“To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times, what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks, but a special heart that listens.”
There is something liberating about being heard. It validates our existence and makes us feel that we matter; that our lives and inner worlds count.
I learned this lesson while directing a peace camp for Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in Canada. The program brought together teens from both sides of the conflict’s divide – teens who outright hated each other – to live under the same roof for a couple of weeks. We had Hamas sympathizers on the Palestinian side pitted against hardcore right wing Israelis on the other.
It was like trying to get a bulldog and a lion to sit down for a cup of tea.
Why did these teens participate in the program you ask? Not because they wanted to make peace but because they wanted to tell their story, blame the other side, and convince the other side of how awful, cruel and misguided they are. (A free round trip ticket to Canada didn’t hurt either).
A few days into it we’d start our dialogue sessions. This was a forum where every hot button topic was discussed and put on the table; stereotypes, politics, history, religion, war, terrorism. It got very personal. The only caveat, and we worked on this from day one, was that when somebody speaks everybody else must listen. This doesn’t mean shutting your mouth while thinking about how you want to respond, or dismissing the other person’s viewpoint in your mind, but actively listening with every ounce of your attention and fiber of your being.
Now get this: the more each side listened to one another – the closer they became. I noticed how after a few sessions the camper’s views softened, the tone of their voice mellowed and body language eased. All of a sudden, the Israeli’s were saying – “you know, we really understand your suffering and aggravation” and the Palestinians were talking about the Holocaust and Israel’s need for security.
Group hug to conclude the dialogue Meeting with Defence Minister Peter MacKay
Being heard transcends notions of right or wrong because it validates how you feel. Yes, the campers still disagreed with each other on politics and history, but by listening they silently acknowledged the other’s perspective and plight. And this was powerful.
“Listening,” it turns out, “is the beginning of peace.”
Larry King, the famous CNN talk show host was wildly successful because he was a great listener. His motto; “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening”
And Bill Clinton, the beloved former President accomplished much during his presidency because of his gifts as a listener. Everyone who meets Clinton comments that when you’re talking to him, its like you are the only person in the room. You are the only person that exists. He listens wholeheartedly and makes you feel special.
God gave us two ears but only one mouth so we could listen twice as much as we speak. Apply this lesson to your marriage and personal relationships and you’ll avoid a whole lot of conflict. (Still learning, don’t shoot the messenger 😉
But you can also apply this wisdom to your inner life. By meditating, for example, you are giving yourself the opportunity to listen to the universe and the echo of your soul. That’s why meditation is so therapeutic. It’s like acknowledging your own heartbeat and existence – the heartbeat of the spirit.
In the words of Rumi. “Listen! Clam up your mouth and be silent like an oyster shell, for that tongue of yours is the enemy of the soul, my friend. When the lips are silent, the heart has a hundred tongues.”
Love and light
I’m reading a book about Albert Einstein, a fantastic bio written by Walter Isaacson. One of the things that strikes me about the man, beyond his brilliance, is the spirit of his times. In the early 1900s scientists were treated like rock stars. They were the celebrities. When Einstein visited New York in 1919, crowds greeted him and lined the streets cheering wildly, while photographers and reporters swarmed his hotel. Everywhere he went people wanted his autograph, or his picture, or to hear him say something pithy.
Such a scene is unimaginable today. Let’s face it. Most of us wouldn’t recognize a Nobel Laureate or an Einstein if we passed him or her on the street. Instead we pander to and prop up those who are physically beautiful, wealthy, or star in their own reality TV shows. We know more about the cast of Desperate Housewives and Jersey Shore than of Marie Curie or Martin Luther King.
Our value system has shifted from the intellect to the sometimes, well, idiotic. From appreciating people and qualities of substance to those that are more surface, fleeting and ephemeral.
Which brings us back to Einstein. His Theory of Relativity doesn’t just apply to physics; it applies to psychology and our value system too! Our values seem to be relative to the time and place we live in. They are not absolute.
One thing does remain constant however (call it the ‘cosmic constant’), and that is our human proclivity to worship that which lies outside of us rather then that which lies within. We worship someone else’s mind, body, beauty, status, or persona. The Biblical story of the golden calf is an apt metaphor. You know, the story where Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai clutching the Ten Commandments only to find the Hebrew slaves worshiping a Golden calf. We today are no different. We still worship idols – it’s only the outward form that has changed.
Think about the Oscars and its coveted golden statuettes, or shows like American Idol that manufacture idols like it’s the flavour of the month, or our obsessive celebrity culture. We love creating and venerating idols. Why? Maybe it’s because we project onto other people attributes we feel lacking in ourselves. We project that which we neglect, internally.
How we can compensate for this lack?
The first step is to realize that you lack nothing.
The Kingdom is within you. “Neither shall they say, lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” Jesus tells us in Luke.
Every religion articulates this truth in a different way.
The Hindu’s say, Tat tvam asi, which means “thou are that” – you are made from the same stuff, the same substance of the Divine creator. You are already “it”. So why go out looking for divinity in everybody else but yourself?
Half of the world’s problems could be solved if we spent more time appreciating our own inner riches, rather then worshipping others for the riches we think they have.
So ask yourself, what or who is your golden calf? What external object or person do you worship or covet? Face it and then forsake it.
That’s my two cents for this week.
Love and light,
Wherever you are in life and no matter what you do professionally one thing is certain: You want more! You want to love more, earn money, achieve more, feel more, BE more. Maybe you feel you have untapped potential. Maybe you are looking for a breakthrough in a particular area of your life, or just feel stuck, tired and uninspired.
Why then is change so difficult? Why isn’t it easy to kick a bad habit, leave a depressing job or unfulfilling relationship and go after your dreams? After all, you know exactly what you need to do to make it happen. You’ve read the books, bought the DVD set, been to the seminar, searched the internet – you know exactly what it takes! And yet you can’t budge. Why???
One simple reason:
People don’t change because they see the light. People change because they feel the fire, the heat. Knowing what it takes to accomplish your goals won’t get you the desired results. There are a lot of smart people who want to lose weight or quit smoking or live a healthier lifestyle but seldom do.
You need a trigger. Something that stirs you to action and ignites a fire within.
There are only two forces that will create this fire in you; a fire that compels you to take action towards transformative and decisive change: Passion and pain.
Passion: Passion is love. It’s a compulsion, sometimes crazy and irrational, to do something you love doing. It’s a force that compels you to act not because you seek gain or recognition but because the very performance of the act brings you pleasure.
If you are passionate about acting you will find a way to integrate acting into your life. Whether you become rich and famous is not the driving force. It’s not your incentive. Einstein was passionate about physics so he spent his evenings and weekends working on the Theory of Relativity while holding down a day job in the Swiss patent office. He wasn’t after the pay check or the glory. Bill Gates was passionate about computer programming so he spent most of his free time as a teen working on that. Michael Jordan had a passion for basketball and continued playing even after being cut from his high school basketball team.
What are you passionate about? This is the million dollar question. Where you find your passion you find your life. But this is only the beginning of your journey…The real challenge involves turning your passion into something useful that brings value to other people and puts food on your table. This isn’t easy my friends – and will take blood, sweat, tears and a whole lot of pain to get you there.
So let’s talk about pain, that gnawing nuisance of a feeling: we try to avoid it like the plague (why be “negative” right?) but there it is. Pain is unavoidable. Why? Because life causes pain. Your passion will bring you pain. Love causes pain. Loss causes pain. Change causes pain. Success causes pain. Stagnation causes pain. Growth causes pain, like when you work out in the gym and stretch your muscles to breaking point.
The trick is to accept pain and allow it to drive you to meaningful, purposeful action; to passion.
Consider the Buddha: Seeing the plight of the poor and diseased in the villages around him forced the young prince to leave his palace and seek enlightenment. It was his pain that moved him to find his calling. His passion.
Moses fled Egypt to find God and more importantly his own calling and leadership potential in the wilderness of Sinai after seeing the pain inflicted on a Hebrew slave by an Egyptian taskmaster. The injustice pained him so he took action.
Similarly, Jesus was moved by the pain and suffering he saw around him. The oppression, inequality and marginalization of the poor prompted Jesus to become a preacher and healer. Later on, it was his own suffering on the cross that led to Jesus’ resurrection and redemption. To the passion of the Christ. Pain led to passion.
How many people do you know who lost a loved one to a disease like cancer and have taken up the cause as their life’s mission? How many people have been ‘called’ by the injustice of war, or the plight of the poor, or the damage done to the environment, or animal cruelty…and become champions of the cause?
Look at any success story in this world and you’ll see the same thing happen time and again. Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey – they all took something difficult in their life; an obstacle, tragedy, or dark moment and transformed it into something beautiful. You must do the same.
So if you want to change your life, change the way you relate to it. Don’t run from your pain – run with it. Take the energies at your disposal (and pain is a potent energy, its simply the flip side of passion) and direct it towards something productive.
Martin Luther King once said; ‘if you don’t stand for something – you will fall for anything.’ What do you stand for? What’s valuable to you – what are your values? What things in life are you willing to fight and struggle for, maybe even die for? These are questions you must figure out before setting out to change your life.
Take some time alone today or this weekend to reflect upon these questions. Quiet your mind, close your eyes, and go deep to find answers.
Change is within reach. You just need to align yourself with the energy that will get you there.
Love and light,