August 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
YOU! Yes YOU, reading this!
I am watching tears fall like an April windowpane from two eyes that could not be more deserving. This elation; this equity is in bloom because of YOU. Kadogo is sitting in a worn navy dress; her soft face is buried in her hands, and she is gasping for air, gazing in intervals toward the ceiling. Her life has been forever changed today, simply because a handful of people cared enough to sacrifice for the betterment of another. I am blessed to be the translator of this extraordinary, human togetherness.
She used the corner of a sweater sleeve to wipe her wet lips, saying “Do you know what you have done? My goal for almost all my life until now has just been to have a small farm, and a good house; something to share with my children. And now, for the first time, it’s like a light has been shined on this part of the path. It feels as though I have been pregnant for so long, and just now I gave birth. It’s very painful, childbirth, but when you have a baby, it’s like you are on another stage of Earth. Nothing else can say how I feel.”
“To you who did this, you will never be forgotten in my heart.”
We will continue following the lives we touch mighty lover. In five weeks, we’ve altered the course of ten lives, at least, all through mothers, all sustainably and lovingly; all through simple acts of compassion. Think about how simply we can change lives on the other side of the planet. In a matter of seconds, we can touch someone nine thousand miles away. I could dance for this, but you’ve heard plenty of my fireworks. Let’s just dig our hearts into the next.
The Art of Opening:
In Kiswahili, the word Susu (pronounced ‘Sho Sho’) means grandmother. This term is extended not just relatives by blood, but rather as an endearing name for women of elder wisdom and value. A clever young person can collect many of these guide-lights, but inevitably a few shine with particular resonance. The one sitting with me now is without question one of the most inspiring I know. So for today we will call her by this name, Susu.
When you touch Susu’s hand you can feel the whole Earth; soil, rain, splinters, thorns and new growth. They are as worn and cracked as an elephant hide; strong as an axe handle. And with everything she says, they are her paintbrush.
Today, she is wrapped in dirty neons, pink and green; all flowers. Her eyes explode at the corners like sunrays; her beautiful wrinkles pinch closely together like hands in prayer. She is showing me her knees, how they are swollen from carrying firewood; then she asked me for water to sweep down her pain medication. I don’t know if I have ever met someone who alone could aptly compose a coffee table book. Her memory is incredibly articulate and her sense of humor is wry. But most of all, she is a mountain of sacrifice and compassion.
This is why.
Susu saved a life. And in doing so, she saved her own. This is what I’ve learned true love to be, when you don’t know who saved who.
Let’s start at the beginning; Christmas morning, 1943. This is the day Susu was born in the Rift Valley. To make a long story short, she was ‘relocated’ to the Central Province (where we are now) during the Colonial Era, went to a Catholic school, and eventually became a teacher. Then one day, she was ‘chosen.’
In her tribe, in most tribes actually, this is how it worked. A man spotted an attractive woman, elders were sent to arrange the marriage, and life suddenly wasn’t yours for the planning. “Next thing I knew,” she explains with a smile, “I lived in this grass thatched house with a man I had never spoken a word with. Not one word.”
“It was traumatizing,” she said.
Now, I have to mention something about Susu. She is wildly hilarious, and a salty bird at that. So when you show clear empathy or a certain depth of vulnerable emotion, she takes you down with laughter.
She said, “When you’re young you think you know what being married is like. And during the day, I did know what being married looked like. I’d seen that before.” A smile is breaking across her face. “But then night came. And I was like, ‘what is this thing?!”
Susu spoke endearingly of her husband’s qualities, his kindness and understanding, but she likewise admitted that she never did love him the way she knows love can be between two people. He was an orphan and a cattle herder; gone almost every day. Beyond this, he was nearly as quiet as their relationship prior to marriage; spend most of his life in his head. She took care of him as a wife here is expected to, and she found great meaning in this act.
But then came the 17th of November, a long time later; the day everything changed.
“I kept having the same dream, for almost three weeks. It was so real I would wake up and touch my stomach to see. I was pregnant in my dream. And somehow I knew it was a baby girl. I could feel her. I told my friends, and at my age they would laugh at me, so hard.”
This particular November 17th was a Sunday, a sunny one. Susu woke up early to pull vegetables from the garden before church.
“I remember it so clearly. I pulled carrots and filled my basket, changed into my Sunday clothes and left. I went to church and left early to sell my produce in the market. When I got their, I saw one of my friends stacking her potatoes. We started talking and she told me that she heard people talking about a baby girl found by the river; that the baby had been abandoned, no more than a half-day old, and she’d been taken to a clinic; no one was claiming her.”
“I wasn’t even thinking. It was like I could feel her. I just left my things and started walking.”
A police officer and a doctor stood above a small table, displaying the baby. She was naked, not yet cleaned from birth, crying and jolting. The police officer and doctor raised their heads in surprise as Susu walked straight up to the baby girl and picked her up.
“I saw her laying there naked and I went straight to her. The policeman said ‘what are you doing,’ and I said ‘she is mine.’ It was instinct. I still can’t believe I did it. I just tucked her beneath my sweater, and the policeman said I would need to come to the police station.”
The policeman knew this was not her child; everyone in the station knew this. But without her, what would come of this precious life? So they just followed procedure, as if she had collected a child that wandered off while she sold carrots to the brightly dressed dressed churchgoers. This is how Susu saved a life.
She’s smiling again, clearly building up again for something in the face of my defenseless awe. She said “Can you imagine what happened when I went home?!”
“My husband was sitting in a chair in the corner. He said ‘where did you get that?’ And I said, ‘I did not wish to disturb you, but I have been pregnant. And just now, I went to the clinic and had the baby. So, we have a baby girl now.”
“And, let me tell you something, he believed me.”
She is laughing so hard she is crying. It’s like she still can’t believe it worked. “He’d seen me bathe, and still he believed me!”
They agreed to name the baby after his mother, Njeri, meaning ‘ever happy.’
For Susu, Njeri became an anchor of meaningful sacrifice. She describes Njeri’s presence in her life beautifully in these few sentences.
“To me, Njeri is the embodiment of total peace; my utmost purpose of living. Caring for her feels better than caring for myself.”
“I’ve spent my life working hard for her to have a great life; to have her own bed and become whatever she wishes to become. I will die loving her. And I am thankful for this.”
Now imagine this is you. One day you are sitting in a grass thatched hut with a miracle baby from the river and a not-so-talkative man. Njeri is four months old and you are rocking her in a chair, trying to make conversation. And for some reason you uncage the truth.
I imagine the air was frozen in some way, handing like an icicle until it broke. He spoke; said “well, she’s ours now. Yours and mine.” And that was it.
Believe it or not reader, this brought them together. Susu and her husband shared purpose. But sadly, not for long. Susu’s husband, we’ll call him Guka, died.
Susu started to cry when she told me this; the kind of cry that catches you off balance. She describes:
“He walked to her bed and shook her hand and said ‘Njeri, you are my mother. And I am going now.’” Susu pauses to whisk tears from her eyelash. “and then he said ’You will be left to carry the peace.’ And that night he died. I haven’t said those words out loud in a long time.”
Suddenly Susu was the sole provider. Her income came from chopping logs, tying them to her head in unimaginable bundles, and hiking them a few miles to town; all for around forty cents per day.
But, because of Njeri and her instinct, she was not alone.
Njeri is now ten years old. She is a living miracle and beautiful in every way. I hope, in fact, she reads this someday. This is how Susu described Njeri and all she has become today.
“One day Njeri asked me if she could separate a small portion of the farm to work herself and sell the yield for her own income, so she can buy her own handkerchiefs and cookies. I decided to let her, and now when I go to the market with my many heavy bags of potatoes, she drags her own small sack behind. She sells them beside me at the market and shows me the money in her pocket. Whenever we do okay for the day, she tells me that when I get old, she’ll use her money to raise cows so that I can drink milk with every meal if I want.”
She is like Susu; hard working and selfless and adorable. But unlike Susu, she is of a new generation. She is encouraged to dream magnificent heights and has a huge support network in her pursuit of them. Njeri is a student at Flying Kites Leadership Academy, and in result Susu has asked us to make a promise; a promise to care for Njeri when Susu leaves this life.
Flying Kites has humbly made this promise.
Today, Susu still carries firewood every day, farming when she’s not chopping. This is why her knees are swollen and he hands are their own coarse geography.
They need a help reader. So this week, my goal is to encourage small sacrifice for their wellbeing. Susu insists that she would get Njeri to the potential of college, but after this, it will be beyond her. So she’s asked simply for help opening a college savings account for this miracle child. Susu has never had a bank account in her life.
It is my hope to surprise her, as we did Kadogo, by putting something in this account to support her inspiring sacrifice; something to signify that the future of both these beautiful people is of great value to us.
I propose a goal of $1000. If Njeri gets into the University of Nairobi someday, this will get her one semester.
Saving Njeri was not an act of compassion, reader; it was an extreme act of compassion. And while it is not likely you will find a naked baby lying on the path today, there is an immense opportunity born from this.
How often do we grow annoyed by someone’s bad mood, instead of actively work to listen and repair? How often to we avoid the grief of others – the coworker, the frustrating friend, or the homeless man outside the grocery store – opposed to actively alleviate suffering?
For those engaged in our quest for self-improvement, this week is solely dedicated to opening more wholly to the cries and callings all around us; to understanding people’s unhappiness and creatively formulating one small act to relieve it. That’s it.
Welcome Flying Kites ‘Blue Gum House;’ a gift from my Susu and Guka, Barry and Carole. Watching them first climb the stairs and poke their heads into this magical little world will forever shine in my frame of mind. Thank you Grandma and Grandpa. I love you.
August 2, 2011 § 4 Comments
I am learning to hone my craft. While I had hoped we could meet as students of compassion in a small and achievable act of sacrifice, people don’t give to heart swelling generalities. People give to specific, visceral stories of real people enduring unreal circumstances. It seems we must feel pain, as if our own, to alleviate it. And feel the tremendous joy of another to sacrifice for more of it.
So we’re switching gears.
I’ll continue to trace the wisdom of our Fourteen Weeks to a more Meaningful and Compassionate Life, but I’ll do it purely in relation to the living story in focus. This means, against the advice of Ms. Karen Armstrong, we are going to break order of the steps. So I advise with only more fervent passion that you buy and read her book as way of translating these stories into a more regimented personal practice.
The money raised so far from the extraordinary and wildly generous FEW is going to enter our world through this first story, and by the end of it, I hope the MANY are inspired to follow in suit. But I’m no longer pulling teeth for this. It’s up to you to be the actor or the spectator.
I’m happy for this turn. And I hope you are too. The story ahead is so entirely incredible, you will not believe it be true. But I can promise you, with great inspiration, that it is as real as your living heart.
“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”
We’ll call her Kadogo; the woman at the center of this story. In Kiswahili kadogo means ‘little,’ but as you’ll come to find, our Kadogo embodies a kind strength and resolve that exceeds size all together.
She was born in 1973 in the Great Rift Valley, as the oldest of seven children. In her tribe, children are given a name corresponding with their birth order, alternating between relatives of the mother and father. Her five sisters and one brother all had legacy names linking to mother and the man Kadogo was told was her father. But her name didn’t match up to either. As she grew older and came to realize the system of her tribe, it became apparent that she had been named after a man she knew nothing of; a father her mother had never spoken of.
“I had so many questions in my heart but I didn’t ask. I was too afraid, too ashamed. My mother was very tough, and I knew she would be angry if I questioned her. So I just locked the questions in my chest. My whole life I did this,” Kadogo explained from the bench in the kitchen. “Sometimes I felt sorry for myself. I made up dreams of what he might have been like, my dad. But mostly I just tried to keep moving.”
She loved school; it was a space of relief and joy. But her family could rarely afford a full term, so she would go for as long as the percentage of payment given allowed her to attend. Often she would be asked to leave just weeks before the exam, thus having to continuously repeat the same portions of the same primary classes. Reader, can you guess how much a school term cost at this time? Fifteen shillings. Fifteen cents. She persisted until she was the only sixteen year old in sixth grade.
It was at this young age that Kadogo met her first boyfriend; we’ll call him Kamweru. And it was at this moment that everything changed. Kadogo’s mother learned of Kamweru, and kicked her out of the house. Despite attempts from village elders, this is how things stayed. And without a home, without even partial school fees, school came to an end as well. So at seventeen, Kadogo married Kamweru. They had four kids and at first things seemed to be okay. Then Kamweru started drinking.
He’d be gone sometimes for four days at a time, coming home a drunk and abusive mess. Kadogo did what she had taught herself to do; she took the blows and stored the pain in her chest. While her husband spent the days cleaning bars in exchange for the left over beer bottoms, she would leave her children at home and sell farmer’s produce in return for vegetables for the family.
“My profit was usually just food. When I did make a little money, I would hide it,” Kadogo said, cupping her hands like a nest for her cup. Steam spindled as she blew, staring into a sea of it. “It’s hard for me to tell you why I never left; it’s mostly because I had no where else to go. I was so young, and on either side it seemed like someone was just waiting to abuse me. I believed that if I got a full time job and made an income, I could do something.”
That’s what she did. She got a job with a flower company called Red Shank. It was a three mile walk in the early morning, and her job was to pollinate the flowers. This meant that from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. she would meticulously brush pollen into a can from the tiny stigma of each flower, and she would do it with a toothbrush. Then she would carry the pollen to a pile of seeds, where she would carefully slice open each seed with a straight edge razor blade and gently insert a dot of pollen into the seed. She did this all day, walking three miles back home to her children, for 90 shillings a day. One dollar.
Yet she exclaims, “I was proud of that job! I was proud to be providing for my children!” Her chest rose with this sentence.
The experience gained from Red Shank and growing difficulty to survive on the lean wages led her to a new job with a company called P.P. Flora; a flower farm much closer to home. She was led by a rumor that P.P. Flora paid salary according production, opposed to a flat rate. The rumor was true, but now she had to deal with roses. Mind you, roses aren’t as loving to work with as they are to receive.
“It was tough because of the thorns and all the heavy lifting that went into making their beds. We had to carry huge bags of sand back and forth sometimes all day. But we did it as hard as we could push ourselves to do, because we made money according to how many beds we made. At first it took me three days to make enough beds just to get the ninety shillings I was making in one day at Red Shank, but I got better and stronger. Even the men were amazed by how hard I could work. I thank God for this lesson.” Kadogo is smiling a very beautiful smile; the kind you have to tuck towards the neck of your shirt. “It was here I met two very important people to me; two women who were in the same trouble as me, and the three of us became friends. We met because none of us could afford to eat lunch, so we would spend the afternoon sitting in the greenhouse talking while the others ate. I am so thankful for them whenever I think of them. At the end of the day, the manager would often tell one of us that to keep our job, for no pay, we had to stay late and grade flowers. So we had to do it. But to make it better, we agreed to stick together. We’d all stay late. This way it would be shorter and we would have each other. I thank God for this lesson too.”
“When I would get home late, my husband would be asleep. He would usually have peed himself in our bed, or sometimes worse. I would check the kids, and then I would usually be so tired and sore I would just climb into the same bed to sleep. If I had enough strength though, I would sleep in a chair so that he couldn’t harm me. Life was so hard. I can barely tell you.”
“We would go many days without food, drinking only hot water until I was paid. Because of stress and no food, I was fainting usually two, even three times per day. Sometimes I went without food for so long, I was sure I would die. But worse was seeing my children hungry. Can you imagine your kids asking you when they will eat next, crying, and you didn’t have an answer? … I would make a small fire, boil a pot of water, and put grass inside so the smell would fill the house, then I would tell them that we were just waiting for the shopkeeper to bring ugali flower (cornmeal). I would tell them again and again, until they grew tired and fell to sleep. Then one by one, I’d lift them to their beds.”
Kadogo’s brother-in-law came to visit, and she was at such a low point she opened the pain her chest and told him everything. And he vowed to help. Her brother-in-law will be called Nguvu. Nguvu told Kagodo that he was going to see what he could arrange for her in the village he came from, a place called Njabini. After quite some time, he called. He told Kadogo that he’d sent bus fare and urged her to come to Njabini once she received it. He said he’d take her to a children’s home where she could try to talk her way into an interview; a place called Flying Kites.
Long story short, I am sitting with Kadogo now, and she is as much a sister to me as anyone could be. It’s a strange beauty the way these things happen; the way two people living impossibly different lives, who almost certainly should never meet, suddenly can’t imagine a day without one another. I am amazed by her daily; her strength and her crystalized inner-beauty. Our children benefit beyond measure from her loving guidance, and have learned much about themselves (as I have) by the way she bares the weight of her suffering and responsibility with nobility.
This may seem crazy, reader, but can you believe the climax has yet to come?! Prepare for the most beautiful of twist of any story I have ever heard!
On our dusty road, there is a neighbor. He is a generous old man named Thomas. For as long as I have lived here, he brings us vegetables from his garden and honey from his beehives, and he grandfathers our kids like they are his own. He built a tiny shop at the corner of his lot and sells a few household items for extra income. When we run out of tea leaves, cooking fat, or sugar, we’ll buy from ‘guka,’ grandpa.
Kadogo went to Thomas’ shop to buy sugar one sunny day and they struck up small talk like many times before. Kadogo told him that she aspires to buy land and move her children to Njabini so they can be with her, and they began to discuss the who’s and what’s of land in the area.
“That led to him asking me where I was from and I told him the name of my village. He asked me my full name and I told him. Then he grew very silent. For ten minutes he was silent and would not speak, so I took the sugar and left.”
“A few days later he came over to the house and asked for me. He was holding a locket. He opened it carefully. On one side there was a picture of him as a young man and on the other the picture of a young woman. He said ‘is this your mother?’ It was. I said ‘yes,’ and this is the day I met my father.”
“I feel so many emotions. I love him and I think he loves me. But he has his own family now and so do I, so we are learning to know each other. My children don’t know of him yet. When I move them here, I will introduce them to their grandfather, but until them I need to learn to know him for myself.”
This takes us to the present day, reader. In the two years since Kadogo graced our mission, she has fulfilled the demands of a job that demand the strength and compassion she embodies. In her climbing within the organization, she has become a central figure of our house, and her hard work has been met by a salary that allows her to aptly provide for her family. But her children still live far from Njabini, because the investment required to move them is checked the needs of all who now rely on her income. The distance between them makes it so she is only able to spend one week a month with her three girls and one son. So while she has come lengths that few of us can imagine, she is closer than ever to a new chapter in life; one we can help her to reach.
It is misty in Njabini, like being suspended in a Christmas ornament. Kadogo is making another round of tea for the two of us and I want more badly than anything to buy her a quarter acre of land so she can move her children here and introduce them to their grandfather. I want her to cry out of happiness, in the face of all the other reasons she’s cried. But I can’t do it alone. In fact, I have almost nothing now. So I need help. As a combined act of compassion, this is my call. Will you help me?
It is going to cost around $2200, but thanks to the active lovers of our Fourteen Weeks campaign we already have $1,450.
This means if a few give a little or an even fewer give a bit more, we’ll have enough to see the dreams of a family actualized by the end of this week. Let the beauty of this thought take root. We could forever change the lives of these deserving people in one day if we chose to. How blessed are we for this luxury; this responsibility?
Contribute to this beautiful turn in whatever way you are able and inspired to see actualized. If we exceed the amount required, grandpa Thomas needs teeth ($250), and there really is no ceiling to the way we can change a life.
Just click this: I WISH FOR A BETTER WORLD.
The lesson for Week Four of our Fourteen Weeks to a More Meaningful and Compassionate Life is to “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.” That is all I will say about that. They could be family. In fact, they are. We all are. It’s time we started acting like it.
There are many stories like Kadogo’s in our world, some far worse, some more easily mended. They are living all around you, right now, right here. People needing your love! What matters is that we slow down enough to care; that you look into them, find your place, and love them like a mother loves.
Kadogo has bravely loved, but at some point, she needed somebody; she needed small and simple acts of compassion. That made all the difference.
“Flying Kites has saved my happiness and my family, and on top of this the lives of so many children. I have traveled from hell on Earth to heaven on Earth. I will serve this cause and these children for the rest of my life. That is my exchange.”
~ Kadogo ~
July 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
Hello Mighty Hero!
From the money raised by participants of our challenge to navigate Fourteen Weeks to a more Meaningful and Compassionate Life, we assisted a mother of fourteen who lost the title deed to her land because of unreachable bills incurred by the needs of her youngest son, fighting a battle against Leukemia. With $150 dollars, we cleared the debt, secured the land title back from the hospital, and bought her enough fertilizer to dramatically increase the yield of her farm, so as to keep her other children in school.
Today, as an additive to our program, I wanted to share her words of gratitude with you; you who acted to alleviate her suffering by simply donating $1 or more.
A Note from Mama L*:
There is not enough time or enough pages in books for me to tell you how thankful I am to you who have shown love for me. I was so low. The problems before me, especially fighting Leukemia for my son, Brian, I could not carry alone, not with my other children. My only plan was to try until I no longer could, until God took me from the pain or the pain from me. And before today I was wearing so low.
But then you cared. I found a community in Brian and a community in Flying Kites. I wish I could tell you what saving my land and my son’s dignity and my children’s dignity means to me, but I can’t. So I will tell you only that you have saved my dignity as a mother and you have given me my land again to dig so I can provide for my family.
May you be blessed for what you have done.
Whoever you are, thank you.
Mama L* *(name withheld for privacy)
Join me in more acts of compassion like this one. Fourteen Weeks to a more Meaningful and Compassionate Life. Or, if you’re already participation, empower these acts by giving $1.
July 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
As I write this, I am wedged into my favorite seat on the bus, with a solar panel, a strained back, a bag full of lightbulbs, and a yoghurt. The trees are passing like barcodes, afternoon laundry is flapping it’s cold winter wings, and I am smiling, because I could never have imagined this life. In the same moment, dear reader, I am creatively searching. I am working to translate the results of our experiment this week.
The goal of our Fourteen Week Challenge is not only to acquire new tools of compassion for a rich and meaningful life, but it is also to prove that through small sacrifice, in a united effort – $1 per person, per week – we can dramatically alleviate the suffering of another. The percentage of readers last week who clicked the link and took this simple step was 1.9%. This week, with readership up and those already paid in counted out, the percentage of loving people making sacrifice is down to .05%!
The irony is that I am smiling. The reason I am smiling is not because of the message this sends, but rather because of the generosity of the SEVEN PEOPLE, of near 1500 now, who actually played their part. These seven people donated so generously that we were thankfully able to make up some ground! All seven gave more than asked of them, and two alone gave enough to mount $500! To you MIGHTY SEVEN, I can hardly explain the joy that consumed me upon sight of your sacrifice. I am full of hope dear reader! But it will take action to make proof of our potential.
Stand with me.
ART OF OPENING:
It’s easy to cut our legs off; easy to cripple hope for mankind. Turn on the news. There’s no shortage of aggression and selfishness, hidden behind masks, woven into mazes. It’s easier to throw your hands in the air or raise a temper than it is to find proof of our power to break it all up. It’s easy to be afraid; easy to pad ourselves from poverty and catastrophe, focus on our little nest, and sit on a cushion that the rest of the world is starving for. Our capacity for selfishness and complacency is proving only to run deeper and deeper. But we also know the story of the hero; the enlightened, transcendent warrior of truth and love, in past and present, myth and flesh.
Ghandi. The Dalai Lama. Neslon Mandela. Martin Luther King Jr. Mother Teresa. Rumi. Buddha. Jesus. Muhammad. Selfless Mothers and Fathers. Freedom Fighters. Strong Teachers. Brave Journalists. People who live and die in the name of human rights; in the name of love; in the name of peaceful truth.
It’s false to say that today these heroes are in short supply. We have enough in this very moment to repair the intended tremendous beauty of our Earth and construct the future we wish for our children and our grandchildren. The problem is not numbers; the problem is sleep. Our heroes are sleeping. Some watch t.v; some chase their insatiable wantings; some are hung over; some are disenchanted; most dream brilliantly, but freeze in fear, distraction, and inaction. These heroes are in every single one of us.
Believe it or not, as quickly as our world can tangle, it can untangle. It can be a place of overwhelming joy and fulfillment and love. It’s just waiting on a hero, waiting on you.
Open your chest for a firebomb. This week is focused on the waking eye of your inner-hero.
Wisdom Fruit One: The Universal Hero
Wisdom Fruit Two: Like A Loved One From A Fire
Wisdom Fruit Three: Concentric Circles
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
*all photos taken by: Jeff Guerrero
July 12, 2011 § 4 Comments
How Beautiful the World Can Be!
Thank you for being here! I apologize for the delay in take off. Today we embark on our fourteen week journey toward a higher understanding of connectedness and compassion. If you’re just tuning in, it’s best you reel back to last weeks post and catch up following. For those ready to rock, let’s shove this ship off the beach! While we push, I am going to again preface that this is a personal attempt to craft a practice out of the teachings of a few wise and modern teachers, whose wisdom is the sea we will together work to navigate. We are students together, and thus your input is encouraged, sharing with others is spectacular, and you have only two jobs. One is to go out in the world and ACT on what you are inspired to ACT on. And Two, you’ve got to play your part for our experiment to succeed; you’ve got to contribute to the collective push. At least $1; $14 total for the three and a half months. It is by this incremental sacrifice that we will together change the course of another’s life, and the depth to which we change it rests entirely on your generosity and willingness to make action of a wish. Click the Fourteen Weeks button on the sidebar, contribute to a better world, and we’ll set sail!
Three sections ahead: The Art of Opening. Chew Lovingly. Grow Baby Grow!
THE ART OF OPENING:
In the way we open our mouth to eat and open the Earth to plant new life, we must open our heart and our mind in its entirety to receive new wisdoms. Take a minute to close your eyes and visualize this opening. Stay here for a bit and breathe in the calm, peace of it.
We’ll start this week by imagining something. It’s important you try and see it, as if it were or could be the course of your life.
1: You are young, at the beginnings of your adult life. You are learning the art of sculpting the self, building a family, a career, the dreams you wish to actualize. Your future seems limitless because it is! While you see humanity fluxing it’s justices and injustices, you pray – simply – that your life be a peaceful pursuit of deeper understanding and the vital beauty of love; that your children will never see war; that the dark sides of man stay far from home; that avoidable suffering be avoided and unavoidable suffering comes with healing. You wish love upon the world.
2: Then everything is taken. Your family is stolen, to a fate you will never know. Your possessions all lost. Your freedom replaced by imprisonment. The only property now yours is this naked, breathing body. The injustices you wished would stay far came, because a wish is just a wish. The purpose of life is no longer to love and create; the purpose of life is to endure; to endure unimaginable pain and suffering, with no foreseeable end. Your hope is only to meet death with nobility and somewhere amid this shortened life of suffering find meaning.
… Could you do it? … What is the purpose in a life of suffering?
This sounds wildly dramatic, right? It’s not. These are the true circumstances of our first, wise and inspiring teacher, Dr. Viktor Frankl. It has also been the fate of millions of people whose potential was extinguished by the actions of the ignorant and subsequently by the inaction of the compassionate. There are more people than we can imagine, enduring this reality even as we sit and read this very sentence. It is from this paramount void of humanness that Dr. Frankl – survivor of three years in Auschwitz and the father of logotherapy – managed to weave the ‘slender threads of a broken life into a firm pattern of meaning and responsibility.’ It is through his work, Man’s Search for Meaning that we are given our first road map.
‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is the focus work of our week; a book that took Dr. Frankl nine days to write. It is a paramount work in the world of modern psychology and the home to every quotation in today’s post. If it has not yet graced your palms, I could not more highly suggest you swim through the 150 pages of his wisdom. This act will free more fruit from Frankl’s brilliant branches than I could ever hope to carry. No less, I will do my best to carry forth what I am able.
Let’s move forward to nourishing wisdom! Welcome it into your hungry heart and mind, humbled by the simple fact that your reality is not the loss of all you have. Today you are living a window of freedom and limitless potential. What will you do with it?
I will warn you. This week is by far the THICKEST of all our weeks, so take each of these in as slow or in as many doses as you need. I have done my best to separate ideas, while they are all certainly connected. If you need to break, head down to the final section and circle back.
Wisdom Fruit One: *You are a Meaning Seeking Being
Wisdom Fruit Two: *Your One Responsibility
Wisdom Fruit Three: *Healthy Questions; Healthy Aim
Wisdom Fruit Four: *The Wealth of the Selfless
Wisdom Fruit Five: *Embrace Tension
Wisdom Fruit Six: *Love Your Fellow Seeker
Wisdom Fruit One: *You are a Meaning Seeking Being!
“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone.”
This is the root of Dr. Frankl’s philosophy, logotherapy (“logo”: Greek = meaning), and this core commonality binding us all is perhaps the most key concept tying our fourteen weeks ahead, so let this sink in.
The greatest leaders of our world are those who achieve heights of meaning that derives from the true and total sacrifice to an ideal or host of values, even in death. In watching men give up their last piece of bread so another can live and so many other lives sacrificed for great purpose, Frankl explains that these people may be “few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decisions which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity…”
You are a meaning seeking being, and your ability to actualize this meaning comes from your attitude in any given set of circumstances; to be powerful or powerless.
Which one do you aspire to be, starting right now?
Wisdom Fruit Two: *Your One Responsibility
Your one responsibility in life is to make real the things your heart calls you to create. So, of the choice above, you don’t have a choice. It is your RESPONSIBILTY to be powerful and proactive, not to yourself and to our greater humanity.
So no more excuses. It’s time to leave your mind, time to stop pursuing what other people pursue (conformism), time to stop pursuing what people wish for us to pursue (totalitarianism), and go out into the world and find our OWN thing! And when Frankl says ‘out in the world,’ he means out of the mind and into your immediate surroundings!
Everything that has come before now has been designed specifically as your one, unique test, and thus no other person has faced the exact chain of challenges and blessings that you have. This makes you perfectly equipped, RIGHT NOW, to fulfill a specific purpose awaiting you in the moment at hand.
“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”
So how do I find my meaning in life?! First we’ve got to ask healthier, more incrementally achievable questions!
Wisdom Fruit Three: *Healthy Questions; Healthy Aim
First off, there is no answer to the question ‘what is the meaning of life?’ Not only is this different for each of us, we can’t know the answer to this yet! We can, however, boldly answer the question ‘What is my specific opportunity and responsibility in this moment?’
“It does not really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us. We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and dedication, but in right action and in right conduct.”
We’re growingly self-centered in our thinking. It’s not about serving the world; it’s about conquering the world. And where is it leading us? So let’s right now, step out of the ego.
Your life is going to end, and at the end of it – you will be defined by the way in which you loved and the concrete impacts you had on your fellow man and your planet. The question that will help us fade in peace and accomplishment is simply this ‘What is my specific opportunity and responsibility in this very moment?’
“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-produce of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it!.”
Wisdom Fruit Four: *The Wealth of the Selfless
The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. Self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.
If you were told you had six months to live, what would you do? Who would you spend it with? How much would you sacrifice to make these things real, and then continue living?! These questions are places to farm out your heart calls! Some of us are practiced in this kind of goal setting, but for those who aren’t – write out answers! This is where it starts.
Frankl tells us that there are three general ways of discovering meaning in life:
1. CREATE: By creating a work or doing a deed.
Ex: To raise children, to paint, to build a company, to fight for equity, to donate
time, money, passion.
2. EXPERIENCE: By experiencing something or encountering someone
Ex: To Love Someone! To Explore! To befriend a stranger, to love a child in Kenya, to chase the wild callings of your heart!
3. ATTITUDE: By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
– “Human potential at it’s best is to transform a personal tragedy into a human achievement.”
– “In accepting the challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally until the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.”
As an additive, I LOVE the way Frankl explains, LOVE:
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential to him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”
Wisdom Fruit Five: *Embrace Tension
It’s exercise! Remember?! Without tension and stretching and FIRE, achievement wouldn’t feel so spectacular! Embrace tension, inner tension and environmental tension, as both a way to find meaning and a test of just how worthy it is. The more tension, the greater the opportunity!
“It can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one should become.”
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
Wisdom Fruit Six: *Love Your Fellow Seeker
Look around you. Everyone of the people you see are searching in the same way that you are. They have the same capacity for joy and pain and are of as much potential value to our world as you are. The only thing that differentiates us is what, exactly, we are searching for. It is time to see one another this way and work to assist, actively assist, one another to find and achieve higher meaning.
This is the second half of our RESPONSIBILITY and the focus of Week Two. But for today, go out of your way to show your love and understanding for others. This is where compassion begins.
All six fruit need chewing and their nutrients, welcoming. Now it’s time to give substance to a wish! It’s time to Go Baby Go! This section is MY small and and achievable action plan for the week. If you want to join me, please do! It’s important that our wish for a better world leave the mind and begin it’s healing course through ACTION.
GO BABY GO!
On a piece of paper: (Once)
1. Make a list of the things you would wish to achieve if given six months to live. Imagine the reality of this deeply, as if you were really given this news.
a. Pick one that calls you most.
b. Make an action plan for how to achieve the first step toward it.
c. Make a date for completion
d. Take the first step.
In YOUR World: (At Least Once Each; for the Ambitious Every Day this Week)
1. Commit a Random Act of Kindness – in the life of someone you love and in the life of a total stranger. This restores our sense of togetherness; our humanness!
Wow. If you are reading this sentence, I love you so much. Thank you for your kindness and wish of love and fire! This week is by far the most dense. Each week from here on out will be more near half the length. Chew, digest, sacrifice your dollar, and ACT ACT ACT baby! You are a blessing to this world, you are limitless in this very moment, and your life will be more beautiful than you could ever dream it. To get there, we’ll start simply answering this question bravely: What is my specific opportunity and responsibility in this moment?
WITH MIGHTY LOVE,