“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.” — Simone de Beauvoir
In my time in Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics World Games, I was struck by a few things.
1) How vast the world is and how small we all are in it;
2) How diverse the world is and how little we know about each other’s cultures, religions and customs;
3) How similar we actually are, regardless of the color of our skin or the God to whom we pray; and,
4) How much we all need inspiration and examples of courage and dignity in our lives.
These things have the power to lift us all up. They should give us hope that we can find common ground and that we are each capable of being the inspiration that we seek.
I always hear what’s soft breathing inside what’s hard. I think this comes from my great-grandfather’s family, who hid from the Nazis in Romania, who slept in cemeteries under the blue night and woke with the stories of the dead, which filled them with resilience.
Just today, I heard a woman who’d been tortured softly play a wooden flute. Though she can’t put to rest what was done to her, her softness filled the room, making each of us think of someone who’s loved us more than we thought possible. And there was the minister born to blind parents. He said with a tremble that his father saw him better than anyone. And the burly electrician spoke of his colonel in Vietnam taking his dead friend from him when he couldn’t put him down. And two states away, the stepdad who never knew his father calls his stepson’s father to ask him to stay with them, because he wants his boy to have what he could never find. And just last week I met the nurse who helped me walk after surgery twenty-eight years ago. We cried in each other’s arms.
So if you think someone is brave, tell them. For they might feel frightened and small, and you will change their life. If you think someone is beautiful and aglow, tell them. For they might feel dark and lonely, and you will quiet their demons. When you reach to help someone who is stuck, you might free the flight of their soul. And they will return when you least expect, to bring you something from the sky. Never underestimate the strength of your kindness to suture the torn.
Roughly thirty years ago I was working in a bicycle shop in Sacramento, California. I loved it! I had eclectic coworkers and I received discounts on bikes and gear. After two years, I was ready to move on to a new adventure. I wanted to ride a mountain bike from Sacramento to Moab, Utah. My route was drawn on a map and I purchased the camping gear needed.
I was young and my entire life plan only took me to Moab; I was open to what the Universe offered me.
The trek was going to begin in June. I chose the roads least traveled, combined with some of our National Parks. I was planning a solo adventure, when a frequent customer, at the bike store suggested he join me. I don’t remember thinking it was either good or bad; just a different plan.
Do not underestimate the impact of a small deed.
What can I do?
Be of Help to Others.
I'm doing a series on my personal top five practices (all tied for first place), and have so far named three: meditate (including mindfulness, self-awareness, and, if you like, prayer), take in the good, and bless (including compassion, generosity, and love).
I saw one way to bless on a trip to Haiti, in the efforts of many dedicated people: be helpful. As you probably know, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with roughly 80 percent unemployment. The national government seemed like a tattered sheet in the wind. A public middle and high school I visited was missing half its schoolbooks as well as the funds for the last two grades. Imagine your own child in such a school . . . and that the $30 it takes to buy the books she needs is a month's wages, as out of reach as the moon.
The secret to being interesting is simple: Stop focusing so much on yourself.
When you stop trying to be the most interesting person, and you become genuinely interested in others, you actually become more interesting.
The key to charisma is caring.
Much of our suffering happens because we get fixated on ourselves. It’s easy to get lost in your own emotions, thoughts, desires, wants and needs that we get so self-focused.
The other morning when I sat down to meditate, my mind was bouncing all over the place and I struggled to access a place of calm.
One second, I was thinking about my children. The next, I was thinking about the children who have been separated from their parents at the border. I could feel myself feeling their fear and anxiety and I shuddered at the thought of what they must be going through.
Then, I found myself thinking about the terror inside the newsroom in Annapolis. I felt terror inside me as I thought about how unsafe everyone seems to feel these days. In fact, just the other day, I cautioned my kids not to get into a fight with someone on the road (or anywhere else for that matter). I cautioned them that everyone has so much rage and anger these days that you have to be careful in every circumstance. You just never know.
Compassion is natural — moments of compassion come in the flow of life.
Do You Care?
Compassion is essentially the wish that beings not suffer — from subtle physical and emotional discomfort to agony and anguish — combined with feelings of sympathetic concern.
You could have compassion for an individual (a friend in the hospital, a co-worker passed over for a promotion), groups of people (victims of crime, those displaced by a hurricane, refugee children), animals (your pet, livestock heading for the slaughterhouse), and yourself.
When I look back honestly on my own life, I see moments that have taught me, painfully, to be more compassionate and aware. In the years before my mother’s death, she began to have challenges with both her eyesight (cataracts) and memory. I felt tremendous responsibility and fear around making sure she was okay. Once, after a doctor’s appointment, I was asking her questions about what had transpired (What did he say? Did you ask him about ____?). She couldn’t think fast enough to answer me and finally burst into tears. Abruptly I realized I had to slow down and just listen patiently instead of question her. I could see the pain in her eyes at not being able to answer me quickly. It stopped me in my tracks, and I hugged her. What did the answers matter when my mother’s ease of mind was at stake?
Emma Gonzalez, senior at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spoke fiercely and articulately at a gun control rally in Ft. Lauderdale: “The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us….Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this….It’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.” She speaks for countless others across this nation, of all ages, races, nationalities, and backgrounds. And she echoes Oprah Winfrey’s words, in a different context (sexual abuse) but also about the devaluing of human lives by those in power, “Their time is up!” We are reaching critical mass on so many fronts.
I had tears in my eyes when I listened to Oprah’s speech and Emma’s speech, and when I read Obama’s heartfelt reaction to the students taking a stand against the existence of guns and violence in their lives: “We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.” Those of us who have actively spoken out for nonviolence, peace, and the honoring of all human lives (“Black Lives Matter!”) for years see hope for the future in these angry but determined young faces. They are in great pain, but often great change comes from such pain. Pain that cuts through all the lies and gets to the heart of the matter: How do you want to live your one precious life? At war or at peace? In fear or in love?
People ask me regularly about how spiritual practice can guide us in responding to the state of our society. They tell me that while the teachings of compassion are alive and helpful in other parts of their lives, they seem out of reach when they read the headlines each day. In a recent e-mail from one of our DC community Spiritual Friends groups, members asked:
- How do we stay compassionate when it feels like so much harm is being caused to vulnerable people?
- Isn’t acceptance a kind of complacency? Isn’t “letting go” like condoning?
- How do we call on meditation practice when we’ve become fearful, angry and disheartened at the hatefulness and viciousness that is so evident in our society?
I’ve had many waves of anger, fear and aversion in reaction to the harm being perpetrated in our society. In my own practice, it helps to keep starting right where I am, not judging my own reactions, thinking “I shouldn’t feel this.” Rather than trying to let go of these feelings, I often reflect that “this belongs,” it’s the inner weather of the moment. Then I can feel the fear or aversion with acceptance and kindness.
Last January at the start of 2017 I stood around a fire pit with my Saturday morning yoga group. Each of us held a piece of paper. On these pieces of paper were things that we wanted to let go of for the new year: fear, discontent, self-deprecating behavior, unhealthy relationships, negative self-talk. Some of the women shared what they were ready to burn up and leave behind. Others kept their intentions to themselves. Only the fire would consume and know everyone’s hopes for how their life would look in 2017.
We are heading into my favorite week of the year.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it represents everything that is important to me: My family (I just spent a few days with two of my cousins. How deeply meaningful it was to share laughter and connection with them), my kids, my friends, my open table, food, and my faith in this country.
This year, I’ve shared a little bit of my mindful journey with you. I’ve written about how often this journey has been less blissful, more uncomfortable. I’ve shared how the process has felt inauthentic when I’ve slid back into old habits: getting into my head, giving in to melancholy, and hanging on to longing. Those are three things I must hold at arm’s length because they’re not good for me. Today, though, I don’t want to talk about these little bumps in this mindful trek. Instead, I want to talk about how others play a role in our mindfulness.
Wait. What? Isn’t mindful living about connecting with oneself and tapping into our own superpower?
Do you have a bucket list? Five-sensory humans think of physical experiences they want before they die, for example, parachuting, mountain climbing, or going to Paris. The parts of their personalities that originate in fear need experiences like these to make themselves feel valuable. Multisensory humans think of the contributions they can make to others and the world before their souls return to nonphysical reality, for example, tenderness, compassion, patience, and gratitude. The parts of their personalities that originate in love contribute these things continually, and contributing them brings meaning, purpose, and fulfillment to the personality.
The trance of unworthiness is sustained by our aversion to the dragons – the difficult emotions and related behaviors that are a deeply conditioned part of the human experience. In this talk we explore the awakening that is possible as we recognize our reactive patterns and instead of judgment, offer a loving and healing presence (a favorite from the archives).