When I was young I wanted to change the world. Now that I am wiser, I realise I have to start by changing my world, and that starts with me, and my interaction with you.
I am finding that dramatic negative events are having a higher toll on me. When I think about it, I wonder if it is just who I am that makes me more sensitive than the average person. I recall in grade four when every school child was forced to watch “The Day After” in school. Many people also watched it at home. On my walk to school I often wondered if a SCUD or ICBM missile was going to rocket past me at low altitude on its way to the nearest military base. It used to make me sick; not visibly, but I could feel knots in my stomach and this dreadful dark cloud that I had no control over what I was about to witness.
Luckily, this phase passed as time went on, but there are definitely times when I was getting older that I felt this same pang, a feeling in the pit of my stomach, that made me feel powerless against some form of evil that was washing over the earth. I recall the oil wars in Iraq and Iran, the war in the Falkland Islands, the day by day details of the OJ Simpson’s trial, the death of Lady Diana, then this constant and persistent steady state of military action in the Middle East that culminated in 9/11. That’s just what I recall, and that’s the point. It doesn’t matter if it is true or not, it’s the feeling of growing up in that atmosphere that held this heavy blanket of fear over me. Is this the ideal nature that society had in store for me? Was I to become that scared, fear induced person that consumed goods in order to feel alive, protected, or imbued with some sense of power?
I had a small rebellious streak in me that would come out when I knew something was wrong in my own small sphere of influence, whether in school or work. Perhaps that was my way of lashing out at the unpredictable, unceasing morbid news that was always on the television at home. I started not wanting to watch the news, then questioning my Mom about why she would watch it every day; first the early news, then the regular news. By the time I moved out, had a child, then was living on my own, I pulled the plug on cable. That was the only way I could stop the incessant advertising that peddled drugs for all sorts of afflictions and the ridiculous pandering to the common person. “Was unplugging a more natural ideal for me?”, I often wondered?
But that was the past way of discovering where my aversion lay. What I have been discovering more recently is why I am still sensitive to it, and it has nothing to do with the way I feel about it. It has to do with the immense positivity we have available to us and the limited amount of time we have on this earth in which to draw it forth from within us. When we start to understand that, our priorities can shift to allow new ways of thinking to arise; a new ideal.
A life must be led in pursuit of the ideals of living, not the material anything. The material world is the trappings of a cloud, a mist of comfort meant to delude those inside of the protection it avails, when it merely obscures the vision. I am happiest when I am poor. When I no longer think of what to buy, or how to spend my money, I am at ease, and my mind can resume its developmental journey to inner peace. This letting go is part of the new ideal I find so attractive.
I bore witness to a terrific piece of poignant cinematography in a movie recently that illustrated the beauty of letting go and giving. The scene was one of an aftermath of a terrible and tragic natural disaster and several people were huddled around a small dry and relatively safe area inside a building, in transition to catch their breath and continue their own journeys to reunite with family and loved ones. Unfortunately, most were cut off from them at this point and the demand to reach out on any available phone lines was extremely high, as these were in very short supply. One man was asking another if he had called anyone to let them know he was alive. He explained he had not yet been able to find a phone. Many were keeping the phones to themselves to prolong the battery life, since there was no power available in the region, hoping to receive calls from their loved ones. In an act of compassion, the man who asked, furnished the other with a mobile phone to allow him to call. The man took the phone and was so grateful for being able to reach someone outside of the disaster that he was breaking down mentally, and withdrew from the conversation early in order to preserve the battery life for the very kind stranger.
The man took back his mobile phone, but was so moved by the passion and compassionate plea this man displayed, he gave the phone back to allow him to re-enter the conversation and recreate the ending in a more peaceful manner. “You can’t leave it like that” he said. This is an act of giving that I believe goes beyond a gift, to that of sacrifice. This second exchange of the phone only took another 20 seconds, but it meant the world to the two men as well as all who had gathered around to witness it. This was magnificent to watch from my own perspective and I was as teary eyed as every character in the movie, decrying to myself that this is the ideal! This is what connection between two people is all about. Giving what we have for another’s benefit also benefits us.
This one act can change us in ways we can’t predict, which is why I feel I must label it beyond the simply act of giving to that of a sacrifice. Giving what we value for another with no reciprocation intended, nor outcome predicted, is a sacrifice. With this, we step in to the unknown and in that very moment so much happens. The giver gives, the recipient receives, and witnesses watch with rapt attention as two worlds collide, and mix, in an experience that is shared on a core level that literally blasts away all the former barriers of comfort, language, religion, and bias to the basic need of compassion; which is love for your neighbour. This is an ideal I wish to obtain and model for all.
One aspect of neighbourly love that I am reminded of at various times is that of touch. The simple act of touch between one another is powerful. How awesome does it feel to simply lay with another person, sexual tensions aside; isn’t it sublime? The warmth of their body, the feel of another person’s warm breath or sound of their heartbeat, or the touch of hands on your shoulders, these are all things that provoke a warmth within our bodies and our mind. There are massage therapists that deal with trauma victims for this very reason. The Touch Research Institute tells us what we already know instinctively, that touch heals, and even animals know this as a hen will sit on a kitten to keep it warm. Can you feel the energy of another? The hand of another, or simply the closeness of another person we admire can bring about such positive vibes that it can trigger the body’s own healing mechanism. There has to be some truth to the field of energy that we all have if another body or mind can sense it and start healing all on its own, like a battery that starts to recharge when it gets close to a power source.
Temple Grandin’s western style life illustrates this wonderfully when she builds a cattle holding device in her dorm room while away at college. Used for when they brand the cows, it holds the animal firmly in place, grasping them on both sides. She saw that the typically skittish cows stopped struggling while in the device and were calm; a state of mind that was difficult for her to achieve. When she built it as part of her psychology experiment, she recorded people’s feelings as they were held by the device. It showed that no matter what is holding us, animate or inanimate, as long as we feel held, we feel more at ease, calmer, more relaxed mentally and physically; this is a wonderful, ideal state of mind.
We are therefore made, created, born to be comforted by touch; we need it. The impact of touch, and the connected significance, can be seen every day on the bus when a person’s leg touches yours, in the theatre when someone brushes too closely, in any crowded venue when the effect of too much contact can drain or even torture us. We tend to protect that which we value and we see our closeness to another as precious personal space, sometimes to the point that we don’t often receive any touch at all. This may even account for the rise in pet ownership, and the dramatic rise in pet spending which indicates their importance, in the North American culture. If there’s one thing we get from pets, its touch, and we can see the immediate benefit to them as well, whether dog, cat, chicken or pig. I believe in the healing power of touch and I can see that a very small gesture of a hand on a shoulder or arm or hand can change a person’s demeanour in a matter of seconds and connects me with them on a deeper level immediately.
What do we hear so often among the people that look for others to fulfil this desire in secret, but ‘I just wanted to be touched again’. We all need it, which is why some are traumatized by it and some can’t get enough. Used wisely, I believe we can start to nourish each other’s level of connection with small simple gestures of touch. This is an ideal that I can embrace.
What is ideal in life? What I’ve learned is that we can live more openly with less fear based news, we can free our mind with less advertising, and thrive in deep discourse with another. When we take the time to understand the needs of another, we have an opportunity to be compassionate, to listen intently and offer our gift to them. Even if we have nothing to give physically, just our presence can be a gift with a gentle, understanding touch. When we realise that one of our best gifts is that of time, if we can look in the eyes of our neighbour, grasp their hand, and start to understand their needs, we can begin to create a new society; one where the ideals of the material world are blown away by the winds of conscious awareness and living in the moment. These are some of the things I find ideal in life and wish to manifest each waking moment, and I hope you’ll join me in this, so we can slowly, one person at a time, create an ideal world.