A Five Dollar Lesson

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December 16, 2010

I had an amazing experience last night and I am still processing all the things I learned from it. I was driving home from work trying to get out of NYC and using the opportunity to focus on patience. I learned long ago that when I am behind the wheel of a car it is very easy to shift into a mindset of selfishness. I also learned that it is a great opportunity for me to put into practice what I desire as my mental state most.

Each day I start off with a meditation where I remind myself that the main outcome for the day is to do my be peaceful and to spread peacefulness. To me there are three key ingredients to achieving that personal sense of peace. Patience, tolerance and acceptance.

Over the years, having logged close to 1 million miles behind the wheel of a car, I have learned that I can really use that time to practice the skills of staying peaceful{:~) Actually I also found that it is a great way for me to gauge where I am Spiritually in the rest of my life. As an example, if I find myself getting upset with other drivers easily, or maybe I am “fighting” for position with them in traffic, this is really a sign that I am not being patient or tolerant in the rest of my life either.

Last night I was actually doing quite well with my practice of staying at peace in traffic. In NYC this close to Christmas at 8PM if you are trying to get out of the city traffic is quite heavy. I've had nights where it has taken me close to an hour to travel 18 blocks. Last night I was focused on being patient, tolerant and accepting and was actually enjoying myself as well as being amused sometimes by watching other people who were not being as peaceful thinking to myself how much more they could enjoy their trip if they were patient, tolerant and accepting. I guess the Universe noticed this and thought I may benefit from a lesson in making “judgments” about people when I know nothing about them.

As I approached the Lincoln Tunnel the traffic was pretty much at a standstill. For anyone who has not had the experience of trying to get out of NYC on a busy night, there are times that you can sit in one spot for 5 minutes before traffic moves. This was one of those kinds of nights so I pulled out my phone and was checking for messages. It was then that I was approached by the man who would give me a a five dollar lesson that will last me a lifetime in respect to making judgments.

He didn’t knock on my window, he just spoke outside of my door barely loud enough to get my attention. He said, “Excuse me Sir” and waited for me to look up. He was a black gentleman, wearing a torn coat and a hat that didn’t look like it was very good at keeping his head warm. Last night the temperature was 25 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind was blowing hard making it feel much colder. He had a full beard and based on the condition of it, I presumed that he had not had a haircut or a shave in a very long time. He basically looked like one of the many homeless people that you see on TV and that we pass each day in NYC.

I didn’t have the chance to roll down my window yet, and I would imagine based on watching other people when they are approached by a homeless person he was not expecting me to either. But he did wait until I was looking at him before he began to speak again. He said, “Sir, could I please have a quarter? I’m just trying to get a piece of pizza.”

I always make sure to give something when a homeless person approaches me and asks for money. I do it because I know what it is like to be hurting that bad, I’ve been there. For me, it was when I was drinking and using drugs. I actually spent a month living in my car and I know it wasn’t easy for me to ask for help. I also know the pain being in your addiction and fighting to get the money for that next fix.

Because I have been in that place I have also been asked why do I give money to someone when you know that they are just going to go buy a drink or use it on drugs. And my answer has always been that it is not my choice what they do with the money after I have given it to them. Giving them the money is actually not about them; it is about me. It is about my willingness to help another human being in need. After I have helped, what they do is no longer a part of the equation because I have no control over that. What I have control over is my willingness to serve another in need.

The gentleman outside my window continued speaking as I rolled down my window. He said, “Sir, it is so cold out tonight. Someone gave me these shoes, but look at my socks, they’re all torn up. I’m just trying to get some food and get inside to warm up.” He lifted his leg up to show me his worn out shoes and I could see that there was nothing covering his ankles.

At that moment, two distinct thought processes were going on. The first was that I was reminding myself that I was not to place judgment on this person. I was focusing on the idea that my role in this moment was to make a contribution, to serve. Yet, if I am to be totally honest, I have to say that there must have been a judgment going on because I don’t believe I would have been so touched later if I had not been judging this person.

The second thought was forming around an article that I had read earlier that day by Steve Pavlina where he was publicly announcing that he was giving up his copyrights to all of the material that he has published on his web site over the past 6 years. For those of you who are not familiar with copyrights, when something is created, the creator holds the copyright which means that he is claiming ownership/authorship of the piece and it is his legal protection so that no one can use the material without crediting him, and more importantly compensating him if they use it for their own profits. Steve was announcing that he was releasing his material from copyright protection and all ownership. By doing this he was demonstrating, in my opinion, the ultimate embodiment of leaving “scarcity” thinking behind. He was even encouraging people to use his materials to make money for themselves.

With these thoughts in mind, I knew that I could not come from a place of scarcity when someone was asking me for help. The gentleman was asking for a quarter, surely I could give him more than that if Steve was giving away his copyrights to over 1000 articles from the number a site that gets almost 2 million visitors a month.

But somewhere in the back of my mind “judgment” must have kicked in. The reason I say that is because even though I wanted to come from a place of abundance with this person, even though I wanted to make a contribution to his life from the place of me being a Spiritual being; as I thought about what to give him, I decided that five dollars would be good. And the reason I decided on five dollars was that I thought to myself that if I was giving him money and he was going to use it for drinking or drugs I didn’t want to give him too much.

I mean I wanted to be generous, but hey, I work hard for my money and it’s almost Christmas I have others to think about. So my ego felt that five dollars would show the Universe how giving I was.

As I handed the gentleman the five dollar bill, I watched as he recognized what it was and he started to cry. He began thanking me repeatedly and even leaned his head in my window and laid it on my shoulder continuing to thank me and wishing me a Happy Holiday. As he stepped back, he looked at me with a huge smile and said, “Bless you Sir, I’m going to go get my food right now” and headed towards the sidewalk.

As much as I wanted to be without judgment of him, the thought that came to my mind as he was walking away was that he was probably heading off to buy a bottle of booze. But I forgot about even making the judgment and was feeling good about myself as I watched him because I knew I had done my good deed for the day.

The story doesn’t end here. Something made me continue to watch the gentleman as he walked along the sidewalk and the traffic began to move forward. As I watched I noticed that he began running. And as I saw where he was running I began to say to myself, “Oh my God, why did I judge this poor man.”

About 50 yards from where we had been sitting was a hot dog vendor selling hot dogs, pretzels and sodas to the people who were waiting to get into the tunnel. This gentle man that I had judged was running and yelling to the man selling the food that he wanted a hot dog. I watched as this gentle man ordered his hot dog, which from a NYC street vendor probably cost him the full five dollars, and then I began to cry as I watched him eating his meal with the enthusiasm of a person who had not eaten in quite some time.

And the story doesn’t end there. As traffic began to move, this gentle man saw my car moving past him and he jumped up and down waving at me yelling, “Thank you Sir! Bless you Sir! Merry Christmas!” I wanted to pull over and buy him more food but was caught in the moving traffic so all I could do was roll down my window and yell back, “Bless you my friend! Merry Christmas!”

He continued to wave as I pulled into the tunnel, and I continued to cry. I felt so bad. Why had I judged this gentle soul? What had he done that I decided that the only help I could give him was five dollars? How much more of a difference could I have made if I had not judged him?

Yes, I know that I treated this man with more respect and compassion than many other people who were sitting in that very same traffic did. But this was not about him, and it was not about them either. This lesson was about me.

I began to look at myself and my judgments. How often am I making decisions that are based on presumptions that are completely untrue? How often am I making judgments like this not only with strangers, but with people who I am close to and that I love? What do I really know about the “big picture” when I am making these judgments? How can I be more of the person I desire to be? How can I make a bigger difference in the lives of the people I care about? How can I make a bigger difference in the world?

A good gauge for where I am in my own spiritual journey is watching how I act with others, and my actions with this gentleman made something very clear to me. It made me realize even more how important it is for me to get out of my own way and allow the Universe to do its job. It made me realize that I am even more committed to making a difference because no one should have to beg for their basic needs to be taken care of. It made me realize that even in the middle of personal struggles that I have been facing that I have so much more to be grateful for than I have been acknowledging. It made me remember that teachers are everywhere. It reminded me of something I committed to many years ago that we are all responsible for each other.

I know that for me, when anyone, anywhere reaches out, I want the hand that was available for me, to be there for them.

I’ll be driving home the same way tonight, and I do hope I see my teacher. 

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December 2010

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