LaRayia Gaston, author of Love Without Reason, spoke to Tami Simon of Sounds True in an interview podcast that covered her book as well as her life and work amongst the homeless in Los Angeles. LaRayia is the founder of Lunch on Me, a charity offering fresh vegan and organic food to the homeless by accessing left-over food from cafes and restaurants that otherwise would be wasted. She did extensive research to develop a supply chain and distribution process to ensure that people on the street received quality, fresh food.
LaRayia spoke about her difficult life with her own mother who was full of anger and resentment and engaged in destructive behaviours. In contrast, her Grandmother was a constant source of inspiration through her unconditional love and her ability to spread love to whoever she met, wherever she went. In her own words, LaRayia maintained that her Grandmother taught her to “love without reason”. LaRayia decided that she did not want to “sit in the pain of anger and resentment” and the negative energy involved but wanted to share her positive energy and love.
LaRayia maintained that it is not enough to write our gratitude journals in the comfort of our homes – we have to translate that gratitude into compassionate action for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. We have to activate our gratitude. She suggests that anyone can achieve this by adopting “micro-gestures” of kindness, thoughtfulness, and love. For example, you could buy someone a bottle of water or a coffee, especially someone who has been seeking donations at the front of a store.
LaRayia made a habit of carrying bottles of water and granola bars in her car that she could distribute to whoever might need one. Taking time to talk to someone on the street, who may look dishevelled, can be another micro-gesture expressing kindness and love – ignoring the appearance of a torn shirt, old jacket, and untidy beard to see the person beyond. LaRayia contends that she is not asking people to “change the whole world” but to act on “what’s in front of us”. She also stated that it is one thing to give when asked, it’s another level of awareness and action to notice a need and respond without being asked.
Barriers to activating gratitude and love for others
One of the barriers identified by LaRayia is our “scarcity mindset” – no matter what we have, it is never enough. Another is what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as always rushing to “be someplace else”, rather than being in the present moment. LaRayia argues that it takes discipline to be present and to take compassionate action towards those in need. She practices meditation and develops her deep awareness of her connectedness to everybody, no matter where they live or how poor they are.
Another key barrier to activating gratitude and spreading kindness is the rationalisations that we use to avoid taking compassionate action, e.g., when we consider giving money to homeless people – “They will only spend it on drugs or alcohol”, “If only these people would work hard like us, they would not need assistance – helping them only makes them lazier”. As LaRayia points out, these assumptions and preconceptions blind us and disable us from taking action – the fact is, we do not know what these people have experienced, the hurt they have felt or the way they have been treated in the past. We know, however, for example, that young people who are homeless have often been the victim of domestic violence or sexual harassment or sexual assault.
LaRayia addressed the issue of “fear of rejection” in her interview podcast – a very common barrier to extending kindness to others. We often think, “What if they turn down my offer of help, would I cope with the embarrassment of rejection”? She stated quite clearly that taking compassionate action is exposing ourselves to vulnerability, but it is a cost we have to pay to be kind. A wonderful example of compassionate action while being vulnerable is that of Coach Mo Cheeks’ action to help a young singer complete the National Anthem at the start of a major basketball playoff – the singer had forgotten the lyrics and Mo helped her out by singing with her despite not being a great singer himself. LaRayia suggests that the way forward is not to focus on “outcomes” but to concentrate on the process of spreading kindness, thoughtfulness, and love. A focus on outcomes can entrap us and lead to disappointment and discouragement. On the other hand, focusing on the person in front of us can lead to mutual benefit and healing.
A two-way street
Neuroscience research confirms the benefits that accrue to people who show kindness and gratitude to others. LaRayia stated that this exchange is “not a one-way street”. This was especially brought home to her when she was experiencing disabling grief on the death of her beloved Grandmother. She decided to spend time with the homeless as a way to find herself again and heal from her grief. Her experience is recorded in her documentary, 43 Days on Skid Row. LaRayia found that homeless people were the most generous people she had ever met – they gave despite their need while we often give from our surplus. She argues that in giving both people learn and heal.
One of the tenets of Lunch on Me is “radical self-love is the foundation for permanent healing”. When we show kindness and love to others in need, we are showing respect and building their self-esteem. If we show avoidance, disdain, or look down on the homeless, we are reinforcing any sense they may have that they are “not worthy” of respect or love.
LaRayia encourages us to engage with others from our rich store of innate love rather from a perspective of emptiness. She notes our obsessive need to accumulate wealth and possessions which do not bring lasting happiness. The reality is that when we die or if we suffer Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, we can take none of this with us – people set about disposing of our possessions and dismantling our life’s accumulation.
As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop a deeper sense of connection with everyone, no matter what their status, wealth or appearance is. We can also develop the courage and creativity to overcome the barriers to activating our gratitude and adopt a daily practice of micro-gestures of empathy and compassion. LaRayia offers many suggestions for micro-gestures and relevant meditations/reflections in her book.
Image by Hieu Van from Pixabay
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
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