“You can never know how many lives you’ve touched, so just know it’s far more than you think. Even the tiniest acts of love, kindness, and compassion can have a massive ripple effect. You have made the world a better place, even if it doesn’t seem like it.”
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a meditation retreat with a world-traveling Buddhist monk. He spoke about mindfulness and meditation, and how it can help create more happiness in your life. He gave some great insight into how slowing down and reflecting inwardly is so important in our busy, chaotic lives, and spoke about techniques and best practices on how to meditate.
But even more moving than his points on meditation was a story he told about a young man and a Greyhound bus. Several years ago, this monk was departing for a very long bus ride, when a young man got onto the bus and, after scanning the rows and seeing no other empty seats, hesitantly took the last seat next to him. The young man looked troubled and angry, and gave the monk a weird look. When the monk greeted him, the man shut him down. The monk had a choice in that moment… he thought, should I just ignore this rude guy and put my headphones in for the rest of this bus ride? Or do I choose to show him compassion instead?
The monk chose the latter. He continued to be friendly and attempt to engage in conversation with the man — with no success, but still he persisted. When the man finally got off the bus, the monk gave him his business card and pleasantly wished him farewell. The young man hurried off, and that was that.
…Until several years later, when the monk got an email from the young man, who had held on to his business card all this time. The man had since moved to New York City and learned more about the Buddhist culture. He apologized for being so rude to the monk on the bus, and admitted that he was in the wrong that day. He said that he is now heavily addicted to drugs, and felt like he had nowhere left to turn. He was going to commit suicide. In a fleeting moment of compassion, the monk invited him to come live with him, and so he did. For several months, the young man lived with the monk and practiced meditation and mindfulness every day. He ended up getting sober, moving away, falling in love, getting married and having children. He’s now a very happy man and the monk and him are still friends today.
The monk’s story showed that he had a choice to make that day on the Greyhound bus. In that moment, he could have chosen to ignore this young man and put his headphones in and forget about him. Instead, he chose to show this young man compassion, expecting nothing in return. Years later, he not only saved this man’s life, but he positively impacted the lives of the man’s wife and future children.
This story reminded me that every decision we make has a ripple effect to the rest of the world, farther beyond what we could ever imagine. We have a choice in every moment to retreat into selfishness and fear, or to choose compassion and love instead. Plus, what we put out into the world radiates back at us, so why not choose the latter?
Think back to a time in your life when you were struggling. Can you remember a person who did something to make your day a little bit better? Maybe it was a waitress at a restaurant who made you feel a little more welcome. Or maybe it was a stranger who held the door open and smiled at you. Remember how that felt? To be reminded of the good nature of humanity? To feel the light of someone else shining upon you, even if for just one passing moment?
Every choice we make has the power to harm someone or to help someone. The cool thing is that when you’re acting from a place of selflessness and compassion, the power to help will always overshadow the power to harm. Every single time.
Our egos will try to make it seem all about us, and will put up walls in an effort to protect ourselves. For example, the monk could have very well listened to his ego mind telling him things like, “God, this guy is so full of himself. Why is he so rude? What’s his deal? Such a jerk…” Or, “Why does this guy keep staring at me? What is he thinking about me? Do I look funny to him? Is something wrong with me? I better just keep to myself…”
Our ego mind will always try to dominate the situation. It will try everything it can to keep you in your own head. The best way to break that habit is to notice those self-serving thoughts when they arise, and choose to decide again. Decide in that moment to choose compassion. Decide to give. Decide to live in love. Decide to not care what anyone thinks about you. Decide to shower that other person with your loving kindness.
Another thing I’ve learned is that you don’t necessarily have to verbally engage with someone to do this. It can be as simple as taking a moment to silently think about this person in front of you and send good energy their way. That simple shift in energy can create crazy changes under the surface.
We will never know the struggles or the demons that others are facing. We will never know their pasts, or what will show up in their future. All we can know is that in the present moment, we have the power to show up in one of two ways: out of fear, or out of love. When we act out of fear, we feed our ego mind. We fuel the part of our brain that thinks me, me, me. But when we act out of love, we have the chance to radically change the world; perhaps, even, saving someone’s life.
Think to a time when you chose love instead of fear. How did you shape the world with that decision? How far has your ripple effect extended across the universe?
Sending love & gratitude,