Free the Hikers… Taking Personal Responsibility and Disturbing Our Lives for Others

I've been working on this blog for almost a month; it took me this long to synthesize what I was trying to say. Ah, the writing process… the fine balance between discipline and surrender.

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On September 30th I attended the two-month anniversary vigil at the UC Berkeley campus for Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the three hikers who have been detained in Iran for almost twelve weeks. I wasn't quite sure exactly what to expect, but I went hopeful of raising awareness and willing to do whatever was needed - to "disturb my life" on their behalf for a few hours. I ended up handing out fliers about the hikers to as many passers by as I could; unexpectedly, it turned out to be an interesting social and emotional experience.

Initially, as I walked away from the supporters holding the large, cloth banners, clutching my supply of fliers, I felt some trepidation - almost a dread - at having to approach strangers, which is really funny for someone who regularly gives out Free Hugs at BART stations. As I scoped out the situation, I noticed many people walking in a multitude of directions - alone, engaged in conversation with others, many wearing headphones or talking on cell phones. Although I was somewhat apprehensive, mostly what I felt was determination - to hand out as many fliers as possible in the two hours ahead of me.

After about ten minutes, I noticed that most folks were more or less open to slowing down to hear about the hikers. I would approach them saying, "Have you heard about the hikers in Iran?" or "Help us free the hikers!" pointing to the banner on the steps of Sproul Hall, and they'd stop, often engaging in conversation or asking for a flier. Some, however, wouldn't make eye contact, would wave me off or say, "No, thanks" as if I was trying to sell them something.

It was my internal reactions to the folks who said, "No thanks," waved me off or made little or no eye contact that really sparked an inner conversation. At first I felt somewhat offended, angry and hurt, as if they didn't care about this very important issue. I mean, here I was willing to take a few hours out of my life and they were just blowing me off! I found myself judging them for being self-absorbed or indifferent. In other words, I took it very personally.

It surprised me that I was taking their responses (or lack thereof) so personally; normally, I'm a pretty tolerant person. But, as I looked more deeply into my own thought process, I remembered a beautiful ritual called "disturbing your life" I participated in several years ago when I was a counselor at a church camp. We did this ceremony on the top of a mountain where we sat in a huge circle with all of the campers and counselors, each turning to the person next to us, taking their hands in ours, looking right in their eyes and saying, "I will disturb my life for you." It was an extraordinarily powerful experience of love, commitment, and community. This expression of willingness to rearrange our lives for another, to do whatever it takes to make sure others are loved and cared for, has stayed with me ever since.

So, as I stood out there on the plaza, hoping to spark some interest in the fate of these three UC Berkeley graduates, meeting averted eyes and strange looks with a cheerful "Thank you!" I began to despair, to wonder why people weren't interested or why they just didn't seem to care. Why weren't they willing to disturb their lives, even for one minute?

Was it because they had more important things to do? It's true, many said, "I’m late for class!" Was it because they thought it was ridiculous to help three people who had obviously gotten themselves into this mess? One gentleman was very quick to point about that. Or was it just because they were so focused on their own lives, on what was right in front of them, that they simply didn't feel they could take a moment to consider the possibility that their actions could make any kind of difference for three hikers half a world away?

I was rolling all of these questions around in my mind, wondering why so many people weren't willing to "disturb their lives" for even one minute to take a flier, when I realized I was being exactly what I was judging them for- ignorant and self-absorbed. Oh, the beauty of being human… the beauty of having a mind.

Taking a mental step back, I remembered another beautiful practice I recently learned called "Ho'Oponopono." It's a radical practice of taking responsibility for everything in your life and everything around you… everything. The way I interpret it is that, on a very deep level, we are each of us responsible for everything that happens in the world because everything is interdependent. In other words, the only separation we experience is the illusion of it in our own minds. So, anything we experience that we don't like "out there" is ours to love and heal internally with this simple phrase, " I love you, please forgive me, I'm sorry, thank you."

If I bring both of these profound practices under one umbrella, they fit perfectly together. If I want to see a change in the world, "out there," I must be willing to disturb my life and take responsibility for it "in here." I must be willing, at any moment, to drop what I think I'm supposed to be doing and listen to the greater call, the Universal urge that tells me to give, without judgment, an extra dollar when I only have two; to stop and tell the clerk at the grocery store how grateful I am for them being committed to impeccable service. This doesn't mean I stop my life permanently, but it means that I stay open to the myriad possibilities of connecting with my fellow human beings.

This is no small feat; we all have busy lives, places to go, people to see. But I wonder, how would our world be different if we all lived from that place? How would it be to take radical responsibility for everything and be willing to disturb our own lives, even for a moment, on a daily basis for the greater good? What would be possible for our planet and all the beings who share it if we got that we mattered that much?

I'm also very clear that I have a long way to go myself. There are countless time when I could have taken an extra minute to make a positive difference in some one's life, could have kept my word, could have held my judgment at bay and "walked a mile in their moccasins." As I stood out on that plaza, hoping to reach into peoples' hearts and souls, hoping for a connection, a spark of recognition and compassion, I could have reminded myself of the thousands of times I'd said, "No thanks" or waved someone off instead of leaping right to the conclusion that they didn't care.

Perhaps they just didn't know. I mean, if it were their brother or daughter suffering the same fate as Sarah, Josh and Shane, I'm certain they would be out there doing the same thing. Yes, it's time to wake up but we have to wake ourselves, and each other, up with love and compassion, not with harsh judgment. There's a time for fierceness, but always it must be with love.

As I have had several weeks to ponder these questions, I am simply left with more, for myself and for anyone who takes time to read this far in this week's blog…. What would I need to do to shift from judgment and taking things so personally to responsibility and willingness? What would it take for me to let go and surrender to the nudges of the Universe? How could I give a little more, and in that giving, remember that I have received so much?

Disturbing my life? Taking 100% responsibility? Seems like a small price to pay for the gifts I've received on this journey called life.

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Postscript:

There is so much hope to feel, and I'm very clear that it has to start with me. That whole taking responsibility and "disturbing my life" for another being practice starts right here… and it starts with taking responsibility for the content of my thoughts. Let me explain.

Since early August I've been praying for Sarah, Josh and Shane, picturing them sitting in prison somewhere in Iran. I've been sending them love and support, but always with that picture in my mind. However, when I read about the 1:33 meditation mentioned below, I realized that I needed to take another step and move away from envisioning them as stuck in this situation. So I decided to change what I was picturing from seeing them in Iran to seeing them being released, getting on an airplane in Tehran, walking off the plane in New York, and into the open arms of their overjoyed families in blissful, relieved and tear-filled reunion. I have set a daily alarm on my cell phone for 1:33pm so I can take some small step to at least remember to send this new vision out into the collective consciousness to be made real.

Things to know:

If they aren't released this week, Halloween will mark the 92nd day of captivity for Sarah, Shane and Josh… over three months. That's an agonizingly long time for their families, and I hope you will consider joining one or more of the events below.

On November 8th, there will be "Vigils of Hope" held around the globe to send love and hope to Sarah, Josh and Shane and their families. Please visit http://freethehikers.org/ to learn more, if you want to light a candle, share a poem, play music, and basically send positive energy to Sarah, Shane and Josh in Tehran.

In addition a daily "Peace 1:33" meditation has started making its way around the world to support them. As it says on the website, http://freethehikers.org/, "it is easy to get caught up in daily responsibilities and let family and friends fall from the forefront of our mind. Shane, Sarah, and Josh were taken on July 31st, 2009 at 1:33 pm and are still being held in Iran. Keeping them on the forefront of our minds is one of the most important actions we can take. Action is created by thought. It is this universal truth that has inspired Peace 1:33. The purpose is to hold the vibration of peace and positive energy for Shane, Sarah, and Josh by focusing on and feeling peace for 1 minute or more each day at 1:33 PM. Set a daily alarm on your cell phone for 1:33 PM. Spend one minute thinking/meditation on peace in honor of Shane, Sarah, and Josh and continue with the daily commitment. If you have access to a bell, ring it three times in honor of each hiker."

Lastly, please spread the word. Send e-mails to your friends, join Free the Hikers on Facebook, and invite friends to do the same. Visit the website. Ask your church or school to participate by ringing their bell three times each day at 1:33 PM. The simplest act on our part can make a world of difference for them.

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