Week Two: The Golden Rule

July 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

ONWARD WE GO!  Welcome to Week Two of our Fourteen Week challenge.  Let me be the first to say that last week was dense in it’s beauty and need for digestion.  This week will be pared more near the bone, so for those of you sticking with me, carving time to care, I am swelling with humble gratitude, truly.  If you committed a random act of kindness this week or took any step toward an improved life practice, I say ‘Shine On Mighty Human!’  You are changing our world by each brave step.  If you’re just tuning in, thanks for joining us!  We are seeking wisdom and new tools to develop a more intentional an fulfilling life practice of meaning and compassion; each week builds on the back of the week prior, so you’re best to start from the top.  Firm feet for all of us will make flight of an otherwise well-intended hop.

For those of you who played your part last week, who donated your one dollar to our Compassion Bank, you comprise the 1.9% of readers who took action.  Of roughly 1,000 who read last weeks post, NINETEEN people (1.9%) gave not just one dollar, but rather a total of $530; enough to cover the simple act of passion for over HALF of the readers.  Think about that!  1.9% carrying half the weight!!!!  To you who model generosity and sacrifice, I bow with glowing gratitude.  This is as much a study for me on HOW we give, as it is a chance for us all to grow in compassionate wisdom.

The strongest man is he who graciously learns of his weakness, then bravely finds new strength to actualize a higher self.  Our weakness is before us, readers.  Our weakness is INACTION.  How do we change our world from one where the FEW carry the MANY as best as they can, to a world where caring for our fellow man is priority worthy of living ACTION?  In FOUR DAYS, at $1 each, we could have had $1,000 in our Compassion Bank.  Meaning at $1 each, over the course of fourteen short weeks (assuming it won’t grow, which it will), we could bank $14,000!

In Kenya, I can tell you that with $20,000 (a few people giving $2, instead of $1) we could build a house that would save ten orphaned children.  We could build family and a future of limitless potential for ten human lives that will otherwise hang in arrest by our inaction.  For a once a week, three minute sacrifice of $1.

This experiment is not a study of how much we care.  It‘s a study of what we actually DO for the things we care about.  1.9% is great ground for improvement.  Help me write the headline of the newspaper.  $1 Mighty Lover.

WEEK 2:  THE GOLDEN RULE

In East Africa, as in many other places in the world, there is currently severe drought.  Food prices have more than doubled, refugee camps are bursting at the seams, and our little wooden gate has become the knocking plea for families seeking assistance from their community.

A few days ago, in the bright morning, while the clouds tumbled in a glowing herd along the waist of the mountains, I was told that a mother of one of our school children was waiting to speak with me.  She was trembling, holding heaving tears, kneading a red handkerchief as she explained her predicament.

After spending three weeks in the ICU, her young son had been diagnosed with Leukemia, and their family of fourteen, living on a quarter acre farm plot, was unable to cover the bills.  I came to learn that the cost of all care mounted just shy of $2,000, which to us is shockingly low for this severity, but to a family trying to feed and sell off the yield of maze on a quarter acre, in a drought, this is way out of reach.

So mom ‘rolled up her socks,’ as they say here, and embarked on a compassion march, asking for any assistance her neighbors could spare.  Mind you, these are neighbors who all endure a kind of day-to-day survival that few of us have ever known.  But compassion is worthy!   Before the due date, she had managed to gather coins and notes totaling $1,850.  The lot gave a little.

The hospital, unfortunately, stayed true to it’s deadline and the vacant $150 led to the seizing of the family’s title deed to their land, a plot passed down through multiple generations.  In result, she was here – pleading simply that we allow her children to stay in school.  The livelihood of an entire family teetered on $150.

So I tapped our Compassion Bank.  We called the hospital, negotiated the release of the title in exchange for the overdue balance, and the family recovered their land.    And this, I can tell you, is solely because of the 1.9% of you who acted and enabled this compassionate reality.  The dignity and livelihood of a family has been at least temporarily preserved by a handful of people who are linked purely by a wish to alleviate the suffering of others and, in the face of inconvenience, act to see it materialized.

This is a true story.  So, again, I bow in gratitude to you who made this possible on behalf of myself and on behalf of the loving family, who were today the recipients of our first, spontaneous act of combined compassion.

ART OF OPENING:

Many argue that “our genes make us inescapably selfish; that we are programmed to pursue our own interests at whatever cost to our rivals. Altruism is, therefore an illusion, a pious dream that is unnatural to humanity.  This egotism is the ‘old brain,’ which was bequeathed to us by the reptiles that struggled out of the primal slime some 500 million years ago.  Wholly intent on personal survival, these creatures were motivated by mechanisms that neuroscientists have called the ‘Four F’s’: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and – for want of a more basic word – reproduction.  Our reptilian ancestors were, therefore, interested only in status, power, control, territory, sex, personal gain, and survival.  Homo Sapiens inherited these neurological systems; they are located in the hypothalamus at the base of the brain, and it is thanks to them that our species survived.  The emotions they engendered are strong, automatic, and ‘all about me.”

Thankfully, this is not the end of the story.  Over millennia, we evolved a neocortex.  We learned to nurture our young, to give love and need love, to find meaning, to work together to survive, and even to care for others.

“We devised art forms at the same time and for many of the same reasons we created religious systems.  Our neocortex has made us meaning seeking creatures, acutely aware of the perplexity and tragedy of our predicament, and if we do not discover some ultimate significance in our lives, we fall easily into despair.  In art as in religion, we find a means of letting go and encouraging the ‘softness’ and ‘pliability’ that draw us toward the other; art and religion both propel us into a new place within ourselves, where we find a degree of serenity.”

“Our two brains coexist uneasily;” the Four F’s of the reptile versus the pliable, meaning seeker.

Our reptile is our ego, and to live beyond it, we will now follow the beautiful ladder of Karen Armstrong’s ‘Twelve Steps To A Compassionate Life,’ an obvious spine to this undertaking.  Ms. Armstrong is a triumphantly successful religious historian, who has written nineteen works and is a source of wisdom as vital as any to our growth.  All quotes in this post will be hers, and I could not more highly suggest that you purchase her book.  She has designed it to move only at the speed that each step really becomes an intentional, adopted part of your life.  And the back of her book categorizes books for further study in a way that only a master of her caliber could achieve.   So know that we are, at best, scratching the surface of the practice she suggests.  But no less, we’ve got to start to somewhere!

The twelve steps will ‘bring to mind the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous,’ and this is for the specific purpose of helping us to break our addiction.  We are addicted to our reptile.  We are addicted to our ego.

CHEW LOVINGLY:

  • Wisdom Fruit One:  The Golden Rule
  • Wisdom Fruit Two:  Beautiful Religion
  • Wisdom Fruit Three:  Where We’ve Gone Astray
  • Wisdom Fruit Four:  Where We Will Be Found

Wisdom Fruit One:  The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule:  Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

We’ve all heard it before.  But do we live it?  True application includes not only those in our own group (cultural, political, religious affiliation, etc.) this means everybody, even your enemies.

“Compassion derives from the Latin patiri and the Greek pathein, meaning ‘to suffer, undergo, or experience.’ So ‘compassion’ means ‘ to endure [something] with another person’ to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes, to feel her pain as though it were our own, and to enter generously into his point of view. That is why compassion is aptly summed up in the Golden Rule, which asks us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else.  Compassion can be defined, therefore, as an attitude of principled, consistent altruism.”

“The first person to formulate the Golden Rule, as far as we know, was the Chinese sage Confucius (551 -479 BCE), who when asked which of his teaching his disciples could practice ‘all day and every day’ replied: ‘Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.’  This, he said was the thread that ran right through the spiritual method he called the Way (dao) and pulled all its teachings together.  Confucius called this ideal ren, a word that originally meant ‘noble’ or ‘worthy’ but that by his time simply meant ‘human.’”

Wisdom Fruit Two:  Beautiful Religion

This is where Armstrong shows her love guns.  The entire first chapter is spent showing us exactly where in some of the major traditions our COMMONALITY is found, highlighting the fact that every religious tradition, including secular approaches, tie at the core by a ribbon of compassion.

“All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao.  Each has formulated it’s own version of the Golden Rule.”

It’s not religion that tears voids in our humanity; it’s the reptile!  “In fact, the causes of conflict are usually greed, envy, and ambition, but in an effort to sanitize them, these self-serving emotions have often been cloaked in religious rhetoric.  There has been much flagrant abuse of religion in recent years.”

Every tradition bears wisdom and beauty, just as every individual is a messenger.  It is our duty to separate our perceptions from reality and find the magnificent qualities present in all things.

Find this root in your tradition and acknowledge that we are together in this search for higher connectedness and meaning!

Wisdom Fruit Three:  Where We’ve Gone Astray

Man created myth as an early form of psychology.  The tales about gods threading their way through labyrinths or fighting with monsters were describing an archetypal truth rather than an actual occurrence.  Their purpose was to introduce the audience to the labyrinthine world of the psyche, showing them how to negotiate this mysterious realm and grapple with their own demons.  The myth of the hero told people what they had to do to unlock their own heroic potential.  A myth could put you in the correct spiritual posture, but it was up to you to take the next step.  In our scientifically oriented world, we look for solid information and have lost the older art of interpreting these emblematic stories of gods walking out of tombs or seas splitting asunder, and this has made religion problematic.  Without practical implementation, a myth can remain as opaque and abstract as the rules of a board game, which sound complicated and dull until you pick up the dice and start to play; then everything immediately falls into place and makes sense.  As we go through the steps, we will examine some of the traditional myths to discover what they teach about the compassionate imperative – and how we must act in order to integrate them with our own lives.

Wisdom Fruit Four:  Where We Will Be Found

“It is hard to think of a time when the compassionate voice of religion has been so sorely needed.  Our world is dangerously polarized. … And yet at the same time we are bound together more closely than ever before through the electronic media.  Suffering and want are no longer confined to distant, disadvantaged parts of the globe.  When stocks plummet in one country, there is a domino effect in markets all around the world.  What happens today in Gaza or Afghanistan is now likely to have repercussions tomorrow in London or New York.  We all face the terrifying possibility of environmental catastrophe.  In a world in which small groups will increasingly have powers of destruction hitherto confined to the nation-state, it has become the imperative to apply the Golden Rule globally, ensuring that all peoples are treated as we would wish to be treated ourselves.  If our religious and ethical traditions fail to address this challenge, they will fail the test of our time.”

“Human beings have always been prepared to work hard to enhance a natural ability.  We doubtless learned to run and jump in order to escape from our predators, but from these basic skills we developed ballet and gymnastics: after years of dedicated practice men and women acquire the ability to move with unearthly grace and achieve physical feats that are impossible for an untrained body.  We devised language to improve communications and now we have poetry, which pushes speech into another dimension.  In the same way, those who have persistently trained themselves in the art of compassion manifest new capacities in the human heart and mind; they discover that when they reach out consistently toward others, they are able to live with the suffering that inevitably comes their way with serenity, kindness, and creativity.  They find that they have a new clarity and experience a richly intensified state of being.”

GO BABY GO!

Once:

  • Read and Support the Charter for Compassion   (www.charterforcompassion.org)
  • Identify the Characteristics of your Reptile  (list, draw, hang it up to conquer!)
  • Start a notebook to keep quotes, inspiring truths, and moments of love.

Daily Practice:

  • Start each day with a Morning Mantra!  Dedicate your day to Compassion.

“Just Here. Right Now.”  – Lama Surya Das
“Be the Change You Wish to See in the World” – Ghandi

Use whatever pieces fit you, create your plan and practice in our real, living world.  Make something material of your beautiful wish! Every week we will extend our love one ring further.  Conquering the self, the ego, the voids and pitfalls within, and from here learn to love more deeply and care for one another more wholly.

Go forth and shine brilliant.  Right here, right now.

Brian

*all photos taken by: Jeff Guerrero

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