Updated: Jan 12, 2018
By Todd Pressman, Ph.D.
The phrase “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” is so appealing because it holds the promise of a more fulfilled life and a better world. The key to this is not so much about “doing good”, but in breaking out of the routine and daring to connect...with people and with life.
Why don't we do this automatically? As always, the answer is some sort of fear that stops us. Fear of rejection by others, fear of stepping out of our comfort zones, fear of taking on the challenges of life to live it more fully. In the meantime, we “live lives of quiet desperation” (Thoreau) and hide our need to feel passionate and alive. This is the greatest need we have: to find the meaning and the fulfillment that comes from truly living life, not just biding time and cowering from anything that would threaten our safety and our comfort.
The real tragedy in staying safe and comfortable at the expense of taking on life is that it actually creates our anxiety. We suffer from too much attention to the possibilities of what could go wrong. The more we make protection our goal, the more we must think about the scary things we need to protect ourselves from! The list is endless: Not having enough money, enough health, love, fun, prestige, companionship and so forth. Of course a certain amount of attention to the practicalities of life is necessary. It's when we anxiously put too much attention on what can go wrong that we are forced to live in the fear of it. And so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I knew a young man who went on a program called Sea Semester, where 15 untrained people had to learn how to work together to operate a large schooner while at sea. They were so busy dealing with the demands of survival—including stormy weather and other difficult circumstances—that there was no time for the usual worries of life. When he came home, my friend found that much of the anxiety he usually carried had disappeared. This is a great truth! Getting busy with meeting the challenges of life, even creating challenges to bring meaning and aliveness, is the key to losing our anxiety, even though we imagine we are taking on more risk and inviting more anxiety. Instead, it requires that we pull something out of ourselves to meet the challenge, and become more fully engaged with life...the real thing and not some imagined, scary idea of it. When we deal with life as it actually unfolds, not as we imagine it in advance, we are engaged with what needs to be done and we do it, simply, without fearful anticipation of all that could go wrong. This is an invigorating experience that makes us feel alive, powerful, and free of the fears which had paralyzed us.
So whether it's practicing random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty or anything else you can dream of, make a commitment to finding ways to break out of the anxiety (and boredom!) that comes from staying too comfortable, not taking risks, not really living life fully. Here's a suggestion: At least twice a week, find a way to shake up your routine and create a challenge for yourself. Do something which will bring a sense of aliveness that you wouldn't ordinarily do because your routine has you blinded to the possiblity of it, stuck in doing what is familiar, comfortable, safe. Look for opportunities for random kindness. Act in senselessly beautiful and exciting ways. Make the world a little bit more of what you dream it could be. And discover the path to the life you really want to live.