an epic life

Posts Tagged ‘compassion’


February 16th, 2017

She waved me over. I didn’t recognize her. I don’t think I had ever seen her before. Which always sort of amazes me since our town is so small, and I was raised here, and have lived here for a combined 38 years. I know many people here, if not by name, by face.


I walked over to her. One of her boots had a hole in the toe, and her clothes were oversized, hanging on her. She gave me a gentle smile, as she held her hand out to me and passed something into my hand.

I looked inside my hand, and it was a $100 bill. Then our eyes met. You know how when you really look at someone and you can get a glimpse of what we think is their life or their backstory, how you can sense pain and heartbreak? We connected for a brief moment, and heartbreak of some kind was palpable.

“Please give it to someone who’s hungry,” she said, softly, in barely more than a whisper.

I thanked her, and asked her what her name was. She didn’t give it to me, instead just politely shaking her head, and turning and walking away.

It was Wednesday in November of 2013, and I was in Ace Hardware. I was “fasting to feed the hungry,” and I had stopped in to collect a donation from the business.

I had started fasting once a week in 2013. Originally, I did it for health reasons. I had read of the health and anti aging benefits of fasting at least once a week. Apparently, fasting, or reducing calorie intake to 500-600 calories a day, once a week, has enormous health benefits. I am oversimplifying, but in layman’s terms, fasting sends your cells into repair. I also am an experimenter, especially when it comes to anything health and diet-related, and I wanted to see if I could lose 5 pounds in the process of experimenting with intermittent fasting.

The first time I fasted, I thought I was going to die. I was starving! I had a headache and major hunger pains. I remember when it was 11:30am, the time I usually ate lunch, I could barely take it. I was home, and it would be so easy to sneak a handful of nuts, or a spoonful of peanut butter, or whatever. This was my idea and the rules were mine to break. No one was keeping watch over me.

But I was determined. So I went upstairs, out of sight of our kitchen, and laid down in bed. A nap was elusive, what with the chattiness in my head about how hungry I was, and the pains – and loud growling reminders coming from my empty stomach, and all.

It was while lying there that I thought of all of the people in the world, including in my small town, that feel like this regularly, and not by choice. Wow. That put things in perspective for me real fast. I turned my mind to those people. I wondered who I knew, or who I saw throughout my town, in lines at the Post Office or at the grocery store, or on Main Street, or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, etc., who felt like this often. Everything about my fasting changed for me in that moment.

I decided to make my fasting be for a cause other than my own self-absorbed fitness and weight loss-related goals. I started “fasting to feed the hungry.” Every week I would pick a local cause, and I would fast for 24 hours, and I would post about it on Facebook. Businesses, such as Ace Hardware referenced above, and individuals in my town, would donate $24 (1 dollar for every hour of my fast) or more to whatever cause I was fasting for.

For me, it meant not only going hungry once a week but also getting out and being visible in my community and on Facebook during the days I fasted. It meant “selling”and marketing what I was doing in an effort to generate awareness and money for the particular cause. Many weeks I fasted and raised about $300-$500 a week for causes that included the Lander Care & Share Food Bank, the Friday Backpack Program, the One Stop Shelter, and others.

The Backpack program especially tugs at my heart. This is a program that sends home a backpack of food to kids on Fridays who won’t otherwise see a meal all weekend long. They get breakfast and lunch at school, and often that’s all they get for food. It’s actually a little pathetic that all I have to do to help feed those kids is go hungry for a single day…

It felt good to be fasting to feed the hungry. My fasting felt purposeful. I felt purposeful.

And, I also discovered that when I’m in a fasted state, I’m more present. It is so cliché to say “present,” but it’s true.  

When I’m fasting – and hungry – I am more attuned. My senses are heightened, including all of the most important ones. I’m more tender on these days when I’m hungry, and that is a good thing for me. I’m more sensitive and not as selfish as I normally am.

I think it was Annie Dillard who wrote, “How we do one thing is how we do most things.” I think about this a lot. It’s useful. I don’t want to live recklessly and as if everything is in abundance. I want to not eat the house, and I want to taste my food, and to appreciate it. I don’t want to be a pig. I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want to over-consume. In my eating or in my living. And most importantly, I want to remember people who are less fortunate than I am, who could use a break or a little help.

I am not proud of myself often. But when I fast, I feel better about myself because I’m a more compassionate human being.

Every week when I fasted I was more compassionate because I thought more closely about people who are in need, and I felt closer to my community. The result is I think about my community a lot more now even when I’m not fasting, which has been an unexpected benefit.

Which brings me to the woman at the start of this story. 

I think of her often. Anonymous, humble and generous. I’ve never seen her again. She was an angel to give $100 to someone in need. I sometimes wonder if she actually was an angel. Did she, and that transaction, really happen or was she an angel sent to deliver a message to me? 

Both, I think? I want to be more like her.

Train Yourself to Be Kind and Charismatic

February 27th, 2013

I just returned from the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. What an awesome experience. I am filled with new insights, inspiration, hope, and overwhelming evidence that a “course correction” is in the works. Some 25 percent of corporations are incorporating mindfulness into their organizations.

The increasing, ever-enabling technology has been a gift to us in so many ways. We are able to have more relationships, to do more, and to do it all without restraint of time or geography. Many of us are “on” and plugged in 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The down side is that it’s getting harder to unplug and to be present during areas of our life that are important and meaningful to us. Our phones have become like what Alone Together author Sherry Turkle calls “phantom limbs.” We are so distracted by our devices.

Wisdom 2.0, founded and organized by Soren Gordhamer (author of Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Teachings for the Creative and Constantly Connected, and a mindfulness leader who, as project director for Richard Gere’s public charity, Healing the Divide, organized the Healing through Great Difficulty Conference with his Holiness the Dalai Lama), is an event that brings together thought leaders who, through interviews and presentations and engaging conversations with those in attendance, attempt to answer: “How can we live with greater presence, meaning, and mindfulness in the technology age?”

The conference beckoned me because it converges all of the areas that I’m most interested in, in my life and work: Technology, mindfulness, compassion, entrepreneurship & business, and neuroscience.

Check out Google’s Meng Tan’s compelling presentation. It is a short video and worth every minute of your time.

In short, Tan provides evidence that we can do very simple exercises to train ourselves to be more compassionate and charismatic. For example, he challenges us to pick two people every hour, look at them, and in our minds, wish them happiness. This takes about 10 seconds, and according to Tan, this simple act makes us energetically give off compassion, which spreads to those around us.

I was so moved by the presentation that I shared the video with my husband and our three sons, who are ages 5, 10 and 12, the first morning after my return. Then, that evening, during dinner, everyone shared that they in fact did that, and that it felt good to do something that might benefit others.

I will be blogging more about the presentations and insights I gained from the conference over the next several weeks, so I hope you’ll check back often.

Thanks for reading my blog, and for stopping by Epic Life.

On the Value of Compassion

June 6th, 2012

I love this Ted Talk by Buddhist roshi Joan Halifax. Halifax works with people at the last stage of life (in hospice and on death row). Here, she shares what she’s learned about compassion in the face of death and dying, and a deep insight into the nature of empathy.

Particularly, listen to Halifax at 1.55. It frames the talk. But the message is one about the importance of compassion. As Halifax so beautifully states, compassion is to recognize we are not separate from the suffering around us.