The Wandering Monk

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Give and Take

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘It’s all about the give and take’?  If you haven’t, now you have.  I used to think that this phrase was about balance and I even said as much before. But today I’d like to offer a different perspective on the notion.  I’m not withdrawing my previous observations as canon; think of it as a kind lighting adjustment.

I still do think that balance is the masterful work of the universe and that giving and taking are both equal important.  But I think this is specifically and especially true when it comes to the mindset one uses.

In a recent post I discussed how there are two kinds if people in the world: those who think for others and those who think of themselves.  Neither are bad.  It’s more about the manner in which we enact these things.  This could even seem like the ‘give and take’ we are talking about now, and in a way it is, but just not the same.

I watched a video of a man describing his father, who lived a very humble life.  It was a video on how we measure our success.  He approached his father and he said “Why are we not rich?” and the Father smiled and said “Who says we are not rich?” The boy looked around their slum apartment and at his meager life and exclaimed, “I do!” .. The father simply replied “Being rich is not about what you have, it is about what you give.  Give greatly and you will be richer than any man.”

The video goes on to demonstrate that the father asked his son to give a portion of how allowance to ‘tax’ (a small bucket).  The boy listened to his father, begrudgingly, and offered a bit of his allowance.

Years later, after his father passed away, he learned that he had donated a significant amount to a local home for people with disabilities and he was given an award for having given so much.  The man was astonished because he never knew about it.  His father would work and then go to the charity after work and dress up like a clown to make the children laugh and to perform magic tricks.  They adored him. They knew true happiness and joy because they were the recipients of someone’s true selflessness.

The boy decided he would continue in his father’s footsteps and began going to the home as well, finally learning the lesson his father’s life was teaching him.  His father was always happy and joyful, always laughed and smiled, despite having very little.  Now the son was able to finally connect with this part of himself too.

What can we learn from such a lesson? I believe it is that we can all benefit from the gift of selflessness.  If we can give and not expect something back, we will find that our happiness will be boundless.

Consider another story.

A boy is in the street being belittled by a shopkeeper for stealing medicine.  A soup merchant comes over and asks what the boy needed it for.  He replied that his mother was very sick.  The soup merchant pays for the medicine and gives the boy some soup.  The boy grabs the bag of contents and runs off without even a ‘thank you’.

Many years later, a man approaches the soup merchant and asks for soup because he is homeless.  The soup merchant gives him the soup for free and, after the man leaves, blacks out.  His daughter rushes him to the hospital and it turns out he is very sick.

After many days of tests, the bill for the potential procedure comes and it is very large — larger than the man or his daughter can afford.  The daughter despairs and laments, and begins making arrangements to sell the soup shop her father worked in for so long.  She returns to her father to find an envelope with a revised version of her bill.  Everything was paid for.

There is a note at the bottom of the bill that reads: “Paid for by a small bag of medicine, a bag of soup, and a kind deed never forgotten.”

The doctor was the boy he had helped so long ago, and covered everything.

The sense of karma in these stories is what I believe is the most striking.

Not because they are stories, but because these things actually happen.  The energy you put out is the energy you receive.  The charity you give is the charity you receive.  The more we live for ourselves, the less we seem to truly live and the less joy we seem to find.  Think on this, truly, and ask yourself when you’ve been most happy.

For me, seeing others happy has always been what makes my heart glow the brightest.

Until next time.

Feature Image from http://www.thefirstteebrunswickcounty.org/ways-to-give/planned-giving/

 

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Us or Them, Me or You.

I’ve had an interesting epiphany recently.  The kind of revelation that seems to help me make peace with the way people are in the world, despite the really tragic nature of humanity at times.  It’s something that I’ve been mulling over in my mind on my way to work each day and something that I think I’ve whittled down enough to jot down in a blog post.

The concept is about the fundamental nature of human beings, big and small.  It’s likely there is a philosophy concept that already outlines this but I have deliberately avoided researching in that direction because I wanted to come to the conclusion wholly on my own before finding it.

The concept is that there are only ever two kinds of ethical decision making roots:

  1. A decision rooted in doing something for others.
  2. A decision rooted in doing something for yourself.

Now, before I get too far ahead of myself, I’d like to put both of these into context.  There isn’t actually anything completely wrong or completely right about either of these views.  I’m not saying one is good and one is bad, or that one should be like the other.  Just that, depending on which is applied in what situation, one might have more of positive or negative ethical impact than the other.

Let’s talk about examples.

You’re walking down the street and there’s a man in front of you.  He reaches into his pocket for something and as he pulls his hand out, a $100 bill drops from his pocket and the wind brings it to you.  You catch it successfully and you know it came from the guy you’re behind.

You have two choices.  You can either keep it or you can give it back to him.

If you keep it, you’re thinking about yourself.
If you give it back, you’re thinking about other people.

Now, philosophy has a strong root in ethics analysis and we can analyze this in many ways.  We could come up with arguments for both sides on what is the ‘right’ thing to do.  One side will say that because the money wasn’t secured and left his pocket, it’s no longer his.  ‘Finders keepers’, so to speak.  Others will say that it’s not yours no matter how you got it, it wasn’t freely given to you so it isn’t yours.

Personally, I would have given it back to him. Let’s assume you do this.

After making that decision, we’re immediately thrust into another subconscious analysis.  Do we give it back because we genuinely want to do the right thing or think for someone else, or are we doing it because we secretly want something for ourselves?

Are we giving it back because it makes us feel good to do the right thing?  Are we giving it back because we secretly hope he’ll let us keep it if we demonstrate a ‘good’ moral character?  Do we hope he will ‘owe us one’ or will repay us in some other way for our actions?

Again we’re confronted with the ideal that either we’re doing something for someone else, or we’re doing something for ourselves.

We hand the money back to the man, and he is very grateful.  He may even make a few comments about how honest we are and how we need more people in the world like us.  These are nice things to say and demonstrate his ability to be gracious and humble when someone does something honorable.

Then, leaving it at that, he walks away with a last ‘thank you’.  You watch him go and you think… What?  Are you disappointed he didn’t do more? Are you saying “I won’t be doing that again, I didn’t get anything from him.” … did you have some other expectation that wasn’t met?

Once again we are faced with the notion of who we’re thinking about.

This brings me to my final conclusion: There are only two kinds of people in the world.  People who think only about themselves and people who think only about others.  Or, Consumers and Providers.

As Americans, our culture is that of consumers.  I think we can all agree that we wish the moral fiber of our society was stronger.  When we read on the news that someone did something selfless, we often feel inspired, don’t we?  We feel hopeful in our society’s future.  We feel happier on some level, I think.

But there are some who condemn the very act.  Some who say “That guy was an idiot, I would’ve kept that $100.  Who carries around $100, anyway? He didn’t need it”.  And so on.

On the WoW Facebook page, someone posted this:

whatwouldyoudo

The post erupted into a frenzy of replies, and as I read through them (and even commented on some), I noticed again two interesting points of view.  First, it was “I would’ve kept it, too bad.” and the second was “Of course I would give it back, it’s the right thing to do”.  Those legendary items are expensive and time consuming to make, and the guy obviously didn’t mean to put it up for 1 Copper.

The perspectives on the post weren’t just “Here’s what I would do”.. They were so emphatic about their stance, like there’s no possible other recourse. Any other recourse would be stupid, and the person who did it, an idiot for sure.

Some of the individuals who posted had more creative responses, such as “I’d trade him what it was actually worth” or “I’d give it back to him for 1,000 gold.  Way cheaper than [30,000 gold] but enough to teach him a lesson”.

Even inside of these responses, we can ultimately whittle down the decision making process to the two fundamental ideals.  Are they thinking of themselves, or are they thinking of the other person?

In the two examples of creative replies I posted, we see examples of both.  First, trading him the gold it was actually worth is what we’ll call ‘amicable selfishness’.  It’s doing the right thing while still getting what you were after.  It’s finding a middle ground.  In many ways, these kinds of compromises are where our decision making processes land and they’re probably the best place for them.

The second response, to give it back to him for 1,000 gold, could also take either side of the amicable selfishness.  He’s giving it back because his ethical position demands he does, but he’s making sure he understands the lesson of being thoughtless in his auction house posts.

But let’s play devil’s advocate here.  Let’s say the guy doesn’t want to sell the item (to the first response) or doesn’t have 1,000 gold (second response).  What if he just wants the item back because of another reason? Or if it was a mistake?

That’s where we discover the heart of the decision-making process of the person offering the solution.  This is where we learn if empathy or apathy play a stronger role in the core of the person.

If they gave it back anyway, they’re thinking for the other person.  If they kept it, justifying it by ‘I gave him a chance’ then they’re thinking about themselves.

The universe has an interesting way of handling micro-situations like these.  They undoubtedly happen every day, all the time, in every-day life.  Some people call it karma, some people call it consequence, some people call it energy.  Whatever you call it, we can all agree that what goes around, comes around.  Consider the Golden Rule passed from Confucius: What you do not want done to you, do not do to others.

In other words, treat others like you would like to be treated.

If we assume that everyone fundamentally follows this rule, then we can presume that people judge their ethical decisions based on how they value their own self worth.  If a person devalues themselves, they believe that they deserve the harsher responses and not the nicer ones.  They then treat people as though they expect to be treated.  Which perpetuates the energy they receive back.

The other half of that rule is “As you treat others, so will you too be treated.”  So we see that if we dislike ourselves, we treat others as though we dislike them as well.  When we treat them this way, they respond with the same sort of energy back to us.  This reinforces our view of ourselves, and the cycle continues.

Isn’t that view point just another way of acting only for ourselves and not for others?

Fundamentally, what I subscribe to ethically follows the thought process that, if you place others before yourself, that is the energy you give to the universe and that is the energy you will get back.  If you give others love, compassion, kindness, acceptance, and patience, you will get it back.  You will emulate what you receive, which will perpetuate an environment of just such a thing.  When you do this, you will feel better, and they will feel better.

This is just another example of how we are all connected.  If all the universe is a single entity, then we are just a wave to its ocean; a leaf to its branches; a petal to its flower.

Even in this state of mind, however, we are considering ourselves, but second, and constructively.  So combining the two fundamental ideas of how a person is, we can achieve a better environment by being the first to put the positive energy out there.  You can help yourself by helping others.  You can help yourself, and others will help you if you help them.

Consider this the next time you see an opportunity to help someone, even in a casual conversation.  Practice being mindful of the conversation and compassionate to the other side.  Don’t just listen placidly, waiting for your turn to talk, but instead, give them your full attention and thought, and respond after they’ve finished.

Be mindful, compassionately kind, and meditate often, and you’ll find it easy to embrace the world for their betterment and yours.

To learn more about this, head over to theSchureThing blog, where they talk about overcoming the ‘us’ vs ‘them’.  It’s a great read!

Talk to you soon.

Feature Image from: http://privatelabelexpress.com/

 


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Misery Loves Company and Needs Love

Hi everyone,

I’ve cautiously ignored politics because I find the notion of scrutinizing every action of our leaders and every decision they make exhausting at best, toxic at worst.  But the way things have been going in America have begun to trend and the decision making processes of American leaders are beginning to reveal themselves.

Many bloggers will rant and rave about their fears of what the choices President Trump makes, or they will rant and rave about their pride in the same.  Which ever side you’re on doesn’t much matter, so long as you believe you’re fueling your core ethical fibers.

Is it our position in life to take what we can and let the world crumble in our wake?  Or is it our position in life to help others because they are part of the collective ‘we’, and ‘we’ are all in this together?

If you’ve read my blog much, you’ll probably guess at what my political stance is.  To some, we might use the word ‘humanitarian’ — someone who favors placing the needs of other people and our species above the wants and aspirations of a niche group or groups.

Others might say ‘liberal’ but I feel like that’s an extreme term by someone who is is equally blinded by the other side of the coin.  I prefer to take decisions that are made on ever level to be grounded in fundamental honesty and with fundamental humanity.

I personally believe that the government should exist to support its people and the infrastructure and the people should, in turn, support the government’s efforts to do this.  If roads needs to be fixed, the government makes it happen with taxpayer money.  I like the idea of paying more as a healthy, working American to support the healthcare needs of others.  But I also like the idea of policing it appropriately to prevent abuse.

But despite these points of view, there are people who want to basically let the sick die, and make the different emancipated from the ‘noble whole’. I would gladly emancipate myself if it came to that — I am different and virtually everyone I know is different too.

That brings me to the point of this blog post.  Differences

So, there are those that would prefer to subjugate anyone who is different in terms of religion, race, orientation, gender, and many other labels we’ve created to define a characteristic of a human being.  They would condemn others for the sheer fact that they are different.

My question to this mindset is .. where do we draw the line?  What difference do we say “Oh that’s just how people are, so it’s OK.” and what do we say “That’s unacceptable!” and begin justifying our reasons for harming others for that difference?

When we all have different opinions, how can anyone reconcile any truth when it’s all a point of view?  The simple answer is.. we can’t.  And those who don’t accept others behave in that manner because they don’t accept themselves.  And because they don’t accept themselves, they need company.

This brings us back to suffering, to the pain internal and the daunting American way of life that habitually prevents us from confronting ourselves and accepting ourselves for who we are.

For those who are peace-oriented, there is only one discourse, both to enrich our own souls and to help enrich others’.  The only way we can combat intolerance is with love, unyielding.  The only way we can change the minds of our enemies is to demonstrate compassion in a world that asks everyone to condemn each other.  Only through unity can we face the adversary of unhealthy judgement.

So the next time we you see something political on your Facebook feed that infuriates you, remember that our anger is only ever going to ignite the fires that tear down ourselves.  Instead, practice mindfulness and kindness, and be the change you’d like to see in the world.

 

Talk to you soon.


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The Breath of Life

Try listening to Weightless by Marconi Union, especially while sitting and contemplating this week’s thought.

Breathing.  It is as synonymous with life as water, and just as vital idealistically, conceptually, and metaphysically.  Through breathing, we reconcile many mental path.  When we’re frustrated, we take deep breaths.  When we’re tired, we breath slower.  The lull of our mothers’ breathing as infants program us to fall asleep to the steady pulsing rhythm of her breath and heartbeat.

So it’s no surprise that, when I was meditating and asking myself to help bring the concept of living into a simple thought, my mind drifted towards breathing.  Life has been a bit troubling lately.  I don’t really know why, or precisely what the problem is.  If you asked me “What’s wrong?” I’d say “So much, yet nothing at all.” And you’d look at me funny, and I’d feel just as funny.

My main problem is that I can’t seem to put my finger on a lingering sense of unrest that has been creeping up in my mind.  I feel unfinished, unfocused, unbalanced. I feel taxed at work, drained and lifeless, and I feel as though the thing that is who I am is the reverb of an echo of what it once was.

In life, I think our biggest hurdles are ourselves and being in our own minds.  Intelligence of all kinds can be a curse.  Emotional Intelligence gives us the insight to analyze our own feelings even as we are affected by them – which spirals because we are affected by our analysis, which alters them, which causes to reanalyize, and it repeats.  Spiritual intelligence merely tells us what we’re missing and how we should idealistically live our lives, and our analysis of our lives sends us towards sadness because we aren’t meeting our own standards.

Is there hope for me?

As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn and the Buddha said, “There is no way to happiness.  Happiness is the way.”

Consider the truth in these words.  We do not end with happiness after we’ve suffered – perhaps the contrast is necessary for a certain amount of appreciation (the rule of true existence demands the negative of a thing to exist) — we begin living once we’ve accepted happiness is a choice and not a destination.  It is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it is the rainbow road itself.

Happiness is the inhale and the exhale.  It is the touch of your loved one’s skin and the thousand gentle reminders of life and living in our daily lives. 

We only need to remind ourselves frequently and to embrace the positivity in all things – even the bad ones – because it is all living and to live is to embrace the greatest gift we can have.

The last time I meditated my contemplation was to consider life in the summary of simple things.  I used breathing as my analogy.  Here is what I wrote:

Each breath is life in its fullest.  When I breath in, I am born.  My lungs grow and expand as I did in childhood; they are filled with endless possibilities.  I prepare to be anything and everything I want.  The potential is limitless.  For the briefest of moments all is still when the apex of my breath is realized.  I am full of life.

 When I breath out, I express all that I am.  Perhaps a song, perhaps a word chosen carefully.  Perhaps my exhale is an idea.  Whatever it is, my breath does not condemn itself for not being something else.  It does not say ‘if only I was something else’.  It becomes what it is and does its best to be this thing, content only in the moment of its being. 

 This is how life must be. 

 If we are the breath of the universe, then we must celebrate the billions of forms each exhale has taken, for when it is gone and the air has left our lungs, we must inevitably breathe deeply again, so that we may be the best exhale we can be.

 

Stay kind.

Photo credit to: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joel_r/11811761533