When my son was in his senior year he wrote his senior thesis on his belief (at the time) that there really is no such thing as altruism because if helping someone gives the helper pleasure – all kind acts are inherently selfish. His premise was that if being kind didn’t make people feel good, then most likely no one would be kind. (Not too surprisingly he is currently working towards a minor in Philosophy.) We debated the merits of his view point and whether or not the outcome (feeling good) was a reason to be cynical about the motives of the helper.
Starting in January I began an one hundred day mediation challenge that is based on the concept of loving kindness. The premise is that in order to be truly happy and content it is necessary to genuinely have compassion, empathy and kindness towards others, even those you don’t like so much, particularly those who may have wronged you. This concept is not only based on ancient traditions of spiritual forgiveness it is also scientifically researched. When a person engages in an altruistic act, their brain responds by releasing dopamine which increase one’s feelings of happiness. We often hear stories of people paying for those in line behind them and the resulting good feelings that occur. The mediation challenge takes the concept past doing random acts of kindness for strangers, but actually wishing well to those who have caused us pain. It is easy to be kind to strangers, but to forgive those who hurt us is a different story.
When my marriage ended, I tried hard not to spend time or waste emotions with hostility and anger towards my ex. I didn’t want to spend more time and energy on negative feelings. Someone noticed that I refrained from negative comments about him and wanted to know- didn’t I really at least wish him to not be happy? I think I responded that I wouldn’t be upset if his life was hard. Not talking negatively didn’t mean that those feelings weren’t there, I just didn’t choose to express them.
Since I began my meditation challenge and also this writing challenge I have realized that until I embrace forgiveness, I will continue to be poisoned by the negative bent of my thoughts. So, I remind myself that I am doing this for me (selfishly) to feel better as I work at this forgiveness thing. While I know I’m not there yet, I understand the power of positive thoughts. I know the importance of forgiveness and compassion even towards him. I have learned that it is what I need to do in order for me to fully heal and to discover my own joy.