The Goldfish in the Pool

 

One of the most compelling images Brother and I came across on our Street Retreat was a large goldfish in a pool in the middle of a garden.  We were not able to enter the garden, but observed all its beauty, including the goldfish, from the outside.  More gems about the garden to come later, but for now – the goldfish!

So there is a goldfish, swimming in a pool, surrounded by flowers and trees climbing up into the sky.  This is the biggest goldfish I have ever seen.  I am amazed.

I learned a few weeks ago that goldfish will grow to fit the size of the environment you place them in, but I never expected such a fish would grow as large as this one!  It was nearly a fish worth fishing for, and especially as homeless men it wasn’t such a bad idea.  Alas, we admired the fish for its shine and peaceful coexistence in the midst of the garden sanctuary.

The thought struck me, are people like goldfish?  Do we grow to fit the environment in which we live?  As Brother and I moved through the streets, identifying with any church step, scaffolding, or thick foliage as a potential resting place for the evening, our sense of home expanded well beyond any single enclosed structure.  The world became a place to rest our heads, and in that sense, our home.  And as our sense of home grew and grew, so did our comfort and confidence in the arena of Manhattan.  No longer were we scared or timid, but rather we were bold and boisterous about our ways.

We would sing on the street, shout on the street, and even do more singing on the street.  Any sense of superficial judgment by others vanished from our thoughts as we felt more at home in the city.  Just like the goldfish, we grew to fit our environment.

The challenge now becomes, how can we each grow, in our non-homeless lives, so that we identify with a larger part of our environment and so feel more at home anywhere in the world, rather than just our usual home or place of work?  The world, after all, is home for all of us.  And as much as any single person passes you on the street, they might as well be visiting you in your home.  Why not treat them like a guest?  Like a neighbor?  Love ‘em!

Let yourself be at home in the world and grow like the goldfish.

As Albert Einstein Once Said…

The week on the streets was one of the most incredible adventures I have ever been on, largely thanks to my brother Rob who accompanied me on the journey and helped keep us safe and peaceful.  If it was not for his camaraderie throughout the experience, it is impossible to tell what might have happened.  Thankfully, we are both alive and continuing along our paths of service.

There are many things to share from the Street Retreat, as it was one of the most illuminating, liberating, and joyous events of my life.  So… look forward to a book!

In the meantime, Einstein really hit life on the head when he shared his wisdom,

“There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.”

Throughout the week on the streets, my brother and I, like most people, wanted to be happy.  In some ways, we undertook the journey to experience the plight of homelessness, but at the same time we were not going to suffer without putting up a fight for happiness.  Upon leaving our sister’s apartment to commence the retreat, one of the very first things that hit us, literally, was a raindrop.

Tut tut, looks like rain.  But, hey – we’re homeless!  So why worry about the rain?  Instead of moping about the cloudiness and potential agony trying to sleep in such weather, we embraced the rain for the miracle that it is.  We played in it like children for hours, running our hands through streams to watch the specific reaction the water had to the placement of our fingers.  Then we took time to watch individual raindrops explode like atomic bombs, each drop reenacting its own version of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We took the time to observe the details of each raindrop, realizing the miracles all around us and how much we do not know.

Each moment is miraculous.  Sometimes we just don’t take the time to see, touch, taste, smell, feel, and be the miracles.  Taking the time to slow down and really look at something can be a great joy.    Go ahead and feel the table.  Listen to the computer hum. Or better yet listen to the birds!  At any given time, we intake hundreds if not thousands and millions of stimuli from our environment.  The joy, as my brother and I found out, comes when we take time to appreciate each little thing, like a single leaf on a tree, or even a single vein of that leaf.  The world is, by all standards, beautiful, and when we take time to bask in the miracles all around us then maybe we will not be so consumed by material possessions that don’t really do anything other than make us want more of them.

Our week on the streets was filled with people, nature, and a greater awareness of God’s glorious creation.  We did not need anything to be happy; we simply enjoyed the miracles of the moment.  Go slow.

Final Thoughts Before the Street Retreat

A continuous question throughout the several months before the Retreat has been, “Why?”  Quite honestly, the answer varies most every time I am asked, and even now it is difficult to narrow it down to a single reason, however here’s to attempting to be succinct!

Perhaps the most practical reason for the Street Retreat is that I read about others doing it and it sounded like something worth trying.  I’m a big fan of trying things out, because really, how you ever know how about it unless you’ve actually experienced it?  Certainly we can talk to other impoverished people, but really what my brother and I will experience is not poverty, but voluntary poverty, and the few people who I know who have undergone such an experience are priests.  Even so, priests are great to talk to and are always full of wisdom, yet I tend to place a higher value on individual experience rather than taking someone’s word about it.  For now, I at least draw the line for testing at heroin and other narcotics, except even then…you can never really know.

Aside from the reason for knowing about it and wanting to try it, I’m also a believer in the ascetic ideal, essentially meaning that when you have the least, you have the most.  This ideal is scattered throughout the Bible and probably 80% of religious texts. I’m  also a believer in God, understanding God as a sort of all-pervading, ever-present Love that we can experience whenever we choose to be aware of God, and I find more and more that as my life is cluttered with technology, clothes, and mass media, I lose touch with the Love that is always there for us to experience.  Even writing this, it is difficult to experience God’s Love – so I guess I should make this quick!

Why else are we choosing to Street Retreat?  Nothing like conquering fear than by staring it square in the face!  The last thing I want is for fear to ever hold me back from being the best person I can be.  I plan to overcome many fears during this Retreat, but even more important than the overcoming fear is experiencing trust.  Trust in my brother, in all the people walking amongst us, and trust in God.  With trust, like love, I do not think fear can live.  When there is no fear, I believe we are all empowered to be our true selves, and when we are our true selves – well who the heck knows what happens then!

It will be a journey, undoubtedly.  All of life is a journey.  And, in particular, this journey will allow for a freedom of time that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced.  With no obligations other than the survival of myself and my brother, we are free to spend time with as many homeless or homed folks that cross our paths – so long as the desire to exchange  time is mutual J   We do not want to harass anyone, but rather commune with them, learn from them, and share some love, maybe a dab of peace too.  Peace and Love is how it all boils down.  Not quite sure how an ideal of World Peace and Unconditional Love for our fellow man has not yet consumed the thoughts of every person alive, but hey – I guess there is some pretty good television.  Here’s to avoiding vicarious living and instead embracing  this creation as one full of boundless exploration, and, more importantly –  Love.

Brad

p.s. MedMob in Time Square this Friday, the 15th, at 3 PM.  Hope to see you there!  Either way – love ya, and hope to see and hear from you soon.

p.p.s.  All thanks to God, my loving family and friends, and all those who I don’t even know who have in more ways than one allowed me to do what I do and move through this world in peace.

p.p.s.  Agape.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Fear.  How many times has fear held you back?  I find myself on a daily occurrence wanting to do something but deciding against it because of some bizarre sort of irrational fear.  Even just talking with people, I find myself afraid to approach strangers, yet in reality the people I seek to approach are likely some of the most peaceful, loving, and kind people on the planet.

I mention fear because I think it is a primary force that holds me back from doing my very best, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on this one.  Fear sucks. And most of the time it doesn’t make sense.  But we allow ourselves to believe in a standard of ‘normality’ that suggests that its wrong to talk to strangers or to smile at them or to say good morning to people we pass on the street, yet all of those things are completely harmless and actually spread a lot more peace and good than they do anything else.  There is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to greeting people.

My friend John told me to today about a story out of a magazine titled “Jumpers,” and it was about people who jump off bridges.  Apparently, someone in San Francisco wrote a suicide note something along the lines of, “I am going to walk to the bridge today.  If no one smiles at me or says hello to me, I will jump.” He jumped.

To think his life could have been saved by such a small and simple gesture, something any one of us is capable of doing – and yet no one did.  Why do we hold up all of our love and joy and peace inside of us?  Why don’t we share it with others?  Emotions are contagious, and the more love we share with the world, the more the world is consumed by love, and then we too will be consumed by love.  These powerful emotions do nothing if they sit dormant within us – we must activate them with action!

During my week on the streets, I hope to overcome many of my fears, and say hi, hello, or smile at nearly every person who passes me.  I do not want to take anyone’s life for granted, because I believe that each life is special and worthy of reverence.  During my week on the streets, I’m hoping to become more and more awe-struck by the beauty of life.  It is something we too often take for granted, yet if we really take the time to appreciate any one single thing around us for what it truly is, we might soon come to realize that we don’t have the slightest idea what anything truly is, that the world is so mysterious and so miraculous that we cannot even come close to fathoming it in its truth. Just to think that on the molecular level our whole world is vibrating around us, yet we see none of it, imagine what else we are not seeing.  If we want to, I think we can choose to see love, and overcome all fear with great love.  It is simply a matter of tuning our awareness and allowing ourselves to be consumed by love.

Enjoy Responsibly

Do you ever find yourself taking things for granted, or perhaps having some of the best times of your life one day, then the next day you are caught up in trifling matters, feeling lousy, and not remembering the great times you had yesterday? 

One condition that afflicts me a lot of the time is taking circumstances for granted.  For example, my two eyes, two legs, and two hands – I rarely think about the awesomeness of such gifts to me.  I did nothing to earn them, yet, as for now – I have them gratis, to do with them as I will.  Many people do have this luxury.

On a more general point, I often find myself taking food for granted, and shelter too.  Rarely do I take the time to appreciate each sip of an avocado-kale smoothie or each chew of a banana, yet some part of me knows that each one of those motions is special. 

It unsettles me how easily we fall into patterns of taking things for granted, and I’m convinced that if we stopped taking things for granted, particularly the greatest gifts endowed to us at birth – our brilliant minds and incredibly complexly functioning bodies, we’d all be living in much greater planes of happiness and gratitude and would likely forget about petty concerns. 

To help combat this problem of taking things for granted, I’ve spent a week in blindness and then a separate week without food, only drinking water.  Surprisingly, at the end of the week in blindness, I was not particularly anxious to take of my blindfold, and in fact went on for an extra day before I had to pack up and head off to school.  Similarly, at the end of the week of fasting, I was not hungry.  I really wanted to know what it meant to be hungry, but alas, one week without food is not really enough to accomplish such a feat.  My mind simply chose to focus on other things, and my body made the appropriate adjustments to feel well.  Such a smart body, and yet I have little idea how it works.

Nonetheless, coming up in less than 2 weeks is a Street Retreat that I will undergo with my brother on the streets of New York City.  Among other things, I hope this will help me to appreciate some of the more basic joys of life that I generally take for granted, such as food and shelter.  Additionally, I hope to gain a greater understanding for the conditions that catalyze homelessness so that I may then pursue preventative measures in the future.  Fellowship with the homeless is also a primary purpose.  I see no reason why they are not worthy of such time and attention.

Any donations to support this endeavor would be much appreciated!  You can donate to the homeless shelter I will be working at after the Street Retreat here:

http://www.samaritanforsyth.org/donate.htm

Samaritan Inn Ministries is a fantastic shelter with a rehabilitation program, Project Cornerstone, that offers all those wishing to engage in the recovery process an opportunity to overcome poverty and addiction and begin to give back to the community. I hope to facilitate the recovery process and help the shelter any way that I can. 

Thanks so much!

Love,

Brad