The Benefits of Gratitude

This is my friend, Brijesh Kumar Yadav, and his dog Puaa. They live in Pooranpur, Uttar Pradesh, India. We have been friends for four years. Living where he does, in a small village in India, it is difficult to get things you and I may take for granted. Like vaccines and health care. Running water and dependable electricity. Transportation and veterinary care. And many people are still dying of Covid.  Early in the pandemic Brijesh’s mother was one of Covid’s first victims.

After his mom passed, I encouraged him to adopt a street dog. I wanted him to have something all his own to love him. Over the past several months I have educated Brijesh on how to take care of a dog. It has been challenging. There are no vets where he lives. So, recently, after a six hour round trip by cab to a large city, Puaa was neutered. It also took several months and much difficulty to get Puaa his vaccines.

For me these things and others (like running water, dependable electricity, transportation, a refrigerator) are commonplace.  For my friend they are not.  We live in very different worlds. Knowing him has made the gratitude for all I have so much deeper. I love him dearly and in addition to helping with Puaa, I am investing in Brijesh’s future by helping him get an education. I want him to have the tools necessary so he can create his best life.

When we stop and think about it, we realize it is the little things in life that are most important. Being grateful for all we have, how convenient our lives are, how blessed we are, I believe is one way we love God. I believe another way we love God is to care for, help, and support one another as we want to be cared for, helped, and supported.

I am deeply grateful for my relationship with Brijesh. He is now part of my family. And each day I am grateful for him and how our relationship keeps me grateful for all I am blessed to have.

As Jami said, “We can spend a whole lifetime enjoying various benefits and not appreciate their value until we are deprived of them.”  Brijesh has taught me how truly blessed I am. For that I am eternally grateful.

LOVE = Listening Openly Via Empathy

Two of my neighbors have a long history of fighting with one another. Although they never get violent or even threaten each other physically, it still becomes uncomfortable for everyone in our small building when they start going at each other. Last night it happened again with door slamming and screaming. This morning one of them showed up at my door to vent. So I sat and listened.

In circumstances like this, when we are involuntarily pulled into someone’s difficulties, we can offer support without verbally supporting a particular side by simply listening without comment. The simple act of allowing someone to be heard without judgment often allows them to move on without our having to become involved, or to gossip, or to try to fix something that does not need our trying to fix it.

Please accept that you are making a huge difference in the lives of others simply by listening to them to understand. Just by letting someone know they matter you are being a positive influence.  By caring you are being an ambassador of love. And love is the most powerful force there is.

Homeless, Not Heartless

In the alcove of a storefront, close to the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire in Los Angeles, California, I sobbed in this homeless man’s arms. I did not know the man. Most likely I will not see him again. But I will not forget the moment our hearts touched in the intimate dance of raw truth: He lives on the street, and I, in a warm apartment.

Our exchange began when I commented on his dog. He smiled very proudly and said, “Yeah, she’s great. I’ve got her back and she’s got mine.”

As he spoke, he gently petted the dog. I reached into my wallet and took out all the money I had. Without counting or caring what he would do with it, I handed it to him.

He hesitantly took it. As our hands touched, my tears began. The man reached out, wrapped me in his arms and said, “It is okay. We’re okay out here. Thank you for caring.”

As I turned to leave, he said, “I love you.”

I looked him in the eyes and said, “I love you too.”

Until then I had never said “I love you,” to a complete stranger, someone I had just met and with whom I had exchanged only a few brief moments of conversation. However, when I spontaneously responded to the man with “I love you,” I meant it from the bottom of my heart and with every part of my being. There was no judgment. My soul was simply wide open, and the pure, honest emotion of caring deeply for the man came pouring out.

Love is who we are, when we allow ourselves to be it. 

Each of us experiences countless transformational moments in life. Occasions when we are given the opportunity to advance the ability we have, as soul, to let unconditional love move through us without allowing fear, judgment, or expectation to stop us.

This was one of my moments, and I took it. I saw him and his dog and could have passed them by. But I heard a voice in my heart say, See him and tell him he is seen!

My choice to listen to and act upon my heart’s compassion opened me to a lesson I was only able to learn with the willingness to experience the sincerity of our exchange. Holding the man and allowing him to hold me birthed a deep and profound understanding of what it means to be vulnerable to caring, without expectations or conditions. The kind of affection we want to experience. The depth of intimacy we long for. The magnificent feeling of being connected to unconditional love in ourselves and in another human being.

Isn’t the goal of all religions to teach us to love one another like we love ourselves?

Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. ~ Christianity

What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. ~ Judaism

Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself. ~ Islam

One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. ~ Hinduism

Hurt not others with that which pains yourself. ~ Buddhism

This is not a complete list, as I have only included the world’s top five religions. Yet the Golden Rule is the foundation for all other world religions too, and provides proof that God (whatever that energy is) was instrumental in the establishment of all religions.

In the exchange I had with the homeless man, I could have ignored the “heart-calling” I heard. In fact, if I had listened to and obeyed my fault-finding side, I would have kept on walking. The man was dirty and smelled bad. Maybe he would hurt or rob me. He should get a job. The dog might have had fleas. There were numerous fear-based excuses for why I should not stop.

Instead of giving in to judgmental excuses, though, I chose to follow my heart’s direction and act from nonjudgmental and unconditional acceptance. The soul I am did not care about the man’s tattered clothing, dirt, or body odor. Soul led me to hold him in my arms without scorn. Soul only cared about his kind spirit. In return, the soul he is accepted and returned my loving kindness.

I remember when I was young, my mother said, “We never know if someone we meet may be one of God’s angels.” My sweet, homeless man was an angel. He was God’s messenger of wisdom who taught me love is more than caring and affection for those closest to us.  And so was my angel friend John who lived on the streets for 25 years.

He and I spoke often. When Covid-19 hit and the restaurants in our neighborhood that usually fed him closed, my neighbors and I made food for him. John was not mentally ill. He did not want to go to a shelter because he said they were not safe. Our local post office allowed him to stay inside overnight. Often he was there when Pat was working alone. She told me she felt safe knowing John was there with her.

John was on the streets because of some bad life decisions he made. We never really discussed it and it didn’t matter because to me and everyone who met John he was just a kind neighborhood friend. John’s only wish was to go back east to tell his nieces and nephews not to make the same mistakes he had made. He never got to make that trip.

John passed away in December of last year. The last day I saw him was when I gave him a new sweater and pair of socks for Christmas.  He said, “Thank you so much for your kindness.”

I still miss him. We all miss John.  He, like the homeless man I hugged, are people who made my life better for having known them.

I don’t have the one magic bullet solution to the crisis of homelessness. I also don’t suggest you hug every homeless person you meet. What I am asking us to do is to lead with compassion rather than judgment. Let’s see the unhoused as fellow human beings. Let’s say hello, make eye contact, buy them a meal, do something to be the positive change in someone’s life. Because in my experience our lives are changed for the better too when we are ambassadors of God’s love.

Forgiveness Cleanses Our Heart

As a spiritual teacher and author I regularly discuss topics we would prefer not to talk about. There are so many things we face in life that are painful, so our tendency is to run from them, try to ignore them, or sweep them under the rug, so to speak. But in my experience the hard, hurtful experiences we so want to avoid don’t just magically go away. We have to intentionally let them go by bravely talking about the hard to talk about.

Like how to forgive sexual abuse. I was eleven when a sixteen-year-old male babysitter sexually molested me. I was eighteen when a physician casually ordered his nurse to leave the room so he would be free to sexually molest me in private. I am far from alone. I am not proud to tell you the majority of women I know have either been sexually abused or know of people, women or men, who have been.

One of my women friends was sexually abused by her father between the ages of eight and eleven. Her mother knew about it and did nothing to stop it, because she was financially dependent on her husband and had been threatened to stay silent or lose the means to live.

Since her mother was frightened into being an unwilling accomplice to the sexual assault, my friend suffered the long-term effects of abandonment by both her parents. She struggled for years to cope with her horrible past. A history which, as a child, she had no power to prevent or change.

Because my friend was physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused as a child, she allowed herself to be mistreated in her adult years, either by other people or by hurting herself.  She developed posttraumatic stress disorder, an unhealthy relationship with food, was repeatedly admitted to psychiatric hospitals, and lived in fear and self-doubt.

And today she is enjoying a peaceful life because she chose to heal.

But how did she do it?

She chose to forgive.

Forgiving those who harmed her so horribly does not mean my friend accepted the negative treatment she endured as okay. She realized she did not deserve to be abused. She came to realize that forgiving means releasing the resentment she held because she believed her parents should have done better than they did. They did not, so she chose to do better in order to free herself of the resentment that was destroying her life.

Although memories of the abuse continue (we don’t forgive and magically forget) to surface she is no longer haunted by them. One of the reasons for her dramatic transformation is, my friend intentionally chose to move herself out of a victim mentality. It took effort and much self-love since for many years she ignored her negative behavior and how she allowed herself to be treated. She felt deserving of bad treatment because she was treated so terribly in the past.

One day she realized hurting herself or allowing pent up anger and self-loathing to abuse other people would never get back at the people who hurt her in the first place. Therefore, to heal, she chose to move on from her past by dropping the identification and behavior of being a “victim.”

Although not a religious person, she came to accept and depend on the powerful, kind, and forgiving force (soul) within her to provide the strength and willpower necessary to leave the abuse of her past in the past. She intentionally worked to master her mind with a mind of its own by learning to evaluate each of the negative memories from the perspective of being a witness rather than a victim.  And she taught herself to remain aware of her thoughts, to evaluate each, to determine if they are valuable, loving, kind, and self-supportive.

One of her most powerful realizations was understanding that if her parents could have done better they would have. If her mother and father had been in touch with their emotions they would have had empathy for her and would never have subjected her to abuse.  She came to know love does not abuse, use, or mistreat – ever.  My friend realized people who are hurting, hurt others, just as she had done.  She came to be aware of the truth, people who heal the pain of their abuse also choose not to pass their wounding onto others.  Out of self-love and respect they stop the cycle of abuse and refuse to hurt themselves and others.

These revelations gave her the power to forgive her father for the abuse and her mother for not protecting her.  Acknowledging she was powerless to prevent what happened to her, she also forgave herself for the misguided and self-destructive idea she should have or could have done something to avoid the cruelty. Realizing she could not have prevented the unpreventable or now change the unchangeable, she was able to release resentment over her powerlessness. Forgiveness allowed her to free herself of bitterness, anger, fear, and desire for revenge.

Forgiving allowed me to be free too.

Certainly my friend and I did not heal overnight. It took years of thoughtful and caring effort. However, when we realized people only do better when they emotionally know better, we began releasing resentment over our past. It was letting go of the bitterness we carried about how her parents, my babysitter, and the physician should not have done what they did that allowed us to speed up the healing process.

Regardless what happened to you, whether it was in the past or today, releasing resentment and what you think should or could have been is a key needed to unlock the door to your freedom. Freeing yourself of animosity is accepting the reality that once an action is done it cannot be undone.  No matter how much you may want someone to take back or own up to the harm they caused, they cannot change the past. Just as you cannot take back anything you have done to hurt yourself or others.

Suffering over the past does not allow you to live today. Planning to be free of anger and resentment someday prevents you from creating joy and fulfillment today. Now, today, is the only time to release the past, to have the best present, so you create a fulfilling future.

I promise, through my own healing experience and by working with abused people throughout the world, if you choose to respond to challenges by releasing anger over what happened to you in life, the need for revenge and restitution vanishes. Discharging resentment over what cannot be changed is a powerful action of self-love. Letting go of bitterness helps heal your emotional wounds so you do not take your pain out on those you say you love or on the strangers you meet each day. Releasing anger over what cannot be changed is truly the only way to take back your power from those who abused, judged, or ridiculed you.

For your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, and because you care for yourself, choose to let go of what you cannot control or change. Set healthy boundaries today. Do not allow yourself to be abused. You will not forget but you can cut the ties that bind you to your abuser. Start by thinking of forgiveness like rain. It cleanses and nourishes the earth. Forgiveness (letting go of resentment over what cannot be changed) will cleans and nourish your heart.