Browsing the archives for the Showing Up for Life category

5 Tools for raising compassionate, empathetic kids

how to raise caring children

Robert V. Taylor

This piece first appeared on the parenting website sheknows.com August 5, 2013

Are youth today heartless? A University of Michigan survey says today’s college students are 40 percent less empathetic than the same age group in 1980.

While that is an alarming statistic, my personal experience and field research with parents suggests another story. It has to do with the role we play in the lives of young people in our orbit.

Raising kids to be compassionate and to have empathy is possible.

The good news is that multiple studies say children as young as toddlers have innate feelings of compassion and empathy. Empathy is defined as the ability to imagine walking in the shoes of another. And compassion is the emotional response generated by the suffering of others and then wanting to act on it by helping.

Research also says the empathy, compassion and the resulting kindness they instill are key ingredients to a life of happiness. What we do as adults matters in raising children to further develop those innate responses. Here are five tools that we can each incorporate into our lives.

1. Choices

The choices we make as adults are like tweets. They are powerful shorthand communications to the young people around us. One mother told me about taking her young child to the shelter for homeless women that she volunteered at once a month.

The women of the shelter gravitated to her daughter. “Tell us about your school. Do you have a home to live in? Do you have friends?” they wanted to know. As mother and daughter left the shelter the young girl said, “It’s really cold out, Mom — do all women have a place to sleep?” Her mom believes in truthful answers and so she said, “No, but these women do. That’s why we need places like this to provide a bed until they can get a home.”

Years later this same child orchestrated efforts in a local community to raise money to feed the hungry. A value had been tweeted to her daughter. A child had created a human connection with people she would not ordinarily meet. She was cultivating empathy.

2. Giving

The unique interests of young people invite giving. A father and son have bonded in their mutual love of baseball. Baseball is the passion in this young man’s life and has become an opportunity to give. The son spent a summer volunteering in a baseball camp in the Dominican Republic. Giving of himself, he got to know people he would not ordinarily meet. He could walk in their shoes.

There is no hierarchy in giving. One parent offered this wisdom. “Let your children’s passions drive their giving.” Adults can add context. Holiday celebrations — from Chanukah to Ramadan, to the Festival of Lights and Christmas — invite conversation about what they mean for the happiness that comes from giving. Secular holidays like Labor Day and Martin Luther King Day invite stories about giving of ourselves to something larger than our self-interest.

3. Service

Service is the conduit through which a child’s empathy leads to acts of compassion. One parent told me that the most important service projects have come from her children’s seemingly “silly” ideas. “Follow the lead of your kids,” she urged.

Her 6-year-old was determined to make peanut butter and honey sandwiches for people living in a homeless tent encampment. Knowing that these particular sandwiches might not be ideal, the mom didn’t say that it was a “silly” idea. Instead, they agreed to take food to the camp on a pre-determined future day. In the build-up to it, mom and daughter went shopping for food items that could be used in the camp. On the scheduled delivery day they took the bags of food along with a small platter of peanut butter and honey sandwiches.

A parent listened to the lead and intuition of her child. It became an opportunity to talk about the food that might be most needed but also honored the heartfelt idea behind the sandwiches. Adult awareness and listening to the desire to serve is as illuminating as the orchestrated service projects of a school, faith or community group.

4. Stories

Adults who take time to share their stories can leave a powerful impact on a child’s imagination. A young person’s experience can be an equally powerful story. A mom accompanied her nine-year-old daughter on a choir trip to Nicaragua. Arriving a few days before the rest of the group, they were given a tour of a garbage dump where children lived and scavenged for food.

The guide offered this advice about a potentially harrowing experience, “Look for one child in the dump. Concentrate only on that one child. Look into his or her face.” A young boy was among the first to climb onto a newly arrived garbage truck hoping for the first choice of trash from which to eat. As the young girl focused on him he tried to stare her down and finally broke out in a broad smile, waved and ran off.

That night the daughter did not want to write in her Nicaragua journal about the experience but asked her mom to. “Only if you let me read back to you what I’ve heard you say to make sure I’ve it right,” said the mom. Now in college, this young woman never forgets the story of the young boy foraging for food in a garbage dump. It is part of her story about compassion, empathy and kindness.

5. Glean

No matter your own tradition, gleaning from the wisdom of spiritual traditions is a way to invite reflection on choices, service, giving and stories. How does the Buddhist concept of happiness for all relate to the experiences of young people? Is there a meeting point between this and Christian notions of love and compassion, Jewish ideas of repairing the world and Muslim injunctions to give to good works?

Gleaning from the treasure trove of wisdom becomes an opportunity to talk with young people about commonality with people of many traditions. Gleaning invites imagining the life of a child who is Buddhist in Bhutan, Christian in Ethiopia, Jewish in Argentina, Muslim in Indonesia, Sikh in India or a Hindu in London — or those in their school or community.

These five tools are your navigation kit. How we as adults engage with the youth in our orbit matters greatly. It is the difference between standing by helplessly as heartless youth grow up without encouragement to be empathetic and compassionate, or being active participants who help children develop their innate capacity for being empathetic, kind and compassionate people. The studies reveal that our kids will have the added benefit of knowing greater happiness in their lives.

We’re all in this together.

About the author:

Robert V. Taylor is a speaker, commentator and author of A New Way to Be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive. He is President of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, which works to inspire young people to create a world of peace within, among and between people. He lives in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington. Find him online at robertvtaylor.com.

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Nelson Mandela’s Leadership Legacy to Us

Nelson Mandela

This piece first appeared in Huffington Post, July 3, 2013

We have much to learn from Nelson Mandela’s leadership grounded in generosity of spirit, authenticity and moral authority that transcends human divisiveness. Two things stand out about his leadership legacy — his open mindset and the choice to make human calculations rather than political ones.

South Africans adulate his unique transformational leadership of their country. The human family celebrates that, in the particularities of the South African experience, Mandela offered courage and hope to a world too often accustomed to revenge, retaliation, partisan politics, personal gain and lack of vision. It is a vibrant enduring legacy.

During his 27 years of imprisonment for leading the anti-apartheid movement Nelson Mandela was vilified by the South African government as the embodiment of evil. In spite of the prison conditions of Robben Island, designed to crush his spirit, he continued to nurture and expand the vision of the Freedom Charter of the African National Congress which sought a country in which all races would live together in a democratic society.

The attempt to silence and diminish Mandela was an unmitigated failure — a truth acknowledged by F.W. De Klerk, the South African President, whose negotiations with Mandela led to his release from prison in 1990. De Klerk spoke of the moral failure of apartheid’s unjust and cruel divisions.

When Mandela reappeared on the world stage on February 11, 1990 he told the world, “Our long march to freedom is irreversible.” In that moment it was clear he had never left the world stage; he was re-entering it with even greater moral gravitas.

While Mandela’s leadership was marked by a lack of rancor, bitterness or revenge it is useful to think of two constant themes that guided him.

Open mindset leadership. A friend of mine had a private meeting with Mandela several years ago. He confessed his nervousness to me about what to ask Mandela that would not seem insignificant before settling on inquiring about what he had learned about leadership. He was surprised by the response.

Mandela said the most important thing he’d learned is that you have to have an open mindset. As my friend looked quizzical Mandela explained that most leaders rise up through the ranks of an organization and come to office with others expecting that they are owed something by the leader. This, he said, usually creates a closed mindset that leaves little room for progressive or transformational leadership.

In his first year as the democratically elected president of South Africa Mandela provided a clue as to how his open mindset approach would inform his actions. South Africa was scheduled to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the odds were that their own team stood little chance of winning. Citing the pressing problems facing the country, many of his top advisers tried to dissuade him from engaging the predominantly white home team. They were constrained by the closed mindset of the sports paradigm of apartheid in which soccer fans were primarily black while rugby fans were predominantly white.

Mandela chose to engage the rugby team by actively encouraging them to win the World Cup, which they did. His open mindset reinforced his transformational leadership, not by talking about systemic changes or poring over political strategies, but by engaging an entire nation. The entire country was mesmerized by his level of interest in the home team.

Mandela took the race based assumptions and divisions and used them to re-frame a vision of how things might be. He was not willing to be imprisoned in a stultified past. He refused to be confined and defined by the expectations of those who, under his presidency, were part of the new power structure. Courage and generosity of spirit joined together with his open thinking reminding the world of the possibilities of transformative leading.

Making Human Calculations. In the Clint Eastwood movie Invictus, which tells the story of Mandela’s role in inspiring the rugby team, there is a telling moment when one of his advisers warns him to make political calculations about the cost of supporting the team. He challenges that assumption by saying, “It is a human calculation.”

Unlike the dull and politically calculated leadership we have come to expect as the norm from so many leaders, Mandela’s human calculation inspired people to see beyond narrow confines and create a more expansive view of themselves and others.

The human calculation reflects more than just Mandela’s generous spirit; it serves to remind people of the oneness that his friend Desmond Tutu speaks of. It is leadership that refuses to cede decisions to fear and divisiveness, choosing instead to believe in the human goodness discovered in our commonality.

Nelson Mandela is honored to the degree that we embrace the transformative leadership marked by his open mindset and human calculations. Then we participate in the courageous and generous authentic leadership that is his vigorous legacy.

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Reboot Your Life in 21 Days

Robert V. Taylor

This blog appeared in Huffington Post June 10, 2013 and The Mindful Word on June 7, 2013.

Rebooting your life is a gift to yourself. It reconnects you with your spirit, the wisdom and joy that lives in you and the truths that ground your choices. It is a personal anti-virus program for you to be free of what distracts, disorients and keeps you from your best and highest good.

Rebooting is most successful when you commit to creating time and space on each of the 21 days to breathe and be present to yourself. Begin with two or three minutes on the first few days. Then allow yourself a five minute breathing time on the remaining days. Find a quiet place to listen to the breath flowing though you. Be still and open to the thoughts that are present. You job is to keep listening to your breath as each thought appears.

Day 1: Your magnificence is cause for thanksgiving. Name at least one quality about you that is magnificent. Savor and appreciate it. How will you let that quality be radiant in your life today?
Day 2: Your story reveals wisdom and spiritual truth. What part of your story nags at you for attention? Choose to listen for the invitation it presents you.
Day 3: Forgiveness is a learned path to freedom. What do you need to forgive in yourself or another person? Forgiveness is a choice to be free. It releases life-giving energy to be present to today and the future.
Day 4: Love needs to be named. Stand in front of a mirror looking at yourself and speak out loud something loveable about you. Celebrate it by sharing your new appreciation with another.
Day 5: Delight affects how you participate in your own life and the world. Chose to allow yourself to be delighted by something or someone today. Tell another person about your delight.
Day 6: Detach from a toxic person. You do neither of you a favor by allowing toxicity to invade and muddle your life. Detach and entrust them to the goodness and care of the Universe. It is a life-giving gift to both of you!
Day 7: Create a new conversation. Instead of allowing old conversations and hurts to keep playing in your heart and mind, make a choice to create a new one in which you welcome positive energy.
Day 8: Playfulness is a vital to your well-being. Do something playful today that makes you smile. Notice how it affects your experience of the rest of the day’s activities.
Day 9: Frustration closes you off from yourself and others. Pay attention to what frustrates you. Letting go of it allows you to be more fully engaged with what brings you alive.
Day 10: Trust your intuition – it is part of your positioning system. Respond to an intuitive reaction or thought today.
Day 11: A teacher awaits in your greatest failures. Invite awareness of what your greatest failures teach you about your values, hopes, purpose and joy. Express gratitude for the teacher within.
Day 12: Feasting with others is soul food to your life. Experience time today with another person as a feast with each other. Unplug your technology and relish being present with another.
Day 13: Acknowledge the fears that resurface in your life. They are an invitation to move beyond them. In going to the edge of your fear you discover what centers you. In the naming of the fears their power over you is loosened.
Day 14: Awe shifts your perception of time and your place in the world. Reflect on the things, people or places that fill you with awe. How will you choose to live with an intentional openness to awe today?
Day 15: Stop clutching! When you stop clutching at what you think you know you create an open and appreciative way of living. The Universe then surprises you with new invitations to life.
Day 16: Preoccupations are best dealt with by setting them aside. Allow the beauty of those you love to interrupt your preoccupations. Express your gratitude for such love in your life.
Day 17: You are hardwired for compassion. What act of compassion will you participate in today? Notice how each such act enriches your sense of self and your connection to the lives of others.
Day 18: You are made in the imagination of the Universe. Be awake to imagination alive in you, allowing it to become a new lens for how you engage challenges, other people and yourself. Celebrate it!
Day 19: Love needs your voice and heart. Express your love to someone you love today. Tell them one of the reasons you love them. Notice how your heart space and theirs becomes more richly intertwined.
Day 20: Your goodness helps to polish the world. What will you do today to polish the world – perhaps an act of mercy, kindness, love or playful delight? The energy of your goodness is life-changing.
Day 21: Celebrate and express gratitude! For your well-being and the blessings given and received in your generosity of spirit and heart.

Notice the choices you have made in Rebooting Your Life in 21 Days. Be aware of how more fully enlivened and alive you are. Because your life is always about more than only you choose a trusted friend or mentor to share your new insights and learning’s with. Rebooting is your spiritual and wisdom gift to yourself.

What tools have you used to reboot your life? Post your responses below or on the Huffington Post site or www.themindfulword.org

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Religious Crusade Against Boy Scouts?

Robert V. Taylor

This opinion piece was first published in Huffington Post, May 31, 2013

The controversy over the Boy Scouts welcoming gay youth is being fueled by religious purveyors of judgment and condemnation. Ironically it is the Boy Scout values of compassion and respect that reflect a more generous spirit of inclusion.

I am no fan of the decision to allow gay youth to be members of Boy Scout troops while disallowing the leadership and service of adults who happen to be gay. It is a disingenuous double standard. However, the decision of the Boy Scouts looks enlightened when compared to the religious and cultural war that some religious leaders and institutions are trying to wage on scouting and gay youth.

Earnest Easley, a Southern Baptist pastor and chair of his denomination’s executive committee, is one of these warriors according to USA Today. Claiming that homosexuality is a sin and using spurious cut and paste theology to support a prejudice against LGBT people, a self-righteous crusade has been launched to sever ties between faith based groups and the Scout troops that they sponsor.

Sadly this is a re-run of old scripts in which religious texts have been used to support slavery, the denigration of women, the denial of civil rights and anti-immigrant fervor. Whatever happened to the more robust core values of love and justice?

In fairness, the warriors like Earnest Easley, do not speak for all religious institutions or leaders. Mike Schuenemeyer of the United Church of Christ is quoted in the USA Today article saying that the new Boy Scout policy will lead his organization to more actively promote sponsorship of scouting troops across the country.

The new assaults on the Boy Scouts and gay youth are at best mean-spirited and reveal a stunning lack of love and compassion. At worst they trifle with the lives of young people and their families as they struggle with questions of sexual identity.

As a young Scout I lived with the fear of anyone discovering that I was struggling with what it meant to be gay. My love of Scouting and my own worth as a human being seemed destined to be in conflict. While I survived those struggles far too many gay youth choose to commit suicide. The messages of condemnation and hatred being reinforced by religious warriors have an impact on those young people and fuel the bullying and violence directed toward them.

Data from the Pew Research Center reveals that 70 percent of Millennial’s (those between eighteen and thirty-two years old) support same-gender marriage. They reject the rationale of the battles being played out over the Boy Scouts’ policy shift.

Pew data also reveals that 25 percent of Millennial’s reject any formal religious affiliation. Among the reasons given are religion’s perceived obsession with judgmental orthodoxies and exclusion.

Those waging war on the Boy Scouts and gay youth may appeal to their own narrow base but their chosen battle is designed to reinforce the views of a significant number of young people who choose a more generous and inclusive way of life for all.

Ironically the core values of the Boy Scouts offer a more humane and spiritual approach to the storm in a teacup over gay scouts.

Those values are about compassion and respect. The Boy Scouts shine a light on being kind and considerate to others and working for the well-being of all. They emphasize showing regard for the worth of something or someone. Those core values offer respect and compassion without qualification.

I’d support those values and the decision of the Boy Scouts over the religious warriors — any day!

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Cultivate Compassion Every Day!

Mesmerized by the audience at Stanford - Robert V. Taylro with James Doty of CCAREWe are hard wired for compassion.

Aware and awake to cultivating compassion in our daily lives is a choice.

The compassion choice shifts the energy of how we experience each day.

The Universe longs for our acts and words of compassion

Watch Robert on YouTube at Stanford University sharing his insights on expanding compassion every day – Conversations on Compassion with Robert V. Taylor

Post your comments below on the video or else post directly on YouTube

 

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What choices will you make?

What choices will you make to live your life fully?  How will your choices expand your heart of love and celebrate your voice?

How you choose will affect how you are a participant in your own life!

Listen to Robert talk about these questions at The Forum at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco – click here for the podcast

Robert V. Taylor, The Forum at grace cathedral April 28, 2013

Post your thoughts, questions and responses below!

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Made in the Imagination of Love

What does it mean to be made in the imagination of love?

Talk at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral available as a Podcast – click here

With friends at my San Francisco talk!

Post your thoughts, comments and reactions to the talk below

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“Tell me who you are” – 3 reasons to share your story

Desmond Tutu and Robert V. Taylor

This article first appeared on the opinion page of FoxNews, April 14, 2013

It was a life-shifting question from South African social rights activist and Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu inviting me to tell him about my life – “Not what you’ve done, but who you are.”

No one had ever asked me such a question before.

Most of us expect the inevitable question of “What do you do?” from strangers. When you can respond to “Tell me who you are” a dramatic shift happens in your engagement with others and your experience of life.

It was 1980 and I was in my first one-on-one meeting with Tutu. I had decided that instead of serving in the South African military — which enforced apartheid — I would go to jail. I didn’t know if I could survive prison so I went seeking Tutu’s advice.

I was a 22-year-old privileged white kid in the presence of a 49-year-old internationally known human rights activist who was an iconic figure to me. I was honored to be in his presence and my nervousness quickly gave way to being floored by his unexpected question.

As I told him about the physical pain that had transformed my life during two spinal surgeries as a teenager I wondered why I was intuitively telling him these details. I spoke about the loneliness and fears while hospitalized for six weeks at a time.

I related how a book I read and re-read in the hospital by Trevor Huddleston had upended my life.

Huddleston described the vibrant multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community he had served outside of Johannesburg that had been bulldozed by the apartheid government because of those defining qualities.

I described Huddleston’s book as my first conscious awakening to the realities of my own country and an invitation to be involved in the anti-apartheid movement.

When I told Tutu that Huddleston had been like a visitor to me in the hospital he burst out laughing!

Desmond Tutu & Robert V. Taylor speaking at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I wondered what I had said to evoke such a reaction.

After settling down Tutu told me of the loneliness and fears he had experienced as a teenager hospitalized with tuberculosis. Then he said, “Trevor Huddleston was my priest. He used to visit and read stories to me.”

In that moment I realized how profound Tutu’s simple question was. “Tell me who you are” is an invitation to discover who we are in oneness with others revealed through unexpected connecting stories. It is why the question matters for the sake of our well-being and that of the world.

On the surface anyone might have assumed that there not much of a common thread to our lives. Yet his question revealed shared transformation, decades apart.

On this new common ground he said that there would be a time for young men like me to go to jail for refusing to serve but that time was not now. He arranged for me to leave the country and within ten days I was on a flight to New York City.

So how do you respond to the question of “Tell me who you are” and what does it mean for your life?

Own the fullness of your story! When we are mindfully aware of the arc of our story it becomes an invitation to see the many threads woven together. Instead of banishing the painful or fearful experiences to a closet, choose a trusted guide or mentor to be authentic with.

Tell your stories in a safe environment and listen to yourself with expectancy about what they reveal or point to. Your own courage will become a mirror to loving yourself.

The fear, loneliness and physical boundaries of the spinal surgeries could have handicapped my view of myself.  I could have chosen to live with anger, resentment or pity.

Instead it offered me the gift of compassion and empathy towards others. Instead of youthful invincibility my awareness of the frailty of human life became an invitation to live life fully in every moment.

Most of us prefer the joyous, happy and wonderful experiences of our journey. Yet it is usually the challenging parts of our story that shed new light on how we choose to live with gratitude and delight.

When you own the fullness of your story, the superficiality of “tell me what you do,” becomes a poor substitute for “tell me who you are” that reveals your richly textured life egging you on to live fully alive.

Listen with curiosity. Like the ever-expanding Universe, the arc of your story reveals new insights and wisdom in each new season of your life.

Instead of living with regret, shame or embarrassment about some part of your story those defining experiences invite you to develop new tenderness and compassion toward yourself.

That combination of attentiveness and self-love takes you beyond self-absorption to a life that is enlivened by curiosity. You intuitively become engaged with others because you want to know what their story reveals. Like the unexpected connecting story that Tutu and I shared, you discover surprising connection with others. Like mine, your life is changed by those encounters.

Cultivate Awe. Studies reveal that our capacity for awe expands our sense of fulfillment, meaning and satisfaction. When I experience awe in nature, music or a soaring architectural space I am awake to being part of the grandeur of life beyond any confines of my story.  Similarly, I am awed by the stories of those who know who they are.

Lives of courage and love filled with simple and seemingly small actions of hope leave me breathless!

If I’m tempted to view my life as a series of obligations or something whose course is set, the stories of those who know who they are pull me back from that life-draining path.

Instead my awe finds expression in gratitude for the abundant generosity their lives point to. Awe becomes a pathway of celebrating our oneness.

In owning the fullness of your story with the companions of curiosity and awe your life is seen through a new lense. Instead of what you do, the knowledge of who you are transforms what it means to be human and fully alive.

How will you choose?

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How to end relationship dysfunction

This excerpt for A New Way to Be Human was published on Beliefnet.com February 2013 with permission of the publisher New Page Books

Risky invitations interrupt the imagined or assumed course of your life, raising the stakes right where you struggle the most. Responding to these invitations takes you beyond your comfort zone, inviting transformation and an enlarged understanding of yourself, others and the Holy. The murder of Steve Biko in 1977 presented me with a risky invitation.

“Biko’s death cannot go unanswered,” I said. “None of us want to sit back and be passive do we?” asked Maureen as she looked around the room where seven of us sat cradling mugs of tea. We all shook our heads in silent agreement. I said, “It’s why we’re here. I feel helpless and I want to do something.” We were beginning to respond to a risky invitation. I had no idea that the journey we were about to embark on would reveal so much about being spiritually and physically present.

Steve Biko was a hero to many of us. In 1977, while being held in custody he was killed by the authorities. In an attempt to crush the reactions to his death all public gatherings of more than three people had been declared to be illegal.

In his death I realized that the government’s desire to control, to dehumanize and to deny happiness to others was like a voracious demon with an insatiable appetite. As we sat with Maureen’s question one person said, “We can begin by praying.” I suggested, “What if our prayers become part of an eight day fast leading up to Biko’s funeral?” The willingness to give something up in order to be awake to new possibilities stood in contrast to the lust to deny the humanity of others that would stop at nothing to achieve its goal.

As our small group of students and faculty planned a fast built around prayer, meditation and discussion our raw emotions ranged from anger and disbelief to mourning and lamentation. “What if we took some visible action?” I then quickly added, “As much as praying let’s engage people in thinking about what is happening in our country.”

“But what about the ban on public gatherings of more than three people?” someone asked. I felt fear at the mention of this ban because I knew that contravention of it would result in harsh actions from the authorities for whom human lives were dispensable. I said, “Let’s think about a procession of mourners in which you only see one mourner at a time.” The idea electrified the group. Quickly we decided that the university’s tradition of wearing black academic gowns in the dining halls at night could become the dress code of a planned procession whose route would be through the main street of the college town.  One person at a time would travel the route wearing a black gown, carrying a wreath in their hands. So our protest march of mourning and lamentation was born as a companion to the fast.

Two days later the phone rang in my dorm.  “Please withdraw from this fast and protest,” my parents demanded. They had seen the photograph of me in the protest march which had appeared in several South African newspapers. “We’re scared for your safety. You know what happens to people who speak up in this country.”

As they implored me to “be quiet” I said, “What if people had spoken out against the Nazis?  What if we worked for the humanity of every person instead of rejecting, excluding or killing?” Our conversation ended tersely.

I woke up in the early hours of the morning thinking about the conversation with my parents. At seven o’clock I was in the chapel for our morning meditation time. I finally interrupted the silence and said, “Let’s attend Biko’s funeral.” No sooner had I uttered the word than I thought, “You must be crazy Robert!”

On the day of the funeral we left early on a bus that would drive us several hundred miles to the football stadium in which it would be held. Our small band of college students quickly noticed the helicopters flying overhead and the talk about police informers photographing those present. We entered a stadium filled with more than thirty thousand people.

At the end of the funeral a very short man appeared on the stadium field. He told the crowds, “God loves you. Please be God’s partners in love. If you take up violence you will become just like those who have killed Biko.” He begged the mourning crowd to find another way to end apartheid. “With violence you will lose your humanity” he said. This man of small stature with a towering message was Desmond Tutu. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Every person was straining forward so as not to miss a single word or inflection.

Back at the campus a South African curry with its intriguing blend of spices, vegetables and meat that had simmered for hours, seemed to be a fitting meal for the breaking of our fast. Over the meal we spoke about Tutu’s invitation that continued to reverberate in our conversation. One person said, “He treated everyone like an adult with a choice to make about where our hearts belong.”

In responding to being both physically and spiritually present in this time of turmoil I began to understand the pathway of responding to risky invitations.

When you clutch at the imagined certainties of your life you keep life at bay, and drain and distance yourself from your journey with the Holy. To turn back from the risky invitations of your journey is to trifle with life by willfully denying yourself the fullness of who you are meant to be.

The risky invitations are much more than a surprise disrupting your familiar patterns; they are a gift connecting you with others in new mindfulness about what it means to be fully human. Our lives are replete with refusals and acceptances. It is never too late on your journey to develop mindful openness to the risky invitations presented to you.

Read my in A New Way to Be Human available at Indie bookstores, B&N and Amazon

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Jilt Your Lover!

This blog was first published on Huffington Post, February 13, 2013

I remember the days of waiting for the Valentine card that never arrived. I had not learned the secret that loving myself unconditionally was the most attractive way to find a lover! If you live with conditional love of yourself do not obsess about waiting for a Valentine charm to arrive. Instead jilt that conditional lover who lives inside you.

My Buddhist friends remind me that the near enemy of love is conditional love.  That’s because conditional love is a transactional relationship – I will “love” you if you do what I want, demand or expect. Our lives are filled with transactional relationships that are necessary for navigating everyday work and life. Confusing these with love is toxic to your well-being and your health.

Many of us have learned to equate love with “making nice.”  So we make excuses by saying that a lover or friend “means well” or has your welfare at heart. It is a formula for frustration, anger, disappointment and becoming a bystander to your own life.

Conditional love should never be confused with the real thing. In the love compromises we make – consciously or not – it is all too easy to assume that conditional love is “normal.” You may choose to endure it but there is another choice. The lover inside of you who thinks this is normal must be jilted to make room for unconditional love.

My life coach once gave me a homework assignment that at first I thought was trite. I stood in front of a full size mirror every day and looked at myself while verbalizing out loud something magnificent, lovely, generous, kind, loving, lively, spirited or funny about myself.  At first I was terrified. It brought back memories of being teased as an adolescent for being chunky and my dislike of my self-image of being fat.

This simple exercise was far from trite! With each utterance I began to develop new empathy, compassion and love towards myself. Unless I knew what the mirror reflected back to me about the magnificent qualities of my own life I would always be looking into someone else’s mirror for love, approval and acceptance. I was moving from conditional to unconditional love.

Robert V. Taylor

As a result of this discovery I began to surround myself with those who love unconditionally. This is not the same as selecting people in our lives who will be uncritical.  Instead it is choosing a path on which the fullness of your magnificence and shadow side are acknowledged, creating new tenderness toward your own self.  When you do that you intuitively connect with those who have no desire to spend their lives living conditionally because they have also done the work that allows them to love others in their fullness.

In jilting the conditional lover inside I’ve discovered that the arc of our stories reveal wisdom and truth. The stories that shape and form us are a reminder that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. It is the consciousness that loving with abandonment is the marker of how fully alive you choose to be.

It starts within each of us. Your story and mine each contain elements of wonder, shame, regret, joy and more. Many of us have learned to compartmentalize these elements resulting in living with a half-script about ourselves. When you embrace the many elements of your story into one integrated narrative several things happen. You develop compassion toward yourself. You identify those in your story who have been wisdom, truth and love bearers. You develop gratitude for the love in which you hold your story. When you embrace your story, it complements what the mirror exercise reveals.

This is crucial to your ability to jilt the conditional lover who desperately tries to avoid eviction from your heart and head spaces. In owning and claiming your story you cease to search for the “dream lover” who will fulfill your needs. You are no longer a conditional person willing to accept the crumbs of conditional love as “normalcy.”  Your energy and being start to radiate the unconditional love that grounds who you are.

In this new consciousness of loving with abandonment you no longer hope for that Valentine card that never arrives. Instead Valentine’s Day is everyday – it is the energy that draws you to the lover who loves unconditionally as you do.  It is a way of being fully alive. A way of loving love!

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