“When things in the world go well for us, we become confident that we can manage by ourselves and feel we do not need friends, but as our status and health decline, we quickly realize how wrong we were. That is the moment when we learn who is really helpful and who is completely useless. So to prepare for that moment, to make genuine friends who will help us when the need arises, we ourselves must cultivate altruism!”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Compassion and the Individual
Saw John Madden’s new film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” this week. Each of the seven English seniors who travel to this dilapidated ‘resort’ destination undergoes a transformation of some nature in their relationships. Beautiful story that exquisitely captures the essence of life in India and the possibilities in growing older in a culture that perhaps values age and wisdom to a greater extent than we do.
I was particularly inspired by the transformational journey of Muriel (played by Maggie Smith), a racist curmudgeon who comes to India to have hip replacement surgery. As time passes, Muriel gradually and grudgingly starts to appreciate the people around her—including her Indian doctor and the ‘untouchable’ woman who cleans the hotel and prepares her meals.
The ‘untouchable’ acts almost like a silent coach to Muriel. Since they cannot speak each other’s language and must communicate through an interpreter, much of what they share is expressed through their actions and their expressions. Kindness needs no words. The cleaner, profoundly moved by Muriel’s acknowledgement of her, boldly steps outside of her culture’s norms and shares her profound gratitude by inviting Muriel to her home.
Muriel starts to see the world through the hotel cleaner’s eyes. This uptight British matron breaks through her self-imposed barriers and starts to relate to others around her with kindness. We see her reconnect to a long-lost purpose: to be of service to others. We watch her quietly begin to work behind the scenes from her wheelchair to help the young manager secure the funds he needs to keep the hotel open. No longer ‘useless’, Muriel even creates a new purpose for herself—to live in and manage the business side of the very hotel she originally detested.
We all have the potential to be helpful.
We often long to be useful.
To be really helpful, we need relationships with people who are open to receiving our gifts. And we need to know what is needed in the world, where we can be useful.
Life moves towards a homeostatic balance in everything. Receiving balances giving. Giving balances receiving.
Like Muriel, I am learning how to open up to other people helping me, to receiving their gifts in a non-attached, non-dependent way, so that I can be useful and helpful in my own way. My coaches in this are many and varied. Not only do these professional coaches, family members and colleagues help me see where I can be useful, these trusted friends also help me see more clearly and completely what beliefs or habits I have that stand in the way of fully expressing and sharing my gifts.
Perhaps that’s why I caught myself saying “I’ll always welcome a new friend into my life” last week….
This blog post by Shae Hadden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.