One thing that stayed with me after a recent trip to London was the reproachful memory of the man on the subway.
We were riding the Underground when a man entered and addressed the whole car, probably East European judging by his accent, saying he was homeless and in need of help, and appealed for some spare change. My hand went to my bag, but my host in London who was with me that day, stopped me indicating you don't give to people like these. Again he appealed, again my hand went to my bag, again my host stopped me. I looked around the full car hoping someone else would give something, but everyone was sitting with averted eyes like they couldn't see or hear him. The man waited a full two minutes, and then left the car. Just another day in paradise.
This stung especially in the wake of another previous encounter at King's Cross station where a black woman with sad eyes had approached us asking for help and my companion at the time had waved her off, and I'd passively let it happen. She was reeking of smoke and might have misused money, but surely I could have offered to buy her a meal and a drink from one of the dozens of stalls all around us.
The obvious question is whether to give money or not since it can be misused, but there was a subtler connotation around both these experiences about giving in to the dominant vibe. Why this pernicious passivity? What allows us to let the external frequency of our surroundings and companions override the inner impulse to respond? How does this passivity take root? Because of non-alignment. Non-alignment with the core essence of what we are. If that flame was kept alive, do you think it would have allowed me to be passive while people in trouble went empty-handed? Do you think it would have allowed me to be a part of that stony-eyed stony-faced crowd that pretended not to see or hear the man appealing to them for help? I never want to experience this awful passivity again. As Baba says, one must be ready, ready, ready. In every moment, no matter in which part of the Earth, in whatever circumstance or company. You only hone that readiness by keeping the flame alive. How is the flame kept alive? By practices that keep you aligned - for me, it is reading/listening to wisdom teachings, meditation, yoga or whatever gets the god-flow in the body, contemplation, and a cultivation of constant integrated awareness. Also, and most importantly, by not being numbed by distractions and addictions and popular culture.
I watched Brene Brown on Netflix yesterday discussing what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty. She defines vulnerability as the courage to put yourself out there in the arena, to show up and be willing to be seen, to leave the comfort zone enough to say the unsaid, and to risk emotional exposure, especially when you can't control the outcome. It's the opposite of fitting in.
She says, "Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” This great article explores the idea of true belonging further.
It's clear to see how we're trained from birth to do things to be safe, unseen, fit in, hide our true heart, choose to be comfortable, put our heads down and only watch out for ourselves, tune out those who are suffering... It was so obvious to me on the London tube. Anywhere else too, workplace, school, anywhere there is a crowd, fitting in is the norm.
Kahlil Gibran writes in his masterpiece 'On Giving':
You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.
What will the world look like if we are at all times aligned with our true self, if we emit our own frequency instead of absorbing the frequency of our surroundings, if we are willing to be seen and put ourselves out there when we feel called to do so?
As Brene Brown says, it's clear that the days of "engineering smallness and playing it safe to avoid criticism" are over. It's not worth living hiding in the crowd anymore.
Whenever I remember the whole lot of us ignoring the man on the subway, who ironically enough was the only one in that crowd exhibiting vulnerability and courage, I'm comforted by this verse from The Dhammapada.
Verse 172: The Diligent Illumine The World
Whoso was heedless formerly
but later lives with heedfulness
illuminates the world
as moon when free of clouds.