Just another Sunday…

I spent the afternoon assisting at the ACLU table at the Hudson Valley Pride Festival.  It was a good day to be outside, and the festival was well-attended. We, unexpectedly, had some high-schoolers assisting for most of the day – and once again, I have to say how impressed I am with ‘kids these days’ – they are the promise of a better future.

This was my first time at a pride event, but, sadly, I’d forgotten my phone so I have no pictures. I also was unaware that my husband had texted to let me know he was there to pick me up, or that my daughter had texted to let me know that she was home (and therefore would be eating with us). No worries, though – my husband found us, and helped pack up and take down the tent. And he was there to witness the drama of the medivac helicopter that came in to pick someone up after most of the festival space had been cleaned up – no idea what had happened to get to that point, but it certainly wasn’t because they were in a hurry – I assume that it was because, for whatever reason, it was necessary to transport the patient to one of the more distant major hospitals – probably Westchester or Albany. I don’t even know if the patient had been at the park for the festival, or if something had happened in one of the houses near the park. I hope whoever it was is recovering from whatever it was.

I was struck today, in a space where all were welcome, how important it is that we work to preserve that spirit of inclusion – and it most definitely does require work, particularly  for those of us that perhaps came of age in a less accepting time – love and compassion, acceptance for the different, are not always easy, but they are very necessary for the survival of humanity. Our current political climate seems to have encouraged more people to wish for – to push for – a return to some idealized version of the past – a past that never was as wonderful as nostalgia would have it, and was also far less tolerant, far less inclusive, than where we are now. We need to keep moving forward to a better, more peaceful, world. We need to work to avoid falling into the trap of moving backwards instead.

“No government, no organisation, no citizen can afford to be less than vigilant in combating bigotry, intolerance and hatred. And frankly, our way of life depends on that vigilance.” — Barry O’Farrell




Maintaining Balance

I’ve been thinking about this quote quite a  bit recently, and since it’s a fairly lazy holiday weekend, I thought I’d share it again – any topics that I might want write about today conflict too much with the spirit of the holiday weekend. And I figured I’d try to get through the next couple of days without opining too much. So, instead, I offer the reminder that we always need to keep moving forward, and not give up.

The origins of this particular Einstein quote are a bit questionable – it apparently came from a letter he’d written to his son in 1930, and was quoted in a 2007 biography. He may well have written it – it seems in line with other things he’d said and written. But maybe he didn’t. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if the origins are murky because the quote itself is an apt reminder that we always need to keep moving. Keep changing. Keep growing. When we let a defeat, or a tragedy, stop us and stall us, that’s when we falter and risk falling – as long as we keep pedaling and moving forward, we can stay upright.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
― Albert Einstein



Tuesday’s Quotes May 22, 2018 – Life Goals

“I should dearly love that the world should be ever so little better for my presence. Even on this small stage we have our two sides, and something might be done by throwing all one’s weight on the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance, peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can’t all strike very big blows, and even the little ones count for something.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, 1894

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he of Sherlock Holmes fame, was born this day in 1859. Physician, prolific author, fascinated by the paranormal, seeker of justice, Doyle led an interesting life. In addition to detective stories, Doyle also wrote science fiction, fantasy, and humor. Of course, it is Holmes that he is most closely associated with. And in the early days of detective fiction, Holmes was truly groundbreaking. Doyle also had an interesting relationship, for a time, with Harry Houdini – Doyle was fascinated by spiritualists, fairies, psychic phenomena, and Houdini was very much convinced that it was all a fraud. Oddly, Doyle thought that Houdini may have possessed psychic powers. Not a position that Houdini endorsed.

But it is the quote above, from the Stark Munro Letters, a novel Doyle published in 1894, that most resonates. Particularly as I work on this month’s (late) #1000Speak post. We cannot all strike big blows, but we can all do something. The spreading ripples. And the existentialist part of me thinks that leaving the world better for our having been here, is what we should all aspire to. If we did, imagine how much more peaceful the world would be.

The Rio Grande – south of Taos, July 2016. 

Thoughts on Vulnerability – and being human

Originally posted April 20, 2016 as that month’s #1000Speak entry – with a few minor adjustments to the text.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

— Albert Einstein

It’s that time again, and I (surprise!) am only just now starting to write this post, so bear with me while I try to organize the random thoughts jumping around in my head…

I seem to spend a great deal of time these days thinking about vulnerability. And about resilience. The topic tends to turn up occasionally in my writing because, even when not focused specifically on compassion, the need for compassion and understanding is present in other areas – in news stories, in discussing mental illness – or suicide. Or even something as simple as wishing people would understand that not all disabilities are visible. April is a month full of days dedicated to specifically vulnerable groups – autism, sexual assault survivors, child abuse prevention, alcoholism, and several others, which makes it a good month to focus on vulnerability.

“I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life. I can do no other than to have compassion for all that is called life. That is the beginning and the foundation of all ethics.”

— Albert Schwietzer

I have a great deal of compassion, and concern, for people that fall into any of the myriad of particularly vulnerable categories, particularly children, but (yes, there was always going to be a ‘but’), from the perspective of a compassionate human we need to be certain that we are not selective in our compassion due to internal biases. That we don’t allow ourselves to fall into the, very human, trap of feeling that some are more in need of compassion than others. Our ability to empathize, or even to merely sympathize, will likely be limited to that with which we can somehow identify, or to those that lack the physical, mental, or emotional capacity to adequately care for themselves, and those that lack the resilience to move forward from tragedy. But compassion goes beyond that point. Of course the reality is that we do have to prioritize how we expend our time, energy, money. Unfortunately we do not have endless reserves.

“Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?”

— William Blake, On Another’s Sorrow

With a seemingly endless number of disasters – natural and man-made – and the tragedies of war, famine, and acts of carnage, I find myself thinking, too often, about how vulnerable we all are. And how much we all need compassion from time to time. We are all human. We are all mortal. None of us has superhero powers, boundless energy, or the ability to live forever. Our humanity gives us the ability to be compassionate, and it also makes us vulnerable. And, perversely, acting compassionately can expose that vulnerability.

Yet it is easy for us to forget that as we move through our day-to-day lives. Whether things are easy for us, or not so easy, we naturally move through our lives focused on our lives. And we need to do that. And when disaster strikes somewhere, especially somewhere we have some sort of affinity to, we take notice. But that lack of immediacy for us also means that sometimes we see numbers, but don’t really think about the human beings behind the numbers. When the death toll is relatively low, we don’t think about the people that lost their homes in the hurricane/tornado/earthquake/flood. Just as we don’t always seem to  understand that the Syrian refugees don’t have homes to return to. Or that combat veterans have a hard time with ‘normal’ after coming home. Yes, I suppose I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering post-traumatic stress disorder recently. Because for the survivors of natural disasters who have lost their homes, just as for war survivors, and many violent crime survivors (especially child abuse and domestic violence), they have lost the safety of ‘home’. And that loss can never really be recovered. With resiliency, and support, one can move forward and find a new safe place, but it will never be quite the same.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

And so, I try to figure out for myself when, where, and how to help. As we all do. Those that need extra support precisely because they are too young or too infirm. Or chronically ill. Or mentally ill. Or handicapped in some way (seen or unseen). Or any of  the ‘isms’ accepted enough to have a day – or a whole month – dedicated to them (and/or a fundraising walk/run). The homeless family panhandling outside of the shopping plaza. The survivors of a disaster. Or maybe just the woman in the store whose baby is in need a a distraction. There are as many opportunities to act compassionately in most of our days as there are people we encounter. And although the ‘isms’ that have their dedicated days help us to remember the special cases, we should never lose sight of the fact that we are all vulnerable humans.

“When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.”

— Clarence Darrow




Thoughts on happiness, compassion and where we are

Originally posted March 20, 2016 for #1000Speak – recycling it for this month’s #1000Speak post.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

When my thoughts go to the subject of happiness within the context of compassion, it is perhaps not surprising that Buddhism is the first place I turn – and in particular, to the current Dalai Lama.

The key to being happy lies in recognizing, and truly coming to live with, the reality that happiness doesn’t come from things. Things are impermanent, and if they are what makes us happy, then we will no longer be happy when they are gone. Although certainly, being human, things, and people, and situations will bring us transitory happiness – and they should. Emotions – positive and negative – are part of what makes us who we are. And how we handle those emotions are another important part of our coping mechanisms and our ability to live with ourselves and with others.

But achieving a more general state of contentment comes from within ourselves. And like compassion itself, this is something we need to learn and develop for ourselves.

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

― Dalai Lama XIV

Somehow the world now seems an angry place – I know the US is not alone with that. I can see it in election results and campaign rhetoric around the globe. Our shrinking planet, and our ability to communicate instantly, everywhere, should have made it possible for us to see how we are all essentially alike, but instead it seems to have accentuated the differences, and stoked the fears. Perhaps the pace has been too quick for many. I’d always though that the world of my grandparents was the most astonishing time – horses and no refrigeration to moonwalks, technicolor and the Internet. And I’m awed that my own children seemed born with an innate understanding of technology. But I look at the strongest supporters of some of the most hateful rhetoric – not the fringe groups for they will always find someone to hate – and I see members of my own generation, and those that fall into the gap between my parents’ generation and my own, and I realize that the world has changed beyond recognition for them as well. This is certainly not the world we grew up in – the one that we think we remember (nostalgia is funny that way and the past was seldom what we remembered it as being), and as we age, we are railing against our own impending obsolescence. And the Internet has made it possible for conspiracy theories to spread farther faster, and to live on (and on). And the generation that advised itself never to trust anyone over 30, and to fear the government, has lived well past 30, and in many cases still cannot manage to believe anything that anyone in authority says. We have, in some ways, been victimized by our selves. We are acting out our own self-fulfilling prophesy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We all have a choice – in what we choose to believe, and how we choose to respond to what we disagree with. Although this piece has evolved into a darker piece than I’d intended, my overall thinking is actually positive. I do believe that each of us, in our own small way, has the capacity to positively impact our our corner of the universe – beginning with ourselves, and spreading out in ripples to our our families, friends, coworkers, and even strangers whose lives we touch on a daily basis. And that we as humans instinctively pay that positivity forward. As Gloria Steinem once noted “a movement is only people moving”. And that is how the momentum builds. Our positive momentum truly can act as a counterbalance to the negative momentum that is propelling some politicians forward. And that positive momentum has to start internally – once we find our own inner balance and related happiness, we are better able to radiate it outward.

“If we think only of ourselves, forget about other people, then our minds occupy very small area. Inside that small area, even tiny problem appears very big. But the moment you develop a sense of concern for others, you realize that, just like ourselves, they also want happiness; they also want satisfaction. When you have this sense of concern, your mind automatically widens. At this point, your own problems, even big problems, will not be so significant. The result? Big increase in peace of mind. So, if you think only of yourself, only your own happiness, the result is actually less happiness. You get more anxiety, more fear.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

In that spirit, I turn back to the Tao, and one of my favorite writings – and the reminder that it all starts within:

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”
― Lao Tzu

And then I turn to the modern troubadour – Donovan – and leave you with “Happiness Runs.” Perhaps not so profound – but definitely in the right spirit.

“Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea
Everybody is a part of everything anyway
You can have everything if you let yourself be”

Finding good in social media?

As many of you know, this past week marked the 3rd anniversary of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion (#1000Speak). Although I’ve already written, and shared, an anniversary post, I wanted to see if I could manage one that was closer to this month’s theme. The question posed was essentially (I think): How we can use the social media we live with, which is often used as a mechanism for harm, to possibly help people, or prevent tragedies?  Particularly given that concerns about the Parkland shooter were expressed to the appropriate agencies, but were not acted upon?

Those that know me, and/or regularly read this blog, know that I am concerned about the instant information, sound bite driven, world that we inhabit. There are significant drawbacks – the light-spreed movement of information allows for wide dissemination of misinformation, which in turn feeds conspiracy theories; the sense of anonymity has made bullying, and outright harassment easier than ever; it allows manufactured outrage to proliferate, which in turn increases polarization, and encourages an “us against them” mentality. Most alarmingly, truth seems to be becoming an abstract concept.

What is, perhaps, less obvious, is that I also recognize that I, and millions of others, have also benefited. Social media sites – particularly FB, have enabled us to find old friends that we’d lost touch with years ago – and sometimes we’ve, to our sorrow, discovered that some have already passed away. It’s allowed us to watch our children, and their children,  grow, and made it possible for people to share experiences that distance would otherwise prevent.  All of the sites enable us to let friends and family – near and far – know our status during disasters – both natural and man-made. The rapid spead of news keeps us informed of things that we actually do need to know – things like local events, or emergencies, or things of significance happening near loved ones. These are all good things. As is, if we permit it, the ability to easily expose ourselves to multiple points of view – if not to change our minds, to at least understand the views of others. And that understanding allows for empathy. And the more we empathize, the less we hate.

But there are other, tangible and already existing benefits to our constantly wired world. The much maligned millennials & the teenagers that are bordering the next pick-a-label generation, are the ones that have truly grown up in the digital age. They know how to use the various forms of digital communications far better that their elders. In fact, hey have already answered the question posed to to the #1000Speak bloggers. Yes, they may seem to be perpetually connected to something. And yes, they frequently overshare information. But that sharing is what made it possible for a high schooler in the Hudson Valley of New York to be credited with preventing a school shooting in Vermont – one day after the Parkland shooting. And this is not the only time – before or since. There have also been potential suicides prevented by others that were paying attention to what they saw on their feeds and ‘stories’. There already are people using social media, and what they find there, to help others. Although we, of the two dominant older generations, seem prone to dismissing them (as our elders did us), the fact is that they are, in the aggregate, well educated, technically savvy, and they care. They are living more compassionate lives in a ways that we boomers thought we would, but ultimately didn’t. And, although it may seem counter-intuitive, social media has helped them far more than it hindered them. It broadened their exposure, and in doing so, it gave them a greater reach. We could learn a great deal from them, if we were willing.

They are the future, and that bodes well for humanity.

I came across this quote from the Dalai Lama on a wall hanging yesterday, not quite related, but meaningful nonetheless:

Never Give Up
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind
Instead of the heart
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends
But to everyone
Be compassionate
Work for peace
In your heart and in the world
Work for peace
And I say again
Never give up
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up