I love people watching, there is much to learn about myself and this crazy world I live in. One of my favorite places for doing my “scientific” observations is in restaurants. It’s almost as if people forget they are visible to the rest of the world. Same thing happens when we are in our cars. We are really in a fish bowl, and will do the strangest things because we forget the whole world can see us.
On a recent meal out, I could hear a family around the corner from where I was sitting. It sounded as though an entire clan had come out to dinner. Really though, if you know children, it could’ve been 2 kids, or 8 kids. All of a sudden I heard mom’s voice echo above the din, “ Oh my God! WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?”
I smiled because I remembered all the times my mother said it to me. Generally speaking, I have not heard it in a very loving or empowering way. I’m used to hearing it at a vocal pitch that only dogs can hear. So as I heard this mother’s words still hanging in the air, my imagination started to take over wondering what the heck the child had done… throwing food at someone, playing under the chairs, or dancing on the table. While I had no idea what had actually happened, I knew from my own childhood, it probably wasn’t the most “helpful” thing for mom and dad.
When was the last time I stopped and really saw the stranger near me in the grocery store? Do I feel at one with only those I can “see?” Or those I choose to see?
But it got me thinking… this question is one of several that Robert Fulghum calls “mother questions,” which include, “What on earth are you doing,” “What will you think of next,” and “Who do you think you are?” And as I sat thinking about what this mother had just yelled to her child in exasperation, it occurred to me that it becomes a wonderfully powerful statement when turned upside down!
So in that context, the question “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?” becomes a really good doorway for introspection, and maybe even a little unnerving too. But holding it without the energy of guilt or blame invites me to notice in new ways what is created in my world. And not just my little corner of planet earth, but it becomes an opportunity to look at my contribution to this pale blue dot in the cosmos. How many of us believe that we create our world? So if it’s true, then WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING is a great question!
So what’s the answer as I sit here now contemplating it? The same one I keep landing on, I’m being an angel – except on days when I’m not! Being an angel is the expression of our divinity. It reminds me of the spiritual principle of Ubuntu, which says that I am because you are, you are because I am.
Do I know my neighbors on my street? If not, why not? What keeps you from knowing them? Do I see myself as different from you? When I see someone in the news being arrested, do I think they probably deserved it, or some less than angelic thought? When I see a bunch of tattooed and pierced people… do I pass to the other side of the street or tighten up? When I see a rapist in the news, and then the victim do you I them differently? How many people do I see as separate, as The Other?
How do I treat and think about a homeless person? A capitalist? A politician? When was the last time I stopped and really saw the stranger near me in the grocery store? Do I feel at one with only those I can “see?” Or those I choose to see?
Ubuntu it is the essence of being human, and acknowledging divinity at the same time – my humanity is dependent on your humanity and vice versa. Everyday I am led to relationships that move me through myself, beyond myself and into that cosmos that houses the pale blue dot, which is my home. This is being an angel, and I get to ask myself everyday, what on earth am I doing?
As for the next “mother question,” WHAT WILL YOU THINK OF NEXT, again, not often heard with love, compassion or a smile on the face of the person delivering the line. And, usually in a tone filled with exasperation, disappointment and confusion. So I sit with this question too… What will I think of next? Do I get so busy with the details of life that I don’t take time to ask who’s living my life? I come back to creating my world…
We always have the choice between joining in with life’s creations, and what comes my way, or choosing to hide and fracture what lies before me. I think I make micro-choices all day everyday without even realizing every choice I make. So this question becomes a wake up call to what I am choosing. What will I think of next? If I believe that all life is connected, then every choice I make contributes to darkness or light, compassion or heartlessness, gratitude or contempt.
This is being an ancestor. What I think next determines my world around me. Each of us will someday be someone’s ancestor, so does knowing that I am somebody’s ancestor open my vision just a little bit more? I can create a world that reflects my deepest values, or not. Will I do it with a consciousness of wisdom and compassion, knowing that everything I create may not be seen in my lifetime, or not? Isn’t that the ultimate act of hope and faith? To contribute to the creation of something I may never see?
There’s a cathedral in Prague, St. Vitus Cathedral, which took 585 years to build. That number is staggering! I wonder what the architect thought. I’m guessing he knew that he would never see the end result, yet he was willing to hold the vision and jump into it with all his being knowing he would never worship in the cathedral! I like to think that because he knew on some level he would someday be someone’s ancestor, he wanted his great grandchildren and beyond to look back and marvel at his courage and foresight. So, what will I think of next?
And finally, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? The quintessential mother question, also one not generally delivered in a positive light either. And God forbid you try to answer it while mom is delivering it, “Well, I think I’m…” If I recall, it’s not generally well received.
Am I a stone that blocks everything? Or am I a jewel that transmits light, shaping it and coloring it? I get to choose, so who do I think I am?
It’s a question that invites me to the adventure that waits within myself. I get to follow the thread of what I am thinking and feeling, while remaining interested in expanding my adventure. The question is also prodding me to engage in the unlimited escapades out in the world. This is the path of every angel and ancestor, to live an engaged spiritual life – to look within and then act with compassion out in the world. Am I a stone that blocks everything? Or am I a jewel that transmits light, shaping it and coloring it? I get to choose, so who do I think I am?
If I can answer this third question with clarity and grace, and be immersed in the answer with my body, mind and soul, then I can answer the other two questions. I AM AN ANGEL AND AN ANCESTOR dedicated to transforming lives and joyfully living an engaged spiritual life through a consciousness of wisdom and compassion.
So I probably need to thank my mother for all her “enlightened” questions and spiritual poking. As irritating as my mother may have been when I was a teenager, somewhere along the line, she became so wise. It seems to happen the older I get. Interesting… and thankfully, she too is an angel and an ancestor.