Tuning Out The Cynic’s Voice

blog pic1-1He was wearing a blue windbreaker with a sports logo on it. I remember that, and the way he startled me when he first spoke to me.

I was rummaging through books at a Barnes and Noble during my lunch hour when he approached me.  “Do you have some money so I can get something to eat?” he asked.

Then he stretched out his palm and showed me the pennies and nickels in it and said, “I’m a diabetic and I need something to eat. This is all I have.”

He rolled up his jacket sleeve and pointed to the bracelet he wore which identified him as a diabetic. I looked into his dark eyes, startled. Our encounter seemed out of context; I’m used to seeing hungry or homeless people at intersections, not in the crafts section of my local book store.

I hesitated for just a second, assessing the man, the situation, too.  What made him approach me, I wondered?  Did I look like an easy mark, a chump? Or, was he really a man in need?

“I’m hungry,” he said a little louder.

He pointed again to his bracelet and said he needed to  eat before he headed back to the interstate.  He seemed antsy, irritated even. Just the way I get when my blood sugar drops.

I dug through my purse and gave him enough money for a meal. But first I tried to buy him a sandwich in the Starbucks in the back of the store. We walked to the counter together and looked at the selection.

“I can’t eat the carbs in the sandwiches or the cookies because I’m a diabetic,” he said quietly. I nodded and he told me there was a store down the road where he could get something to eat.

After I gave him money, I wished him well and watched him wander off.  I felt a little pang of uncertainty and wondered: Did I do enough? Or, did I just get played?

After a few moments, humility washed over me and reset my spiritual compass. I realized it didn’t matter. Maybe the man was “Jesus in one of his many distressing disguises,” as Mother Teresa might say. Or maybe he had set out to con me out of my cash.

So what. I had answered the call. It was the call to compassion, not cynicisim. And that was more valuable to me than my money or my pride.

A few years ago a good friend of mine found a homeless young woman on the street. Showing great compassion, she put her up in a hotel for a few nights, bought her food, and got her connected with social services. She stayed in touch with her for awhile and continued to provide her with resources. Later, the woman took advantage of my friend’s generosity in dishonest ways.

After that, my friend was hurt, and a lot more discerning about her aid. But I reminded her how she had answered a higher calling and had listened to her own humanity. It wasn’t for her to worry about the outcome….she had played her role.

We can only be responsible for listening to our own call, to our own awakening of our spirit, our humanity.

I reminded myself of this lesson as I went back to sorting through the book racks. And I thought this: I would rather be a compassionate chump then a cynic any day.

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I have joined with 1000 other bloggers-1000 Voices of Compassion– worldwide to post on this day, Feb. 20, on the theme of compassion. It is part of a heart-led mission to bring messages of light, love and kindness to this world. If you enjoy this blog, please share. #1000Speak

If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace–if you’re looking for exploratory questions to unearth pieces of your soul, check out my book Tao Flashes. Or visit me at http://www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes

Serving As A Humanity Glue Stick

photo-21I was driving to work this morning when I witnessed the simplest act of kindness.

I was nearly stopped in traffic on a scenic road, listening to a Peter Gabrielle song in my head, when I noticed a dog near the end of a massive driveway. I could see his owner in the distance, at the far end of the drive in front of his door. As traffic slowed, I watched as the dog bent his head and picked up the newspaper with his teeth and turned around to make his way back down the long driveway to deliver it  to his master.

It was the sweetest thing to witness: a loyal dog taking care of his owner.

The image stayed with me much of the day. I don’t know if it was the act of service so much or the loyalty on the part of the dog that touched me.

It made me think about how we’re all divinely wired for service. People. Pets. I believe that when we cooperate and act from a spirit of service, we are acting from our innate programming, from our higher selves. That part of ourselves that knows we are all one, that part that knows cooperation, not competition, is the way to a more peaceful life.

I was listening to a radio program recently and the guest was Cynthia Kersey, a success coach and best-selling author. In the interview she was talking about tithing and generosity and how service to others invariably reflects back to us in the form of more abundance for ourselves. (While service should be its own reward…think for a second about the dog returning to his owner with the morning paper in his mouth. I bet he was amply rewarded for his service.)

She was urging listeners to tithe. She made it clear that tithing was not just about giving away money, though that can certainly be an aspect of it. Kersey issued a challenge of sorts: she encouraged listeners to do 29 nice things, or acts of service for 30 days in a row.  She stressed that it didn’t have to be about giving away money….it could be simple acts of kindness to help another. She cited examples like letting someone in front of you in line at the grocery store, or cut ahead in traffic or offering a supportive compliment to a coworker.

I thought it was a great idea….but I’ll be honest, my first reaction was one of overwhelm. How could a person keep up the pace of giving….29 times a day for an entire month? I thought to myself…. “I’m a really nice person, but I’m not sure I can do that. I’m not sure I’m THAT nice.”

But still, I was intrigued. So, I’ve decided to experiment with the concept myself but with my own rules. For the next 9 days in a row,  I play to perform 9 acts of service for a total of 81 acts (8+1=9) . Here’s my logic: in numerology, the number nine carries special weight. In Feng Shui, the number 9 is the most powerful single number and is considered lucky.

Yes, I know I”m falling far far short of the loftier goal of 29 nice acts per day, but I believe in setting smaller, achievable goals to get my confidence up. And I don’t want to fail the “nice test”….so I’m giving myself a “handicap.” Isn’t that what they call it in golf?

So here’s how it’s going to work: I plan to go about my regular day as I always do but consciously look for ways to be of service. Or to share a kind word. I’d like to think this is pretty natural for me, but it will be a good exercise to do it with conscious eyes. I am looking forward to the lessons.

I plan to report back in a future blog what some of my days looked like and how I felt upon the conclusion of the exercise. I’m hoping I will become more aware of opportunities to serve others in my daily life.

I’m a firm believer that we are here to serve one another. How we do it is up to us.

Service, kindness, compassion, to ourselves, to others, is what binds us to humanity…and to each other. I’m ready to serve…to be a humanity glue stick, starting now.

If you’re interested in more thoughts on service, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes. Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.

The Dalai Lama, Non-Violence and Gun Ads

IMG_0363_edited-1-1New Orleans is lovingly called the city that “care forgot.”  And for good reason; its love of revelry, rhythm and blues, and deep-fried everything, is legendary.

Yes, that city. The city that was nearly swallowed up and spit out in pieces by the punishing wind and waters of Hurricane Katrina.

Yes, that city, the one that inspires hope and loss in the same breath; the city that spurs the kind of violence that leaves you heart sick and slack-jawed from the shock and soulless brutality of it all. Like when two young males well-schooled in violence  casually open-fired on a Mother’s Day parade wounding 20 people, including several children.

This was the city that the Dalai Lama came to visit recently. A city badly in need of healing.

This was the Dalai Lama’s first visit to New Orleans and he came to deliver a commencement speech to Tulane graduates and speak at several other engagements in the city.

Not surprising he spoke of peace in his speeches. To the Tulane graduates he said,   “Please pay attention to securing your own inner peace. Our hopes for the future rest on your shoulders. Please think about how to make this a more peaceful, compassionate century.”  dalai

Speaking at a separate event at the New Orleans Lakefront Arena, he talked about non-violence and peace and compassion.

He said, “It is not our job to disturb the peace and then it’s God’s job to restore it. Violence isn’t created by God or Buddha; it’s created by human beings. So logically, the responsibility to eliminate it belongs to us too. Here in America there’s been a lot of discussion about gun control. But the real source of control is in our hearts.”

Wise words from a wise monk.

Violence and poverty and abuse all stem from a lack of compassion. The need for guns and the need for gun control is all the same to me. It’s all rooted in fear and violence in my book.

Look, I’m from the South. Guns are serious business here. This isn’t a subject that makes friends–unless you’re on the right side of the argument– if you get my drift.  It’s a subject that I usually stay away from because I’m a peacemaker at heart and it almost seems counterintuitive to me to argue about guns.

“…Please think about how to make this a more peaceful, compassionate century.”  I think of the Dalai Lama’s words to the graduates about securing peace, and working for a more peaceful world. I wonder what I can contribute to the cause.

I think there are a lot of us who are confused about how to walk in this world more peacefully.

I’m of the opinion that it starts with finding inner peace. Not an easy task. But I believe that meditation is a good start here. Finding compassion for ourselves, for our faults, and loving ourselves so we can better love others, is another strategy.

I think when we’re brave enough to do the inner work, to look at all of the places inside of us where we are at war with ourselves, where we focus on what’s wrong with ourselves, with our lives, is a good place to work on non-violence. Perhaps that’s the foundation of the saying, “Love others as we love ourselves.”

Maybe the idea is that we should love ourselves a little more, so we learn the capacity to be truly compassionate, truly kind to others. So that we can love others.

I think prayer is also a gateway to compassion. Praying to God, Spirit, Buddha or to your higher spirit for guidance is a good way to open up the heart. The older I get, the more I pray.

If we’re honest, we can admit that light and dark both exist in this world. But light, including inner light, can be the beacon that disperses the darkness. Within us and around us.

When we actively focus on non-violence, maybe we will lessen the violence in the outside world. Maybe we won’t have to live forever with the duality of seeing this:

His Holiness featured in an article about his visit to New Orleans in The Advocate with a gun ad on the opposite page.

His Holiness featured in an article about his visit to New Orleans in The Advocate with a gun ad on the opposite page.

a full page article in the Baton Rouge paper featuring the Dalai Lama’s visit to New Orleans with an ad for a gun shop placed on the opposite page from it. I’d like to think this was an accident. But the truth is, I’m not sure.

Which leads me to the truism that “there are no accidents.” Maybe there’s a message here about our society’s conflict. About how we all wrestle with the light and the dark.

If you’re interested in more thoughts on compassion and grace, particularly at midlife,  read my book Tao Flashes.  Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.

Shame Be Gone!

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I had intended to write a blog about authenticity today. But I am watching Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday this morning and I can feel my intentions shifting. They’re being hijacked by the topic her guest, Brene’ Brown, author of Daring Greatly, is speaking about.

She is discussing shame. How it limits us. How it corrodes our self-esteem.

Brown has studied shame. She defines it in part as the intense feeling or belief that we are unworthy of love. According to her, we’re all infected with shame. She says it’s lethal.

And the less you talk about it, the more of it you probably have.

Brown believes shame can happen in an instant or can manifest from a lifetime of subtle programming. She also says that shame correlates strongly with addiction and depression.

Her comments got me thinking about the subject. Where does shame come from? What does it look like?

I think shame can come from everywhere. From anyone. Maybe it’s a teacher who humiliates a student in front of the class for not knowing how to solve a math equation. (Me, in the seventh grade.) Maybe it’s a parent who second guesses a child too much under the guise of being helpful…while inadvertently eroding their self esteem in the process. I know this one, too.

Sometimes circumstances like divorce are a source of shame to people.

Shame affects the way we think, the choices we make, how we carry ourselves in the world. I think it affects what we think we deserve.

How does shame present itself? I’ve seen it manifest in perfectionism. I‘ve got to be perfect, be the best employee, be the best mother, the best wife. . . so I can be loved.

I’ve seen it present itself in the opposite way too–by not showing up or doing your best work. Why bother trying if you already know you’re not good enough or smart enough?

I think as a culture, we use shame a lot. And not just in schools. We find it in politics. In religion. In parenting techniques. How many of us have heard (or gulp, even said before, “Shame on you!”) to someone you’re trying to control? I guess, I’ll raise my hand on that one, too.

When I think about it in the context of Brown’s talk now, I feel a little ashamed.

The truth is…sometimes we are the perpetrators of shame.  We can be the worst offenders when we shame ourselves for being imperfect. When we beat ourselves up for a host of sins like:being too chubby,  making poor financial decisions, being attracted to the wrong relationships, being addicted to drama or drink, or whatever.

And it occurs to me as I write this, that shame keeps us stuck. It’s a dark place where we can hide ourselves from the world. Because maybe, maybe, it feels more normal to us. And if we’re totally honest, maybe it gives us a hall pass to do less, and maybe accept less from ourselves…maybe even from others.

So how do we dissolve the pain? Brown talked about the importance of bringing light to it. Talking about our shame, bringing it out in the open is a first step to healing it. Though she cautions that you must be careful who you share your shame with.

I agree. But I also say, you can start by sharing your shame with yourself. But do it from a place of compassion. Look at yourself through “your soul’s eyes,” and know that you are a divine spirit. As many inspirational leaders have said, “we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  The truth is…there is no shame in being human.

So love yourself though it. Learn from your shame. And move on.

In my book Tao Flashes, I speak about compassion as being an important value and principle in life, and particularly at midlife. Compassion is also one of the basic tenets of Taoism. And Christianity. And Buddhaism. And all credible religions.

So remember, you are lovable. And there is no shame in being human.

Question: What shame do you need to forgive and release in your life?

Affirmation: I am lovable and honorable. I release any old stories that have left me feeling unworthy and ashamed of myself.