Cultivate Theme

By Susan Keats, Contributor &  Seize-the-Day Propagandist

Ever wake up and think, gee, I’d like to walk over hot coals today, just to see if I can? There was a story in the news recently about a number of people going to the hospital with 3rd degree wounds and blisters on their feet because they were participating in some sort of inner strength and mind over matter seminar. These stories burn me up. Call me a hot head, but I just don’t get it. Walking over coals, climbing deadly mountains or participating in grueling, body-punishing events do not demonstrate anything about you as a person. These sorts of activities may prove that you can push yourself to the physical or mental brink, but do any of these challenges really build character, make you a better person or bring any measure of good to anyone?

I know that coal walkers out there are thinking that I just don’t get it, and you are totally correct. I don’t. You don’t have to sweat yourself nearly to death in a dank hut to prove that your mind has power over your body. Rather than paying fees toward the next round of self-abuse challenges, you can funnel all of that energy and funding toward helping out another person. Wouldn’t that also make you feel proud of yourself?

There are so many difficult and challenging things you could do. How about spending the day in the hot sun pounding nails and building a house for someone through Habitat for Humanity? This would not only challenge your strength and stamina, but when it’s over, you have a HOUSE rather than a piece of paper claiming to be a certificate of accomplishment. Your ACTUAL accomplishment would be that you have worked to improve the life of a family who needed that house. I can’t imagine a better gift you could give to yourself or another human being.

Since finishing treatments a little over a year ago, I think more about giving gifts of service or experiences to other people. I have realized that I no longer have much of a desire to accumulate things, and therefore I find it harder to want to give stuff to people. My informal survey of other people who have been in life-threatening situations reveals the same feelings: none of us have much in the way of a desire for having or giving more stuff. But experiences? Giving an experience or an opportunity to someone is a gift that sticks forever.

There is an old philosopher fellow, by the name of Maimonides who wrote about a hierarchy of giving. The lowest form of giving is to do so begrudgingly, only after being asked. There are 8 levels of giving and the highest form is to give in such a way that the recipient becomes self-reliant. I believe that coinciding with these levels of giving are levels of happiness that the gift giver experiences. It always feels good to give a gift that is appreciated, but I swear I have had no greater joy than when I have given a gift that positively affects the life of another person. Cool, splashy, invigorating, easy-on-the-feet, JOY.

Oh, you think that giving birth to my children would have been my greatest joy? Nope. I spent the first couple of weeks after they were born wondering when their real mother would show up. It was more of a happiness/terror kind of thing.

A life-changing gift is more like giving an experience or an opportunity. This year I pooled some money with a few friends and we sent a child from the city off to summer camp in the country. This child had never left home, never played by a stream and never really seen stars other than the few that shine through the light from the city. I looked daily for photos on the camp website and saw her doing so many things that she never imagined she would or could do. When we picked her up the first thing she told us was that she had learned to swim! Later she described seeing more stars than she ever knew existed while she slept outside by a campfire. Whether her life is changed, I may never know. But at the very least, she came home from camp being able to swim, which is something she will take with her forever.

It’s like a drug, this kind of giving, and it drives me to want MORE and to do MORE. It feels so good. It feels so selfish. It doesn’t tax my heart, it makes it soar.

The beautiful simplicity that I want those coal walkers to understand is that you won’t find happiness in yourself by trying not to burn your feet. You may continue to seek out more grueling ways to challenge your body, but you will never feel more of a sense of accomplishment, happiness, peace and inner strength than when you have had a positive impact on the life of another person. You will feel everything you hope to feel, simply by giving a little of yourself and receiving nothing in return except for the knowledge that you have done some good, and there is honestly, no higher form of joy.

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