Humankind Needs Kind Humans
(And a Touch of Imagination)
With apologies to Tina Turner, I have been pondering lately What’s Love Got to Do With It? (And Emotion,
and Imagination, and Will, and Consciousness) That is to say, how can we mere mortalsharness our imagination, goodwill, and loving-kindness to shift not only our own consciousness but also the evolution of Humankind? How do we get out of our own way and move beyond our natural defences and resistance
, and be of service in the world? It has been done countless times before, and there is no better time than this moment of now to recall some fundamentals. So I write this as a reminder note to myself, as I face my own inner obstacles that cast a shadow over the free flow of loving-kindness that my spirit yearns to express.
Imagination, Science, and New Realities
“Imagine”, sang John Lennon. Albert Einstein famously said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” “They’re both important”, answers another physicist and Nobel Prize recipient Frank Wilczek, “but knowledge without imagination is barren”. Personally I love to “realistically” observe the world as it is, and keep imagining our next step in human evolution. Just maybe this positive use of imagination can be of service to an ever-upgrading human consciousness.
For a long time people believed the earth was flat, until Pythagoras (6th century BC) dared to imagine the idea of a spherical planet. Yet it took until around 330 BC before the world beyond the Hellenistic civilization followed this imagination, based on empirical grounds provided by Aristotle. Except for a few lonely dreamers like Aristarchus of Samos (3rd century BC), the cosmos in the collective imagination of the educated population was conceived as a spherical earth in the centre of the universe with the sun, planets and stars circling around it.
It was not until the 16th century that a Renaissance mathematician, astronomer, and Catholic cleric started to imagine a cosmos with the Sun in the centre and the Earth revolving around it. By letting his mind imagine and think beyond the world paradigm of those days, Nicolaus Copernicus developed in 1543 a geometric mathematical model of a heliocentric system. In 1610 Galileo Galilei publishes the visual observations he made using a telescope, which would provide physical evidence of what Copernicus dared to imagine more then 70 years earlier. Other courageous dreamers dared to imagine people flying through the sky like birds and even landing on the moon, speaking to each other and transmitting information over vast distances, and making impossibly complex computations in fractions of a second. Countless such fantastical acts of imagination have come to pass.
By 2016 we have not only mapped the human DNA, but biochemists are also mapping now the human epigenome. We have new generations of electron microscopes that can pinpoint the position of a single atom — an object a million times thinner than a human hair. With the power of the Hubble telescope astronomers can view almost 3,000 distinct galaxies, the deepest look into space anyone has ever seen … so far. For all this we owe thanks to a succession of scientists and visionaries who dared to imagine beyond any current “evidence” of reality. It was their acts of imagination that transformed mere potentiality into a “new” reality.
Observing Reality, Experiencing Reality, and Shaping Reality
Now, what can you and I do with our own imaginations? What are we to make of our observations of the world? As we look around we can see the spectrum of human experience, from the deep slums of tragedy, misery, horror, and suffering, to the heights of joy, bliss, and ecstasy … and everything in between. Of course, none of us has any control whatsoever over the minds of our 7.4 billion fellow humans (as of 2016) inhabiting our dear planet Earth. Yet I feel good when I chose to use my own mind and imagination for positive visualization. I imagine that I am infusing an immense planetary cloud of human collective thought and action with the most positive thoughts and feelings I can muster. And yes, I believe that we humans really do create a planetary cloud of collective human feeling.
You do not have to be a highly sensitive person to perceive the difference in psycho-energetic vibration in a crowded city versus a quiet rural area. More than just noise and vehicles and bodies, I attribute the clear differences to the accumulated “emotional emissions” or “deposits” of all the individuals (human and otherwise) inhabiting the place. When the population is dense and stressed, the accumulation of emotional emissions intensifies. In rural or relaxed areas the cloud of emotional emissions will be less dense, and might be experienced as more serene or even lonely, depending on the temperament of the perceiver.
The point of all this? Whether we are aware of it or not, each of us is actively (albeit unwittingly perhaps) contributing to the local (and global) cloud of human experience. This means each of us has considerable power — and one could say great responsibility — to become more intentional about how we are co-creating each new moment of our personal reality, as well as the greater human reality around us. In short, we shape reality based on the quality and quantity of our deposits to the collective “account” of human experience.
Making Deposits Into The Collective Emotional Bank Account
Most everyone has experienced the deep satisfaction and pleasure of investing love and service into a greater good and goal beyond oneself. While I derive great satisfaction from using my mind and imagination to place positive deposits in the planetary “bank” of collective human thought, I am even more thrilled when I make a similar investment with my feelings. Whatever heartfelt loving-kindness I can produce in a given moment, I pour that into the collective cloud. Personally, I am partial to retreats with tantric Buddhist monks to deepen my experience of universal love and kindness ( བྱམས་པ་ jampa in Tibetan) in mind, body, soul, and spirit.
I continue this practice as best I can in my “regular” life outside of spiritual retreats. Needless to say, I frequently find myself isolated in my own egocentric world. There are times that I fearfully hold back my love, and moments that I shy away from giving or receiving acts of kindness. Yet all my resistances, fears, and selfishness make the value of my practice even more obvious: I love the feeling of liberation in those moments in which I get over myself and surrender to my heartfelt loving-kindness. My acts of imagination and loving-kindness come to full fruition when they manifest in service to others.
A Long Succession of Investors
Making regular deposits to our collective emotional bank account is just a playful label I attach to a practice that has been known for millennia. The combination of loving-kindness with virtuous action is akin to what Aristotle called Eunoia in his Rhetoric (Book 2.1.5-9). Every major religious tradition promotes the concept of Eunoia or loving-kindness to others within its value system.
Loving-kindness is used as an English translation for the Hebrew word חסד (chesed). This term is used often in the book of Psalms, and refers to acts of kindness, motivated by love. It is used primarily in reference to God, rather than people. One example is found in Psalm 107, where verse 43 reads: “Who so is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the LORD.”
In Christianity the term Loving-kindness was coined by Myles Coverdale, in his Bible of 1535 (there spelled “louinge kyndnesse”), as an English translation of the Hebrew word chesed (which appears in the Latin Vulgate as “misericordia“).
The Islamic Quran makes numerous references to kindness, for instance:
“And Allah said: Woe to those who pray, who are heedless of their prayer, who pray to be seen and withhold small acts of kindness.” (Surah Al-Ma’un 107:4-7) Here (small) kindness in the Arabic word ma’un الْمَاعُونَ is also connected with action. It values the act of simple assistance to those who need it.
Hindu tradition (in texts such as Grhyasutras, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas) assigns the word Priti (Sanskrit: प्रीति) to loving kindness. The word refers to “amity, kindness, friendly disposition, love, affection, harmony, peacefulness” to others. Maitri is another term found in Hindu literature that means “loving-kindness”. It is particularly found in Yoga-related literature like that of Patanjali (yoga sutra 1.33).
Loving-kindness is also the English equivalent for the Buddhist term mettā, as described in the Metta Sutta of the Pali Canon’s Sutta Nipata (Sn 1.8) and Khuddakapatha (Khp 9), and practiced in Loving Kindness meditation.
In the Taoist tradition loving-kindness is the first of The Three Treasures (Chinese: 三寶; sānbǎo). The three Treasures are basic virtues in Taoism. The Tao Te Ching originally used sānbǎo to mean “compassion”, “frugality”, and “humility” (chapter 67). The first of the three treasures is ci (Chinese: 慈; tz’u) and literally means “compassion, tenderness, love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, benevolence”, which is also a Classical Chinese term for “mother”.
And I am convinced we can find an equivalent concept for Eunoia in each and every culture and language that exists or that has ever existed on our planet. This makes me conclude that throughout history millions (billions?) of people have enriched our collective emotional bank account of human consciousness with the most valuable currency that exists: the love and kindness of their heart and soul.
Whether we call it Eunoia, loving-kindness, chesed, metta, maitri, jampa, priti, ma’un, misericordia, tz’u … what we do is certainly important. And how we do it also deserves thoughtful consideration. And maybe the motivation behind the what and the how is even more important, at least for our soul and spirit.
What’s Eunoia Got To Do With It?
The Greek word Eunoia is often translated as goodwill, a word that is not as straightforward as it seems.
Goodwill . . . willing what is good.
The words good and will sound simple, yet what a variety of meanings and deep and strong experiences go along with them! For example, in certain contexts the word “good” is the judgment we impose on something: Good news versus bad news, good results versus disappointing results, good teachers versus poor teachers. In this sense the word good is attributed to how closely a certain thing, action, result, or person approaches what we desire reality to be, or believe reality should be.
The word good is often used to describe how useful and functional we perceive certain objects or services to be. For instance, good food contains the ingredients to nurture and satisfy us. Good equipment serves to effectively accomplish a certain job.
Good may refer to the pleasant and pleasurable stimulation of the senses, namely touch, smell, hearing, seeing, taste: This touch feels really good; your words do me a lot of good; the tone is your voice makes me feel good; taking in this landscape has a good effect on me; a walk in fresh air put me in a good spirit; this good music elevates my mood; this food is really good (tasty).
Good is also applied to moral values and ideals: A good person, a good soul, a good soldier. Here the word good encompasses characteristics such as trustworthiness, integrity, justice, fairness, diligence, reliability, loyalty, courageousness, and so on. A good person is also seen in light of such virtues as compassion, benevolence, empathy, respect, patience, forgiveness, tolerance, and generosity. What is the goodness inside a person?
In short, good and goodness actually mean something different for each person in each moment. Yet common to all these possible uses of the word are the underlying choices and exercise of an individual’s intention and will. Which brings us back to goodwill:
Goodwill . . . willing what is good.
Our will is what we use to achieve what (we believe) we need for our survival and security, and for our pleasure and happiness. Free will is a central concept of western civilization and religious thought; people start revolutions or wars to fight for their freedom, that is, the free space to exert or to express their individual will.
By itself, our will is quite neutral. I don’t mean neutral in terms of being inactive, since the force of our will is a very potent and directive creative energy. I mean neutral in terms of undifferentiated. It naturally emerges with an inherent quality of manifesting power, a natural engine that simple wants to propel us forward into self-preservation, self-expression, and self-actualization. Our will is an undifferentiated and useful power in service of whatever idea, intent, belief or image we attach to this will power. It is a malleable gift: In each moment we can neglect or reject it, or receive and use it. We sculpt our will, for better or worse, with either our fears and habits, or our imagination and heart.
For example, each of us labours under a whole set of ideas (largely illusory and often fearful) about which substances, objects, strategies, people, services, or situations are critical to satisfy our needs. We then turn our “needs” into desires, and then demands, and often blame. We thereupon channel the force of our will in a certain direction.
When we effectively exercise our will, we are doing more than wishing. Yet if we find ourselves insisting or demanding, then we may have crossed the line from a productive act of assertion to a defensive or aggressive act based on an underlying fear. For me, the sweet spot is harnessing my will to my heartfelt loving-kindness for my own self-care and in service to others. This requires moment-by-moment acts of Conscious Willing.
Conscious Willing and Freedom
Claiming our sovereignty over our own willpower requires intentional acts of consciousness. Often our willpower is severely conditioned by unconscious loyalties, beliefs systems and habits. Our will remains under the control of reflexive and unwitting habits, images, beliefs, and loyalties. To the degree we are not aware of these constraints, to that same degree we are powerless to change them, and we experience life as being outside our control. We are a “victim” of circumstance.
Put another way, our will may already be headed in an unfortunate direction long before we have any awareness of what we want or need. It then seems as if a stranger inside of us controls our life, from the hidden shelters of our unconscious psyche. And since this inner stranger is unknown to us, we tend to blame something or someone outside of us for directing our life and experience in ways we do not like. We project our unconscious mechanisms outside of us, onto our outside world. This projection mechanism keeps us powerless and helpless; it is only by fully owning our inner stranger that we can gradually take back ownership of our intrinsic willpower, which for the moment our inner stranger controls.
When we accept full sovereignty of our willpower, we have the maximum freedom we can realize. This requires us to take a radically honest look at what we do with our will. Do we shy away from wanting, or do we incessantly want? Do we secretly want and outwardly pretend to not care? Do we pretend we want but secretly don’t care? Do we believe we are in control, or helpless? Do we actually know what we really want, versus actually need? Do we want to please others and thus try to read what they want so we can sacrifice our willpower to what we believe they need? Or do we straightforwardly offer others our genuine loving-kindness? Do we want to dominate others so we try to control their willpower for our personal interest or supposed safety? Or do we honestly make requests for what we need?
The dynamic of reflexive and fearful avoidance, submission, or domination creates frustrating and conflicting tensions in relationships. Denying self-responsibility for our co-creations devastates our self-respect and undermines our character. We live with a dull and stale energy in our life, or worse, chronically negative life experiences.
The more we use our conscious awareness to penetrate these habits, beliefs, and loyalties, the more visible they become to us. And as soon as they are fully visible, they automatically become manageable. As soon as a belief becomes conscious, we gain the freedom to choose if we want to maintain this belief, or if we desire to change the way we look at life. As soon as a habit becomes conscious, it is no longer a habit, but it becomes a choice whether we continue the same ways or if we try something new. As soon as a loyalty becomes conscious, we have the possibility to evaluate whether this loyalty is truly useful and constructive for our life, or rather a convenient escape from responsibility, or perhaps a submission to life that impairs our exercise of goodwill. This new awareness gives us the freedom and resources to navigate territories that before had been opaque, mechanical, and automatic.
When I have developed ownership over my own willpower, I experience the sheer joy of freedom! When I no longer act out of unconscious or reflexive habit, submission, or domination, I am free. When I act out of lucid perception and discernment, I am free. Acting from a lucid discernment is a source of self-confidence, trust, character, and strength. Life becomes more enthusiastic and vibrant. From this place, I can freely exercise my goodwill.
Whither Now our Goodwill?
What if we connect our liberated, lucid, and vibrant willpower with our inner goodness? What would that look like? What kind of experiences would result?
Goodwill . . . willing what is good.
We would be free, in the sense of channelling our willpower in any direction that suits us. My personal preference is directing my willpower to acts of loving-kindness and productive deposits to the collective bank account. My intention is to promote goodness in the various forms mentioned above, such as pleasant stimulation of the senses, moral virtue, and acts of service. I believe such choices breed ever more kindness in the world.
I see three major forms of acts of kindness:
- The kindness in the pleasant manner of our actions: Doing even small things with warmth or a smile.
- The kindness in the choice of our actions: Helping, supporting, giving, nurturing, empowering, and being generous. “Doing Good” in the virtuous sense of the phrase.
- The kindness of the motivational force behind the choice of action: Doing things from goodwill, wanting the good to manifest in self, others, and the world.
When these several kinds of kindness operate jointly, the result is Eunoia. We may experience the most beautiful gift anyone can share. Imagine receiving support in a pleasant manner, in the exact form and substance you need, and motivated by pure brotherly, sisterly, childlike, motherly or fatherly goodness; what effect would that have on you? When I imagine giving or receiving such a gift, I feel all the cells of my body rejuvenating, my heart relaxing, and my soul warming up and actually singing. My spirit comes alive with the deep satisfaction of being of service to another, and of receiving the true offer of service from another.
A note of caution is in order: Sometimes seeming acts of kindness mask hidden currents or secondary intentions, and are in fact not kind at all. For example, a negative message can be wrapped with the charm of pleasing words or a superficial warmth. The goodness is only present in the wrapping paper, but the actual substance offered is undesirable. Sometimes help and support are offered out of submission or guilt, or with the secondary intention to make someone dependent or to impose a controlling agenda. The will of either the giver and/or the receiver is distorted by the deceit or manipulation. Or, we may say all the right words; yet separate the words from our deeds. In this way the positive current becomes blocked, life energy stagnates, and our relationships become dry, stale, and eventually poisonous.
My idealized version of Eunoia would be the free-willed threefold kindness as explained above and could be resumed in this definition:
Eunoia is giving support in a pleasant or accessible manner, in the exact form and substance that effectively serves a true need, where the giving is motivated by pure brotherly, sisterly, childlike, motherly or fatherly goodness.
Of course, we can only do our best in life, and we can never control the consequences of our choices. We have freedom of choice, not freedom of consequences. This is part of the big human adventure of gaining life experience, and hopefully some wisdom along the way. In this context I would define wisdom as the intelligence of knowing and making the choices that lead to happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life experiences. Such wisdom is the result of a life-long journey for each of us, unique and surprising at every turn. There is always more to learn, more to discover, more to deepen. I see a long road to mastery before me. I’m grateful for the tantric Buddhist retreats on Loving-Kindness that I attend for 22 years now where Tibetan monks remind me to put body, speech and mind in service of the well being of all sentient beings.
Back to John Lennon’s Imagine
May I invite you on a short journey of imagination?
Imagine … we leave earth for a thousand years. In those thousand years we don’t age. On the contrary, we rest, we regenerate, and we restore a youthfulness and freshness in body and mind, as we have never experienced before. In the meantime humanity evolves wonderfully. Emotional maturity catches up with intellectual brilliance; moral integrity catches up with technological sophistication; global spiritual awakening is reaching new heights. By the time we come back to Earth we find a humanity that has evolved into an overflowing well of Eunoia. Now consider what such a Humankind would look like, and feel like? Would you be willing to free your imagination from all hindering limitations and give yourself permission to visualize and articulate the most beautiful vision of a Humankind that you can conceive? According to my experience visualizations work most effectively when the vision is articulated in an affirmative way, meaning emphasizing on what is desired and leave behind the expression of what is undesirable in the new vision.
I started writing this letter as a reminder note to myself. Now I see it also as a small act of Eunoia. If you have received any value of this letter, then it has been worth sharing … and is it worth sharing with others. Please pass it on if the spirit moves you, as well as share here below with the readers of this blog (and your loved ones) your uplifting visions for Humankind. I have faith that your creative deposits into the Collective Visionary Bank Account feed positive momentum for our planet. Together, our acts of Eunoia just may be the the fuel for the evolution we have imagined.