Let’s start this article with a few questions that you’ve prob-ably never asked yourself:
- When you pray for help or imagine assistance coming to you, what is the form that assistance takes? That is, is help or assistance big? Is it obvious? Is it physical? Does it come in the guise of a person? Money?
- Does help to you mean that your problem or situation gets fully resolved?
- Do you associate help or assistance with external changes in your life or internal/interior changes – or both? This is a bit of a tricky question because once you pause to think about you, you are likely to say, “both.” However, let’s say that you are in a financial cri-sis and someone shows up at your door and offers you two packages, one containing a million dollars and the other containing wisdom. Which one would you actually take? That is your real answer.
- What are the conditions that cause you to declare, “My life has come to a standstill?”
I’ve presented these questions to audiences. Once they got through the confusion of the questions themselves, the answers were pretty much what I anticipated them to be. That is, by far most people associate assistance with something external as opposed to guidance from within. We look outward for some force other than ourselves to “come to our rescue” who has the wherewithal to make things better in our life. No doubt that goes back to our childhood and perhaps the Child archetype in all of us. Problems, no matter what they are, immediately make us feel vulnerable, and vulnerable brings out that feeling of being helpless. And helpless awakens the Child archetype in us, or the Damsel, or any of the other archetypes that symbolize powerlessness.
"We look outward for some force other than ourselves to “come to our rescue”"
Secondly, people generally associate assistance or help with something physical. Help is a resource such as money or a connection to another person or legal assistance or a referral to a medical specialist. That’s logical as often that is exactly what is needed, but is it needed the most? Or, if that type of assistance is not forthcoming, do we assume that no assistance has been given to us in our time of need? Would you assume that? When I asked people in my workshops that question, the majority replied that they would indeed assume that no assistance had been given or at least the specific aid they were anticipating.
Now, mind you, I had to work through the initial wave of spiritual knee-jerk reactions in which people tend to say what they would like to mean or what they think they should say when asked these types of questions publically – especially with me staring at them from the stage. But as I explained to them, replies based upon what you would like to say or do are irrelevant. We would all like to say or do things more consciously. What matters is what we actually would do or actually do in our life, at least at this time in our life. We may not always respond as we do today, but today this is who we are and how we interact with our world.
And with that in mind, we come to this question, which presents you with a challenge: Would you select money or wisdom as your means of solving your problems? Again, I needed to clarify for every audience that they were not allowed to state under what conditions they would select money or wisdom. These did not matter and certainly not in a public space where they could make up anything they wanted. What mattered was the dialogue they knew they were having with their conscience – not consciousness – but their conscience, which is the truth-teller in us.
People hesitated to share their answers when it came to this question, which of course told me instantly what they had chosen. It did not tell me, however, what their individual ra-tional was for how they negotiated their inner dialogue be-tween fear and faith, symbolized by money and wisdom. Money, as I pointed out, always seems like a big problem solver, if not the problem solver. Wisdom, on the other hand, is invisible. It’s a small gift carried into your life via a book or conversation. You can’t hold it in your hand or use it to buy your way out of debt.
In the immediate moment, therefore, wisdom can appear to be a small thing if not something useless, especially when measured against street currency that you can hold in your hand. Yet, one drop of wisdom that enters into your soul at just the right moment has the power to shift the direction of your life for the better. One wise person can save a nation. Think of Abraham Lincoln. We remember him precisely because of his wisdom. All the money in the world, conversely, cannot help a fool. Give a fool money to solve a problem and more than likely that fool will only “buy more trouble” for himself.
I want you to keep your answers in mind as we continue on to the next category, which I’ve entitled, Looking Back. I will tie these thoughts together following this next section.
"Give a fool money to solve a problem and more than likely that fool will only “buy more trouble” for himself."
I want to introduce a few questions that I hope spark some rich moments of reflection for you as I direct you to think about whether you are inclined to value “big and obvious, loud and expensive” as powerful or “instant and silent, inner and transformational.”
Everyone looks back on their life with the capacity to see things more clearly. We understand more deeply the complexity of people we knew when we were children and we appreciate even more acutely their significance and influence in our lives. Significance and influence are subtle forces in our energy fields. You can live with someone for years, for example, and yet when it comes to truly discerning the person’s influence upon you, often you will think in a very compact way, reducing your memories of life with that person to highlight words that were exchanged in either love or anger in a matter of moments. Or you will recall highlight memories of certain days that standout because of heightened feelings of sentiment or neglect.
We can’t possibly recall every day of all the years we’ve spent with people, even those whom we love the most. We remember small and big things, individual experiences, particular conversations or arguments, and days here and there or special dates and holidays. But certainly, people remember with great tenderness the small things that they shared with people. At least, that has been my experience with most people to date. The big things, like weddings, are right up there but it’s their own wedding and the weddings of their children that stand out, not all the other family and friend weddings that they attended through the years. I mean, do you remember all of those? I don’t.
But in addition to the wonderful memories that come from family and close friends, I always take note of extraordinary conversations that happen with people who tell me a story that takes my breath away. As soon as I hear one of those soul-stories, I recognize that I’ve been given a pearl of great wisdom that I will pass on to others through my teaching and hopefully those who hear it will be as inspired as I was when I heard it.
Stories in my world are small things that are really big. In fact, they are huge. A human being is a walking storybook, a diary of people that person has met that I will never meet, places he or she has traveled and lived that I will never see, and experiences that no other person on earth has ever witnessed. I have never met a person who did not in some way fascinate me. But once I encountered the majesty of the teachings of Teresa of Avila, I found that I listened even more intently to what people shared with me as I had been so profoundly influenced by Teresa’s mystical instruction to seek God in “all the small details of your life.” I took that teaching seriously, very seriously. I wondered, “What are the small details of my life? What do I consider a small detail?” In other words, what are the small things in my life that are really big things?
"Stories in my world are small things that are really big"
Teresa further instructed her nuns that any and every thing can serve as an answer to a prayer or as a vehicle for guidance. If you reflect upon the word “any” while glancing around the environment of your life – people, books, animals, symbols, sounds, music, food, synchronicity, driving, clothes, phone calls, emails, news – “any” is a big word. It also means that the Divine is in all things, hidden (not hiding, but hidden). The Divine is hidden from ordinary view, but obvious to someone who can see through the eyes of the soul. What does such a stunning phrase mean? And how do you “see through the eyes of your soul” in order to recognize (not see, but recognize) God in the small details of your life?
Mystical teachings, especially ones so sublime, are meant to drive your rational mind into madness. The mind in you, the harbor of the ego, always wants answers to be obvious, big, powerful, and immediate. You want problems to be solved, but solved your way and always with the outcome favoring you. Seeing through the “eyes of your soul” begins with appreciating that all things in your life have purpose and meaning.
"Mystical teachings, especially ones so sublime, are meant to drive your rational mind into madness"
However, purpose and meaning are not to be measured by a scale of productivity or financial reward. If you look through “those eyes,” you will always be disappointed in most of what you see, for how much in your life can actually be sold in that marketplace?
Purpose and meaning are revealed through values of the soul, not monetary ones. Learning is a soul value. Truth is a soul value. Courage, integrity, creativity, self-respect, and a belief in one’s own ability to navigate through a life storm are soul values. When you look at your life through “those eyes,” you hear conversations differently. Ordinary words enter into you as inspiration. A passage in a book grabs your attention because it sparks an idea. God comes through the hidden passageways that are everywhere. Everything that you think is small can suddenly become big and deeply significant because you perceive God through the hidden details of your life.
"Everything that you think is small can suddenly become big and deeply significant because you perceive God through the hidden details of your life."
STORIES ABOUT SMALL THINGS THAT ARE REALLY BIG
A moment in time is not a small thing. A moment of your life is a small thing that is really big. Think of how many words you have exchanged with someone in just a moment’s time that have either filled your heart or broken it – in less than a minute. Or think about receiving an answer to a question that solved a mystery for you or changed the course of your health. Maybe that took only two or three minutes, but how big in terms of power and consequence to you? The truth is, your entire life can change in less than a moment. It often does.
I remember having one of those “pearl of wisdom” conversations with a man I shared a cab with in New York. He changed my life in less than a moment because of the wisdom he passed on to me. He told me about how much he respected cab drivers because of how much he always learned from his conversations with them. Then he told me about one particular time that stood out because the cabbie he was with taught him a life lesson that he, in turn, passed on to his children. He said that he was having just an ordinary conversation with the cab driver up until the time they arrived at his destination, at which time he handed the fare to the driver and said, “Thank you, sir.”
The driver immediately jumped out of the cab, ran around to the passenger door, and opened it for him. “I obviously had this stunned look on my face,” he told me, recalling this story. “He could tell I was wondering why in the world a cabbie would be opening up the door for a passenger. And you know what he said to me? He said, ‘You are the first person in this country to address me as, Sir, and I thank you for that gift of respect.’ I looked into his eyes and both of us just stood there for a moment. I could see the dignity in his spirit. I promised myself in that moment that I would consciously treat every human being with respect for the rest of my life. And that is what I have taught my children to do. Hopefully they will do the same with their children.”
Respect is a small thing that is really big. We all claim that respect is a really big thing, but I would challenge that in terms of how we actually conduct ourselves in the field of life – because when it comes to being respectful in small ways that are really big, we all slip. Of course we do. But what we need to realize is that it’s the small things that actually matter. Here are two stories that illustrate that point.
I collected stories about how people experienced being of service to others or being the recipient of an act of service by others for my book, Invisible Acts of Power. Those stories and the writing of that book changed my life. The stories that people wrote to me were like gifts from heaven. They were pure soul gold. I have rarely been as grateful for anything as I was for the privilege of sharing the wisdom I personally gained from all those beautiful stories. Two of them are especially appropriate for illustrating the micro-level of respect and its power to re-boot a human life.
A man who had once been homeless said that he was no longer homeless today, and not because of all the money people had given him, allowing him to get back on his feet. That never happened. Rather, it was because one woman leaned down to touch his arm and whisper in his ear, “I’ll pray for you and you will get back on your feet again.” In recalling that woman and what she said, this man wrote that he felt his dignity pour back into his body as soon as he felt another human being “touch me with respect. She did not see me as a dirty, homeless person. I was a human being to her. I knew right then I would get out of this situation. She gave me back my dignity.”
Human touch. Saying the right words at the right time. Comforting someone. Having compassion for a person exhausted by life. These are small things that are really huge. Take them out of your life and you will find yourself feeling that life is a cruel and frightening journey.
"Saying the right words at the right time. Comforting someone. Having compassion for a person exhausted by life. These are small things that are really huge"
Yet another man who had gone through a period of being homeless recalled that during those darks days, he would often go two days without food. He had to beg on the street for enough change to buy something to eat. But for him, finally having accumulated enough change was only part of his struggle. The other equally formidable challenge for him was actually walking into a grocery store. He was terrified of the experience, specifically of ending up positioned behind someone who would fail to hold the door open for him. Having a door slammed in his face, symbolically or literally, represented the ultimate lack of respect for this man. (The particular grocery store he frequented was a corner market, not one with automatic doors, by the way. ) In order to avoid his terror of having a door slammed in his face, particularly by a businessman, he waited outside for just the right moment when he thought no one else was around. Then he would walk in, buy his few items, and get out as fast as he could.
On this one day, he arrived as usual to perch in an observational position of the grocery store. He had enough money for food for the day. Now the plan was to get in, shop, and get out. His entire mind was filled with mapping out just the right moment. And then, the right moment arrived. No one was around. He slipped out of his perch, headed for the grocery store door, only to be cut off by a man in a business suit. They met at the door. One of them would have to open the door for the other. He was paralyzed with fear. He wanted to run away. Then, the businessman opened the door, stepped to the side, and held the door for Bill, the homeless man. As soon as they were both in the grocery store, Bill started to head for the canned goods area when the businessman stopped him, saying, “Excuse me, Sir. Could you help me out with something?”
Bill could not believe his ears. A businessman wanted his help? Couldn’t he see how he was dressed and that he badly needed a bath? Bill walked up to him, feeling as if his stomach were about to explode onto the floor. The businessman explained that he was just traveling through and needed directions. Could Bill tell him how to get to this location? Yes. Could Bill tell him where this highway was? Yes. Bill knew everything that the businessman asked. Then the businessman extended his hand as an expression of thanks. Bill was stunned. He had forgotten what the language of professionals felt like, much less to be treated like a professional man “for even a minute.”
After that experience, Bill resolved to get back on his feet again. And he did. But his story touched me so deeply on so many levels. The next time I went to a grocery store after reading Bill’s letter, I stood outside the store for about twenty minutes, watching people come and go. I imagined myself waiting for just the right moment to walk through those doors because I was so frightened of someone letting the door slip through their fingers while I was behind them. Would I take it personally? No. It would not occur to me to take that personally. But Bill showed me that every human action contains the power to lift or destroy the human spirit. Holding the door open for any person so he can walk through first – such a small thing. But it’s really big. Or, as in Bill’s case, perhaps the man asking for directions was God hiding in the details of his life. Angels wear disguises all the time in daily life. You never know who a stranger really is.
"Angels wear disguises all the time in daily life. You never know who a stranger really is."
My final story is about choices we make that seem small but are really big because of their consequences. I met a man just a few weeks ago who is a chef. I wanted to know how and why he became a chef – all the fun facts that make a person who he is. So, in between telling me recipes and his cooking history, he shared that his mother abandoned him and his father and sister when he was three years old. She went off to “find herself.” Eventually she found her way to a community lifestyle situation. He decided to seek her out when he was in his early twenties as he did not know her but he had the wounds to prove it. He said that it was important to him to understand his mom so that he could heal and get on with his life. He decided to give his visit with her three weeks. Instead, he stayed three years, working in the kitchen, which became the roots of his career as a chef.
But he considered that he lived in “healing proximity” to his mom, giving his own heart and mind and spirit the maximum opportunity to heal as well as to understand her choices as a human being. He left that community feeling complete as a person, not to mention skilled as a chef.
At the time, he never could have imagined that his “small choice” to just go see his mom for three weeks would have become yet another game-changer choice in his life, lasting three years. He considered it a small choice because he thought that he was going for a visit, to just observe where and how she lived. He had intended to keep his distance. He wanted her to see him and the quality of man he had turned out to be. Instead, that small choice awakened an appetite to heal fully and completely.
Your Personal Choices
Only you can organize the scale of values that make up the quality of your life. I love the idea of being in “healing proximity” to someone, for instance. This young man told me that he could never join the community his mother lived in or believe what she does. But by living around her for a while, he realized the type of person she is, both her really good qualities and the challenges she has to confront. He said, “Who am I to change her? I did what was wise for me and it worked out for both of us.”
Small things that are really big, for me, are a constant find. The tone of voice we use in speaking to someone, giving of our time to someone, really listening to what someone is saying without interrupting, taking a few minutes during the day at times for reflection and prayer. These are all small things that are really big.
Here are others:
- Hand writing a note to someone instead of sending an email.
- Meeting a friend for breakfast – that’s a big deal for me. Maybe not for you, but I don’t leave the house during the day. I’ve stopped that insane work schedule now and I meet friends during the day on occasion. It’s a small thing that’s really big because friends matter so much.
- Sending out a small surprise gift to someone. Though the gift is small, the thought that you are thinking of them is priceless.
- Say hi and goodbye to people – acknowledge them. Acknowledging people is a small thing that is really big.
- Being kind to yourself in the right way. Buying things is not the right way. Do not allow yourself to dwell in negative thinking. Do not feed self-righteous anger. Do not envy others. Do not poison your mind and your heart. Poisonous thoughts are small things that are really big, but in a negative way.
Finally, in this world of billions of people, stars, and galaxies, you may never believe this, but YOU ARE A SMALL THING THAT IS REALLY BIG. You have more influence upon this grid of life than you will ever be able to comprehend. It’s easier, quite frankly, to play dumb, to say, “I don’t understand.” But in your soul, you do get it. You know you are a force for change in this world. That’s why no one can stand to think about him or herself as insignificant. You’re not. You are incredibly significant.
Every choice you make matters. Every thought has a consequence as well. The truth is, there is no such thing as a small choice – not really. Remember that when you next arrive at that place in life at which you think nothing you can do matters. Everything matters. Live in that truth.