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The Importance of Teaching Empathy To Children

The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.

From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.

Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.

‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”

24. The Map

One day the arborist and the scientist were rappelling down the steep southern face of the mountain in the middle of the island of Allandon. They came upon the mouth of a cave and stopped on a ledge that protruded from it.

“I have always wanted to explore this cave,” said the arborist, still catching her breath. “I’m curious about the mysteries that it holds.”

“So why haven’t you?”

“Well, it’s so dark and so vast,” said the arborist looking inside. “I suppose I’m worried about getting lost.”

“Well this must be your lucky day,” said the scientist. “It just so happens that I have extensively explored this very cave.”

“You have?” she asked with excitement.

“Yes, and I have even made a complete map of all its nooks and passageways.”

“Really! You are my hero!” exclaimed the arborist. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to go in to look around.”

The scientist started searching through his backpack for the map, but on finding it he looked over and saw that the arborist had already unhooked her lines and ventured deep into the cave.

“Wait!” shouted the scientist into the cave. “Don’t you need the map?”

“Certainly not,” the arborist hollered back, “you’ve already given me what I need!”

We are all on a path of growth. We are never compelled to walk this path, but if we want to experience the rapture of living authentically, we need to be open to where it leads. In a way this puts us between a rock and a hard place. If we resist growth, we suffer from the weight of unexpressed passion and unfulfilled desire. When we embrace growth, we face the growing pains that come with it. There is no way to avoid them. And if there were, life wouldn’t make sense. The context for striving towards anything would be gone, and moving forward would actually feel like sitting in the same place, stagnant, until the end of time. Buddhism puts this right up front in the first of its sacred truths: Life is suffering. When we recognize this truth as more of a cause for celebration than commiseration, we go a long way towards understanding the Buddhist ethos.

In order to grow, we must expand beyond the borders of what we know. We have all had some experience of the deep satisfaction that results from moving into new realms and expanding our field of play. The world is infinitely more captivating when we penetrate into the unknown than if we simply remain in the known. Yet to some extent we continue to be afraid of the unknown. We are literally scared of the dark. And so we are afraid to truly live, because it is in the darkness that our light really shines. At every moment of the day, wherever we are, something novel, amusing, unusual or fantastic might occur to us, if we were open to it. If we could find the courage to remove the self-imposed blinders and be truly present to the world as it is, not just as we know it to be, that’s when life becomes fun—an adventure worthy of story books.

Still, a life of fun is not without a certain amount of anxiety. If we reflect back on our greatest moments, we would remember that anxiety has always been present. What monumental achievement was not preceded by butterflies in the stomach? What euphoria did not rise out of doubt and uncertainty? And in the grand scheme of things, what gives being alive the potential for such unmitigated joy but the fear of death? We have anxiety precisely because as humans we have self-consciousness, which gives us the power to act, to choose. The anxiety fuels our sense of responsibility to make choices that help us continue to grow and evolve. If we ignore it or avoid it, not only do we miss out on all the fun, we are actually choosing to be other than who we really are, to walk a path that is not our own. This leads to depression and despair, which unlike anxiety actually makes it more difficult for us to act. Anxiety calls us to make our move. It ignites the transition from reflection to action. As philosopher Peter Koestenbaum notes,

In any endeavor, how do you feel when you go from one stage to the next? The answer: You feel anxious. Anxiety that is denied makes us ill; anxiety that is fully confronted and fully lived through converts itself into joy, security, strength, centeredness, and character. The practical formula: Go where the pain is.

Many of us have become so used to avoiding our own darkness that we actually conspire with each other to live life on the surface, and pretend together that our darkness doesn’t exist. When we are struck by those impulses of anxiety that lead us into our darkness, we may try to soothe one another until they go away. But somewhere inside us we may suspect that these impulses are the calling of a vital life. If we wait until the stillness of our deathbed to confirm our suspicion like Ivan Ilych, we are likely to look upon the missed opportunities of our life with similar deep regret.

The good news is, the opportunity to truly live is always here now, whenever we are ready to explore darkness rather than avoid it. When we reframe our life as a journey of personal evolution rather than simply a struggle for survival and comfort, all the difficulties we are beset with are much more meaningful, and can in fact be celebrated.

In the introduction to the Star Trek T.V. series, the climactic line before the starship races towards us is “…to boldly go where no one has gone before…”. This idea excites us, even if many of us would not join the crew of a real Starship Enterprise if one were launching off tomorrow. But we wouldn’t really even need to. Each one of us is going where no woman or man has ever gone before, because of our unique nature and perspective. We each bring a different pair of eyes on the visible, a different mind to every action, and so the experience itself is always unique, and adds an important entry into the ledger of our collective consciousness.

In the end, it is our struggles in the darkness that will be the foundation of what we have to offer the world. When we are able to move through our darkest places, that is when our experience can inspire others. Is it any surprise that people who speak powerfully to alcoholics in an AA meeting were alcoholics themselves? Is it strange that cancer survivors are the ones that have the ear of others battling the disease? Why is Nelson Mandela the voice of peace and forgiveness, but for his ability to transcend resentment and the desire for revenge, and forgive the captors who had imprisoned him for countless years?

When we are faced with darkness in our lives, troubles, difficulties, scary but necessary choices, it can be helpful to draw inspiration from stories of others’ heroism. After all, we really are all in this together, and becoming inspired may be the best way to honor the great models of bravery and heroism. As Joseph Campbell notes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us—the labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

Heroism is not the absence of fear and anxiety. It is the willingness to get on with our journey and act in the face of fear. Stories of heroic redemption and glory help us believe that we too can be brave. They help us believe that when we honor our yearning to leave a relationship we are not doomed to be lonely for the rest of our lives. They help us believe that if we act on the desire to speak up to our boss we will survive the repercussions. They help us believe that it is worthwhile to reach for the stars, and risk everything for our greatest dreams. And when we choose to be inspired by these stories and act on our inner impulses, we are taken on a journey that may eventually go on to inspire others in ways we could never imagine.

I am reminded of a story I heard a few years ago that continues to evoke awe and amazement inside me. Bethany Hamilton was an aspiring young surfer who was competing by age 11. In 2003, at age 13, while surfing off Kauai’s North Shore, she was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark, which tore off her entire left arm at the shoulder. She lost 70% of her blood trying to make it back to shore and needed several surgeries to survive.

In a circumstance where most people would feel justified in turning to a life of fear, shame, and self-pity, Bethany chose to do what I consider the quintessential heroic act: She decided to get over herself. In other words, she put aside her Ego Self and chose to live from her Dao Self. And she seemed to do so almost immediately. What astounded me was to hear her talk about losing her arm with such aplomb, while maintaining a cheerfulness and equanimity rarely seen in anyone, let alone someone of her age and circumstances.

Bethany even said that she was glad this happened to her, because it enabled her to share with others the profound experience of feeling part of something bigger than herself. Her identification with the part of herself connected to the divine—which I call the Dao Self—made it possible for her to deal with this tragedy with such grace and apparent effortlessness. When I first saw her, a slender left arm conspicuously absent from her side, I could not help but be immediately struck by the utter conviction she had of her own wholeness. It inspires us to believe that, in the face of our limiting beliefs of ourselves, we too can be and feel whole.

Bethany’s confidence that she would be surfing again was unwavering. Her attitude and love for her sport could not help but give rise to heroic action in the world. She returned to the water less than a month after the incident, and unbelievably, only eight months after losing her arm, she placed fifth in the U. S. National Surfing Championships.

Traditionally we have looked at heroic acts as the victory of good over evil, like the slaying of the dragon that leads to a life lived happily ever after. But actually life holds a more subtle challenge than that. If our heroic struggle in life were captured as a holographic video game, it would be more than our ‘good’ guy trying to kill the ‘bad’ guy. The ‘bad’ guy would be a part of us. We could never kill him, but we had to find a way of dealing with him to reach paradise. We would want to push forward, but the ‘bad’ guy would always try to hold us back. And he could attach himself to all our skill and even our thinking, until we had trouble discerning who we really were. This is our challenge.

In our world of duality, of yin and yang, darkness comes from light and vice-versa. Even the most heroic actions in the world displace both light and darkness, and yield results that are both good and evil, positive and negative. It is only when we change our state of being, when good embraces evil, when the Dao Self loves the Ego Self, does our act move into the realm of the truly heroic and does our consciousness rise up to the next level. If we look at all things dark as simply crying out for light, then there is no longer a need to annihilate the darkness. Besides, there is no way to annihilate the darkness. It shows up again and again, in different forms, until finally light is shed on it. That is when it disappears.

The heroic act brings inner transformation and moves us ever closer to a clear perception of the outside world as only a game, a context for an internal change. For every heroic deed moves us up the evolutionary steps of consciousness, where we drop some of our arrogant, self-centered illusions, and realize ever more profoundly that the joke is on us.

The same can be said for the path of humanity as a whole. The elevation of the Ego Self to prominence in Western Civilization need not be condemned as a horrible mistake or a wrong turn. Maybe we are not on this planet, as the Eastern mindset might suggest, only to move as quickly as possible to a unity with the Dao. Physicists tell us that the physical universe is in the process of expanding, while biologists note that the nature of living things is to become more complex and diverse. Perhaps in the larger plan our current mission is to continue to sophisticate our uniqueness rather than simply contracting back into the source.

From where I stand, it does not seem for now that we are ready to shed our individuality just yet. Indeed, in the new conversation, we are just coming into a greater appreciation of it. Despite the devastation and alienation that Ego-Self domination has brought to the world, perhaps it was a necessary step in the evolution of consciousness. In fact, it has even been said in some circles that we are on the leading edge of consciousness in the universe, expanding into new territory, where the growing complexity of our individual minds is helping us find a way to move towards greater diversity and greater unity at the same time.

The more complex our mind gets, the more conscious we become as individuals, and the more exquisite the experience of life becomes. We as individuals become clearer, more refined channels for the light of the Dao. The darkness of the Ego Self becomes more translucent and, at the same time, goes further into the background as the context for the experience of life rather than the experience itself. From this powerful place our senses come alive, and our appreciation grows for everything around us, the sights, the sounds, the shapes and textures, the tastes and fragrances of life. Such, I believe, is what the next level of consciousness promises to bring.

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