Success is a double-edged sword. It produces great things. But it also exacerbates busyness and over stimulation. The pressures and demands increase dramatically with success. And the proverbial “burning the candles at both ends” becomes more and more a reality with painful consequences. What have many successful people learned to do about this?
This week my wife and I were in New York City for some business. We had never taken the public tour of the United Nations Headquarters before, so we got our visitors passes and went. I was very moved as the guide took us around the headquarters building and described both the history of the UN and the many initiatives the UN continues to work on around the world. One of the most impressive statements to me was on a plaque: "Peace like war must be waged." Turns out actor George Clooney used that statement in a public service announcement to highlight the important work of the UN Peacekeepers. Here's the 60 second spot:
"Peace like war must be waged." We often don't think of peace in those terms. We talk about fighting wars, waging battles in order to have territorial, national, and international victories. War is synonymous with action and powerful initiative.
And yet peace takes the same kind of energy, intentionality, and powerful initiative. Peace doesn't just happen. You can't sit around and hope for it. You have to work for it ... hard! You have to want it so badly that you're willing to expend lots of energy and personal resources to obtain it.
Here's what Clooney's ad stated: “Peace is not just a colored ribbon. It’s more than a wristband or a t-shirt. It’s not just a donation or a 5 K race. It’s not just a folk song, or a white dove. And peace is certainly more than a celebrity endorsement. Peace is a full time job. It’s protecting civilians, overseeing elections, and disarming ex-combatants. The UN has over 100,000 Peacekeepers on the ground, in places others can’t or won’t go, doing things others can’t or won’t do. Peace, like war, must be waged.”
Think of all the peace movements in history--the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King, Jr., Indian independence and equality with Gandhi, the women's suffrage movement for voting rights and greater equality. None of these or any others just happened. Peace had to be waged just as hard and as strategically as any war in history. Huge obstacles had to be overcome. And those peace battles continue needing to be waged even in our present in order to build on the successes of the past and bring about ever greater levels of equality.
Peace like war must be waged.
I'm thinking a lot about this as I prepare for a public speaking series here in San Francisco in 10 days (3 nights: October 19, 26, November 2). My topic is "Living Worry Free: Developing Inner Peace in an Age of Anxiety." Here's the link for the invitation.
The reality is, inner peace isn't something that simply happens or shows up in your life, either. You can't just sit up on top of a mountain like the stereotypical guru meditating peace into your life. Since most of us have to live "normal" lives in the "real" world, we can't be on retreat 24/7 away from the hustle and bustle. Meditation is, to be sure, a highly significant tool (I'll be talking about that in my series).
But for you to have the ability to live life in the midst of all the chaos, uncertainty, anxiety, worry, stress, and busyness with a deeper sense of calm, contentment, and nonanxious presence, you're going to have to work at it--develop the ability--wage the battle to experience and enjoy this deeper place. You're going to have to battle all the forces in our culture and world and our own divided selves that can keep you from that inward attitude and experience.
So how are you waging for peace in your life these days? What strategies are you utilizing to build a deeper inner peace?
It can be strategies as simple as thankfulness--keeping a regular gratitude journal--or mindfulness (the "be here now" mantra which says, "In this moment, I have everything I need").
Believe me, as simple as using those tools might seem, we all battle internal walls that make it challenging for us to utilize them. I'm going to talk in the upcoming series about what these obstacles are and why they're so difficult to face. But if we neglect these available tools and resources, we push away the possibility for lasting and meaningful inner peace.
Wars are fought in this world to protect something of great value. Even the desire to expand territory comes from a place of fear to protect something. Imagine how many human lives have been sacrificed for these causes.
Even so, peace--that inner place of sacred calm--must be established and protected at great cost. But instead of being motivated by fear, the development of peace is motivated by love. And the reality is, our motivations impact our strategies.
What are the ways we can proactively engage in this protective pursuit? How can we protect our inner sanctuary where God's presence dwells so that we are empowered to show up in life with more calm and peace, grounded in the divine goodness?
That's what I'm going to talk about in my upcoming series. And I'll blog about each session so those of you who can't be here in San Francisco in person can get in on this hugely significant content. For some of you, some of the strategies will be new. For others of you, they will be reminders. But for all of us, we will be able to center on the truth that even in the midst of chaos both outside and inside us, we can clear the way for a peace which passes all understanding which radiates out to transform our worlds in profound ways.
Peace like war must be waged. The United Nations is on to something here. Maybe we need to emulate the passionate and intentional initiative in our spiritual lives.
INTRODUCTION Bar-headed geese are some of the most remarkable birds in nature. It’s estimated that at least 50,000 of them winter in India. And when summer nears, they undertake the two month 5000 mile migration back to their home in Central Asia. What makes this trip remarkable is that the route they choose to take every year is the world’s steepest migratory flight—they fly over the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in the Himalayas.
Amazingly, this route is where the air is thinnest and oxygen level lowest. What’s more, the thinner air means that less lift is generated when the birds flap their wings, thereby increasing the energy costs of flying by around 30 per cent. And yet they still fly the same route over the highest place on earth.
Scientists now find that these geese do not make use of tailwinds or updrafts that could give them a boost up the mountain. They choose instead to rely on several other remarkable resources:
(1) Muscle power—these geese have a denser network of capillaries that reach oxygen-carrying blood to the cells. So their blood is capable of binding and transporting more oxygen to where it’s needed most, their wing muscles.
(2) Large lungs—they also have larger lungs for their size and breathe more heavily than other waterfowl. Unlike humans, bar-headed geese can breathe in and out very rapidly without getting dizzy or passing out. By hyperventilating, they increase the net quantity of oxygen that they get into their blood and therefore into their muscles.
(3) Team work—geese are famous for utilizing in flight the V-formation which helps reduce individual energy consumption by up to 30%. The whole flock gets over 70% better mileage than if each bird flew solo. When the lead bird gets weary, it drops back and a new one takes the lead. As the birds vigorously flap their wings, it creates lift for the bird behind. These geese actually choose to fly over Mt. Everest at one time rather than breaking up the trip, typically a grueling eight hour marathon. And in addition, if one of the geese gets too tired or gets injured or sick, two of the other geese shepherd the weaker one back down to the ground and stay with it until it either gets stronger or dies. Then they rejoin the group or find another group to fly with to complete their migration.
(4) External conditions—many scientists had thought the geese were taking advantage of daytime winds that blow up and over mountaintops. But recent research showed the birds forgo the winds and choose to fly at night, when conditions tend to be relatively calmer. They're potentially avoiding higher winds in the afternoon, which might make flights more uncomfortable or more risky. The birds could potentially head east or west and fly around, rather than over, the mountain range, but this would add several days to their trip and would actually use up more energy. So they go straight over the highest point on earth in an attempt to manage their energy as efficiently as possible. It’s counter-intuitive.
So what can we learn from these geese about how to develop a strong, sustainable, enduring spirituality—the kind that can face great risks and obstacles and complete the journey well? What does it take to enjoy spiritual sustainability?
THREE LESSONS FROM GEESE ABOUT DEVELOPING SPIRITUAL SUSTAINABILITY
Lesson One, Maximize your spiritual oxygen—breathe deeply. Like the geese, we all have the inner capacities to develop spiritual sustainability—we have good muscles and good lungs. But for those to be maximized, we have to breathe deeply to get the most amount of oxygen possible to our spiritual muscles.
These geese have the lung capacity to be able to hyperventilate when they need it for Mt. Everest. When they’re at home, they certainly don’t spend all of their time hyperventilating. But when they need it the most, facing their arduous migration, they’ve developed the capacity for it.
So how can you and I increase our lung capacity to breathe deeply and get life-giving oxygen to our spiritual muscles? This is what spiritual practices are all about—engaging regularly in activities that involve spiritual breathing, breathing deeply of the divine Spirit, accessing the power that is greater than ourselves—Prayer, meditation, scripture/inspirational reading, journaling [for example, the direct method of communication with your Trusted Source—based upon Carl Jung’s model of active imagination], spiritual conversations, sacred rituals, sacred objects, building altars of remembrances, nature immersion. This is about engaging in ways to “wake up” to God’s presence in you and all around you, ways to “pay attention” to That which is greater than your self, ways to “breathe in” the divine spirit.
PERSONAL APPLICATION: What do you currently do spiritually to breathe deeply? What sacred rituals do you intentionally engage in? What kind of plan do you have for regular spiritual breathing?
Lesson Two, Exercise your spiritual muscles—act on faith. I love this definition of faith: “Faith is daring the soul to go beyond what the eyes can see.” William Newton Clark
Spiritual teachers remind us that faith is the language of the soul. And the soul is what both holds our life purpose and catapults us towards it. Our egos care most about happiness, security, safety, success, status. The soul cares about aliveness, courage, purpose, effectiveness, faith. And faith is the language of the soul.
So, when you act on faith, when you intentionally choose to take a step forward in your spiritual quest, when you say “yes” to faith, your spiritual muscles strengthen, and new resources become available.
That’s why, in the story of the Hebrews needing to cross the flooded Jordan River in order to get over to the Promised Land, God gave instructions for the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to lead the way into the river. And it wasn’t until they stepped into the river that the waters parted all the way across. Those first steps were steps of faith—choices to follow God’s instructions even when their eyes couldn’t see the way.
Indiana Jones, in the movie “Temple of Doom,” had to step out in faith, putting his foot out into the nothingness, the chasm of the abyss, in order for the bridge to appear so they could cross it to the other side where the coveted Holy Grail was hidden.
The way many people live is by playing it safe, or shrinking from difficulty, or refusing to act unless all the ducks are lined up in a row or the future can be clearly seen. It’s true, we need to be smart when we’re faced with choices. But sometimes, the counter-intuitive smart choice is to act even when you can’t see the end. Our paralysis of fear atrophies our spiritual muscles. What you don’t use gets lost. Muscles get flabby and lose their resilience and strength.
We can breathe deeply all we want, we can learn to hyperventilate and get rich oxygen to our muscles effectively all we want. But if we never use those oxygenated muscles, none of that makes a difference.
When you act in faith, taking a step forward, new resources become available. And that courageous act strengthens the spiritual muscles, empowering you to take the next step. Faith is acting on the belief that you have what you need, like the geese, the necessary equipment and inner capacity, to fly over the Mt. Everests of life. So use it!
I can honestly tell you that when I look back on the crises I’ve gone through and see where I am today, I am in awe of the inner resources I was able to call out of myself that I didn’t even know I had. That awareness has helped me to learn not to be afraid of or to avoid the Mt. Everests because it’s only in flying over them that we can see what our spiritual muscles are truly capable of.
PERSONAL APPLICATION: So what steps of faith are you being called to take these days? How is your soul being dared to go beyond what your eyes can see? What is one step forward you can take right now to exercise your spiritual muscles?
Lesson Three, Leverage the support of others—ask for help. The genius of the geese’s V-formation flying style is the way it leverages the power of team effort. Getting over Mt. Everest is almost impossible solo. Drafting with others maximizes energy and productivity.
Richard Bolles is the author of history’s best-selling book about job hunting and career change, What Color Is Your Parachute. He was interviewed once about the subject of being self-employed. He said that self employed people can hire out just about any skill, even, to some degree, discipline; you can get someone to call you every week to help keep you on track. But, he said, the only trait you cannot hire out and without which you’ll “die on the vine” is the willingness to ask for help.
Trying to go it alone in life is, as one author described it, like “stringing beads without tying a knot at the end.” Without having the help of other people to secure the end, we simply keep slipping away.
Spiritual sustainability, the power to endure in the long run, requires asking for the support of others—inviting trusted people into our lives for accountability, vision, wisdom, encouragement, strength. We have to be willing to ask for what we need and want.
I remember when I first moved here to San Francisco all by myself—after having gone through a huge personal crisis that shattered my self confidence and sent me into what I was tempted to see as a fatal tailspin—I called up three guys who had been my friends for years—they all lived in different parts of the country—and I asked each of them if they would “fly the V-formation” with me for a long while—“Would you be willing to call me every week and talk with me, encourage me, support me, and let me draft you.” That was one of the most spiritually strategic steps of faith I could have taken during that Mt. Everest time for me. I had to summon enough courage and initiative to ask for help.
Percy Ross authors a column called “Thanks A Million” that is syndicated in more than seven hundred newspapers around the country. This Minneapolis millionaire is trying to dispose of the fortune it took him nearly 60 years to accumulate by working to redistribute his wealth among people who write to him with their stories of need and sometimes greed. He gets 2000 letters a day. Those that touch him he responds to with a check.
In an interview, he talked about the importance of asking. He said, “Asking is in my opinion the world’s most powerful—and neglected—secret to success. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t convinced many, many people to help me along the way. The world is full of genies waiting to grant our wishes. There are plenty of people who will gladly give you a hand.”
Knowing what you want is one thing—a very important thing, to be sure. But that doesn’t really matter in the end unless you learn to ask for it. As Richard Bolles said, the willingness to ask for help is a nonnegotiable component of successful living. Spiritual sustainability and strength require us involving others in our lives in crucial, significant ways. There’s no such thing as a spiritual lone ranger. The mighty Lone Ranger had Tonto. Even Jesus the Son of God had Peter, James & John (and nine others to follow him around).
PERSONAL APPLICATION: Whom do you have in your life to draft with, to fly in V-formation with? Who do you need to ask? What do you want for your life and are you asking clearly and confidently for it, asking for help?
So what does it take to develop spiritual sustainability, a spirituality that endures the long run with strength and vitality? What lessons can we learn from the barheaded geese? First, Maximize your spiritual oxygen—breathe deeply. Second, Exercise your spiritual muscles—act on faith. And third, Leverage the support of others—ask for help.
One of the Old Testament stories that provides a sort of comic relief to the serious messages of the prophets and yet offers a deeply encouraging view of the divine reality swirling around in the midst of our stories—one of the ultimate resources for spiritual endurance--is the legend of Jonah.
God calls him to go to the fierce people of Ninevah—the most feared enemies of his Jewish people—and preach a message of impending divine judgment. Now preaching judgment to anyone is uncomfortable. But to the Ninevahites? Considering that these fierce warriors skinned their enemies alive, I can understand Jonah’s immediate hesitancy to accept this calling. He doesn’t just say No to God, he jumps on a ship that is sailing in the opposite direction from Ninevah to try to outrun both God and his mission.
No one ever promised there would be no risk in following our spiritual destiny. In fact, truth is, there is always fear involved in flying over Mt. Everest. Our temptation is to capitulate and cave in to the paralysis of status quo.
On the way to far away, Jonah falls asleep in the bowels of the boat. A fierce storm comes up. The captain finds Jonah and wakes him up. “Better come on deck with the rest of us—we’re trying to decide our fate.” The sailors cast lots to see who among them is bringing on this wrath of the gods. That’s when Jonah speaks up with his story of fear and failure, saying, “I’m the one at fault here. Throw me over board and that’ll solve your storm problem.”
He’s thinking that he’s not even safe from God and his calling on a ship going in the opposite direction from Ninevah. If he’s thrown overboard, at least he’ll drown and never have to worry again about facing God or the Ninevahites.
But when he’s sinking to the depths of sea, God sends a huge fish to swallow him to keep him alive and save him for his mission. “Thanks, God!” In the belly of the fish, though, Jonah recognizes what God is calling him to do, accepts God’s promise to empower him with courage and strength, and repents of his cowardice and fear. “If this cup cannot pass from me, Your will not mine be done,” he utters.
After three days and three nights, the fish spits him out onto the beach nearest Ninevah, wouldn’t you know it. And he marches into the city and ends up causing a massive revival among those enemy people who end up treating him like a hero who has saved their lives from judgment.
Spiritual sustainability, spiritual strength and endurance, take place not just from us breathing deeply, acting in faith or even in fear, and asking for help from others—but also from a Divine Presence that swirls and blows and moves in the midst of our stories, a Divine Presence that believes in our destiny even more than we do, who believes in us even when we’ve given up. That Sacred Spirit breathes into our lives hope and courage, engaging other players on our behalf, turning failure into fertilizer, redeeming our cowardice for courage, staying with us until we fulfill our holy destiny. It’s the Wind beneath our wings, the Oxygen streaming into our muscles, that empowers us over Mt. Everest safely to our promised land.
Now that’s a Resource to keep holding on to!
So are there any spiritual vaccinations to bring protection and healing to the spiritual diseases we can fall victim to described in my last blog (10 Spiritually Transmitted Diseases)? Let me suggest several. David R. Hawkins (MD, PhD) for the last several decades has been on the leading edge of the science of behavioral kinesiology which is the study of the relationship between thoughts-feelings and muscle strength. Research repeatedly shows that our consciousness has a powerful impact on our bodies - some thoughts and feelings make our bodies go strong, others make us go weak.
If you haven't already, you can experiment with yourself and a partner. You stand erect, your right arm relaxed at your side, your left arm held out parallel to the floor with the elbow straight and both hands open. Your tester faces you and places his left hand on your right shoulder to steady you. He then puts his right hand on your extended arm just above the wrist. Now, he tells you that he is going to try to push your arm down as you resists. He quickly and firmly pushes down on the arm, just hard enough to test the spring and bounce in the arm, but not so hard that the muscle becomes fatigued. This is simply to test your basic resistance level with a neutral stimulus.
The testing continues with you holding a negative thought about yourself in your mind - what is a limited belief about yourself that you tell yourself from time to time? Think about it and the negative feelings associated with it, hold it in your mind as your partner tests your muscle strength. Repeat the testing with a positive statement about yourself that you hold in your mind. Compare the results.
The point is, our thoughts and feelings do make a powerful difference with the way our bodies respond.
Dr. Hawkins, from his extensive research, has developed what he calls a "map of consciousness" - it charts the progression of the states of thoughts/feelings from the weakest to the strongest, along with accompanying worldviews, picture of God, primary emotions, and life processes for each state.. The results are quite profound. If you click on the following Map (c), you'll see a bigger, clearer image of it.
Notice that the weakest state of thinking and feeling is shame (3rd row from the left, bottom), followed closely by guilt, apathy, grief, and on up the chart. Courage is the tipping point toward everything strong. Everything below Courage tests weak. Courage and everything above test strong.
So what does all this mean? Contemporary science is confirming what ancient science has been saying all along. Notice these ancient observations:
"Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life." (Proverbs 4:23)
"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." (Proverbs 23:7)
All of this science is suggesting a hugely significant spiritual reality - what we think impacts our life experience. And Dr. Hawkins has mapped out the strongest kind of thoughts and feelings - courage, trust, willingness, acceptance/forgiveness, reason/understanding, love, joy, peace, enlightenment. This list, describing the attributes of a strong life, are mirrored in another piece of ancient wisdom which describes the attributes of the divine life. Notice the parallels:
"So what does living the divine life look like? God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others (love), exuberance about life (joy), serenity (peace). We develop a willingness to stick with things (patience), a sense of compassion in the heart (kindness), and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people (goodness). We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments (faithfulness), not needing to force our way in life (gentleness), able to marshal and direct our energies wisely (self-control)." (Galatians 5:22-23)
According to both contemporary and ancient science, the process of life transformation involves choosing to reflect upon, contemplate, think about these powerful, divine-like traits and qualities. The very act of spending time thinking about them brings about spiritual growth and change. This is one of the primary vaccinations against the spiritually transmitted diseases I talked about in my last post.
Here's the way another piece of ancient wisdom describes this spiritual vaccination:
"Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on the divine life. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize this divine reality, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you." (Romans 12:2)
Vaccination one is to make the choice to fix our attention on the strongest qualities and attributes and thoughts and feelings in life possible. Look at that list often. Repeat it to yourself often. The very process of doing that, says Dr. Hawkins and scripture, begins to transform our thinking and feeling which in turn makes our bodies strong.
One of the ways I've done this lately is to repeat these attributes of the divine life in my prayers, going over and over each quality in my mind and heart, asking for the divine spirit to grow that "fruit" in my life. It's kind of a targeted prayer and meditation that helps to keep me focused, to fix my attention on the strength and power of the divine life. You and I can exercise our ability to choose, our willingness to experience transformation by how we direct our thoughts and feelings.
Dr. Hawkins describes the dilemma of the human struggle as well as the antidote to it in this statement: “The world of the ego is like a house of mirrors through which the ego wanders, lost and confused, as it chases the images in one mirror after another. Human life is characterized by endless trials and errors to escape the maze. At times, for many people, and possibly for most, the world of mirrors becomes a house of horrors that gets worse and worse. The only way out of the circuitous wanderings is through the pursuit of spiritual truth … At first, spiritual purification seems difficult, but eventually, it becomes natural. To consistently choose love, peace, or forgiveness leads one out of the house of mirrors. The joy of God is so exquisite that any sacrifice is worth the effort and seeming pain."
And this process leads to vaccination two. Here again contemporary and ancient science provide us with a profound and powerful transformation process.
In 1665 a Dutch Physicist and Scientist named Christian Huygens discovered what is now known in physics as the principle of entrainment. It was during his research with pendulum clocks that Huygens noted the new physics concept. He found that when he placed two of them on a wall near each other and swung the pendulums at different rates, they would eventually end up swinging at the exact same rate. They fell into rhythm with one another. He realized that this concept applied to not just pendulum clocks, but as a basic law of physics: the tendency for two oscillating bodies to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony. It's easier and takes less energy for systems to work in cooperation than in opposition. So the powerful rhythmic vibrations from one source will cause less powerful vibrations of another source to lock into the vibration of the first, stronger source.
Entrainment happens all around us, all the time. It's like Newton's Law of Gravity. It just is. It occurs biologically, such as when women who spend a lot of time together find their moon cycles synchronizing. It occurs sociologically such as when people in the same cliques or communities or social groups dress and think similarly. It happens mechanically, like all of the grandfather clock pendulums in a clock shop swinging together in unison after a few days, even if they started off unsynchronized. It can be found on emotional levels too, such as what happens when you walk into a room full of people who are laughing and light-hearted and your mood magically lifts to match theirs. Even our brain waves follow this physics principle. It happens when people are subjected to certain stimulus and their brain frequencies shift to calmer states.
Here's the power of this principle when it comes to our spiritual lives. An ancient scripture describes it this way:
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all contemplate the attributes of the divine life, are being transformed into that likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)
When we deliberately and intentionally place ourselves in the presence of the divine life, as well as in the presence of those qualities being lived out in others, when we acknowledge our connection to God and reflect on the divine life and spend time in environments that reflect those qualities, we the weaker of the two energy sources are drawn into greater and greater synch with the stronger Energy which is God. The result is increasing transformation into a likeness of the divine life. The principle of physics results in profound spiritual growth. The Spirit increases our freedom to become more and more of who are designed to be.
So how's your vaccination history? Time for some more healthy antidotes?
It's so easy for me to allow my thinking to get lazy and distracted - to make an almost automatic choice to allow negative and unhealthy thoughts take over - to let my limiting beliefs about myself and others be my default mode. But the good news is that life is like standing on the train station - our thoughts are the various trains set to leave the station to their destination. When a negative trigger happens in our lives, and our automatic response tends to be to get on that negative train thought, you and I have the choice whether or not to get on the train. We can actually let that train pull away from the platform without us. We can instead choose to get on another more healthy train. And when we make that significant choice, the ride ahead is much more enjoyable - for ourselves and for the others in our lives.
So here's to getting vaccinated! And here's to getting on a good train for a good ride into the divine life!
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We all read about it in the news last Monday. Many of us saw the video. Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, 31, a Guatemalan immigrant who went to New York City in order to help his family back home, made his living as a day laborer, and when the economy crumbled, so did his job prospects. He wound up homeless, first living in shelters and then finally on the streets. A grainy surveillance video trained on a street in Jamaica, Queens, on April 18 captured the final moments of Mr. Tale-Yax’s life: A couple argues, Mr. Tale-Yax comes to the woman’s aid, the man stabs him in the stomach and runs away.
The video has made headlines across the globe, not just for its brutality, but for the indifference it seems to convey. It shows Mr. Tale-Yax lying face down for more than an hour on a sidewalk on 144th Street, near 88th Road, his life slipping away on the pavement as dozens of people walk past him. Over an hour later, the paramedics arrive to find him lying in a pool of his blood. They pronounce him dead at the scene.
I would be curious to interview the 2 dozen or more people who walked past Hugo as he lay there on the street Monday evening. What did they notice? Anything unusual or just another New York City scene? If they did notice, what did they feel or think as they saw him? Did they immediately assume he was simply another drunk passed out on the street corner? Or they did see him as one of "those" illegal immigrants who shouldn't be here and doesn't deserve the City's help? Did they simply not know he was in any trouble? Did they perhaps naturally or even unconsciously ascribe the whole scene to a normal urban landscape - it's just the way it is here in the City? Did they notice something wrong but assume someone else would call it in to 911? Were they busily on their way to an appointment so they couldn't take the time to stop? Were they afraid to get involved (after all, here in the City even good samaritans get hurt - this story is a good example of that danger)?
Why would over 24 people walk by a hurt and dying man without even stopping? Makes you wonder, doesn't it. What might you have done?
His brother Roland refused to watch the video when he was first told a tape existed, but found he could not avoid it on the local news. He was in shock, he said, that nobody helped his brother.
"Any animal that is hurt on the street, the city or anybody walking by goes to rescue it. But in this case, he saved this woman's life, and where was the conscience of the people around him?" Rolando Tale-Yax said. "They have to realize that it could be a member of their family who is the next victim. … I just hope it doesn't happen again."
Perhaps this sad and tragic story provides some insight as to significant steps you and I can take to act more compassionately as a general life style.
One, change indifference. Contrary to popular opinion that indifference is simply at the core of who we are as humans - it's evidence of our fallen nature - original sin - so we'll sometimes say, "Oh well, it's just the way we are - we're wired for indifference" - recent research shows otherwise.
In reality, there is actually a biological basis for compassion. There is a specific part of our brain that is wired for a compassion response. Experiments with both mothers with their babies and people presented with images of victims of suffering showed similar neurological reactions. The region of the brain associated with positive emotions literally lit up. "This consistency strongly suggests that compassion isn't simply a fickle or irrational emotion, but rather an innate human response embedded into the folds of our brains," writes Dacher Keltner, PhD , a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
The good news is that an attitude of indifference can therefore be radically changed. It's not in fact who we are as humans. We don't have to shrug our shoulders in a spirit of resignation. We can do something about it.
Two, practice compassion. Recent neuroscience studies suggest that positive emotions are less heritable—that is, less determined by our DNA—than the negative emotions. Other studies indicate that the brain structures involved in positive emotions like compassion are more "plastic"—subject to changes brought about by environmental input. So, as Dr. Keltner observes, "we might think about compassion as a biologically based skill or virtue, but not one that we either have or don't have. Instead, it's a trait that we can develop in an appropriate context."
This is why all of the major religious traditions in the world see compassion as a spiritual practice. And each tradition has developed ways to practice this trait. And here again, the latest neurobiological research shows that our bodies have a built in system to facilitate this practice.
For example, helping others triggers activity in the portions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure. Every compassionate act causes a pleasurable physiological response. In addition, behaviors associated with compassionate love—warm smiles, friendly hand gestures, affirmative forward leans—actually produce more oxytocin in the body which is the hormone that promotes feelings of warmth and connection to others. This suggests compassion may be self-perpetuating: being compassionate causes a chemical reaction in the body that motivates us to be even more compassionate. So the more we practice acts of kindness and compassion to others, the more we are rewarded for it and the easier the skill becomes. Transformational spirituality is a practice, a discipline, a developing of ourselves into who we were designed to become.
Three, develop mindfulness. As Mr. Tale-Yax's tragic story indicates, people are often so caught up in their own lives (for whatever reasons) that they don't notice or pay attention. I've seen this in myself at times: I'm walking along the city streets often caught up in my own internal world of thoughts, planning, projections, inner conversations, trying to get some place in a hurry, that I really am missing most of what's around me. If someone would suddenly stop me and quiz me about what I had seen in the last 10 minutes, I would stutter and stammer somewhat incoherently (except about the details of my inner conversations).
One of the key spiritual practices that so many traditions suggest is mindfulness - the ability to step into the present moment - to be truly aware and conscious right now. This, too, is a skill that needs to be cultivated. Try walking somewhere and paying attention to what's around you - what do you hear, see, smell, feel? Try more meditation at home - spend time sitting and becoming more aware of your self, your heart, your body. Widen that attention to what's around you. Really notice.
Four, use empathy. Hugo's brother Roland made the painful observation that if people would simply recognize that the suffering person could be a member of their own family, they would probably respond differently - be more proactive with their compassion. He's describing the use of empathy. The power of empathy is the choice to put ourselves in other people's shoes, to enter their space for a moment, in order to try to understand what they're going through. It's often begins by asking ourselves the simple question, How would I feel - what would I want - if I were in that situation right now? But then it always goes beyond to the next question, What is that person feeling or really wanting or needing? Though our personal responses might differ from that suffering person's, research indicates that the choice to enter into empathy actually helps to motivate altruistic behavior.
Four tangible and siumple ways to overcoming indifference and stepping into compassion. I'm not completely sure how I would have responded last Monday evening had I been walking along the sidewalk where Huge Alfredo Tale-Yux lay dying. I would hope I would've at least stopped to see if he was alright. I really hope I would've also gone beyond that simple step and gotten whatever help I could for him to save his life. Imagine living in a world where people practiced compassion so often that they became really adept at it - a world where indifference was an anomaly rather than the rule. It's time to unleash the powerful biology of our lives and let our true wiring go wild. For the Hugo Alfredo's of the world.