"None of the means employed to acquire religious merit...has a sixteenth part of the value of loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, which is freedom of the heart, absorbs them all; it glows, it shines, it blazes forth."
The Buddha, Itivuttaka Sutta
That's quite a precise break-down of the power of being nice, don't you think? I wonder how he knew? I tried it out myself at one time and I never looked back, so I'll pass it along to you as something of a challenge: The challenge to be as nice as you possibly can to everybody you meet. It's kind of a tall order, but not impossible, and can help quite a lot at this time of year – what with all the demands on your holiday cheer.
Of course The Buddha knew the difference between being religious and being spiritual – that it's a little like comparing apples to water. Going to church defines you as being a type of believer, while showing loving-kindness to everyone you meet gets right to the heart of the distinction, namely:
You're not what you believe, you're what you do.
Take this little challenge and try it yourself, from now through the holidays, and watch what happens! You'll suddenly find yourself a part of a slightly invisible conspiracy of kindness; of identification and compassion. Friends you never knew you had will show up ev-erywhere, and then disappear just as beautifully and mysteriously; leaving you with only the one requirement – to continue the chain of kindness.
First you'll be amazed, then you'll wonder, then you'll experiment more intentionally, then you might never go back. It's that powerfully amazing. It will change your world that much. You can't help but be grateful for the wonderful way people treat you when you show them unconditional loving-kindness, and you'll find you're happy all the time, because you have to have gratitude before you can be happy about anything.
How does it work so well (sixteen times better...)? Simply because being kind to others takes the focus off of who Your Ego ("Mr. Big Shot") thinks you are, and places it on someone else's well-being – which as it turns out is really yours too. And it's easy to show unconditional Love all the time, because Love is all unconditional already – it only becomes conditional when Ego begins demanding it. What a kvetch.
We all want Love and companionship. Compañero. We're all the same person, really. "No we're not!" your Ego says, "I'm not at all like Dick Cheney!" (–God Bless 'im). Well, I hope that's true, and you may have a bit of a point after all... should everyone get the same lovingly kind treatment, no matter what? Well, dammit, ideally yes they should (now that's "tough love"). But if that level of unconditionality is im-possible, then let's look for a rule of thumb to go by:
"Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked."
Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, 1.33
So three out of four ain't bad. Just don't pay no mind to Mr. Cheney. Better yet, see if you can find some Love in your heart for him, because that's how we're all evolving. We're all becoming more and more able to share in the medium of Love that actually lives under, around, and through us. It's the solution that staring us in the face all the time. Gratitude and compassion are the doors to realizing it in every moment; and when we're kind to everyone we meet, all the time, we're open to the force of evolution that's flooding our plane of existence. We're opening the gates to it ourselves – each one of us.
"Heaven arms with Compassion those whom it would not see destroyed"
The Tao te Ch'ing, 67
Kindness is a winning strategy. There's lots of people out there who've already known it all along, you know, those smarties who are always smiling. Compassion doesn't save them from physical destruction – it enables them to find spiritual realization. To remove the obstacles to Love, and so to really expand and grow and flow with Life. Ho ho ho!
Take my holiday challenge, won't you? Turn your frown upside down and look into the nicest mirror you've ever seen...You might never look back.