Walking down the beach one day I saw a small blue boat sitting in the sand. It was resting just beyond the reach of the tide as if it was waiting for the water to rise enough to reach it so it could leap into the ocean.
This scene reminded me of friendship. The way a good friend just needs a little push in the right direction to get going. How various people in my life have been there to provide the little nudge to help me reach the ocean of life. It also made me think of the opposite side. And that’s what I want to talk about here.
In the same way that some friends are seaworthy boats, ready with their oar, sitting right at the water’s edge just waiting for a little push, other “friends” are just the opposite. You know these characters, we’ve all had them in our lives and we’ve all probably been them at one time or another. Broken-down boats, no oar, maybe a leak or two, no chance of ever going anywhere but somehow they recruit us to help them out. And there we sit together, miserable and unfulfilled on the dry sand of life.
How many times in your life have you played the role of savior to these friends? To keep the boat analogy going, how many times have you fixed the same leak in the same boat? How many times have you put the boat back together again after it crashed into the rocks? How many times have you fixed the boat, pushed it to the water, and stood there holding it steady waiting for your friend, the supposed sailor, to show up? Only to find out they were still in bed, hungover from the night before?
Enough boat metaphors. We all get the picture, right?
The first boat image reflects a beautiful relationship. Those friendships where the energy flows back and forth with balance and ease. You are there for your friend and they are there for you. Some days you need a bit of advice or motivation and some days they do. These unions are an exchange of value, they are healthy and they feed our souls.
The other kind, the broken-down, leaky boat kind, are really tricky. I say tricky because these needy relationships feed on all the spiritual booby traps we’ve built for ourselves. You know that part of you that always says, “I just want to help.” Or, “My goal is to serve the world.” Or my favorite, “I want nothing in return, my reward is knowing I helped another.”
All that all sounds really good. It seems like the spiritually correct approach, it makes us feel holy and matches up with the stories of the saints. The problem is it also matches up with the stories of the martyrs, the ones who gave and gave and never cared for themselves. The ones who died. And that doesn’t sound so good.
My mom was that kind of woman. She was the most helpful person I have ever met. She thrived on being of service. When she adopted a dog, it was the three-legged one. When she took in a needy child, it was the most severely challenged boy. When she took a husband, he was the one who needed her the most … and had little to provide. My mom told the universe, “Here I am to help.” And the universe responded with an ever-increasing parade of needy souls who did as they were asked and sapped her until there was nothing left in her to give – and she died. I really admire my mom … and I really wish she were alive today.
So I think about these things now. I’m really interested in the right balance of service and nourishment, the intersection of loving the world and loving myself and in finding the proper mix of input and output that allows me to be compassionate and caring while staying healthy and strong and on this planet to live out my destiny.
I’m going to study with Ram Dass soon so I’ve been watching a lot of his lectures lately. In one of them he answers the question, “Is nature benevolent?” by saying, “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” That question has stuck with me in relation to the whole question of finding the right balance of giving and receiving. I think Ram Dass is right, nature is not benevolent — it’s balanced.
In nature there is a balance of giving and receiving, a cycle of life that keeps the whole system going. An organism that gives more than it receives dies; a species that does that goes extinct. In its perfection, nature has designed a process so finely tuned that the ebb and flow of life and death spins on endlessly in beautiful harmonious balance.
I asked Guru Singh about this one. He closed his eyes for a moment and then said, “Think of it like a cup. You must fill the cup to share it. An empty cup does no one any good. So your giving should be the overflow of your cup. For it to overflow you must receive. It is the perfect balance of the cosmos.”
I really like that image, a cup so full that it overflows, creating abundance for all. That’s how I want to spend my life: filling my cup with love, knowledge, money, health, joy … so much abundance that it spills over and enriches the lives of everyone I come in contact with. And I want to do that for a really long time – 150 years or so.
In business this concept is clear. We completely understand that relationships have to be value based. Its how businesses run, income and expenses, and we all understand that a business whose expenses exceed its income is bankrupt.
So why is it so weird in our personal and spiritual lives? I think the answer is the programming we received as children. Remember all the messages of what it meant to be a good little child?
It’s better to give than to receive.
You need to put others first.
Stop thinking of yourself.
Be a good little boy and give Suzy your favorite toy.
These messages taught us, programmed us, to believe that the welfare of others mattered over our own. So we work ourselves to death for the company’s mission. We take it upon ourselves to make sure everyone is happy while never considering if we’re happy. We are so constantly compromising, meeting in the middle and finding common ground, that few of us even know what truly brings us joy. We are so concerned with the health of the world that we forget to look in the mirror and check in on the health of ourselves. We’ve forgotten how to love ourselves.
And here’s the ironic part, we cannot share what we don’t have – and that’s the state of the world today. The world is sick because we’re poisoning ourselves. The world is fighting because we feel unloved. The world is greedy because our cups are empty and we want them full. We’re stuck in a giant vicious cycle, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sickness, war, and greed.
The solution? To stop. I know that sounds simplistic and it is, but it’s also true. While we host committees and consortiums contemplating complex solutions and scenarios, those actions only take us further and further from the simple truth – we all simply want to be loved. So the answer, the only answer, is to stop what we’re doing, take a deep breath, give ourselves a big hug, and love ourselves. And little by little we begin to fill our cup again until it spills over and we start to share the love.
That’s how every great movement begins, with one person touching another with love, and then two, and four, and eight, and then seven billion.
Today take a look at your boat, find the leaks in your life, plug them with a hug, a green juice, a moment of silence, an “I love you” or a simple breath and a walk on the grass. Make yourself seaworthy and then go down to the shore and see who else is there, give each other a nudge towards the sea, and experience all the wonder and magic this life has to offer.
Big hugs of love,