Ordinary People, Extraordinary Things

Join me, if you will, in a little celebration amidst humanity’s ever increasing swathes of doom and gloom. Because, despite the myriad ways in which our species seems intent on ruining not only itself but also its habitat, there is, like tiny saplings poking their heads through the dry earth or sunbeams breaking through the clouds, still hope. That hope lies in the people who refuse to sit back and watch as we chart an untenable course into oblivion. Not world leaders, nor social commentators, but ordinary people like you and me. What qualities do they possess that many of their fellow humankind do not, or choose not to cultivate? Belief it doesn’t have to be this way. Compassion for their fellow men and women. The desire to act, to help, to make a tangible difference, no matter how small.

Here are some examples of ordinary people who are currently achieving extraordinary things:

  1. The Worldwide Tribe – Words can’t describe my admiration for Jasmin O’Hara and her small team of friends and family who have been working tirelessly in recent weeks to raise funds and gather supplies for the refugees in Calais. Their Facebook page details their regular trips and interactions with the refugees, and donations to the cause can be made here.
  2. Serve the City / Gare du Nord – Food for Friends – I recently found out about Serve the City, A movement of volunteers serving cities in practical ways & inspiring people to be givers in this world, who believe that many people doing small things together can make a big difference in our world.The Brussels website details lots of different volunteering opportunities that I am keen to check out, including the Gare du Nord – Food for Friends project, which meets weekly to distribute food and supplies, and provide a listening ear, to homeless people, including those caught up in the current migrant crisis.
  3. Solidare-IT – A crowdfunded project I have recently come across in Brussels, which aims to connect people who need some help with people who can and want to help…[facilitating] the exchange of solidarity. The project is scheduled to be up and running by the end of this year, and I’m so impressed with it I have offered my communication services for free – a small personal contribution to a fantastic cause.
  4. Mark Bustos – I’ve mentioned him on this blog before, but he is more than deserving of another mention. A New York-based celebrity hair stylist who gives up his weekends to provide free hair cuts (and care packages courtesy of his girlfriend, who goes with him) to the homeless. Follow him on Instagram – markbustos – his updates make me smile every time.

It is people and projects like these that inspire me to do better, to be better. It’s all too easy to pass the buck and say the issues that society is currently facing are too big for ordinary people to solve. But if not us, the ordinary people, then who? The politicians? Excuse me while I choke on my latte. No. The only way to save our species is by looking outside ourselves and starting to save others. If that’s not the true essence of humanity I don’t know what is. And if the rest of us ordinary people don’t get with the programme soon it will be too late to find out.

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Jasmin O’Hara from the Worldwide Tribe on one of their trips to the Calais migrant camp. 

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Life Lessons

As Mary Scmich once wrote (and Baz Luhhrman subsequently recorded), in life one must accept certain inalienable truths. One of those truths, in my own meandering experience, is that people are apt to let you down. Rarely will they act a certain way or say a certain thing because it is the kindest response; because it would make you feel better. No, humans are inherently selfish creatures so, more often than not, they will say what makes them feel better, even if that same thing will make you feel worse.

The key to coping with this is learning to accept without internalising; don’t allow the words and actions of others to hurt you; to affect your belief system about yourself and your place in the world. Easier said than done if, like me, you are a sensitive soul who does take things to heart. Even the smallest off the cuff comment meant as a joke can cut deep to the core of you, and make you question yourself. But don’t.

When others react badly it is often a sign of their own insecurity. If they are rude, or they ignore you altogether, so what? It says more about them than it does about you. You are the bigger person. You have love and compassion in abundance and you know who you are, warts and all. Never allow someone else to call those facts into question. You are you. You are unique. And the only thoughts, words and deeds you have any power over in this life are your own. The rest is out of your control.

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Existential Musings to kick of Mindfulness Month

Last night, before bed, I found myself engaged in a discussion about the nature of the universe, how humans (and the world as we know it) came to be, and what, if anything, happens after we die. This wasn’t light subject matter for a Sunday evening, and I must confess that, as fascinated as I am by the incredible phenomenon of our existence, I am, in equal parts, utterly terrified by it. My partner and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum where explanation of our existence is concerned – he takes an entirely scientific view and has no belief in a greater being or purpose. As far as he is concerned, therefore, when humans die, we cease to exist. There is no Heaven, no Hell, no reincarnation, not even, as Buddhist philosophy posits, a higher, purer form of consciousness that our ego-less selves return to. There is just nothing, until sometime in the far distant future (or perhaps not even future, since quantum physicists believe that time itself is a construct of our tiny minds because they are not capable of perceiving more than three dimensions – I won’t even begin to go there) another Big Bang-type event occurs and gives rise to another civilisation like ours – as has, statistically speaking, most likely happened before, and will continue to happen, ad infinitum. Whilst this argument fascinates me, it also makes me feel so entirely insignificant that it makes me want to cry. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that last night whilst having the conversation I actually did cry, quite suddenly and without warning, and purely as a result of the stabbing terror that accompanied the mere suggestion there is nothing more to this life, that we are but a happy (some might not use that word) ‘accident’ of the universe.

I was brought up in a family with religious beliefs, and if pressed I would say that I still sit more on the side of there being ‘something out there’ than not, though that’s not to say I would currently classify myself as a practising Christian – far from it. Whilst I completely appreciate the argument that religion is merely a construct of the narrow human mind in an attempt to comfort itself about the impending nothingness after death and the relative obscurity and pointlessness of its existence, I don’t entirely buy it. Maybe that’s precisely because my own narrow mind is so terrified that it has adopted that default position. But somehow I just feel so deeply and intrinsically certain there is more to this puzzle than we are capable of understanding – more than even science can explain. I don’t believe in the notion of a white-bearded God who sits atop a cloud, nor do I believe in a red horned Devil stoking the fires of Hell. If anything I’m more inclined to align myself with the Buddhist idea of losing our egos and returning to one consciousness – as frightening as it is to think of losing that part of myself that makes me unique, I think I can buy into the concept of enlightenment and acceptance of what is, what has always been and what will always be. I might even be convinced to some extent in reincarnation, and living other lives as a pathway to higher states of enlightenment. I certainly believe in the existence of ghosts – whether they are really the spirits of dead people or rather the imprints of those people due to some kind of space/time lapse or interference I’ve (obviously) no idea. But now I’m really going off piste.

If you’ve read this far the chances are you think I’ve gone quite crazy. And maybe I have. But isn’t it important for us to think about the nature of our own existence? As tempting as it is to put it in a box labelled ‘too scary’, isn’t it a good thing to question why we are here and what happens once we are no longer? It’s certainly a topic that is playing more on my mind with advancing years (as well it might, for obvious reasons).

I said I’d make February a month for mindfulness, and this topic seems a good place to start. This morning I listened to the Inner Fire guided meditation from the Chopra Centre, which focused on accepting change. At the end was a one minute poem, and it was highlighted that one minute is all it takes for the blood in our circulatory system to pump around the entirety of our bodies. Isn’t that amazing? In a single minute we essentially change completely on a cellular level. Last night my boyfriend held my hand up to the light to draw attention to the red hue fingers have in such a situation. He pointed out that redness was the iron in our bodies – iron that was created in the Big Bang, and which was but one of many incredible ingredients that make up what we are. This blew my mind, to some extent, but also fascinated me. We are such complex beings and this universe is huge beyond our comprehension. Isn’t it important, therefore, that no matter what lies ‘beyond’, we make the most of every second that we exist, in this context and in this realm of consciousness?

I will finish this somewhat existential blog post with a fascinating story one of my friends re-posted (somewhat coincidentally) on Facebook today:

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.” – Útmutató a Léleknek

Food for thought.

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Small Kindnesses in a Hate-Filled World

Few could fail to have been moved by the recent news (and news reporting – but that’s an inflammatory issue for another post) of American journalist James Foley’s death at the hands of Islamist militants in Iraq, or haunted by the images below of two of the many Yazidi girls who have been caught up in a war that’s not of their own making – one who looks little older than a child but is forced to carry a rifle to protect her family. Such stories and images are heart breaking, but, for westerners, it is still somehow so hard to grasp that atrocities like these are taking place on such a large scale when the comparatively ‘civilised’ society in which we live is at the opposite end of the spectrum of humanity.

So many terrible, evil things are happening all around the world, and though we fortunate folk may feel sickened, we also feel powerless to help. And, granted, when it comes to the poor souls being persecuted in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and all the other places where oppression, violence, corruption and hatred are as widespread as the oceans between us, we ARE powerless. But there is one thing we can do: Reach out to the people in our immediate vicinity, undertaking acts of kindness that will bolster the collective morale and prove not only the strength and beauty of the human spirit, but also that goodness still exists in the world. Just like this man, hairstylist Mark Bustos in New York, who gives up every Sunday to roam the streets in search of homeless people who need a haircut, whilst his girlfriend takes the trouble to ask them what they want to eat (rather than giving them scraps and leftovers). You might think a haircut is a shallow thing, but he said this of one of his most memorable beneficiaries:

“After offering him a haircut and whatever food he wanted to eat, he didn’t have much to say throughout the whole process, until after I showed him what he looked like when I was done … The first thing he said to me was, ‘Do you know anyone that’s hiring?'”

It’s small acts of kindness just like this that have the power to restore people’s faith – in themselves, in the world around them, and in humanity itself. I’m not saying we should all go out with a pair of scissors every weekend, but I am saying this: We may not have the power to heal the world, but the power to heal those closest to us is absolutely in our hands – if only we choose to acknowledge and act on it.

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Sadness, and new friends

Sometimes in life things happen that shake your faith in all that’s good in the world in ways you never imagined possible. One such thing happened last weekend, when a new friend was tragically killed in a car accident. I say “new” friend because we had only met him and his beautiful girlfriend two weeks previously, at the wedding of a mutual friend in Scotland. As fate would have it Travelodge had overbooked and as a result the four of us were selected by the bride and groom to share a luxury lodge in the grounds of a 5* hotel. The lodge overlooked a golf course and was absolutely charming. Needless to say we had a wonderful weekend, not only at the wedding itself but also at the hotel the next day, where the four of us made full use of the spa facilities, sitting in the jacuzzi and sauna for an age and even sampling the kids’ water slide (!) and the mini golf in the grounds (or rather, the boys played mini golf whilst Sarah and I faffed around in the changing rooms-standard female behaviour). When we said goodbye we vowed to meet up before Sarah and Paul went back to Australia, where they’ve been living for a year. Though we hardly knew them we felt that exciting spark of possibility, the likes of which become rarer with age. We sensed we might just have met friends for life, and it was a lovely feeling.

To say it was a shock to hear from Sarah last week and find out Paul had been killed in an accident the previous weekend would be grossly understating the breadth and scope of emotions that accompanied such tragic news. A tidal wave of sadness washed over me. Then, as the flood waters began to recede just a little, came a powerful aftershock of anger. I’ve struggled with the concept of religious faith for many years, and this has rocked the foundations of my fragile beliefs more than anything I can remember. I always felt deep down that everything happened for a reason, but now I’m floundering and at a loss for what possible reason there could be for such a wonderful human being to be taken away in the prime of his life, leaving a trail of sadness and a gaping hole in his wake.

If there can be any solace at all from this utterly tragic loss it is that we have gained a wonderful, warm-hearted and genuine friend in Sarah, and that we have seen true friendship in the coming together of Sarah and Paul’s friends over the past few days. With what little faith I’ve managed to cling onto I am praying with all my might for Sarah and all of Paul’s friends and family, that they may find the strength to get through this awful time. And I’m thanking God for having brought Paul into our lives, even though it was for such a painfully short time.