I first heard the words “practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” from Margret Pavel at one of the Women’s Alliance Summer Solstice Camps I attended annually for many years She got them from Anne Herbert who had scrawled them across a paper restaurant place mat in a moment of inspiration as an antidote to the phrase “random and senseless acts of violence.” Her words went viral even before everyone had internet. lately, I’ve been trying to work up an interactive exercise around them for an up-coming ritual I’m planning with a group of friends. After researching numerous sites, teaching tools and blogs I realized my problem is that for me, all the teachings, exercises and structured planning defeat the sense and beauty and freedom of the idea.
Anne’s words are an invitation to be spontaneous. Spontaneity is all about living in the Now and allowing one’s actions to spring out of whatever combination of circumstances present themselves in the moment. Spontaneity is regarded with suspicion in some circles. It carries whiffs of hedonism and recklessness. But consider that first word of the phrase – practice. Practice in the sense of a spiritual discipline, a regular routine designed to enhance consciousness to the point where every ordinary act of daily life is seen and felt to be imbued with sacred meaning. Practice teaches us to notice the opportunity to engage in random acts, opportunities that arise much more often than we ever discern – unless we show up; unless we pay attention.
I don’t think it’s necessary to explain kindness, or make lists of possible kindness one might perform. Instead I want to shift the emphasis to beauty. Have you ever wondered why humankind has been hardwired with such a strong aesthetic sense? We long for beauty and insist on creating it in the midst of the most horrific settings. Beauty inspires, entices, beguiles and enriches us. We find beauty in both symmetry and irregularity. In fact we find it almost everywhere we look, even in the most unlikely places. I think on some level we are always searching for it. When we find it, endorphins flood our systems. Beauty makes us feel good. The creation of beauty is itself a kindness.
Why senseless? Again, like with random and practice, the words seem paradoxical. After all, beauty is nothing if not sensual. It bypasses the rational mind and plays directly to the senses. Of course, this is what Anne means here – to create beauty sometimes we need to quiet rationality to still the voice of logic and muzzle our inner censor. We need to act foolishly, without thought, spontaneously in the moment; letting our fingers form the bouquet or scribble with chalk on the sidewalk, or throw a pretty scarf over a pile of dung in the middle of the sidewalk. These “senseless” acts of beauty include allowing ourselves to savor the normal sensuality of daily life.
Allowing ourselves to take pleasure in our acts of kindness, in the beauty we create is also to follow the dictum of this invitation. As Pierro Ferrucci demonstrates in his book The Power of Kindness, there are “unexpected benefits to leading a compassionate life.” Being kind, it turns out, enhances one’s ability to thrive, by lowering, anxiety , reducing blood pressure and increasing happiness.
Play offers these same benefits and there is something about the combination of words in Anne Herbert’s phrase that implies both playfulness and freedom. The kindness she advocates has nothing to do with charity or obligation or reciprocity – these are small acts freely undertaken in light-hearted lovingkindess for the benefit of all. They invite us to take ourselves less seriously. They offer us a chance to ease and expand our hearts and let joy to bubble through our blood.