This apt monologue from Bill Moyer’s encapsulates the systemic results of what we have co-created.
Many years ago there was a great storm. One through the ocean waves in every direction, and pulled all the starfish from the bottom to the seashore.
An Old Man was walking along the beach and saw the millions and millions of starfish struggling to return to the ocean. Thousands of starfish were dying by the second.
The Old Man began to pick up one starfish at a time, and throw it back into the ocean. One at a time, the Old Man picked up a single starfish of millions that were bound to die and threw each one back into the ocean.
A young man was watching the Old Man’s attempts to save the starfish. He yelled to the Old Man, “Hey, you stupid Old Man, what are you doing? You can’t save all these starfish — it is pointless…go find something better to do with your time…it meaningless.“
The Old Man looked at the Young Man. Paused and then scanned the millions of starfish drying up — dying on the beach. He picked up a single tiny starfish, looked at the boy and said, “You see this starfish, it means the world to it.” And, he threw the starfish back into the ocean. He picked up another single tiny starfish, looked at the boy and said, “You see this one, it means the world to it.” And, the Old Man continued…
~ A Story from My Bhagavad Gita Teacher during my Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training
I woke up this morning to take an early run. I put on my contacts, comfortable sneakers, running shorts, an undershirt and my iPod. I could not have been more comfortable and conveniently ready to take a run — I knew the run would reenergize me and get me pumped up for an awesome day.
As I was running alongside the wealthy suburbs near Mercer Country Park, NJ, I saw trash. Every 100 yards I would see a bottle, a piece of plastic, a piece of paper or can laying by the side of the road ready to join the waterways. As I have done for years, I stop and pick up trash and simply throw it out at the next trash can that I see alongside the road. I don’t do this for every piece of trash — just a couple because otherwise it would spoil my run.
Today, I couldn’t help but wonder — who will be picking up the remaining pieces of trash? I had no answer…the reality is no one. We pay our kind and generous Waste Management City Staff to pick up trash once a week from our homes, but their responsibility ends at our doorsteps. Sometimes, you might see incarcerated individuals picking up trash on the highway to work off their prison sentences, but that does not happen in our neighborhoods. At the end of the day, there is no one who goes alongside the streets to pick up random pieces that may have blown out of our trash cans. Not only is such a proposition costly, but it also inefficient.
If we have a couple of individuals hired to go around the towns, picking up trash by the sides of the street — they will not be able to keep up with the trash that is floating around everywhere. So, we have downgraded this problem to to our voiceless neighbors…the animals and the earth. We have silently said, “Our trash is too complex — to inconvenient — of an issue to manage, therefore the random pieces that fall in-between homes, parks and waters must be managed by …”
Birds, turtles, ducks and many others unknowingly are cleaning up our neighborhoods by eating the trash. Plastic does not breakdown naturally — the plastic breaks into little shards and tiny animals eat these pieces of shiny plastic. Since plastic is not standard in any humans diet or an animals diet, it remains in their digestive system and continues to build up until their stomachs are filled with plastic and can longer absorb any nutrition from actual food.
Instead of finishing my five mile run, I stopped at mile 2 and simply began picking up trash. I would see a piece of trash — inspect it and make sure that there was nothing sharp on it, and pick-it up. Over the course of three miles, I had picked up netting, a couple of trash bags and a bunch of plastic bottles.
I won’t lie, I simply wanted to run this morning, and picking up the pieces of trash was inconvenient and not particularly pleasant. But, I also know that we shape who we are when we listen to the voiceless. When our paradigm is larger than ourselves, we are able to let go of the overpowering story of me; we are able to let go of the thoughts, emotions and actions that bring us down; we are able to let go of all the “inconveniences” that stop us from living in the world that we each know we want to live in.
One of my intentions for 2011 was to continue surrounding myself with a community of individuals that helped bring the best out in me. By the end of 2011, naturally and serendipitously, I was introduced to group of individuals that gets together one Wednesday per month to meditate and discuss a passage.
After my second month of joining this great group of individuals, I sat down with Amit and Birju, the two organizers, to get to know one and other better. What I assumed would be a lighthearted getting to know one and other session, became an a heartfelt discussion with presence.
It felt like a therapy session. I poured my heart and soul into my confusions and challenges with figuring out my next steps with life and they listened and communicated so openly. They felt like long lost elder brothers giving me guidance.
While Amit was leaving, he gave me a bag of these delicious cookies and told me I need to give them out. Later on, Birju provided me with these cards that say “Smile. You’ve just been tagged!” (http://www.helpothers.org/cards.php)
At around 12:30 AM Thursday morning, I began my expedition to give out cookies to strangers in NYC. I I first offered a cookie to the front desk security guard, he looked in the bag and took the biggest cookie he could find and said thank you. I thought well that’s the biggest cookie in the bag, that’s a bit selfish. Nonetheless, I smiled and was happy to give him a cookie.
Lesson 1: Mind = Autopilot. I noticed my mind is on autopilot! Even when I was trying to give out a bag of cookies, I was judging the receivers! Although, I was happy to give the cookie, I still had expectations: What cookie will they take? A big one? A small one? A couple? How will they respond? With gratitude? Indifference? Skepticism?
I offered another cookie to this woman standing at the desk, she declined by saying “I don’t eat cookies, but thank you.” I smiled and laughed in my head.
Lesson 2: Not Everyone Wants Cookies (Rejection). I had a feeling some people would think it was odd that a random man was giving them cookies. Here were my assumptions of other people: They would think I put ruffis in the cookies. They would think there was a catch. Women would think I was hitting on them. At the end of the day, everyone had a different view of receiving a cookie — no one view was more correct than the other.
Lesson 3: Persistance. During my cab ride home, I offered the driver a cookie. He declined. I offered again. He declined. I offered again. He declined. I offered again. He accepted and said, “thank you, thank you very much, thank you very much, Sir.” I am not sure why I was so persistent, but I had a feeling he wanted a cookie but was being really kind.
The next morning, I had a bag of at least 15 cookies left. I thought to myself, how am I going to get rid of these cookies. For some reason I started the morning thinking it might be difficult to give away cookies.
I gave one out to a lady picking oranges from the grocery store. She was glowing and excited. I was glowing.
I got to the 1 station at 23rd and 7th, I offered one to the station agent. He started laughing and smiling from ear-to-ear, but he declined. I felt amazing. I had made someone smile and laugh.
I began offering cookies to people on the uptown subway. I got some strange looks, a couple rejections and a couple laughs and smiles. I felt amazing.
I gave some out at an acting studio in midtown. The actors could not have been happier.
Lesson 4: Confidence. Giving away cookies, gave me confidence. Every time I would try to give a cookie, I would be scared of being rejected. But, the interesting thing was that every time I gave a cookie — whether accepted or not — I received something different: a laugh, a feeling of happiness, a sense of friendship with strangers and confidence to give more.
Lesson 5: The more I give, the happier I will be? I think so 😉
(A special thanks to Birju and Amit!)