In Coming Back to Life, Joanna Macy offers an exercise about cherishing a stranger as if he or she were a beloved parent from a previous lifetime in order to remind us of the power of love. I committed myself to practice her strategy. An hour later, as I was eating breakfast, I overheard an elderly man say to the waitress, “I’ll join this lady,” and he pointed directly to me.
I smiled to myself, marveling at the speed that turned my intention into reality. He sat down at my table and told me about the death of his wife and how his world had changed. He spoke about moving in with his fifth son and leaving his childhood friends. He also told me about his long days and endless nights. When I asked him what he enjoyed doing he said, “Fishing, but I can’t walk very steadily since my hip replacement surgery.” He also said he used to play the banjo but his hands were crippled with arthritis.
I listened with my open heart and reached out and held his hands. We both cried. Then he said he hoped his wife did not hate him for abandoning her in the nursing home. He could not bear to see her in pain. Then he whispered, “You know we always talked about me dying first. Never did I dream she would leave me behind.” I smiled and patted his wrinkled hands. We were both silent for a few minutes. Then he said, “You know, I just realized that she was the one who abandoned me and I know that will make a big difference in the way I get up every morning.”
Listening to him and loving him was easy since he was about the same age as my own father. If only I could be in relationship with everyone I met in a cherishing way, I know my soul would be happy. Before we finished breakfast, I invited him to swim with me and he said he might “someday.”
When the waitress brought our checks, he reached for them saying, “Let me pay for your breakfast. You have been a loving companion this morning.” I smiled as tears filled my eyes. When I moved over to hug him goodbye, I noticed he had tears in his eyes too. I returned to my car appreciating how naturally love, compassion, and forgiveness connect us to ourselves and each other. When we love from our souls, loving transforms into a way of being.
Love is connected to our souls, and it is our souls that radiate our inner light. Once you align with your knowing heart, you begin to feel an inner fulfillment, and the human tendency to project our emptiness on others fades. Dawna Markova, author of I Will not Die an Unlived Life, speaks from her heart when she writes, “We grow stronger in the fact of loving something. It sustains us. It generates energy. If I am depleted or feel as if I’ve failed, ultimately it is because I have not been living in service to what I love.”
I invite all of you to send love to a couple of people a day. You can do this practice as you stand in line at a grocery store or when you are waiting for the light to turn green. Surround a stranger with love. Appreciate that each time we extend love, we are blessing. Experience how your life transforms when you treat someone else with love.
Excerpted from Awakening Your All Knowing Heart by Rosalie Deer Heart