The quest to discover each other’s humanity. Imagine!

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Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition.   – Alexander Smith

There is a strategy I suggest teachers use when their students get two concepts confused; things like mitosis and meiosis, latitude and longitude, respiration and photosynthesis, similes and metaphors.  I tell them to teach the differences first because the human brain identifies difference and therefore by discussing how two items, terms or concepts are different, before we talk about their similarities, the distinction is clear.

Sadly, this amazing facet of the brain and how we learn, has considerable consequences for our relationships with others and, at times, our humanity.  If we unconsciously identify difference we see only how others are separate from us, are unlike us and therefore we can fail to connect.

If I see only your different coloured skin, your different language, your different rituals and customs, your different style of worship, your different sexuality; I fail to immediately see the points where we are the same.  Too often this quirk of the brain is abused by media trying to create divide. Groups are labelled, individuals and their human story are ignored to install fear, create derision, to divide us.  Sometimes these tactics are employed by governments to force us into line in support of what may be inhumane, immoral or unjust policy decisions (think the refusal to take in refugees).

You see, once I identify you as a person, with a history, with feelings, with hopes and dreams, I can’t ignore your plight. I am almost compelled to come to your aid, support you, vouch for you.  My fear is gone when I realise you and I are women, we have families, we have struggled, we have loved. Yes, our backgrounds and life experience may differ, we may worship differently, dress differently but whittle away the circumstances of our birth and we are both humans, raw and needy, intelligent and courageous, feisty and loving. This bonding would not serve government but it might just serve the longevity of the human race on this little planet of ours.

In the words of John Lennon, imagine what the world would be like if we sought our points of connection and bonded before acknowledging our differences? Imagine what the world would be like if we presumed positive intent rather than assumed others meant us harm. Imagine what the world would be like if we were positive by design rather than negative by default.  Imagine what the world would be like if we sought to discover each other’s humanity. Imagine what the world would be like.  Imagine!

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Breathing easy again. My journey from fear to gratitude and compassion.

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, old and new.
                                                                  Ralph Waldo Emerson

If the only prayer you said your whole life was ‘Thank you’ that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart.

An incredible thing happened to me this week. I felt a great weight lift from my body and I could breathe freely and unrestricted. My heart felt lighter, my body and mind too.

You see, I returned from Nepal a couple of weeks ago. I experienced the earthquake and the devastation it wrought. There were times I was pretty scared, I guess, running from buildings in the middle of the night unsure if it was safe to return, afraid to sleep in case I should not wake in time to leave should an aftershock, or worse, strike again.  I say, I guess I was scared because at the time I wasn’t thinking, I was simply reacting. Fear really didn’t come into it until I returned home. Then, in the quiet, safe spaces of my house I felt my body and my mind crumble under the weight of what had been, what I’d left behind and the realisation that I had survived when others hadn’t.

A pressure began building in my body. I could feel a constant vibration deep within and a heavy hollowness braced my heart. The hyper vigilance persisted. I was no longer in danger but my beloved, was he safe? In the time after the earthquake I was not only reacting to Mother Nature’s rumblings but I was fearful for the safety of my beloved husband. We were not together. He was in a different part of Nepal, uncontactable. The uncertainty and the not knowing was torturous. I can’t explain the unbearable nature of the situation. Once I returned home, to safety, the weight and the agony of my fear for him multiplied exponentially. It became a physical burden. I hadn’t realised at the time what it was. I thought I was suffering as a result of my experience. I thought it was panic attacks, anxiety.

For two weeks the pain grew. It deepened and became like vice around my heart. Seriously, I thought I might be having heart issues. Then, as the days progressed and his return inched closer I could feel a little space, a little lightness creeping in. Two days before his departure there was another earthquake and a series of large aftershocks. The vice redoubled. The heaviness dropped right back in. My thoughts were scrambled.  Not only did the news from Nepal bring shock, fear and a renewed anxiousness for the safety of my beloved and his companions but I found myself transported right back to Nepal. I relived the nightmare, the guilt of having left, the sorrow and heartache for the beautiful Nepalese people who were suffering.

As his departure drew nearer, and after news of each small step closer; baggage checked, boarding pass issued, boarding the plane; I started to breathe easier. I slept, not without nightmares and not without waking through the night but it was sleep like I’d not experienced for a few weeks.  On the morning of his arrival home I realised the vice around my heart had loosened its grip, I felt a new energy seep back into my body. Could I have been feeling the weight of fear?

I’ve lived my life in fear. Fear of not being good enough, of not being smart enough, pretty enough blah, blah, blah. Fearful of trying new things, fearful of being seen, of speaking up, of being vulnerable. Its limited me, its held me back and at times its kept me safe. Safe but small. This recent fear. Real fear. Fear for a loved one. I might venture so far as to say ‘terror’, was so strong, so physically and mentally palpable, I didn’t actually know how to respond.

Why, after all these words, am I actually sharing this with you I wonder? I don’t know.  I felt compelled to write. Maybe this is my medicine? My healing? Whatever it is I think it’s also about compassion. And it’s about gratitude.

We don’t always know what others are feeling or what they are experiencing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is ailing, grieving or suffering. We are pretty good at putting on masks and covering up our messy emotions. I think this experience has taught me to be mindful and gentle with others for they too may have a vice around their heart, a heaviness in their body and be aching in ways I couldn’t imagine. This experience has caused me to feel a deep and abiding gratitude.  I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring (there really is no better way to describe it) of support, of concern, of blessings from friends, family, acquaintances and work colleagues. Messages, texts, phone calls. Hugs (virtual and real), friendly chats, offers of support. I cannot begin to tell you the comfort and the reassurance they have bought me. My eyes well with tears as I recall how, every few days, dozens of people would check in on me, ask about my beloved, and ensure I was okay.

I’ve felt compassion. I am humbled by it and I am immensely grateful.  No words or actions can adequately  relay to those wonderful people how much their support has meant to me, how it has helped me through. Except to simply say ‘Thank you’.

I have an abundance of good on my life.

I know I am blessed and I know I am loved.

It feels wonderful.

Thank you.

 

Post traumatic stress disorder can effect those who have experienced a significant threat. It can effect those who enter a place after a threat (such as aide workers) and it can effect the loved ones of those who have been under threat. I mention this, not because I know I have PTSD, but it kind of fits how I’ve been feeling, on two levels, my own threat and that of a loved one. It’s real. It’s debilitating. Again, be gentle with those around you. We can never really know how deeply anyone is suffering.

Haves, have nots and humanity in the city

Image by fastcodesign

Image by fastcodesign

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama

I have a story to share. I hesitated at first because I didn’t know how it would be perceived. I didn’t want anyone to think it was about me. Because it’s not.  Well, it says a lot about me, I guess, but the gorgeous soaring love I felt for humankind  arose, not from my actions but as a result of another’s.

I shared my story with a friend and she said to me: “Blog your story. That is a beautiful story, you must share it. Kindness does not go unrewarded! It makes me all teary again, how the haves are sharing with the have nots cos they want to and it feels right.”

So, one day, not so long ago…. there was a homeless man on the street. He had a message scratched on a sign, I glanced and walked away. How do explain myself? I can’t except to say I have always felt confronted by homeless people. I’m not sure why or where that comes from. I’m not an unkind person or lacking compassion but I do have a serious issue with knowing how to respond to someone in such need. How much is enough, is a little adequate?  Excuses I know.

Anyway, I felt guilty that I didn’t stop. But the further away I got the more embarrassed I was to turn back. I told myself stories to abate the guilt – I only had large bills or credit cards. I don’t really like to give money. Etc etc. I was surprised to sense a little voice in the back of all of this justification saying if he was there the next day I’d stop and read his sign.

As it turns out he wasn’t there but the day after that he was.

I’d left work early for an appointment but I stopped and tried to read his sign, it made little sense to me.  However, I spoke with him and told him I’d seen him a couple of days ago. I asked him where he slept and if he got any benifits. Then, as if watching myself from out of my body, I heard myself asking him if he’d eaten that day. He said he had but not much. I suggested we go see if the posh cafe I’d just walked past was still open. He agreed and quickly gathered his meagre belongings.

When we entered the cafe the guy behind the counter eyed us strangely and I almost thought he’d ask us to leave. When I asked for sandwiches he said he had none. I could see sandwiches, rolls and wraps in the fridge behind him. He told me they were stale and no good for eating. He said he wouldn’t even give them to me as they were too dry.  I turned to the homeless man and explained the situation. I was a little unsure how to proceed. Then I saw a cabinet with delicate sweets, I didn’t want to buy him sweets with no nutritional value but I spotted salads on the bottom shelf so I asked him if he’d like a salad. Yep. He did.

The young man who served us was so lovely, he kept calling the homeless man sir and asked him if he’d like to eat in or takeaway, if he needed a fork etc. He said he would add a danish and a croissant for later. He asked us if the meal would be eaten shortly or carried a long distance. He was concerned, as it had egg in it and didn’t want any health issues arising from overheated, unrefrigerated food. I asked my companion if he’d like a drink and we got a cappuccino, with two sugars. Again our waiter was charming and continued to address the gentleman by the title of sir, ensuring he had what he wanted. He made the coffee beautifully. Taking care to add just enough extra milk to top it up, wiping the cup free from spillage. He packaged it all up in a carry bag with a napkin and utensils and wished the man an enjoyable meal.

Once his package was in hand  the man left and I turned to the waiter to pay for the meal.   The lovely young man, who had treated a homeless man with dignity and respect looked at me, waved his hand and said, “There is no charge. You are a good woman. It’s on us”. I was blown away. Honestly, how lovely is that? How often have you witnessed something so beautiful? I walked  up the street on clouds of gratitude and love, with a swelling heart, marvelling at the depths of human kindness and grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Aren’t humans marvellous?

This whole interaction occured as if within a bubble.  We three were connected for a short moment in time. A time within time. I felt buoyed by the love, respect and kindness I’d witnessed. I was reminded that we are all equal and that everyone, regardless of background, means or circumstance deserves to be treated with respect. I was reminded that we can share intimate meaningful moments by treating others as we would like to be treated. Gosh, imagine what we could do in the world if we were all a little more like the young waiter who served us.

(Here I am talking of intimate moments with two souls and I didn’t even asked either gentleman his name.)

What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.
These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.  Joseph Addison

Embracing beautiful connections and never underestimating small actions.

Blessings to you all,

Shannyn

The measure of a (wo)man

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This quote gave me cause to pause and ponder recently. It struck a chord.

Living a successful life or one of value are two vastly different concepts. I realise we all have different definitions of success and value. For me success used to be reaching a certain level of education, rising as high in ones career as one could go etc, etc.  I strove for success for many years and the getting of it was a hollow ‘victory’.

Today I endeavour to be a person of worth and value and of service to others. Today, to live a life of integrity, to be kind and just and compassionate mean so much more to me than worldly success.

Whether I will achieve the later is not yet clear or certain but the journey and the quest are gratifying.

Shannyn

Strong foundations

When travelling in Europe I revel in the beauty of the built environment. The architecture is stunning but more than that I marvel at how long these buildngs have been standing.

Taking in the awesome sights of ancient structures such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon and The Roman Forum as well as more ‘recent’ buildings like St Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of Santa Maria Minerva and a wealth of others has me thinking about the importance of strong foundations.

A great deal of work goes into the foundations of a building that will last the test of time and withstand the elements. If we hope to have rich and meaningful lives we have to consider on what foundations are we building. Do we have a set of moral values that guide us, do we focus on building strong and lasting relationships, have we considered what we want our legacy to the world to be?

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What will we leave behind? Certainly there won’t be any gorgeous edifice erected in my name and I’m pretty sure I won’t go down in any history books but if I can leave behind a legacy of love, of joy, of tolerance and acceptance. If I can leave behind a legacy of gratitude, of self belief, creativity and a willingness to seek the truth and beauty in the world, in those I love, I’d be happy with that.

What are the foundations you are building your life on?

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Strong foundations

When travelling in Europe I revel in the beauty of the built environment. The architecture is stunning but more than that I marvel at how long these buildngs have been standing.

Taking in the awesome sights of ancient structures such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon and The Roman Forum as well as more ‘recent’ buildings like St Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of Santa Maria Minerva and a wealth of others has me thinking about the importance of strong foundations.

A great deal of work goes into the foundations of a building that will last the test of time and withstand the elements. If we hope to have rich and meaningful lives we have to consider on what foundations are we building. Do we have a set of moral values that guide us, do we focus on building strong and lasting relationships, have we considered what we want our legacy to the world to be?

values4

What will we leave behind? Certainly there won’t be any gorgeous edifice erected in my name and I’m pretty sure I won’t go down in any history books but if I can leave behind a legacy of love, of joy, of tolerance and acceptance. If I can leave behind a legacy of gratitude, of self belief, creativity and a willingness to seek the truth and beauty in the world, in those I love, I’d be happy with that.

What are the foundations you are building your life on?

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