Gratitude for our gifts

homeless cart

Yesterday I met a homeless woman outside of Starbucks (lots of wonderful things always happen to me outside of these coffee shops). She had a supermarket cart with all her belongings near downtown Asheville. I stopped and asked if she wanted a cup of coffee as she was pushing that sucker on the sidewalk. She was sweet and said, “No thank you. I’m good!” I asked her another question just to stop her from moving. “Are you heading to a shelter?” She answered, “I spent the night in one. I am heading to the park. I like to feed the squirrels.” She was a jolly heavy woman probably in her sixties. For a moment her matted gray hair looked like a bird’s nest on her head but I looked closer and saw the most beautiful pins and clips holding it together. I complimented her on them. She began to take one off to give to me. I told her that I couldn’t put anything in my short hair. “Thank you.” I asked if I could give her a hug and she happily extended her arms out so I could move in them. I wished her a nice day. She went off pushing her tiny home up the hill leaving me with such love and joy for her sweetness.

Here is the thing that touches me about someone who has nothing: they are willing to give a part of their nothingness. She was willing to give me a part of her life to make ME HAPPY. She wanted me to feel joy with those clips. I see a lot of this in homeless and mentally ill folks. I see a lot of these selfless acts in those who are used to having little or nothing at all.

SO…when you are moving through this season with the stress of giving or not giving; of having or not having; please realize you have more than you need. It takes nothing to be kind. It takes even less to make someone’s day with a smile, a small chit chat, and a sweet word. These are the folks that teach us how to truly be grateful for those things we think are important. They bring us back to humanity. The world is made of such acts. We forget that we don’t need much to give to another. Heck…just a dollar in coins is sufficient. Carry around granola bars in your car and hand them to the homeless begging on corners…they love them. And if you can’t afford that…then a hug will be just what another needs. Happy holidays, dear friends! May you find the true meaning of a generous heart in a stranger today!

The Principle of Charity

homelessness

 

 

 

 

 

When I was studying for my degree in psychology I remember learning about the principle of charity.  This principle in philosophy is the basis of being charitable in the opinions and arguments of others.  Just like “charity” and giving in our daily lives, the principle of charity is about not biting someone’s head off because you don’t agree with what they are arguing or discussing.  It is also about providing a generous consideration to other ideas that might not be in the same belief as your own. The principle of charity does not stop others in the attack of opposing views, but it allows an open mind to sit, listen and perhaps digest another opinion without immediately disagreeing with it.

The reality is that the principle of charity allows my beliefs and position to be heard without being judged immediately…that is if the other person understands this principle as well.  As I watch, read and hear the political craziness going on lately I take into account this principle.  It always takes a shift in consciousness and what’s important in life to join together in humanitarian compassion.  This week is the passing storm in Mexico…the continuous fighting in the Middle East…the remnants of world issues.  All you have to do is turn on the news and you are bombarded by something extravagant that is OUT THERE.  But, weathering the storm and the aftermath is much more relevant right now as opposed to who will be running our country in just a few months. Why is it that we, as the human race, forget the simplicity of connecting to one another?  Why is it that we have to have mass destruction (or the possibility of disasters) to stop and remember about what’s important…our interconnections and survival?  We are living in giant bubbles of chaos running around in separated ant colonies getting from point A to point B…and what for?

I don’t agree or disagree with politics.  I don’t care who is gay or straight.  I don’t give a thought to the hatred that religions create all in the name of God against each other.  What I do care about is unity, love and peace.  I care that our neighbors in other states might not have warmth, electricity, homes or safety in days to come.  I care about the animals outside in the cold, crops and farmers who will lose substantially.  I care about those things that make us human not monsters of intolerance and disassociating behaviors.   I care about the homeless man sitting on the side of the road with a sign that breaks me for having food in my house. I care about the disabled souls trying to find comfort in a world not created to support them and their needs. I care that tonight while the wind is blowing up here in the mountains I am thankful for heat and a roof over our heads.  I care that I might not make a difference anywhere else but in the lives of my children and husband.  I am not here to win any prizes.  I am here surviving, existing and moving through the ant colony but with the awareness that I need to keep my heart wide opened to the principles of love and charity.  I am consciously evolving in the understanding that there is work to be done and one person can’t change the earth but many hands working together can sure create miracles.

The principle of charity should also include “charity” in the literal way.  Being generous, caring, compassionate, and having brotherly love is why we are here.   May you remember this simple principle in philosophy that is not only for agreeing (or disagreeing) in discussions, but in extending your heart and touching another who is in need of support!  God bless…love and light.

Learning through others

 

kindness

There is a story about a woman who walks many miles with her overweight son to see Mahatma Gandhi.  When she gets there she begs, “Please tell my son to stop eating sugar.”  Gandhi is said to have asked her to return the following week.  The next week she walked the entire day again with her son to meet him.  This time Gandhi looked at the boy and immediately said, “Do as your mother says and stop eating sugar.”  The woman, confused and a bit angry after all the walking asked, “Why didn’t you just say that last week?  We’ve walked for hours to see you.”  Gandhi replied, “First I had to give it up myself.”

This is a perfect example of teaching through experience.  I am always surprised at how people judge (or give advice) on my parenting skills when they have no children.  I am always surprised at others who give marriage advice when they’ve never been married.  Oh, and the ones who know “exactly” how it feels to mourn or grieve a love one when they haven’t gone through the process.  How can anyone teach without experiencing those things themselves?

I will not mingle or entertain those things I don’t know anything about.  I have little knowledge of politics therefore I don’t enter into conversations on the subject.  I know little about organized religions except for the ones I studied in school.  I can’t sit and discuss beliefs with someone from another background without having experienced what they’ve experienced.  I can’t tell a surgeon how he needs to mend a heart.  I haven’t the slightest clue on a million and one things.  I am learning to keep my mouth shut because I don’t appreciate when others criticize my life without walking my path.

Humanity falls short when it comes to holding compassion.  We immediately allow the ego to judge and scrutinize even without experiencing those issues.  I love this story of Gandhi and the woman.  It shows how we can detach from any situation and try to impart ourselves in order to be empathetic.  Just because I don’t live in a third world country doesn’t mean I can’t imagine how those who go without food feel.  But, I have no clue how “exactly” it feels to be without food.  I have no idea, unless I experience it myself, how the soul feels when it is depleted from nutrition.  The closest I came to this was when my daughter arrived from Romania and she was mal-nourished.  She would hide food under the bed.  She would sit with her meal and chew everything once and put it back on the plate so no one would take it from her.  Then she would take her time to go around the plate and finally enjoy the meal.  Will I ever know what she experienced in an orphanage?  No clue.  I can only learn from what I witnessed.

I see homeless people in large cities all the time.  I feel a sense of helplessness for them.  I am drawn to them in ways I can’t even explain.  I have no idea what it is to live in the streets, in the cold, in the heat and in the mercy of others.  Whenever I hear people say, “They need to get up their lazy asses and get jobs!” I cringe.  How can you be so ignorant?  Unless you have lived that life you can’t possibly know the struggles, obstacles, and mental issues.  Go homeless for a week and then, perhaps, you can give advice (an opinion) on the subject.

We as a whole in this world need to learn to tolerate without judgment.  We need to allow the ego to fall to the side in order to help others without discriminating.  Whether it is for the homeless, the illegal immigrant, the single mother, the homosexual, the drug addict, the HIV patient, etc!  If you haven’t experienced their life please be kind enough to send love, prayers and allow your ego to take a backseat.  Never diminish one struggle over another.  Never judge what you haven’t undergone.   The harshness of opinions, criticism, and intolerance seems to cause more than just wars.  It is depleting our world from the faith in humanity.  Unless you walked the talk…please sit down and quiet the mouth.  As I always tell my children when they try to argue a point they know nothing about, “But, but, but, Mom….”  I say, “The only but is the one you need to sit on and be quiet until you have experienced it yourself.”

We are one.  We are connected in this giant web of humanness.  Learn from others but don’t allow your preconceptions determine the person they are, can be, or should become.  You never know where life can take you.  Karma has a way of teaching powerful lessons when we carry a closed mind and heart.  One thing I know for sure is that kindness and compassion are free.  Character is built on integrity and the willingness to move past judgment and into the service of others.

A Well-Needed Zapping

homeless womanI believe we all need a little zapping at times; an attitude adjustment to put gratitude back in the spirit of our humanness.  It’s not enough to stay cuddled in your comfort zone and complain about this and that.  If you are reading this you obviously have a computer, a phone, or some sort of techie gadget that makes your life accessible to the world.  In order to have that you must have money to have internet or phone service, right?  And, yet with all of these comforts lies the amnesia of gratitude and what is important.

This morning I ventured down the mountain into Asheville to take blankets, pillows, socks and scarves to the homeless shelter.  As I walked in the doors of this place I found destitution staring back at me from the image of a woman in a corner about my age.  Her blank stare followed me around the place as I unloaded my belongings.  At some point I couldn’t look any longer.  It hurt.  I could be that woman.  In each one of us there could be that point of helplessness, faithless circumstances that push us to live on the edge of the world vigorously trying to hold to humanity.

In these moments I ache for true shelter of my spirit.  Something breaks and expands and wanders off for just a little while.  How does one give up living while still remaining here on earth?  I have had many moments in this life where I just wanted to give up.  I understand mental illness and disorders are a part of some homeless people’s journey.  I get that.  What I don’t get is how to find the will out of that helplessness to move on?  These people who live on the streets are brave, courageous and resourceful.  Some have had lives better than any of us.  Some have lost their way through drugs and alcohol.  Some have found that the responsibility of family was too much.  And, some are waiting for life to end.  In a way they are all living together for the same goal:  food and warmth.  That’s it!

When I walked away to the car I realized how much time I have wasted feeling sorry for the things I don’t have instead of loving the things I do have: love, comfort, shelter, warmth, food, bed, clothes, and faith.  I realized I have been misusing my years searching for something, a sort of award for doing the right things.  The trophy has been given to me a million times over with gifts of gratitude and love from others.  The difference between that homeless woman and me is that I have had many pull me up when depressed or heartbroken.  I’ve had another tell me to not give up.  I’ve had others hug me without criticism or judgment in moments when I had nothing because I lost everything in the material world and whispered, “You can build again. You have the tenacity to do such a thing.”  Who does this woman have?  Where did her support group disappear to? I don’t know and might never know her story.  Did she lose a child, her job or everything to take her to this place?

I have wasted my life trying to figure what to do with the journey forgetting to inhale the gratitude until a few years ago.  How selfish and self-centered we can become until we get zapped again!  I am clueless to what separates the many of us who have these beautiful lives from those whose lives have been tarnished with hardship and loss.

Ten years ago in the midst of rebuilding everything I had a Christmas that was bare under the tree for my six kids.  But we had a home, a tiny rental house that really fit three and we were seven.  That Christmas Eve I loaded them in my car (I had a car, imagine the gratitude in that alone) and drove us to the nearest women shelter.  We fed these women and their children.  We spent hours there.  My kids whined and complained for a little while until they realized how much more they had.  They didn’t need gifts.  They knew they had much more than others.  It was probably the best gift I could’ve given them.  When we returned to the heated house they hugged me and thanked me for the lesson.  They got zapped.  Every so often we need that.  Life will knock you down many times…but get up and keep going.

This Christmas I want something else.  I want to remember the smell of that shelter, the look of its inhabitants, and the taste from the words of hope that I may give next time I visit.  That’s what I want.  I need to get zapped more often.  I need to sit with that woman, hold her hand one day and tell her that she’s not alone in this world.   Be grateful for reading this, for having a place to go to, a bed to keep you warm, socks on cold feet, food in your stomach, and the love of others that keeps you sheltered from the storm.  Life is a mysterious expedition.  You never know on which side of the tracks you will end up.  Gratitude and faith keep us moving towards the light.  Let that be the guidance you need to keep you afloat.  Mucho love to all!


“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

(image by google search)

 

Starbucks Man

The philosophies of each person are based on time, experience, and places.  They are created by the wisdom and the molding in each particular person and how they perceive their immediate world.  It is sometimes difficult to see past the beliefs because of the perception created in our lives.  We live in our own bubbles.  It only takes a second to notice the stories of each person we come into contact with on a daily basis. Unfortunately our “seconds” pass by without really asking someone in-need about their stories.

On my trip to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, we stopped in Starbucks.  There was a gentleman sitting on the doorsteps with prayer beads in his hands.  We went three different days and he was always there.  His bike and belongings sat neatly against the glass.  He was humbly dressed, with nice shoes, a silver watch, and seemed very well mannered. I got the impression he wasn’t Puerto Rican.  Now, days later, I can’t remove the image of this man out of my perception.

Some people get under my skin in such a way that I become obsessed with wanting to know their stories.  I regret not sitting with this man, having a conversation, and asking about his world.  What drives a person to sit in front of a Starbucks, day after day, with prayer beads?  I sat by the window on those occasions and observed his hands gently going down the beads; his breath softened by each prayer, and his smile to each person who entered the coffee shop.  People, just like me, passed by him, never giving him a second thought.  Yet, today, with a heavy heart I think about this man.  I have created stories and scenarios of how he spends his nights.  Is he homeless?  Does he have a family?  Where is he from?  What is the philosophy of his life?  Who is he praying to each day?  So many questions keep arising from that one particular event.

Our perceptions don’t change as quickly as the time, place and space.  And here is the point that we find ourselves in a possible meltdown.  What caused this gentleman (because he is a gentle man) to leave a life behind and just sit on doorsteps of an old city as San Juan?  Or perhaps he isn’t homeless, but a man who has decided to observe others and pray for them.

Years ago, on route to my office in Miami, I would pass a homeless man under the Turnpike almost every morning.  He slept there each night and then walked miles, with a black garbage bag, into town.  A few times I would leave food when he wasn’t there.  Several times I thought of approaching him but the fear of being hurt stopped me.  I am ashamed of never doing so.  I had blankets in my trunk for months until one day I just laid them near his space.  I so desperately wanted to hear his story.  And, here again, I have managed to let my “bubble” dictate my humanness from sitting with this man in Puerto Rico.

I hope we can learn to move out of our immediate bubbles and truly reach out to others.  I know many people do.  I also know that stories are meant to be shared.  This Starbucks Man deserves someone to hear his.  If anyone goes to Puerto Rico please reach out to this man and please share his story with me.