Meditations: Be a better stranger
by Nancy B. Loughlin
(Published in News Press August 5, 2014. Posted with permission.)
Cairns are road markers left by strangers. Nancy Loughlin (left) meditates by cairns built on Mt. Kilimanjaro. This wood and rock cairn (right) was built in Lakes Park, Fort Myers.
Each one of us is Blanche DuBois. We depend on the kindness of strangers.
In my darkest times, I was mystified by how many strangers stepped from the shadows and gave me exactly what I needed. Then, they disappeared.
Strangers, in total, have done more for you than all your friends and family. They have saved your life by merely doing their jobs, enhanced your well-being with technology and uplifted your spirits by giving you hope and the benefit of the doubt.
And you are more frequently a stranger than a friend. Live your purpose, and recognize how you serve. You’ll be a better stranger in someone else’s journey.
While walking mountain trails, park paths and ocean bluffs, you might see a mound of stones, sometimes symmetrical, sometimes chaotic, marking the path.
Someone at some time before you walked the same road, and this stranger left you a gift.
It’s called a cairn.
Throughout human history, cairns have been trail markers, monuments for remembrance or even invitations to worship.
It’s a signpost to stop, reflect on your path and meditate on shared journeys. Build them wherever you go.
Peter Singer, a Princeton University philosopher, has perplexed students with an ethical dilemma called The Shallow Pond. Singer asks them to imagine that while on the way to class they see a small child drowning in a pond. If they do not take immediate action, the child will die. Students generally agree that wading into the water to save the child is a moral imperative. Muddy clothes and being late to class are minor inconveniences.
But then Singer expands the circle. Everyone is always passing drowning children. Both near and far, children are dying of starvation, violence and disease. A small donation, the price of a music download or a latte, could assuage their suffering.
It’s in this expanded circle that most begin to squirm.
Leo Tolstoy ventured into the Moscow streets in 1881, and he found the city’s poverty incomprehensible.
“…I therefore felt and feel and shall not cease to feel that as long as I have superfluous food and someone else has none, and I have two coats and someone else has none I share in a constantly repeated crime,” he wrote. The title of this book is “What Then Must We Do?”
What must we do?
A test of your humanity is ever-present on the street corners when a human being holds a sign: “Homeless. Hungry. Please help.”
You think that giving him money will not solve the problem. You drive by.
The essence of your humanity lies in the integrity of your action not in the ego-serving rewards. Helping others when they ask for help and giving people the benefit of the doubt are the right things to do.
And if he buys beer or drugs? What if the apocryphal story of the beggar driving his BMW to a gated community turns out to be true?
He got the change out of your coffee cup holder. What a gangster. You still did the right thing.
Yet, philanthropy is problematic. When we place ourselves in the position of helping others, we are hovering above them, establishing superiority, often telling people what we think they need instead of listening. We’re meddling. More importantly, we are still trapped in duality.
Perhaps one of the most important photographs ever taken was in 1967, an early satellite snap of a fully-illuminated Planet Earth. Earth was visually experienced as a whole not as a jigsaw collection of separates.
The planet is a living organism, the balance of which depends on diversity and vibrancy of all life. If you take care of an infection in your leg, you don’t do so as a favor to your leg. It’s in service of the whole.
Despite his wealth, Ebenezer Scrooge was poor. He was hard and sharp as flint, solitary as an oyster. The cold he carried with him had frozen his features and made his lips blue.
Ask Charles Dickens. Scrooge was the starving, impoverished one.
People who double-lock their doors and point their firearms menacingly outward might be repelling dangerous strangers. But their fear, mistrust and defensiveness are also barricading themselves inside a most gloomy suite of rooms.
Who’s really the man without a country, an invader in the truest sense? Is it tens of thousands of parentless children racing toward safety and the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Or is it the sneering, sign-holding protestor who can’t see the greatness of “his own” nation that welcomes them into the fold?
When we label people as Other, Criminal or Outcast, we have forgotten our energetic connection with the world.
Play this tuning game for two. You can start as the leader. Hold up your hands, palms facing your partner. Move your hands in circles. Make a fist with one. Hold up two fingers. Be random. Your partner will follow you, mimicking your moves. The longer you play, you’ll notice that you and your partner will become one, the moves happening simultaneously. Part of the game is that at any time, your partner can assume the leader’s responsibilities, and you’ll switch back and forth. Notice how the switching becomes seamless.
This rhythmic dance is resonance.
Continue these meditations with nadi shodhana to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain. If we are fragmented in self, we will be fractious with the world. Sit close to the floor, connected with the first chakra, the root. Acknowledge the ground on which you and all others walk. Everyone has a right to have, a right to exist, a right to be here now. Use one fingertip to close the left side of your nose and inhale through the right. Hold the breath, and close the nose with your fingertips. Then, exhale completely through the left side of your nose. Inhale left. Close. Exhale right. Continue for many rounds until your body softens.
Namaste is the traditional yogic greeting, but few really know what it means. The literal translation is “I bow to you.” As yogis hold their hands in prayer position over their hearts, they are acknowledging the deeper energetic connections that exist among all people that come from a place of love and light.
Hold your hands in front of your heart. When you are still and serene, imagine a giant eraser at your crown. Visualize this eraser moving over your skin, erasing any and all barriers between you and the world. In this state you will realize that love is not selective. It is universal, transcendent. Everything is one, and you are free.