Didier Van Cauwelaert: benevolence, a daily beacon

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

The best-selling novelist released a life story full of humor and generosity about benevolence. He skillfully highlights this essential value for better living together and with oneself.

Your book Benevolence is an absolute weapon resonates with great force in these troubled times. What prompted you to write it?

My editor Muriel Beyer told me: "When I read your Books, I don't know why, but I feel better. You should write a book on benevolence. This phrase made its way into me. Memories came back to me and I realized how fundamental benevolence was in my life. My whole life echoes it.

What does kindness mean to you?

It is a nature and not a pose. Sometimes it can be demagogy towards oneself to see oneself as a good person, in the eyes of others. However, if the momentum of kindness is not natural, it does not reach its goal. It does not clean. The goal is to cleanse ourselves of everything that can devour us from the inside and thus influence others. Resenting someone sends us toxins that are dangerous, but they are very easily dissolvable in an act of kindness. We have to do something about our bad feelings. Acting with benevolence is therefore a restorative act.

Why do you compare benevolence to a weapon?

The image that I give at the very beginning of the book to define it is taken from the strip cartoon Spirou and Fantasio. It is about Metomol, a pinkish gas made from mushrooms that has the power to soften steel, tanks, knives and weapons. Tanks withering away in a pinkish pool, that's benevolence. A form of gas that you emit to disarm the opponent and prevent them from having access to their arsenal of war.

What if it doesn't work?

For me, it has always worked. It's a matter of mental technique. It's like in martial arts: when you are in front of someone who attacks you, if you react in the same way, you feed his aggression. But if, on the other hand, you compliment him on something he has done in the past, he loses his thread, you take him elsewhere, you awaken his inner child. It still works. There is a shell that opens and benevolence can then arise. If the person is good with themselves, they can only be good with me too. But, at the same time, it is important not to expect benevolence in return. As Homer says, "Do good and throw it into the sea." It's great when benevolence has an effect on someone, but it's not the dominant rule. When you see that there is no answer, it does not matter, whatever happens, it is within you. That's the main thing.

Could you give us an example of kindness on a daily basis?

I think back to the day when, in the street, a bird had dropped a dropping on a car. A woman passing by took her handkerchief and cleaned it when it wasn't her car. We exchanged a smile. Everyday benevolence is expressed in minute details that do not change anything in appearance, but which in reality transform the functioning of the world in depth.

Several times in your book, benevolence is seen as a weapon at the heart of the real and internal wars that we suffer. Why this metaphor of war?

An experiment was conducted under the aegis of the UN at the initiative of an American university during the war between Israel and Lebanon in the 80s. The idea was to send dreamers of elite, that is to say people trained in active meditation, mental concentration on a goal, a project, an image. Their objective, in the midst of the fighting, was not to pray for peace to return, but to imagine that peace had already returned. It's a quantum thought experiment. It's about generating enough mental strength to make a belief come true. If we start from the principle that our conscience creates the world, when our conscience is structured, persuasive, it develops another reality. Wherever these elite dreamers dubbed the “Pink Helmets” went, the fighting stopped. When fighters were asked why they had stopped shooting, they replied that they did not know. They simply felt that this escalation of violence was leading nowhere. The same thing happened in the opposing camp. The light that elite dreamers shed was pure benevolence.

“Silence is for me the first of the luxuries. I am lucky enough to live most of the time in a house in the forest, where the silence is peopled with deafening things, the song of the birds, the wind in the leaves, the crickets... This noise is part of the true silence, because it creates a resonance. »

Have you practiced meditation?

I'm not good at passive meditation, I can't empty myself. I'm always working with my head and my heart, imagining, planning, shaping… What interests me is not myself as myself; it's myself as an antenna, what I capture from others, humans, plants, animals, the imagination. For this, I listen to them. For example, I often talk to the trees and we exchange our energies together. I do the same with animals. This requires, as in meditation, to silence the inner noise. Silence is for me the first of the luxuries. I am lucky enough to live most of the time in a house in the forest, where the silence is peopled with deafening things, the song of the birds, the wind in the leaves, the crickets... This noise is part of the true silence, because it creates a resonance.

Benevolence is at the heart of Buddhism. Did you draw inspiration from this teaching to shape your thinking on benevolence?

I fed on benevolence before I encountered Buddhism. Even if I'm not always in full agreement with this philosophy, I greatly admire Matthieu Ricard. With him, time stops, we are in immediate “infusion”; and in these moments, humor always takes over. Matthieu shows a Buddhism well lived, well diffused, an attentive serenity. Mindfulness is also a core Buddhist value in my life. This active compassion towards life in general favors an attentive exchange with the entire universe.

How, as you point out, is humor the shortest way to benevolence?

I know of no sad benevolence. On the other hand, we can have suffered hardships, be injured and heal ourselves through an act of benevolence that brings us out of the brooding and sadness and that will create joy. Then the sadness crumbles. We can re-enchant everything with kindness. An experience marked me on this subject when I was a child. I was walking down the street with my father who had given me a coin to give to a blind beggar. After I did, my dad said, “Why didn't you smile? I replied, "Because that person was blind." My father then retorted: “Yes, but if it is a false blind? You don't know, so smile." Benevolence is beyond morality: it is a circulation of energy, of intelligence, of lucid connivance, of empathy with the other, the world and oneself.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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