Compassion: part 1

"A human being is part of the whole called by us ‘universe' - a part limited in time and space. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
Albert Einstein

We are a society of humans. 

In our meme-culture of whittled down concepts it's easy to forget that there is no US vs THEM. In reality it is US vs US. It always has been. 
We're taught that there is an enemy. In every age there has been someone arguing that someone else is out to destroy the fabric of our society.  First, this is impossible. Societies that are successful are flexible. They are amoebas. They change and grow and recede and develop. The thing they don't do is stay the same. So a healthy society isn't a dead piece of woven fabric; it is a living, breathing thing all on its own.

In the United States I think we are still in many ways dealing with our youth. We still place tremendous value on bootstrap pulling self sufficiency and we still have a wild west streak of vengeance in us. We want people to succeed or fail on their own and we want those that cross us to pay, dearly. 

The problem with this thinking is that it has been proven over and over again to not be effective or even true.  There are many examples of the efforts of other communities of dealing with "criminals" and in almost every case the compassionate route is the one that is most successful long-term to the society it involves. 

There has been a circulating story of an African tribe who take an offender and for two days all of the tribe come together and tell the person things that they love about him/her. I don't know the validity of this but we have real, proven examples of how compassion shapes a society.  

The Netherlands in the 1990's had overflowing prisons. Then they changed the way they approached inmates and began truly rehabilitative programs instead of retributive. They saw that the inmates who used their time in prison to educate themselves were more likely to NOT recidivate but became part of their communities. They began to look at programs that could invest in the inmates to bring them back into the fold of society. They saw this not as investing in the inmates, but investing in society itself.
It worked. By 2010 they had so much vacancy in their prisons that they struck a deal with Belgium to import their prisoners! 

The reason why this is significant is because our culture in the US tends to be one of aggressive punishment for crimes, often with little to no system for comparison from crime to crime. Due to the history of our culture most Americans have a gut reaction to criminals. We want them to pay. So thinking compassionately about them is not natural, it goes against everything that we're taught. But what if we did? 
In our current model criminals pay, but we pay in the long run. We have more inmates (by more than double) per capita than any other industrialized nation and it keeps getting worse. Our inmates have the highest rates of returning to prison too. 
Yet the Netherlands is having to search for people to fill their jails. Not only that, but they are consistently ranked as one of the happiest places to live! I think this is primarily because when you invest and reinvest in the lowest end of your society, you are investing in the health of the entire society. When you are compassionate towards the worst things in life you end up being more compassionate with yourself too. 

I think the intent behind this post is that we begin to approach the problems in our society from a perspective that includes the WHOLE society. We too often forget that the people or communities that we view as problematic to the society are still PART of our society. When we're looking for ways to improve, we have to include them in the mix. We have to treat not only ourselves with compassion, but our enemies. Because in the end our enemy is ourselves. 



Today is the Monday before Thanksgiving.  Posts made mandatory by social or popular agreement tend to annoy me.  They seem to end up feeling disingenuous.  Thanksgiving may be the worst among them because the spirit of the holiday is gratitude and that seems like it should be more spontaneous than the requisite list on a fb post.  It seems like we should be thinking of these things we’re grateful for more than the one time a year when we’re socially forced to do so.

That last part may be true, but I was wrong about the first. It doesn’t need to be spontaneous. In fact, gratefulness, or at the very least thankfulness, is in many ways a meditative practice. If we don’t pay attention to something we lose track of it, and that can be as small as our keys or as big as the love we have for another person or the appreciation we have for something.  Just like relationships between people, the relationship between ourselves and our emotions requires some attention, some effort to be fruitful.  And sometimes all it takes is forcing yourself to sit down for five minutes to make that mandatory list to realize that you truly are grateful for some things. That forced awareness can be epiphanic!

If you practice awareness, appreciation is a natural byproduct. It’s hard to truly be aware of the world around you and not be grateful for the things you have or for the people who support you and who make your life brighter, even for your circumstance.  This is true whether you have a lot or a little, a family or are alone because when you are truly paying attention to the world around you, you see great fantastic beauty and you see horrible, terrible tragedy.  When you’re aware, you see the reality of your circumstance but you also see the reality of everyone you meet’s circumstance so you can’t help but realize that while you may be in a bad place in life, there is someone walking around not far from you in an even worse situation.  And that’s just part of why awareness brings gratitude.

When we spend even a little time not being distracted by all the myriad ways we allow ourselves to be distracted we begin to see all sorts of strange little phenomena happening around us.  Tiny little things that bring us joy that are as simple as the way the cat sleeps with his tongue slightly out. It’s difficult to hold onto self pity in the face of such simplistic happiness.  And the moment we realize that something brings us joy, or happiness, or love, or support or friendship or any of the other things that make up the goodness in our lives, we can’t help but be grateful for those people and things and circumstances. 

So when I see the Month of Thankfulness posts circulating, I know that while each day a person writes the 5 things they are thankful for that day, they may have a hard time coming up with 5. I know that for the most part these daily posts are going to have some snark and fun infused in the list because we’re all a little self conscious saying the things we’re truly grateful for.   And I’ll also know that somewhere in that month, almost everyone who writes one of those lists is going to at some point have a moment of true gratefulness and compassion and in that moment they are going to be absolutely in the spirit of thanksgiving.  And THAT is what this is all about.

So here is my list for this moment:

1: I’m thankful for a wonderful wife who loves me unconditionally, and 3 warm, fuzzy “kids” who also love me unconditionally.

2:  I’m thankful that I have a job and that I get to do something meaningful for people through it and it allows me free time to do other things that I love.

3: I’m so very grateful for a roof over my head and enough to eat and warm clothes and that I get to choose these things.

4: I’m thankful that I have my health, all four limbs and 20 appendages.

5: I’m grateful for all of the months and years before; for all of the time I’ve had to learn, and re-learn lessons and the experiences I’ve had that have shaped the person I am today.  I’m thankful for the people who have presented themselves as teachers to me and allowed me to learn something from them. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


The first steps are the hardest


I achieved my first goal, which was to start this blog.  

It seems like such a simple thing, an easy thing, but it wasn't.  Starting a blog had been something i'd thought about for a while, but i never felt like I had anything of value to say, or that people would want to read. My insecurity kept me from contributing. The hardest part of it wasn't writing the piece, or even publishing it; the hardest part was committing to it. Just building the tab on my website and saying "This is my blog" was 10 times harder than actually writing the post.  Putting myself out there was a risk, because it invited failure. 

This is really the essence behind why it is so hard to create new habits in the first place. To be an active participant in your life and make changes requires commitment.  To commit means to risk failing. And failure, is scary.  

But like most things that we are afraid of, the anticipation is worse than the reality. Whatever your goal is, it's infinitely more difficult in your mind because rather than experiencing a setback or obstacle, you see all of them at once.  You become deflated and lose steam before you even begin.  

We're just a couple of months out from the new year now, and many of us made and then broken promises to ourselves. We had some idea, a longing to change something about ourselves, and may have even had a plan (no sugar; start exercising; read more; etc) but we never really took that real and tangible first step.  We never bought the gym membership, or we didn't throw out the cookies in the cupboard. We didn't actually move forward.    We just thought about it. 

This is what this blog is, for me, a first step.  
What is a first step? Definitively it is creating motion where there wasn't any.  When you are standing, and you move your leg forward to step down, your body doesn't stay where it is; it follows that first foot. As your weight shifts it makes bringing the second foot along easier. As your steps increase, your inertia keeps you moving forward and (hopefully) it gets easier and easier. 

So think about the one thing that you really want to do; that singular thing that has been on your mind that you keep putting off.  Whatever that thing is, think about what the first thing is you need to do to start it.  Not what the perfect circumstance would be, or all the things that "everyone else has", but what do you need, right now, this very minute, to start.?   

Exercise is a good illustration because for so many people the idea of "working out" becomes this concept that seems so daunting.  We picture having to find a gym, and then we have to pay the membership, and buy the right shoes and pants and shirts and we have to schedule an hour everyday to do it and then another 30 minutes or so to take a shower and that's not even considering what we have to do at the gym!  We have to find a routine. What's right? What's wrong?  And even all of this isn't even considering our own insecurity about doing it in the first place!
This thing we want to do becomes a huge beast that we can't even fathom, much less accomplish.   

But the reality is...we don't need any of that stuff.  Sure, eventually you may want to get better shoes or clothes or find a gym. But right now, in this moment, all you need to do is go take a walk.  5 minutes.  Just walk.  Outside, down the hall at work, up the stairs; anything as long as you're moving.  Do some push-ups. Or squats or jumping jacks!  If even that seems like too much... stand in place and swing your arms about for a few minutes.  
None of these things require equipment.  You can wear shoes if you want or you can do them barefoot.  You can do almost all of them RIGHT NOW if you have 5 minutes. Or 3 minutes or 1 minute.  It really isn't about what  you do at this point, it's just about doing something.  

No matter what your goal is, if you've been putting it off because of ______________, then you can approach it in the same way as the exercise goal.  Just figure out what the simplest thing about _______ is, that you can do right now, and start in whatever way you can.  The rest will follow.  Once you've taken that first step and begun the process, the rest doesn't even  matter.  It's just that first step.  It's putting yourself out there. It's stretching yourself.  It is giving yourself purpose.  

It is moving forward...



The art of letting go...Part 1.

I am the person counting change in the check out line.
I take too long getting in my car when you're waiting for my spot.
I'm the man standing on the escalator when you need to run.
I am slow when you need to go fast.  
I put you on hold. I attend to the person behind you. 
I am in the way when you need to pass
I am late, when you need me to be early.
I drive too slow,
I talk too long,
You wait on me when you already needed to be gone.  
I am the person who holds you back; who takes your time when you have precious little of it. 

Please be kind. Most of us have been guilty of most of these things at least once.  We don't intend to; we don't set out to make life difficult for others, but we do. It happens. 

It is part of being human: To be self absorbed; to not realize how our actions are affecting others.  And even if we are trying to be aware, to be conscious of others, sometimes it can't be helped. We're hungry and we only have change, our car is hurt and we're going as fast as we can, we put you on hold to attend to the person in front of us, so that they aren't the person we don't attend to.

Those of us who experience this, who are on the other side, we have a choice.  

We can be angry, we can fume and spit and scream and pound our steering wheel.  We can roll our eyes and huff to ourselves behind you in line.  We can make lists in our heads of all the things we'll say to you, of all the ways you're hurting us. 

But if we do that this time is wasted.  The person holding us up either doesn't mean to, doesn't know they are, or doesn't care. Our rage doesn't change that. It doesn't speed them up or move them or change them. It doesn't get us where we need to be any sooner.  

Instead, we can be aware of ourselves. We can USE this moment.  In the modern world we never have time anymore. We're always late; always rushing. If we're late, it is because we created a life that doesn't allow us to have enough time to begin with. So these moment that we're held back can either be given up, lost in a wash of anger and frustration, or they can be taken for ourselves.  We can recognize the situation we're in and accept it for what it is. When we see the person take out their change purse, or their coupon book, we can be certain that we're going to have a couple of extra minutes in line.  So we can take that moment for us rather than give it away to them.

We can breathe. We can relax. We can be mindful of our surroundings and take stock of ourselves. We can look deep inside ourselves and do a self examination. We can think and plan.   We can meditate.  We can strike up a conversation with the person behind us.  If we're in traffic we can look at the sky, try to identify birds, trees, etc.  The point isn't WHAT you do with this time, it is that whatever this thing is you do, let it be something that you CHOOSE to do.  Don't let your time be stolen by reacting in anger. Keep it for yourself.  You'll feel better when you finally arrive wherever you're going.  

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