Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You Get What You Give

I love the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and not just because Scarlett Johansson stars in it. Vicky and Christina are American friends spending the summer in Barcelona. Christina is free spirited, adventurous and self destructive. Vicky is uptight, cautious and analytical. The movie revolves around their steamy love triangle with the Portugese artist, Juan Antonio, played by Javier Bardem.

Juan Antonio takes Vicky to meet his Dad, a brilliant poet who for many years has refused to publish his work. The following conversation takes place between Juan Antonio and Vicky.

Vicky: “So, uh, tell me, why won’t your father publish his poems?”

Juan Antonio: Well, because he hates the world, and that’s his way of getting back at them — to create beautiful works and then . . . to deny them to the public.”

Vicky: “ My God. Well, what makes him so . . . angry toward the human race?”

Juan Antonio: “Mm, because after thousands of years of civilization . . . they still haven’t learned to love.”

I can understand his frustration, but stinginess won’t teach the world to love. On the contrary, it will just spread more fear and mistrust and create an unending cycle of scarcity. The world doesn’t need to be punished for its imperfection. It needs to be healed; and that will only happen when we overcome the fear that giving is losing, and dispel the myth that generosity is risky. Fear that masquerades as stinginess grows like a cancer when left unchecked.

Stinginess has all sorts of sneaky ways of manifesting in your life, each with a fear shaped shadow trailing behind. Whether it’s related to money or praise or a helping hand, stinginess is an outer manifestation of an inner fear. In the movie, Cristina is stingy with commitment, fearing the loss of independence. VIcky is stingy with spontaneity, fearing the loss of control.

What are your moments of miserly meanness? At what points does stinginess leave a sting in your life?

Maybe you withhold praise, afraid you might lose your status.

Maybe you withhold challenge, afraid that you might lose a friend.

Maybe you withhold affection, afraid that you might be rejected and lose face.

Maybe you withhold love, afraid that you might lose your power.

Maybe you withhold wisdom, afraid you might lose your edge.

Maybe you withhold emotion, afraid you might lose your cool.

Maybe you withhold generosity, afraid you might lose your lifestyle.

Maybe you withhold an apology, afraid you might lose the upperhand.

Maybe you withhold forgiveness, afraid you might lose the excuse to stay angry.

Maybe you withhold your best in the world, afraid that your best is not good enough.

In each case you are afraid you will lose something, so you play it safe and keep the cards of your generosity close to your chest. Fear, fear and more fear. Stinginess is a way of playing small in the world, as if kindness is in short supply and if you just keep your head down no one will notice or need you.

But people do need you and people do notice you. Your stinginess neither serves the world nor does it serve you. In fact, it is the cause of so much pain in your life. Conquer stinginess by conquering fear, and believe that your thoughts, words and actions are an essential part of the fabric of life. Nothing is lost when you give with a big heart – and so much is gained. The truth is that when you give something, you haven’t lost it. You have created more of it. Despite what Phil Collins sang in the 1980s, there IS enough love to go around. We can all dwell in abundance.

The 14th century Saint, Catherine of Sienna encouraged everyone to be all that they could be in a world in such need of healing. “Hold nothing back,” she said. Her mantra, “You make the heart big, not stingy – so big it has room in its loving charity for everyone.”

So what are you waiting for? Whatever you think is lacking in your life, give it to others. Watch the appreciation, affection and compassion flood back into your life. You get what you give in precise measure because the act of giving reminds you of what is inside of you to begin with.

Sometimes your acts of kindness literally return to you. A farmer in South Dakota lived in a remote area, and her old and frail father lived about 12 miles away. One day as the farmer was driving home she saw a car by the side of the road. She didn’t usually stop for strangers, but for some reason decided to stop and see if the man peering into his smoking engine was all right. She drove to a neighboring farm, picked up some water and got the man’s car moving again. He was profusely thankful, and reached into his wallet to offer her money. She refused the money, and suggested that instead of paying her back, he could pay the kindness forward by helping the next person he saw broken down by the side of the road. The man agreed and they went their separate ways.

Two weeks later, the farmer’s father called with an interesting story. He had gone to an auction about 50 miles away and had a flat tire. His daughter was horrified. She knew that he had been on a deserted strip of road that very few people drive on; and she knew that her father wouldn’t have had the strength to change the tire himself.

The father said, “You wouldn’t believe it. A man stopped to help me. I offered to pay him after he changed my tire. He refused the money and said that two weeks ago a woman had stopped to help him when he broke down and he was repaying this woman by helping me.”

Give something valuable away today. Give a compliment. Give blood. Give a beaming smile that stops someone in their tracks. Give a gift for no particular reason. Give mercy. What word is in the middle of the word “forgiveness”? Give! Don’t be stingy with forgiveness. Give the benefit of the doubt. Give second chances. Accept that others are doing the best they can, and the same river of acceptance will flow freely back to you. Give freely and feel your own wealth multiplying with each gift. You are becoming fuller and more fulfilled with each act of kindness. The seed of love is in the palm of your hand and on the tip of your tongue.

Ps- please visit Soulseeds for our new Secret Agents of Kindness cards for children. We offer both home and school editions, as well as an adult version called Seeds to Deeds.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What Goes Around Flows Around

A verse in the Jewish text called the Talmud says, “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, Grow.”
What a beautiful image! I like to think that the tiny beads of dew on grass at this time of year are perspiration, as the grass strains for one last inch of growth before the brown winter days set in. It’s as if the sun is whispering, “Grow, Grow. Reach for the stars. Just a little bit more. You can do it.” Nature has its exquisite patterns of growth and change. Mushrooms hover over blades of grass as if they are umbrellas to soften the fall of rain. Every blade of grass, every leaf and drop of water is part of an ecosystem and all ecosystems are intimately related.

Learn from nature. Nature is in its harvest season, and it is reminding you to, “Grow, Grow. Just a little bit more.” Every turning and falling leaf is calling you to fulfill your personal potential and be all that you can be. They are reminding you that growth is not always a linear process but it almost always involves change. Human beings grow the same way a leaf falls to the ground- back and forth, two steps forward and one step back. Be prepared to change and fall, many times and then get back up. Sometimes you grow in one area of your life and not in another. As Anais Nin said, “Growth is relative. We are mature in one realm, and childish in another.” Celebrate your own crazy, unpredictable and sometimes even erratic growth.

Growth happens in its own time. Learn from the bamboo tree. After four years of care and attention it shows virtually no growth. But all the time it is spreading its roots deep in the earth and growing from the inside (or the underside) out. Suddenly in the fifth year it begins to grow visibly. And man does it grow. For 6 weeks it grows up to 3 feet per week, rising effortlessly towards the sun. Sometimes it’s like that for you. You work and work at a particular part of your life, and see no progress. At the height of discouragement, you suddenly begin to grow and man do you grow. There is no greater experience than to be surprised by your own growth.

Have you ever been surprised by a stray sun flower? Where did it come from? In among the invasive weeds and carefully planned flowers, this long stemmed miracle lights up the garden with its wide faced grin. They all come from somewhere- the weeds, the flowers, and the sunflower. Whether it is a stray seed blowing in the wind, a fallen apple seed or the after effects of a windswept floral flurry, they all came from somewhere. Whether you realize it or not, you may have prepared the way for this radiant Apollo. Having grown to fullness, she in turn becomes an elegant bird feeder for stray hummingbirds and goldfinches. These unwitting accomplices then plant the next harvest as they feast on sunflower seeds like children with cake. It’s the perpetual cycle of growth and rebirth.

Growth often arrives like a stray sunflower. You can’t always trace its path and the source of growth may be as random as cake crumbs. In any case you often become aware of growth after the fact. Nature reminds you to watch and be mindful. Your thoughts are powerful, and wherever you place your attention there you shall dwell. Plant seeds in your life that will reap a harvest you can be proud of. Begin with awareness. Thoughts are to awareness, as the sunflower is to the sun. One shines, the other follows. This harvest season you are a beautiful flower opening yourself to the sun, as if to say, “I’m here and I’m growing and I’m ready to shine.”

Harvest Connections

One of the features of this harvest that will live long in the minds of the global community was the miraculous rescue of 33 miners in Chile who appeared out of the ashes, rising out of the ground in a long stemmed metal phoenix. Against all odds the earth gave them back to their families like a harvest miracle of rebirth. What an awesome image it was to watch the miners being rescued one by one, reunited with loved ones and seeing their relief and joy. It was a reminder, like every harvest, to take nothing for granted. Life is a precious gift. Give thanks for every moment of living and loving. Make the most of every opportunity for giving and growing.

While we celebrate the miners’ safety and the strength of the human spirit, let us not lose sight of the reason they were trapped under ground in the first place. They were the lucky ones. Nine miners died in this same mine in recent years. The mine wasn’t safe and was possibly only open because of bribes to government regulators. 33 miners have died this year in Chile alone. It didn’t make news headlines, but 20 miners died in a mine in China just yesterday with another 20 trapped underground. Thousands of people die in Chinese mines every year and dozens in American mines.

Harvest reminds us that we reap what we sow. There is always a connection and there is always a consequence. Did you know that there are fewer apples in Michigan this harvest than many growers have seen in a generation? You might not have noticed because the price is unchanged and the shelves are full. We just ship them in from other places and it doesn’t even appear to cost any more. Why is there such a small apple harvest? Because of the warm weather in March which caused the apple trees to bloom early, followed by a May frost that wiped out many of the crops. All things are related. Our globalized food system blinds us to the realities of the harvest. But there is a cost, even if we don’t see it right away, when we ship food around the world. Let us not be blind to the real cost of our lifestyles.

Similarly, let us not be blind to what happened in Chile. People end up trapped in mines because of a greedy industry that is driven by the demand of consumers and takes short cuts to squeeze every penny of profit out of the earth no matter what the risk to worker safety. Do you remember the line in the Grateful Dead song, “If you plant ice, you’re gonna harvest wind.” If we bleed the earth dry, there will be nothing left to harvest.

Harvest is a reminder to us that the earth is cyclical. She has her own patterns that we need to respect for the good of all. Harvest reminds us that all ecosystems are related, the actions of one affect all others, and decisions made today affect future generations.

We need an inner harvest to match the outer harvest. We need to learn about inner abundance before we are truly prepared to enjoy an outer abundance. We need to grow our compassion alongside our consumption, our perspective alongside productivity. Maybe we could learn about patience from the Bamboo Tree or the Teak Tree which takes 75 years before it can be harvested. We want everything NOW, but everything may not be ready NOW. Give growth time, and live mindfully.

What are you Sowing?

Every thought, word, choice and action has its consequences. Take for example this inspiring story about unknown consequences.

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, up to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

‘I want to repay you,’ said the nobleman. ‘You saved my son’s life.’

‘No, I can’t accept payment for what I did,’ the Scottish farmer replied waving off the offer.

At that moment, the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel.

‘Is that your son?’ The nobleman asked.

‘Yes,’ the farmer replied proudly.

‘I’ll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.’ And that he did.

Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. He went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterwards, the same nobleman’s son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia.

What saved his life this time? Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill. His son’s name? Sir Winston Churchill.

What goes around comes around. The good you do today creates the fertile soil in which tomorrow can thrive. You never know who will benefit from the good you do today. You can’t even measure the positive effects of mindful actions.

Give for the Greater Good

Maybe the most inspiring and impressive thing about the Chilean miner story is their pact to share all the bounty of their fame. In the midst of their Lord of the Flies ordeal, they made an agreement to establish a common fund. All their book royalties and publicity rewards will be shared in common. I don’t know what happened down there, and I’m sure it wasn’t all roses, but it seems like they organized in a cooperative manner. Maybe the experience made them realize that they are intimately connected, and wealth means nothing if you aren’t living for something greater than your own gain.

What is it that you want to gift to the world? This is your time for harvesting the gifts of your humanity. You are not an isolated being and your actions DO matter, both now and in the future. Live your deepest values. Do what fills you with optimism and keeps you connected to all other beings.

May you always be hopeful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness, nothing comes to birth, as without light, nothing flowers.

May nature teach you stillness as the grass is instilled with light.

May the earth teach you courage as the tree which stands tall and strong.

May creatures teach you freedom, like the eagle which soars high and free in the sky.

May the harvest teach you to accept change as the leaves which die in the fall.

May survivors inspire fresh hope as the seed which rises in the spring.

Wishing you a happy harvest, a time of reflection, a time of mindfulness, a time of responsibility. Namaste.