asking for their support immediately, what would happen if you stepped back and allowed them to vent first? Your support and compassion for your spouse would show them your love and will hopefully bring them some relief. You will start to improve your own day by knowing that you gave love to someone who was suffering. Your spouse will now be more likely to return that love when you tell them about your poor day. See how acting with compassion first increases the amount of love in this situation!

Practicing mindfulness is a good way to improve ourselves. We become more self-aware and are able to see more clearly and make better decisions about how we live our lives. When we practice mindfulness with altruism and compassion, we are able to spread love and kindness around the world as we go. We can increase the happiness of others and decrease their suffering. We can be better people.

Jason Large,

Daily Zen.

Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at: https://www.facebook.com/jason.large.12?fref=nf

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