On day nine of the seven day Street Retreat – I felt compelled to continue the homelessness for an extra couple of days because it was such an eye-opening experience – I started walking in the direction of St. Bartholomew’s, a place for breakfast, around 2 AM. Doing my best to live in the moment, I had no idea how long it might take me to arrive at St. Bart’s for a 7 AM breakfast. Equipped with nothing other than the peace sign in my left hand and an epic cardboard sign in my right, I strolled through the streets of NYC, wishing peace to everyone who crossed my path.
About two hours into my peace-spreading adventure, a man of 20 years old named Matty L. joined me on my walk. As it turns out, Matty was a foster child, kicked out of the house by his foster parents at 18. He’s been homeless ever since. He told me that he stole food and clothes to sustain himself, probably because he did not know about some of the tremendous resources available to the homeless of NYC.
One of the most striking things about Matty was how he generally perceived other people. “People are scumbags,” he said. “They are savages. We’re just a bunch of animals looking to do good for ourselves and hurt others.” Then I asked him if he thought I was a savage, and he said no, “But for the most part, people are just beasts.” Being in New York City, a place famous for its immense amount people, seeing others as scumbags would make living pretty miserable. Also, it seems like Matty’s lens for viewing the world helped justify his acts of theft as well as his alcoholism. Heck – I would want to escape the world and destroy society if I thought I was living in a world full of scumbags.
What Matty helped me realize, along with a few other people along the homeless journey, was how powerful our language is for determining how we perceive the world. Matty, seeing people as scumbags, inevitably was not content with NYC and loathed it in many ways. On the other hand, when Brother and I meditated in Times Square, I would do what I called a Smiling Meditation, where I would keep my eyes open and tune in to the joy, the Spirit of the people, and the Love all around, so to smile as brightly as I could. The energy in Times Square and in NYC is incredibly powerful, but unless we take the time to focus and tune in, we will miss out on its beauty.
While sitting and meditating, I would think along the lines of, “I love you and am grateful for you,” when I made eye contact with each person (a thought courtesy of www.zenhabits.net). Or I would just think of the miracle of life all around me, of God’s complete love, or of the inherent goodness of each and every person. Basically, I would attempt to “see” people in such a way that would allow me have such a positive experience that I would be overcome with joy and have a smile flood across my face. At some points during such meditations, I even cried from the beauty of it all.
We see much more than the objective, tangible objects around us. Whenever we see, we apply language to explain what exactly we are seeing, so depending on what language we choose to apply to seeing people, we can either greatly enjoy the presence of another, loathe them, or of course – be neutral! During my time in NYC, Brother and I did a lot of people watching and a lot of meditating, and there is nothing like sitting and watching people, consciously choosing to think something positive about every person that passes you like, “Look at the beautiful child of God,” or “What a miraculous person that is.” Try it out! We have the ability to choose whether we see people as loving spirits or as scumbags. It is your choice! How do you want to perceive the world? Let your language construct an uplifting lens to bask in the amazing world moving all around you.