03/14/2012 07:55 am ET Updated May 14, 2012

What Would You Do? Becoming the Love You Seek

Whatever good you find in the world, before your head hits the pillow tonight, chances are that it came about because of "miago." I love this word. Whenever the word is uttered by Ecuadorians, there is immediate recognition. Everyone drops whatever they are doing and runs to wherever they must to assist one another. Very simply, miago means "we come together for the common good."

You need not live south of the border to understand the word. I see the essence of it practiced every day, when I am awake enough to notice. Here, in Metropolis, I heard the cry. Across the street, five stories down, a silver compact car was stuck in the snow. Instantly, two men and one woman came to the rescue, pushing the car into a better position to gain some traction. They did not know the driver, but simply responded. They recognized connection.

Would everyone respond in such a way? You know the answer: no. But when another human being operates internally from a "yes," amazing things can happen.

Heroes are everywhere. A few years ago I was in a similar plight. Each time I tried to make it up through ice and snow, my car slid farther down the hill. Nearly half a block away, my neighbor George, in his late 60s, ran across the street, rallied Lou, my neighbor, in his 70s, and the pair of them would not rest until my car and I were safe. They spent more than two hours digging my wheels out of the cake of snow-turned-ice, with their bare freezing hands after a shovel failed to do the trick. How do you say thank you? Each of these men could have ignored the whole thing, stayed snug inside, told themself this "isn't my business," or that "there's nothing I can do."

There is a Buddhist saying that goes:

"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Those who practice miago know connection through discernment. They focus on possibility, not bad news, practice bringing it forward where needed, through brotherly love. Last week I witnessed such an act: an off-duty fireman who spotted a kitten stuck up a tree. Like many of us, the kitty had climbed beyond its skill level, but said firefighter "heard" the call "miago." He was love in action.

Sometimes it is less risky to hear the call from strangers than from those in our environment and bloodline. Perhaps it is because with strangers, we are not so attached to the outcome, to our expectations, to our judgments. We come together "for the common good" just because. Perhaps with strangers, we are less likely to be operating by assumptions and the "ties that bind." I don't know. It is different for everyone.

Discernment is key. Here are eight factors to consider before responding:

1. The most loving response is not always to say "yes." It is not that simple. Sometimes saying "no" produces healing.

2. Overextending ourselves helps no one. If we are acting out of obligation rather than genuine regard, we need to pause, reconsider.

3. Deep love involves deep responsibility beginning with self-love.

4. Love requires telling the truth. Where the stakes are high, it is only human to "fudge the truth," procrastinate, avoid confrontation, especially when our self-created story lines indicate that we are not enough, and hence, our truth is not enough to be worthy of love even when the answer to the call is: "No, I'm afraid what you are asking will not work for me."

5. When we've dodged the truth, we can clean up the mess.

6. Avoid manipulation and manipulators. Discern when:

• being asked for money you do not have
• being asked to do something you feel would harm the person making the request
• being asked to enable someone who is running from life
• being asked to support something which would jeopardize others, or cause injury
• being asked to interfere in what is not your business

You get the idea.

7. Consider how you can say "no" with kindness.

8. Ask yourself: What must you release, in your own thinking, to make sure your own "oxygen line" is in tact before you take on more than you can do and preserve well-being. Be the love you seek in the world, beginning with the one in the mirror. A random good samaritan act reminds us we are worth it.

Courageous love, brotherly love or romantic love, parental love, or love with a stranger is not determined by whether you say "yes" or "no" to a situation. Courage is determined in context with your own truth, your own well-being, and your own relationship with an attitude of abundance or perception of lack. Most problems in dealing with requests from those you love result from hedging, from delay tactics, from not speaking our truth in the first place -- in short, from cowardess.

Yet even the coward within can be a teacher. Each time we slip-slide away from our own truth telling, each time we spin the story, we get a chance to re-clarify our own edge of growth. We must ask ourselves the following: Do we run from the mishaps, the injustices, and the shipwrecks? Do we make up stories to defend cowardly deeds when caught, like the Italian ship captain recently? Or, do we "hold our feet to the fire" and take a stand, even when it threatens our own comfort index? Are we willing to get involved? Are we willing to sound "miago" if that is needed, or does pride get in our way? Are we brave enough to take on the truth the poet uttered when wrote: "We are the captain's of our fate ..."

One of the greatest burdens people carry privately, they tell me, is guilt for the times when they needed to step forward but did not, secretly accusing themselves as cowards. For those who hold private regret from failing to respond as they might have, I gift the following.

Love Letter for the Coward Who Jumps Ship When Needed:

How difficult this must be for you. Running away when others think you should have stayed in your situation must bring heaviness to your heart. Yet, who am I to judge? How many times have I dodged what I should have done because the truth is I was afraid? I know what it's like to feel "in over your head." I am not proud of these times, for when I abandoned my station, others suffered. Maybe they did not literally drown, but surely they silently felt betrayed.

The worst pain, of course, is the feeling that comes when we know we betrayed ourselves. Naturally, it is an experience that every human who's ever walked this earth has known. That does not make it pleasant. Especially when judgmental "rocks and stones" from self-righteous others are really their own intolerance of their private personal cowardly acts. Sometimes what we do is the coward's way because of what we have done, and sometimes it is from what we have failed to do.

My question is this: What must you do to forgive yourself before taking any other step? What kindness must you direct your way, so that the stone resting in your heart can be released? Guilt solves nothing. Regret, on the other hand, can be a marvelous teacher, for she hints at what is needed to make amends.

In this dark hour, know that there are heroes who would admit that they too have been afraid. The shift comes when we are willing to befriend our fear and decide to move forward anyway. Courage comes not in the absence of fear, but in advancing in the direction of the call of our best self.

Peace be with you.


Your turn: What act of heroism has inspired you? I'm listening.

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