Recently I have become increasingly sensitive towards the people I meet on a day-to-day basis; how much we shift and change, converging and diverging as we move. I often imagine how it would be to visualize the route of our unique lives over time. How many paths would we cross and how many of us are more connected then we know?
The matrix of human interaction has been tracked in many ways over time, but has it been mapped to show the potential moment for positive change? Our crossroads are a key for transformation.
It is easy to lose the belief that what we do and how we do it can actually make a difference in the world. When I look around me in the tube station, I see people rushing from point A to point B, usually with their head down focused on their mobile phone or minding the gap. The assumption is to take these small exchanges between travelers without regard; aggression seems to be widely accepted as a tool to get ‘there’ faster.
Where is ‘there’? I have taken pause over the past few months to consider this in my practice, and have been observing this in students coming to my classes. Some rush into advanced asana while struggling with a basic understanding of where they are in space. Where is ‘there’? What is the rush to that place, where ever it may be? The truth is that there is here. I understand the day-to-day rush, the fear of not knowing what will happen if we don’t get there, and our dire need to define a future place of where it is that we are going. I’ve spent a good part of my life racing to get to that place.
Since an early age I was told I would die young due to a digestive disease, and for the better part of ten years I rushed to find the answer to life before the doctor’s prognosis of end-stage liver disease came true as I turned forty. For nearly two years I thought I may die any day while I awaited an organ donor to come through. I had things I wanted to achieve before that happened, and I was determined to keep working towards whatever small and large goals I had in mind. In one sense, I was fortunate to have illness slow me down; it enabled me to have beautiful human interactions during that time. It carved a place for me to be in the moment and enjoy whatever company I was in, rather than pushing everything out of the way to forge ahead in hopes of accomplishing something – anything– before my impending demise.
In the year after my transplant, though my strength was rebuilding, with this new potential for health I struggled to catch up for lost time. I made choices, including how I interacted with other beings, based on my own concept of what I thought I needed to accomplish. In that head space, any extra conversations, any extra energy I was putting into peripheral interactions seemed, in my limited understanding, to deter me from my path. I found myself agitated, short tempered and frustrated when time was ‘lost’, and I assumed no one would understand my urgent need to get ‘there’. The problem was, I had blinders on. How was I to know whicn interactions were important, and when time was being wasted? My ego was ruling the show; I had made assumptions about what I was supposed to achieve in my life solely based on an illusion that my ego had woven together. Though headstrong, I felt behind the eight-ball all the time and much of the joys of life were lost on me. I struggled.
The aha! moment did not come at once. A year after my transplant, I began to see the reality of my situation more clearly. Upon reflection, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere that I wasn’t already; I had everything I needed. I had body that was working well enough to be in the world from day to day. I had a roof over my head, food to eat, and a brain that on an intuitive level could make choices that felt right, and on a cortical level, the knowledge to do the right thing. What was out of place was my ego. It fed me stories on which I based my self-worth. I was comparing myself to others and making unrealistic expectations of myself, and felt pushed to a hard edge that was not contributing to the happiness of those around me, and certainly wasn’t serving myself. I needed to soften to others, and to myself.
What happened? I began to listen more, and slow down.
I lightened my work load. I re-prioritized my schedule to spend time cultivating joy and to focus on the basic necessities throughout my day: to feed myself healthfully, to communicate lovingly, to listen and observe more and do less.
I am not currently out campaigning for a cleaner environment or petitioning for women’s rights in Africa. I am not using a big brush to make broad strokes with the hopes of changing the world. Instead, I have a small brush, and I’m learning to make individual strokes with care. I am doing the best I can to be a good person, to be kind, and to respect each encounter; to not take anything or anyone for granted.
Each one of us contributes to the zeitgeist of human interaction. I know this to be true because I have experienced a place here on earth where people look at one another in the eyes, where people are compassionate and concerned for each other; where there is a space for meaningful dialogue.
Some day maybe I will have different resources, perhaps a big brush with which to make broad strokes. I have learned that in order to use that big brush, it takes a lot of practice using the small brush, being specific and intentional.
It’s not revolutionary, but perhaps the most profound contribution we can each make are the small, day to day interactions we are responsible for shaping. Acknowledging one another. Making eye contact. Using a kind voice. Smiling. Think of the changes we could make if each interaction we had day to day was infused with joy and compassion.
We create the portrait of our global community, stroke by stroke. Each of us is responsible for a piece of the human constellation.