This post was written by Leo Babauta, originally for Zen Habits. Republished here with permission.
The question I’ve been asking myself lately, before I do anything, is a deceptively simple one: “What’s the most loving thing you can do in this situation?” Now, that might sound corny to some of you, might seem irrelevant to most of you. But give me one minute of your time to explain.
What’s the Most Loving Thing You Can Do?
I’ve been experimenting for awhile with letting go. Not running when I have uncertainty, fear, discomfort. Not acting on my fears or frustrations. Not letting these things drive me, but sitting still with them instead, and facing them with courage.
That’s wonderful, but what if you actually need to act? You could sit still all day, but then you’d never help anyone, never create anything, never do anything.
So there’s a need to not act, to sit still … and there’s a need to act. How do we determine which is which?
By asking that question. “What’s the most loving thing you can do in this situation?”
When you’re about to take an action (including running away, going away from uncertainty to comfort, procrastinating, going to distractions or comfort food) … stop and sit still.
Turn inward and see if fear or stress is coming up, see if you’re feeling uncertainty and wanting to cope by getting control. See if you’re trying to comfort yourself, or to lash out, to close down.
In this case, the most loving thing you can do is nothing.
The most loving thing you can do, for yourself and others, is to sit still. Face the fear and uncertainty. Not act out wanting to control these emotions, wanting to comfort yourself.
But in other cases, you want to take action. Doing your work, for example, could be something that helps you or your team or the world. Taking care of someone, talking to them, being there for them, serving them … those can be very helpful things to do.
In these cases, acting to help yourself or someone else is the most loving thing you can do.
If I’m going to read with my kid, take a walk with my wife, clean the kitchen for my family, write a book for my readers … these are loving acts.
If I’m running to check email or social media because I want something easy to do instead of writing that book for my readers … the loving act is to sit still and face this discomfort, fear and uncertainty.
When I’m talking to someone out of frustration, the most loving thing I can do is to refrain from trying to criticize or control them or be defensive. Instead, I can face this frustration. When I calm myself down, I can talk to them in a loving way and try to help them, try to empathize with them, try to be there for them.
Each time I’m about to act, the best thing I can do is ask that question: What’s the most loving thing you can do in this situation? I might not always remember, but when I do, it is always a helpful question.