Pass it on twofold is a wonderful philosophy that, if practised by only 10 per cent of us, would change the world.
It doesn’t cost anything. Changing the world without cost or much effort should catch on as quickly as the last trend. But let’s hope it lasts a lot longer. It would probably take more than a season to change the world even if 700 million people are practising it.
All we have to do is take the good someone does for us and do the same thing for at least two other people. It would increase the speed of world change if we keep doing it.
If the English proverb “The giving hand gathers” is correct, we will keep passing that goodness on because the kind deeds we do for others will come back to us – twofold, at least and then we pass it on again, endlessly.
What we send out into the world eventually comes back to us – the boomerang effect. This idea isn’t new, the concept of what goes around comes around has been going around for a long time. A modern, corporate version is, be kind to the people you meet on the way up because you’ll meet them again on your way down.
The Dalai Lama called it selfish altruism while Newton called it the third law of motion – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Bible said as a man sows, so shall he reap, while the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions call it karma.
Millions of people are starving to death all over the world. There's even a top 10 list of countries where hunger is epidemic. But in this global village, there is little chance we’ll encounter a villager from one of the poorest countries in the world, so how do we benefit if we sacrifice the equivalent of a few lattes to help a child just like our own stay alive?
For that matter, how do we benefit if we help the people in the Central Okanagan who depend on the food bank?
Good questions, but ultimately they will be as personal as our fingerprints. We could do it for the sheer pleasure of giving, because it makes us feel good, because it helps another human being, who, under different circumstances, could be us.
Maybe it will, in time, be us, if, as the popular saying goes, we are all two paycheque away from having to stay at the Gospel Mission. “There, but by the Grace of God, go I.”
What’s the alternative to becoming fully engaged with life? Wall ourselves off, build a castle and then a moat so we can't be touched or bothered by what is happening? Reject our humanity? That’s a sterile path, one that leads to a dried-up soul and a friendless future where we will be forced to knock on death’s door alone, knowing we’ve never done anything to help others.
Leaping into the unknown without a few good deeds on our conscience is a scary proposition. Maybe the abyss does await us, but it can’t hurt to hedge our bets.
Voltaire hedged his. “This is no time to be making enemies,” he said on his deathbed to priest was who urging him to renounce the devil.
This old joke sums it up nicely. A guy stumbles up to the Pearly Gates and St. Peter asks him what good did he do for others in his life. The man thought about it and said, Well, I gave a bum 50 cents for a coffee once and put 50 cents in a Salvation Army kettle. St. Peter flips him a coin and said, here’s a dollar, now go to hell.
We don’t have to give away the family estate. It can be a dollar, as long as we give it more than twice. We’ve all received more than a dollar of kindness in our lives. Indeed, it doesn’t have to be money.
It could be as simple as giving blood – all it takes is an hour. Along with that tremendous feeling that comes from helping people – and being treated like a hero by the blood-clinic staff – we get cookies, juice and tea or coffee.
Or we could volunteer. The Hospice society, the Crisis Line and the hundreds of other worthy charities are always looking for people willing to help others.
Forty years ago. years ago, a man was walking beside a deserted road in the Yucatan night, broke. He stuck out his thumb as the headlights of an approaching car clawed through the thick darkness. It skidded to a stop beside him. Miles later, as their paths parted, the driver gave the hitchhiker $20.
That kindness has burned bright for 40 years and the debt has been repaid many times to other people who were simply asked to pass it on – twofold.
James Allen, in his amazing little book As A Man Thinketh put it this way:
“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg; and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.”
We have all dreamed of changing the world and, no matter how old we are, it’s not too late to start. We can give two bucks to someone we consider a bum, send $100 to South Sudan, give $50 to the food bank and $5 to everyone who knocks on our door collecting for all those wonderful charities.
We can turn a dream of a better reality into reality.
We will never be completely whole until we accept the invitation that Darth Vader extended to Luke Skywalker.
“Come to the dark side.”
Star Wars director George Lucas learned his mythology from Joseph Campbell, the world’s foremost authority on the subject.
“The self is the totality, and if you think of it as a circle, the centre of the circle would be the centre of the self,” Campbell wrote in Myth and the Self. “But your plane of consciousness is above the centre and your ego’s up there above the plane of consciousness, so there’s a subliminal aspect of the self which you do not know. And this is in play constantly with the ego.”
Campbell’s circle metaphor comes from Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychologist who used the word shadow to describe those dark parts of ourselves we don’t like and refuse to acknowledge.
“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate,” said Jung. “That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”
We are controlled by beliefs and urges we don’t know and until we shine a light down into our own abyss, we’re doomed to dance to a tune we might not recognize. When we were young, we assimilated just about everything our parents, priests and peers told us. Because we wanted, needed, to be part of the tribe, we accepted societal norms and dictates.
The qualities that didn’t fit were thrown into the dungeon of ourselves.
As children, we were told not to lie, not to steal, not to be selfish. But what child doesn’t, so we were punished or ostracized when those “bad qualities” emerged. Even now as adults, when these qualities climb up from the psychic basement like an unloved relative, we lock the door and ignore the knocking.
We project those aspects onto other people. The jealousy, anger, greed, fear, envy, sloth, lust, laziness we don’t like and/or don’t acknowledge in ourselves we see in other people.
The show-off in the weight room, the know-it-all in the classroom, the inconsiderate driver on the highway, the nosy neighbour wouldn’t annoy or upset us if they weren’t exhibiting repressed parts of ourselves. When we react, over-react, to something our children or co-worker did, we’re responding to some unheeded part of ourselves.
The world really is a reflection of us. We look in a mirror darkly and see the monsters and then project them onto other people. That which we fear will, like Job, come upon us unless we bring it into consciousness.
“If one sees only unloveliness in others, it is because unloveliness is a strong element in himself,” Ernest Holmes wrote in Science of Mind. “The light he throws on others is generated in his own soul and he sees them as he chooses to see them, He holds constantly in his mind a mental equivalent of unloveliness and creates unlovely reactions toward himself.”
If we are to fuse our splinter parts, we have to acknowledge that they exist. Pretending they aren’t there causes us problems and embarrassment because they’ll show up like a broke brother-in-law or a tiresome school mate.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves,” Jung said.
Poet Robert Bly wrote that we all drag a long, black bag behind us into which we stuffed the aspects of ourselves our friends and family didn’t like. By the time we reach middle age, the bag is long and heavy and some people start thinking about lightening the load.
“Your shadow self includes emotional and psychological patterns that come from repressed feelings that you do not wish to deal with consciously for the fear of the consequences.” Caroline Myss writes in Sacred Contracts.
“Your shadow also contains the secret reasons why you would sabotage the opportunities that come your way.”
It requires great fortitude and resolve to admit that we are what we vilified and abhorred, but now’s the time to reclaim our rejected majesty. If we don’t, we stay in the wasteland, adhering to the dictates of the tribe, forever reciting the mantra of don’t.
It isn’t just the negative trait we deny and project onto others. When we tell people what we think about them, when we think they are bright and funny we’re seeing positive aspects of ourselves in them.
“If you admire greatness in another human being, it is your own greatness you are seeing,” Debbie Ford writes in The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. “You may manifest it in a different way, but if you didn’t have greatness within you, you wouldn’t be able to recognize that quality in another person.”
Yet if we own our positive traits, we don’t have any more excuses for not realizing our potential, for being as good as the people we admire. So we prefer to exercise what Abraham Maslow called the Jonah Complex, setting low standards and evading our potential growth with an ah-shucks mentality. Oddly, it’s much less fearful than aspiring to greatness.
“It is your birthright to be whole: to have it all,” Ford writes. "It only takes a shift in your perception, an opening of your heart.”
The shadow knows.
Photo: National Geographic
Our soul is calling us to the barricades to launch a revolution, an inner revolution.
Revolutions change the world. Seven thousand years ago, the Agricultural Revolution overthrew the nomadic way of life and allowed civilization to prosper; 150 years ago, the Industrial Revolution overthrew the agricultural and civilization changed directions again.
There have been a host of others, of course: The Renaissance, the Reformation…. The revolution of physics seems obscure and abstruse even now, but just about everything in modern life flows from quantum mechanics and the Theory of Relativity: TVs, computers, the remote control.
The Sexual Revolution also changed the world, and without it there might never have been Sex and the City, and Desperate Housewives on TV, but fortunately the remote helps there.
Although our inner revolution isn’t an armed struggle, we can take heart from one slogan: workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains. Unlike the Russian serfs, we aren’t enslaved by the czar, the nobility and the custom of centuries.
Our chains are the thought patterns that enslave us in our own misery. Either we don’t see it or we love it too much to change.
In the book Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman, recounts an experiment on dogs that were penned in an enclosure with an electrified floor. No matter how much they howled, prowled and scratched at the walls, they couldn’t get out and they eventually accepted their lot. Later, even when could get out, they didn’t; they sat in the security of their pain.
There is also the story of a young man who could have been in a Tums commercial. He grew up with spicy food and as a result, always had heartburn. He joined the army and soon the bland food allowed his body to heal. When the heartburn stopped, he ran to the infirmary.
“Doc! Doc!” he yelled. “My fire has gone out.”
We become resigned, like the dogs, to our misery or, like the soldier, learn to love it.
We talk about our ill health, getting old, our lousy job and even worse boss, about our children who won’t leave home, and if they do, they never call. The pain is the common bond we have with everyone, whether a friend or someone we meet at ICBC or the dentist’s office.
We talk about the weather, about the snow in March, which provides a nice segue into a conversation about our arthritis. Before you know it, 45 minutes have zipped by and it’s our turn in the dental chair or to have our picture taken for a new licence, which means we’re five years older, and more fuel for our next conversation.
Leonard Cohen sings in Anthem:
The birds they sing at the start of the day
Start again I heard them say
don’t dwell on what has passed away
or what is yet to be.
What would we be like if we hummed along with the primal song Life sings to the butterfly and the buttercup, to everything, even to us:
grow, be all you can be?
What would we be like if we stopped playing songs that are the spiritual equivalent of she-done-me-wrong? Would that help us remember we are Life incarnate? Just as a quantum particle is a product of its field, we are a product of the field of all possibilities.
The field has many names, but the name is irrelevant.
“You are the mirror in which God recognizes itself,” says a Sufi proverb.
Even after our inner revolution, growth means struggle: the butterfly, the chick, the cicada are born of their own efforts. While the metaphor isn’t seamless, it applies to the birth of a human baby. The mother must, no matter how much support and coaching she has, breathe and push on her own.
In our re-genesis, we give birth to ourselves. We are our own parents; we choose how we will grow, who we will become.
“To put it simply, be who you are. Encourage others to be who they are. Be authentic, responsible, and empowered. Empower others to be authentic and responsible.” Paul Ferrini writes in The Ecstatic Moment.
“Don’t lead. Don’t blame. Go alone when you have to. Go hand in hand when others want to join you. Either way, be an equal. See your inherent equality with all beings. That way your gifts will be offered in a way that helps others and you will receive the gifts of others in a way that helps you.”
Oddly enough, no matter how much time we spend fighting for our misery, it’s a fight most are destined to lose. Two University of Chicago studies suggest older people are happier than younger ones — except for baby boomers who are the least happy.
“Life gets better in one’s perception as one ages,” said sociologist Yang Yang, author of one of the studies.
His study found that the odds are happiness improves by five per cent every 10 years.
Ilse Siegler, an 84-year-old widowed, former nurse, said these aren’t her happiest years, but she is content. “Contentment as far as I’m concerned comes with old age because you accept things the way they are. You know that nothing is perfect.”
But in a counter-intuitive sort of way, everything is perfect, because life is the way it is. We might not see it, we might not appreciate it, we might not like it, but when we accept it, life flows and we recognize the perfection.
In an old movie, actor Burgess Meredith, who later played Rocky’s trainer, said something was a miracle, to which his companion said there is no such thing as miracles.
“I know,” Meredith’s character replied with his twisted smile. “That’s what so miraculous.”
It, as always, comes down to a choice — about life and every-day miracles.
We can choose to see the grandeur in a sunset and a traffic jam, or we can choose to ignore the first and complain about the second. But in the end, one will still be beautiful and we will still be in the traffic jam. Nothing changes except our perception.
And that changes everything.
We can get past the regrets about yesterday and ignore the fears about tomorrow and live right now, since it’s all we have. We can choose to remember this Navajo prayer:
“Beauty above me, beauty below me, beauty in front of me, beauty behind me, all around me beauty.”
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The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs. — Writer Joan Didion
You are 100 per cent responsible for everything. Everything and everywhere! And it means not only your personal screw-ups and your personal successes. It means if someone somewhere did something and you became aware of that – you are 100 per cent responsible for that.
— Dr Ihaleakala Hew Len
We fixate on our concerns, and ourselves but, paradoxically, we don’t like to accept responsibility for our lives.
Even though there is an ocean of evidence, we persist in believing we’re victims, that we aren’t responsible for what happens to us. We have a great skill that we have polished with time — deceiving ourselves.
We live our lives within the self-imposed limits of what we believe about ourselves.
Even if we don’t admit it, when things appear the worst, we play a movie in our head where something or someone — the lottery, a rich uncle, a cosmic guru — will save us from whatever predicament we’re in.
Pleasant as that movie is, until we accept no one will save us, no one will take care of us, we can’t grow, and if we don’t grow, we fossilize, we live the same moment over and over again.
“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life,” said pugilistic philosopher Muhammad Ali.
We have to keep learning and one big lesson is to accept responsibility for our lives, for out thoughts, for our actions, and not keep making the same decisions and expecting a different result.
“When we feel victimized by the world, we look for something outside ourselves that will take away the hurt,” said Zen master Joko Beck.
“It could be a person, it could be something we want, it could be some change in our job status, some recognition, perhaps. Since we don’t know where to look, and we hurt, we seek comfort somewhere.”
Thomas Edison said most people miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.
That’s just as true for uncovering who we are as it was inventing the light bulb. Wishing for enlightenment, reading a book, going to a seminar or church isn’t enough.
There are no shortcuts. We know growth requires investment and some effort and doesn’t come from someone else telling us what to do, and how to do it.
“There is no birth of consciousness without pain,” said psychologist Carl Jung.
The great sages advise to start here, in this moment, figure out who we are, which many ignore because that involves a lot of work — and pain. And we don’t like that. Maybe that’s why we refuse to take responsibility, preferring to blame other people, even the weather, our car, the cat, a bad hair day.
But even though we can’t figure out who we are and won’t accept responsibility for us, we’re quick to tell other people who they should be and how they should behave.
“We are each creating our lives through our thoughts and feelings, and so you cannot hold yourself responsible for someone’s happiness,” it said on an old calendar.
“It is impossible for you to be responsible for anybody else, because you cannot jump into someone else and think and feel for them. Focus on your joy, and be an inspiration to everyone around you.”
When we catch ourselves raging against the system, the traffic, the computer crashing on deadline, the universe, that’s the ideal time to step back and watch ourselves — to see ourselves as others see us — and ask: Is this who I am — angry, peevish, irritable, irresponsible, reactionary?
That’s one of the big questions we don’t ask ourselves: Who do we want to be? Whatever form it takes, it starts with being responsible for just us — no one else.
We’re responsible for our thoughts, emotions and actions. Every day we have thousands of thoughts — we switch every six to 10 seconds — make countless decisions and take numerous actions and we are responsible for every one.
And what’s more, we are responsible for the thoughts we don’t have, the actions and reactions.
We have, of course, a repertoire of excuses for the things we do that cause us problems, but we make the decision to switch lanes without looking, we decide to mouth off to the cop, and we decide not to pay the ticket, then cuss ICBC when we can’t get our licence renewed.
We make the decision to be resentful, to chastise and condemn and wonder why we don’t get invited to go for a beer after work.
In spite of our advice to the cop, and to the neighbour about his noisy, obnoxious teenager, we can’t change anyone else.
We can only change ourselves, but by doing that and living the life we have imagined, we become the model for how we want others to behave. We know from how our parents raised us and how we raised our kids, that preaching doesn’t work; being a living example does.
But first we have to figure out who we are, who we want to be and we can start by following the advice we give others. If we’re always calm, confident and serene in any situation, people will notice and if they don’t, it doesn’t matter because we live for ourselves.
In the end what matters most is:
- How well did you live?
- How well did you love?
- How well did you learn to let go?