In a recent article about Buddhism I was taken by a statement that happiness is the result of a kind heart. Therefore, in order to develop happiness one has to develop a kind heart. The energy of that thought swept through me like a spring breeze and I relaxed into a deep state of bliss.
My experience in this world and the experience of many people I have met on the spiritual path includes emotional and physical trauma. Something happens to us that frightened or hurt us and made the world a scary, unsafe place. These traumatic experiences can harden our kind nature like a callus or scar tissue on our heart. We become defensive and can push people away in order to protect ourselves from pain. Even more subtle wounds are created when we experience something that we don’t like. These wounds are often dismissed or ignored because they don’t necessarily hurt. These more subtle wounds might cause frustration, irritation, anxiety or stress, but are accepted as part of everyday life.
As I trudge the path of happy destiny towards spiritual freedom and light, I feel it is my duty to remove these calluses, bruises, or wounds on my heart. This is necessary to allow my heart to open and to expand my consciousness. I am convinced that happiness cannot be logically reached; it must be experienced through our hearts. It is reassuring that one of the oldest belief systems in the world (Buddhism) incorporates this belief in the form of the statement that happiness can only be reached through a kind heart.
I often contemplate what is a kind heart. So far, the best conclusion I can draw at the moment is that a kind heart is a heart filled with compassion, awareness and acceptance. There is no room in a kind heart for resentment, resistance, anger or any other “negative” emotions. I further believe that these painful energies are the result of what the Buddhists call lazy or habitual thinking. I call it “worst case scenario thinking.” As a former attorney I often imagined what the worst-case scenario would be in a trial and plan accordingly. This defense mechanism was very useful; however, when it spilled over into my personal life it causes great suffering.
One of the most important steps in developing a kind heart is to understand that we are not our thoughts. When we have thoughts of a hurtful or painful nature, we must not condemn or criticize ourselves for these thoughts. We have to simply accept them as random thoughts that are not real. When we dwell on these thoughts or resent them (“resent” means “to think over and over”) we are building thicker and thicker calluses and scar tissue on our hearts.
Another important step is to understand that we create our realities for the specific purpose of becoming enlightened. So when life does not suit us, we have to look for the message we are telling ourselves by creating something we don’t like. Some common themes I am witnessing these days include: (1) money has nothing to do with happiness; (2) companionship is not necessary for happiness; and (3) “common sense is more important than spiritual sense” (Derek O’Neill).
In order to develop a kind heart, we have to understand that we do not need money, mates, material stuff and thirteen spiritual diplomas to be happy. We simply need to accept the fact that we are exactly where we are supposed to be — going exactly where we are supposed to go. In my experience, one of the most damaging illusions and lies that we tell ourselves is that we are not living the life we are supposed to live, that we are somehow doing something wrong and that we are victims. Whenever we experience stress and anxiety it is because we believe something is wrong somewhere in our life. This leads us away from a kind heart, because a kind heart is flexible and pliable enough to understand that everything is perfect.
A great exercise for those anxious moments is to sit still and breath into the heart. Imagine that when you inhale you are sending light and oxygen into your heart (not the lungs). When you exhale imagine that you are exhaling all illusions and misunderstandings that hurt out of your heart. It is amazing how fast relaxation comes when one does this.
It is not so important that we be kind to others as it is to be kind to ourselves. There is no need to feel guilty, ashamed, stressed or anxious when we have a kind heart. A kind heart is like a loving parent observing a child who is angry or frightened and knows that everything will be all right. The child (us) does not know everything will be all right, but the parent does. When we can feel the feeling that everything will be all right, we can relax and enjoy life.
The payoff for having a kind heart is the inevitable effect that people will gravitate to us. We have to understand that some people will be kind, while others will project their anger and fears all over us. When we have a kind heart, we do not take offense at these people, we understand their pain and have compassion for them. This is how we can develop compassion for others, by being kind to ourselves.
Ultimately we come to the realization that everyone is simply a reflection of the thoughts and feelings we experience. When we can respond with kindness to everything, to the thoughts, emotions, events and people that we like and dislike, bliss will be ours.