It was as if
while I was driving down a one-lane dirt road
with tall pines on both sides
the landscape had a syntax
similar to that of our language
and as I moved along
a long sentence was being spoken
on the right and another on the left
and I thought
Maybe the landscape
can understand what I say too.
Ahead was a farmhouse
with children playing near the road
so I slowed down
and waved to them.
They were young enough
to smile and wave back.
This is my letter to the world – That never wrote to me-
I used to get upset with strangers who asked me for money, projecting onto to them an inner struggle I felt towards myself for having such a difficult time telling them “not today friend.” Yet each time I’m asked, and with the Omaha Gives campaign coming up shortly, I wonder again, about what it truly means to be compassionate, and my recent encounter with a homeless man in the Old Market has caused me to reflect once again how I continue to fail to live up to my aspiration to consistently manifest compassion, of which I know I am capable of.
It’s not that I lack compassion for the homeless and charitable organizations, just that, my compassion for them remains only a fleeting feeling. I don’t believe giving them money represents the most compassionate action I could take. I say this because the most compassionate action I could take would be to introduce them to compassion and kindness, a practice I genuinely believe has the power to help anyone, in any circumstance become whole, but I don’t do that either because it is woefully self-serving and akin to proselytizing, which I loathe.
I’m not just writing about and discussing homelessness and charitable giving with you. I’m talking about the part of me that believes selfless service is possible and that a selfless person would be overflowing with compassion. I’m writing about the part of me that keeps asking if there really is any greater value we can produce as human beings than to help another person to become happier. Because every time I turn down a homeless person’s request for money, ignore all the insistent ads about Omaha Gives … What I think to myself isn’t that I should have given them what they wanted or desire, but rather, exploring compassion would have given them what they need.
What am I trying to explain when I mention exploring compassion? For me, compassion requires both empathy and sympathy. Empathy involves responding to another person’s emotions with emotions that are similar to your own. Sympathy entails feeling regret for another person’s suffering. Compassion, on the other hand, is caring about another person’s happiness as if it were your own. The struggle I have with my very own definition, is how easily it causes me to mistakenly infer that compassion therefore means: Giving people what they want, well, just because they are bothering me at the market or begging via an online ad or an endless stream of emails.
I routinely find myself incapacitated by the thought of disappointing anyone. And though giving people or local organizations what they want helps, I feel it does not make them happy, it does so only transiently and usually leaves them unimproved, denying them the motivation to take on growth, and in turn, producing new challenges. Also, people quite often want what isn’t good for them. If our aim is to help others become happy and content, then we must apply our own judgment to the actions we’re asked to take on their behalf.
Compassion and kindness – Seva – remains my true path in life, although one I’m able to walk upon far less often than I want. When asked for money by strangers, my typical response is: “I don’t have any cash or change with me – Sorry.” But this is often not even true. I’m certain the reason I lie ultimately comes down to cowardice, though why I’m afraid to share with them the truth is not yet entirely clear to me.
An elephant herd of storm clouds
trample overhead. The air vibrates
electrically. The wind is rough
as hide scraping my face.
Longhaired rain occludes the pines.
This storm seems personal. We
crouch under the weight of the laden
air, feeling silly to be afraid.
Water comes sideways attacking
the shingles. The skylight drips.
We feel trapped in high surf
and buffeted. When the nickel
moon finally appears dripping
we are as relieved as if an in-
truder had threatened us and
then walked off with a shrug.
Grass grows in the night
and early the mockingbirds begin
their fleet courtships over puddles,
upon wires, in the new green
of the Spanish limes.
Their white-striped wings flash
as they flirt and dive.
Wind in the chimes pulls music
from the air, the sky’s cleared
of its vast complications.
In the pause before summer,
the wild sprouting of absolutely
everything: hair, nails, the mango’s
pale rose pennants, tongues of birds
Words, even, and sudden embraces,
surprising dreams and things I’d never
imagined, in all these years of living,
one more astonished awakening.
As long as I am breathing, in my eyes, I am just beginning-
There is more to a mindful “yoga” practice than merely showing up to class in smoking hot yoga pants, or spiffy shorts from Target, as in my case!
“Yoga” and more importantly, mindfulness – offer me the opportunity to reflect upon my “lifestyle” and the profound impact they can have on my life. Personally, in hero’s pose (vajrasana) or even while enjoying a peaceful morning walk (walkasana) – I notice my quads, feet, calves, hip flexors, and that my shoulders are normally all out of whack. Why? Years of neglect, injuries, competing and cycling endless miles a week has molded me into this present day, lump. Hero’s pose is a peaceful place to reflect on what I have done in my life, analyzing the ways in which “life” has shaped me over the years: Do this to run faster, train harder, eat this and not that. “Yoga” and mindfulness allow me the time to take inventory of my life in a nurturing way.
Hero’s pose offers me more than a good stretch. It offers me a wholeness – a oneness, and space. This ‘space’ is exactly what mindfulness can cause – and pleasantly so. It’s nice to say “so long” to things … Including ourselves.
It has always seemed that a fear of judgment is the mark of guilt and the burden of insecurity-
I ask of you on this lovely May morning – Are you really curious how the next five, ten, fifteen years of your life will look like?
Possibility and wonder flourish in the wide open spaces of uncertainty. If we were absolutely certain about how everything would turn out in our lives, we would have no room to consider what might happen if we choose a different direction, a different path altogether. Imagine how “life” might be like stuck in an endless one-way street, on a set deserted railroad tracks with rails so straight and narrow, we would never be able to see beyond our next step.
When we pause to think about it, like our beautiful lives, a seed is both fragile and dense with endless possibility. Provided with the proper conditions, a tiny seed can grow to be a beautiful tree or a plant that bears yummy fruit, flowers or those things called vegetables! In our hyper connected world it pays to remember that a seed grows at its own pace. For that seed to be its absolute best, it will need plenty of love, compassion, kindness and care.
Friends, we are no different, anticipation of what could be possible, is what makes life exciting. In order to breathe possibility into reality, we need fertile ground, a stable environment and a warm, kind and compassionate heart.
May a dose of uncertainty grace your lives this morning … What will become of this seed, your life? Only you possess the magic, that is your frigging awesome life, in the palm of your loving hands.
*It’s good to be back with you, my Dear Readers, after finishing the Citizens Academy of Omaha’s Future last night. There are many stories and new topics to share with you, until then – Take care and be well! And before I forget – Its National Bike Challenge Month!*