How to be Kind when Everyone Around You Is Not

Here’s what Vedic and Ayurvedic philosophy say about finding true contentment while facing distraction, competition, life’s ups and downs, and more.

In This Article

Being in a State of Field Independence

Ben Hogan was one of the greatest golfers of all time. He seemingly displayed states of higher consciousness when he played golf. My favorite Hogan story is when, while he was making a 30-foot putt to win a tournament, a train came by and loudly blew its whistle. It startled everyone in the gallery, but Hogan sunk the putt seemingly unaffected. In the interview after the tournament, Hogan was asked, “What did you think when that train came by and blew the whistle?” and Hogan replied, “What train?”

This is called being in a state of field independence, where you are so engrossed in what you are doing that you are unaffected by obstacles or distractions within your field of awareness. Being in a state of field independence allows for things like making the shot when there are only two seconds left, the crowd is going wild, and the game is on the line.

The state of total immersion in any activity may also be a hidden source of pleasure and contentment regardless of the final score, making all who play winners.

I often think about this state of field independence in the context of competition, where winning is considered everything. From the Vedic perspective, the true meaning of competition is the ability to stay calm and within yourself regardless of distraction, opposition, or obstacle. This means that ultimately the competition is with oneself.

In an attempt to prove this state, I co-published a study in 1996 in the International Journal of Neuroscience that found you can maintain a meditative alpha brain wave state during vigorous exercise with nose breathing (rather than the more common way of breathing through your mouth). Imagine having the same mental calm you might experience during meditation while you are in a stressful or competitive situation. I call this skill being in the eye of the storm, where stress and internal composure co-exist. In this process-oriented state, winning isn’t everything, it becomes about how you play the game.

In the early 1990s, I guided a high school soccer team to use the Body, Mind and Sport principles of process-oriented competition. In a memorable game against the best team in the division, our team had no chance of winning, but they stayed within themselves, focused on the process, rather than the goal of winning, and they played one of the best games of the season.

Our kids, even though they were losing badly, played with such fun, joy, and enthusiasm that it frustrated the more powerful team. The more our team enjoyed the process, albeit losing, the more frustrated the opposing team became. By the end of the game, the opposing team was so angered by the fact that our kids were not beaten down emotionally that they actually challenged us to a rematch! So, who really won that game?

See also Ayurvedic Nose Breathing for Stress Relief and Immunity

The Benefits of Being Process-Oriented (Instead of Goal-Oriented)

To be field independent, or what I like to refer to as weatherproofed, one must wrestle with the difference between goal- and process-orientation. When the mind is set on only accomplishing a goal, happiness or success is dependent on accomplishing that goal. Not reaching the goal is often experienced as a failure, rather that a stepping stone on a journey of overcoming life’s obstacles.

In the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 2, verse 56), we are told that we must be unattached to the roller coaster ride of pain, pleasure, fear, and anger that is life. The Vedas made it clear that the highest versions of ourselves would not only be independent of the field, but also independent of our emotions, and even our pain.

In the same way children are devastated when their toys are taken away, adults also find themselves emotionally attached to various forms of sensory stimulation for their happiness. To be weatherproofed means that you are not thrown off course by the highs and lows and ups and downs.

When we are happy only when good things happen or devastated when bad things happen, our happiness is dependent on what’s happening around us instead of being dependent on the regular experience of joy that resides inside all of us. This is not to suggest that we ignore feelings like sadness or anger. When weatherproofed, it is natural to have these emotions, we are just not attached to them. Ayurveda suggests that while experiencing life’s ups and downs, we always have one foot in the knowing that this experience does not define us and it too will pass.

The Gita goes on to make the case that being attached to the fruits of our actions is the quickest way to feeling unfulfilled in life. It is no secret that the mind and its desires are quite insatiable.

Science has linked our attachment to achieving goals and external stimuli to addiction to the reward chemistry of dopamine. Whether we crave sweets, chips, a glass of wine, a new house, a car, or a pair of shoes, or are compelled to overwork, practice yoga daily, or even eat an extremely healthy diet, most of us are subject to falling prey to a reward chemistry that invariably leaves us wanting.

Sadly, our culture has monetized these desires to such an extent that we rarely grow out of the need to be satisfied by the external world, or what the Vedas called the fruits of our actions.

See also What is Rajas?

How to Protect Yourself from Want, and Be Kind

It’s hard to pick only one tool that can weatherproof us, as Ayurveda is a science designed to balance the mind and body in order to enhance the self-awareness needed to stop chasing external sources of happiness.

Like Ben Hogan, being immersed in the process and being independent of the field are the hallmarks of champions. Process-orientation directs the senses inward, which allows us to feel the power of our own silence—the eye of the storm. The bigger the eye, or the more calm we are, the more productive we can be in life. Billie Jean King, who wrote the forward to my book Body Mind and Sport, said when she was at her best, she would transport herself “beyond the turmoil of the court to a place of total peace and calm.”

To accomplish this, Ayurveda employs diet, exercise, yoga, breathing, meditation, detoxification, self-inquiry techniques, and so much more to entice us to look within and break our material addictions and fear of failure.

All that said, if I had to choose just one tool to share with you, I would have to choose a quote from the landmark book The Master, written in the early 1900s by Henry James. He wrote that there were three things that were very important in life: “The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind and the third is to be kind.” Mr. Roger’s latched on to this quote and regularly shared it with millions of children for decades.

I think everyone agrees that being kind is a virtue that we should all aspire to.

But many of us may question whether such blanket kindness could be easily taken advantage of by others. Once people realize that you are going to be kind in any situation, they could soon treat you like a doormat. You would be at the beck and call of those who have a propensity for manipulating others.

From the Vedic perspective, this is not what happens when you are kind. In Sanskrit, karuna is the word for kindness and karuna alayum is the silent abode of kindness that resides in our hearts. This level of kindness is not contrived or something we can fake. It is a natural state that has been shown to improve numerous health parameters. Being kind, or sattvic, which is another term for loving kindness, has been shown to lengthen telomeres. Telomeres are a measure of longevity, boosting beneficial gut bacteria, increasing the production of the longevity hormone oxytocin, and even positively changing your genetic code.

Studies show that when you perform acts of kindness with an expectation to get something in return, it can have a negative effect on the genetic code of the one you are giving to. Giving to others eudaimonically, or without expectations, has a positive affect on their genetic code, suggesting that the people we are giving or being kind to can tell on a very subtle level whether you are sincerely giving from your heart or have some hidden desire to be praised or rewarded for your kindness.

The Vedic concept of kindness also includes a natural and spontaneous expression of joy. Compassion, which is another quality of kindness, is required to be kind to the unkind. It requires us to understand why they have become unkind and respond with kindness.

To achieve this level of self-awareness, in which we feel safe enough to just be kind, is what the Vedas call the great battle—the fight between the mind’s desire to be praised and rewarded and our heart’s desire to praise and reward others.

I call this the game of life. We get to play the game by using the tools of self-awareness to help us see that we always have a choice. It is always easier to react to situations in the same way we have been for decades, but as we raise our level of self-awareness, we become aware of the opportunity to engage from our deep desire to be kind—for no reason.

Kindness is a fundamental aspect of your true nature—one that your mind has spent years protecting you from. Being fully weatherproofed means being unattached to the outcome, which means you are neither afraid of failure nor swooned by success. Such freedom from expectations and selfish desires drives our awareness through the fears of the mind and straight to the heart.

Once we take that leap of faith to be kind, we will not only be weatherproofed and unaffected by the field, we also will become infected with an unending love of our true nature—to be kind.

See also The Science of Sattva

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