Ben’s 18. I met him at our Temple where he’s started a service group, “Bowing for Change”, who’s mission is to do service projects and acts of kindness to add more love to the world. I’m sure he doesn’t like the fact that I keep pointing out his age, I know he will understand why it matters so much when he’s a dad of a teenager himself someday. He’s remarkable in his commitment to serving people and his authentic desire to learn how to be an exceptional human ( which he already is ). His heart, at his age, blows my mind and amps me with hope.
For the last month Ben and his group have been creating gift bags for homeless people. They have filled giant zip lock bags with ton’s of helpful things. Even the bag itself serves as a tool for someone without shelter. Hand warmers and scarves and gloves and shampoo and lots of love. Soon he and his crew will begin distributing them and he’s wondering what to say, how to interact.
His question kept me up as I wonder what’s happened in our world where we don’t remember how connected even thought at our core we’re all the same. I’m convinced the answer to Ben’s question already resides within each of us and the only thing we need to do is access the compassion already in us and by-pass the judgements and fear that’s taken root.
The root of Ben’s question really is: How do we access compassion?
The yoga Sutra says “By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress; joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are unvirtuous, lucidity arises in the mind”
Everyday we avoid interacting with others based on our own judgements and fear. “Cultivating” requires rigor. Overcoming judgement and fear and segregation isn’t something that can just be resolved in your mind alone. I’ve not found a way to “think” my way to a different outcome or better feeling.
Instead I had/have to confront my judgements and fears with direct action. I remember approaching my first homeless person, I was mortified. I sincerely believed all the judgements people throw up. I watched them for a while, walked by 3 or 4 times before I mustered my guts to approach. I’ve done the same thing with so many things— a new temple, new friends, new jobs, new experiences.
Fear, observation, action.
Rumi says “your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it” and I think that is exactly how you begin serving the world.. By finding the barriers within yourself and burning them to the ground, confronting them with a reality that has far more grace and ease than we can see. Just think of all the things that were so scary and now are so natural and easy. I always think about how scared I was to approach a busy intersection when I was first learning to drive. That fear is so gone, overwhelmed by an autopilot that is literally effortless. Most things become effortless when repeated over and over again, regardless of how scary it first felt.
Ben’s going to deliver his love bags this Sunday. I’ve come up with 5 things I think will help:
The first thing when approaching people is to see the humanity deep in them. To imagine them once as a perfect fresh baby, loved and full of love. This helps the judgement and fear get right sized and releases a shot of courage in your heart.
Courage can be faked, try it. Amazingly, right in the middle of the fake, it miraculously becomes real. “Fake it till you make it” totally works. And a few facts are helpful: Violent crimes to those serving homeless are not even trackable it happens so rarely. You might get yelled at, insulted or loved, you aren’t likely to get hurt. Many of the people I’ve met are more beautiful than I could imagine. Some are battling demons that you can’t even fathom. The key is to just let it all go and keep your intention pure. If your desire for serving is to get a positive reaction, try again.
3) Listening Skills
Listen to them and your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, just check in and ask yourself if this is the fear and judgement or something more real. Trust it. Even if you’re wrong, it’s ok. This takes practice. When you listen to them, try to hear between the words, what they actually are saying. If they are scaring you, scamming you, asking for more just observe what desperation creates and try to let the judgement pass. I have found a thousand times more than not, people in need have beautiful stories and when you listen, they feel a love they couldn’t any other way. It’s a validation that they matter, a priceless gift.
There are no “right words” to say when you are fully compassionate.. Any word is ok, any response. How they respond, which is often ugly but equally as often beautiful, does not have any impact on authentic compassion. Their response is none of your business and irrelevant when you come from authentic compassion. You are there to serve them and when you get hurt or insulted, you’ve switched the relationship to expecting something from them. Enter the experience with no expectation and you will come away with treasure. This is where most people blow it, this is the best part of the entire experience.. It’s the test to see if your compassion is truly pure.
5) An open Mind
The set aside prayer has been a constant tool for me to get through what scares me: “help me set aside everything I know and everything I think I know, for an open mind and new experience.”. You may discover a darkness you’ve never fathomed. You may see light that will blind you. Both are worthy and staying open to whatever happens will broaden your heart, which is the greatest gift of all.
Our fear is a reality. Suffering is also a reality. Byron Katie says “when we stop opposing reality, action becomes simple, fluid, kind and fearless”. I think the first step to serving is to just accept reality.. Fear, compassion, need, love, hate. Then just enter, however you can, no right or wrong, no expectation.
And last, the moment you enter your fear, try this on:
May I be free of suffering, harm, and disturbance.
May I accept things just as they are.
May I experience the world accepting me just as I am.
May I serve whatever arises.