Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. We’ve done about 640-something of them now. If this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, go to batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look under the past interviews menu where you’ll find them all organized in several different ways. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website. My guest today is Shelly Tygielski. Shelly is the author of “Sit Down to Rise Up” and founder of the global grassroots mutual aid organization, Pandemic of Love. Her work has been featured by over 100 media outlets, including CNN Heroes, the Tamron Hall Show, the Kelly Clarkson Show, CBS This Morning, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. A trauma mindfulness teacher and a Garrison Institute fellow, she has been called one of the 12 powerful women of the mindfulness movement by Mindful.org and teaches self-care and resilience at organizations around the world. And I’ll have a link to her website, which is ShellyTygielski.com and to her book on BATGAP. So welcome, Shelly. Great to have you.
Shelly: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very happy to be here today.
Rick: Yeah. So you’ve lived an eventful life. You came to the States when you were a baby from Israel. I don’t know about your father, but your mother didn’t really speak English. So that was quite a transition, I’m sure. You got kidnapped when you were two. We’ll talk about that. Didn’t last very long, but it was a pretty eventful situation. You went blind when you were 27. And we’ll talk more about that, too. And you’ve done all kinds of wonderful things with your life, which is still very much a work in progress. You’re not very old, but you’re really making an impact. Just last night I came across a quote or heard a quote from Swami Vivekananda. He said, “Unconditional love and selfless service are the best life.” So I’d say you’re living the best life.
Shelly: I love that.
Rick: Yeah. And you’ve been practicing a kind of meditation for many years called Metta, loving kindness meditation. We’ll talk about that, too. But for starters, I understand you were just in Poland helping with the Ukrainian refugees.
Rick: Can you tell us about that a little bit? What was that experience like?
Shelly: It took me just a few weeks to even re-enter back into society after coming back. It was incredibly overwhelming to the senses. And even for somebody who is a practitioner of meditation, mindfulness, and has this like root of a contemplative practice, it was a lot. It was a lot to take in. So I went there on behalf of a partnership that Pandemic of Love has with an organization called Global Empowerment Movement, which is one of the largest now on the ground Ukrainian relief efforts, humanitarian aid organizations that’s out there. They’re in multiple countries bordering Ukraine, but also supporting aid that is going into Ukraine, into areas that are really, in most cases, unreachable. And yet we managed to still reach them in different ways. And so I really felt like it was important for me to bear witness because I’m raising money, and I think I have a fiduciary responsibility, but I also felt very called to rise up, to go and to see exactly how the operations are running and where I could be of service in the most impactful way. And so one of the things that I’ll tell you, Rick, is that when I– and I’ve worked and I’ve been to and I’ve worked in different refugee crisis situation. So after the Syrian and still ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, I’ve been to Lesbos, been to Jordan. I’ve spent much time in Aida refugee camp in the Palestinian territories or Palestine, depending on where you fall politically. And I can tell you that one of the things that struck me the most being on the ground, being at the border of Lviv, being in Mideka is the volume of people. I can’t and I couldn’t wrap my head around the sheer volume of individuals that was crossing over, especially in those earlier weeks, every 30 minutes or so, there’d be another barrage of individuals. And it was really just harrowing. Like there are no words to express it. And if I– people were asking me to explain it when I came back and I just said, I guess the best way I could try to give you something to frame, you know, the visual around is to think about if you are at a concert, like you’re at a Rolling Stones concert. So, you know, it’s packed and it’s in a huge stadium and there’s only one way out of that stadium. And everybody’s leaving after the concert through the same gate. And every 30 minutes, there’s another concert letting out. And that was the best way that I could explain it. And it’s just it was a lot, you know, to see mostly women and children, women of all ages, obviously a ton of mothers, children of all ages. And of course, the starkness and kind of the just the fact that there were no men around was really just a bizarre thing to witness as well, you know. And so you feel like even though we’re helping–
Rick: Because they all had to stay and fight, which is in case somebody’s watching this five years from now and they’re not aware of the current situation. The Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60, I think, all pretty much had to stay there.
Shelly: Correct. Correct. Yeah, exactly. So and, you know, I was there with my 20 year old son who was on spring break, actually from he’s a sophomore at UC Santa Cruz. And he said, Mom, I’m going to come with you. And I said, are you sure about that? Like, you sure you don’t want to go to like Mexico with your friends? And he said, no, I’m going to come to Poland. And I said, OK. So he came with me. And just the fact that, you know, I think it was really impactful for him as well to be to recognize how fortunate and privileged, you know, somebody like he is right to be a 20 year old in the United States and a sophomore in college, really thinking about and dreaming about the future, whereas if he was 20 years old and in Ukraine, he’d be on the front lines right now and fighting to save his country.
Rick: Is this organization that you went over under the auspices of can other people do that if they want to? Is it are they looking for volunteers or what?
Shelly: Yeah, so we are actively always looking for volunteers. The best way for people to reach out to me is through PandemicofLove@gmail.com. Very easy email to remember.
Rick: I can put that link on your Web page too for BATGAP.
Shelly: Great. There are many, many ways to help. You know, there’s we have four warehouses right now, one in Warsaw, one in Budapest, one in Zizhov, which is an hour from the border and one in Lviv. And as I think I mentioned, we have about one hundred and five million dollars worth of aid that’s committed. We’ve partnered with everyone from, you know, organizations like Airbnb to, you know, organizations that are supporting us with with food, with non perishables, with battery packs, which is incredibly important because it’s a lifeline. People need to charge their phone, especially when there’s no electricity. And so there’s so many different ways that people can help, whether it’s in the warehouse, whether even if they don’t speak the language, if they don’t speak Ukrainian or Polish, et cetera. And if they do, they’re an asset. We can use them to help us with the relocation services that we that our organization provides. And so what we what we do is we basically have in different areas, whether it’s airports or train stations and originally at the borders as well. We had areas set up where people would come in and say, I have a family member in Spain or a family member in the UK, and this is where I want to go. And so we would help them with a plane or a train ticket or a bus ticket. And in the interim, or if they didn’t have a place to go, we would help them with short term housing for at least four weeks through the generosity of Airbnb.
Rick: When you say we, this is pandemic of love, which is the organization you founded.
Shelly: This is pandemic. This is a conglomerate now of organizations.
Rick: I see you collaborating with other organizations.
Shelly: Oh, yeah. This is this is way bigger than one organization. So we’ve partnered now we’re partnering with IRC International Rescue Committee. We’re we’re partnering with the first lady of Poland and really Global Empowerment Mission. If you go to GlobalEmpowermentMission.org is sort of the umbrella organization that’s bringing in all of these other incredible organizations such as Pandemic of Love as well to assist with these efforts.
Rick: That’s great. Just a story here. You know, the Vedanta Society, which is the lineage of Sri Ramakrishna, does a lot of humanitarian stuff. And they always have been setting up hospitals and orphanages and schools and all those kinds of things. And, you know, they’ve received criticism, at least in the early days, for doing that because, you know, they’re a bunch of monks and they, you know, they’re monks who, you know, in the philosophy of Vedanta, believe that the world is ultimately not real anyway. And so people were saying, you know, why are you doing all this stuff? And, you know. I think, well, that quote from Vivekananda that I he’s he was Ramakrishna’s principal disciple, unconditional love and selfless service are the best life. So sometimes spiritual people can get a little self-absorbed, you know, and coddling themselves and so on. As you may have noticed, but I just want to emphasize that this kind of thing, selfless service, compassionate action is really foundational to every spiritual tradition, really. Yes. Worth it. And and it’s not only because it’s good for the people you help, but it’s actually a powerful spiritual practice for the people who engage in it.
Shelly: Right. Exactly. No, I think it is the entry point to the heart. It’s basically the best way for us to connect on a very humane level. And, you know, scientifically speaking, to trigger those mirror neurons, to really tap into the deepest parts of ourselves and really be able to have true compassion and empathy for other individuals. That is the best way that I’ve ever known how to to connect with, especially individuals who I was taught to think of them as the other. Right? And we do that more and more today in this society where it’s like, you know, there’s this camp in this camp and there’s this extreme polarization. And and I think what especially has been proven to me over and over again in the last two years through just the process, the way that pandemic above works, where we connect individuals on both sides and they have to have a human connection in order to transact. What’s proven to me is that, yeah, at the end of the day, we’re all just made of the same fabric. We’re all human. And if we can strip away all of the stories and all of the lenses that we have on and all of the conditioning that we’ve that we’ve that, you know, that we’ve layered on that has been layered on to us. We can we can really see each other for for what we really are, which is just essentially, you know, a soul and a heart. And and that’s a beautiful thing to be able to witness that, especially in somebody who you perceived originally as possibly an enemy.
Rick: Yeah, there’s a great story in your book about this woman, sort of hippie type Jewish woman from New York.
Rick: Yeah. Reluctantly helping kind of a single mother, Trump supporter living in a trailer in Alabama. And, you know, she really didn’t want to do it initially, but she ended up doing it. And, you know, later on, she told you it was such an inspiring and helpful experience for her. It was it was cool. So sometimes there’s a little discomfort reaching out to people we see as so different, but it can pay off. There’s a lot of discomfort with that. But here’s the thing, you know, and this is something that I said to Eileen as well.
Shelly: You know, people, I think, come into meditation thinking that we are trying to make ourselves more comfortable, you know, personally. We want to be more comfortable, less stressed, have less anxiety, per se. And the reality is, is that for me, I think really and this is what I stress to people, is that meditation is really about being able to sit with immense discomfort and to help propel us to put inspire us to go into uncomfortable spaces, knowing that we have the tools to actually deal with those uncomfortable spaces for us. And so I had this conversation with Eileen, this hippie liberal Jew, and this is exactly how she, by the way, self-described herself. It’s not us describing her. But in her letter, that’s how when she told us her story about her connection with Christine, this single mother in Alabama, I said to her, you know, you practice meditation, practice meta, you imagine that you’re sending loving kindness and have an open heart and that you’re sending these beams of light and these wonderful wishes to all these people around the world. And now you have an opportunity to actually do this in real life. Not just when you’re sitting somewhere safe and you’re closing your eyes and you’re beaming out this incredible energy, but rather you can actually do this in real time and see how it unfolds. And it unfolded beautifully because, as you mentioned, they continue to transact. They have become friends. And she says it herself. She says, dare I say that I’ve now become friends with a Trump supporter? And she never thought in a million years that that would actually happen.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve played pickleball with some Trump supporters who’ve become good friends. We’re sort of sounding weird here as if Trump supporters are lepers or something. You know, people are people.
Shelly: Exactly. That’s the point is that nobody’s a leper. Right. Nobody’s a leper. And I think even if you’re you’re a Ukrainian right now, I know that it’s very hard especially as somebody who is obviously very against what’s happening in Ukraine to to have empathy for the Russians. Right. Quote, unquote. The Russian soldiers are also just 18 year old boys, mostly who are just sitting in a tank. You know, they’re they’re in a position that they don’t necessarily want to be in. They don’t necessarily even know what they’re fighting for. And so I think that as hard as it may be to even have empathy and send, you know, metta, send loving kindness to to the Russians at this point, you know, we need to do that, too.
Rick: Yeah. There’s a group of one hundred and fifty Russians all together. I don’t know exactly what part of Russia all practicing transcendental meditation together in a group right now to hopefully generate some kind of positive influence. And I spent three months in Iran one time back just before the revolution, when, just before the Shah. We were trying to do the same thing, sort of radiate some kind of coherent influence. And, you meet wonderful people in these places, you know, places that we might think everybody there is, you know, evil or something. There’s all these gems everywhere you go.
Shelly: Yeah, I think most most of the world is comprised of gems. Yeah, I think that’s really the fact.
Rick: And this thing you said about, you know, people think meditation is going to be all this blissy, comfortable thing, but you actually have to confront a lot of stuff. But people shouldn’t be dissuaded by thinking that if they meditate, it’s just going to be a kind of a miserable experience for years while they have to confront all these dark issues because you do clear them out. And the overall quality of your life does improve. I just want to make that point.
Shelly: Yeah, that’s a really important point to make. Exactly.
Rick: Yeah. But you have to sort of face them to clear them.
Shelly: Yeah, the only way out is through, as Rumi said.
Rick: I kind of realized that when I was 18, I had this epiphany where I had been doing drugs for a year and I was all messed up. And I was reading a Zen book one night and I thought, wow, these guys are really, they’re serious. I’m just screwing around if I think I’m ever going to reach enlightenment, whatever that is. But I thought the idea occurred to me, you know, the only way out is up or you could say through. You can’t just keep drugging yourself or indulging in these kinds of things and hope your life is somehow going to get better. It’s such a quick fix and you only end up worse after you have some momentary reprieve from the way you feel.
Shelly: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I think, again, I think a lot of people may come to meditation thinking that it has this, it’s a salve that can help, heal their wounds by numbing their wounds. And I think what you’re saying is absolutely true. and I talk about this a lot in my book about, you know, the fact that really I was in one of the darkest periods of my life, both figuratively and actually literally because of my diagnosis of my eyes. There was a lot of deep excavation and like confrontation, self-confrontation that I had to be willing to engage in. There were a lot of things about myself that I kind of put in a box and put up on a shelf. There were a lot of things, I think, intergenerationally, right. I talk a little bit about intergenerational trauma as well, that you sort of say, well, I’m not my mother and I’m not my grandmother, so I’m just going to kind of push that aside. But the reality is, is that all of that factors into that conditioning, that shadow part of ourselves that we’re so afraid to dig into. And I think that in sort of the industrial wellness complex that has arisen certainly in the last several decades, we are focused on doing the light work, because the light work is fun and the light work might be easier. But if we really want to create transformation in our lives, we have to be willing to confront the shadow side, the dark side as well.
Rick: You know, Thomas Hubl?
Shelly: Yeah. Yeah.
Rick: I’ve interviewed him a couple of times. I mentioned him just because of what you were just saying, which is that he’s this German fellow married to an Israeli woman. And his whole work is about helping to heal the kind of trauma in collective consciousness, probably in general, but also specifically between the Germans and the Jews and the Israelis. I think it’s an important thing. I think collective consciousness in its various hierarchical configurations absorbs trauma or stress the way clouds absorb static electricity. And if it’s not resolved or relieved somehow, it ends up breaking out in conflict like lightning does with the static, clouds do with lightning. So efforts to relieve it are extremely important. I think they can avert situations like we’re now seeing in Ukraine.
Shelly: Yeah, no, I totally agree with you. And I’ll give you an example of one of the ways that, you know, there’s a parting in the clouds, right, a clearing in the clouds, if you will, where the sunshine is finally shining through a little bit between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Talk about static electricity and those cumulonimbus clouds that are sort of have been overhead and lurking for millennia, really, but really since, you know, 1948, especially. I had a cousin named David who was killed when he was 19 years old. He was in the Israeli Defense Forces and his Jeep ran over a landmine that was set, you know, on a path that he had with his other comrades gone over many, many, many times before. So it was obviously recently, you know, set there and he died. And my uncle, of course, was incredibly, you know, sad and grieving and bitter, very, very bitter. And he realized, you know, several years into being this bitter sort of vengeful individual that wanted to get back at the people that hurt him. He recognized that the only way that he could actually heal himself and in his own words, really make the life of his son matter is if he could ensure that this doesn’t happen to another parent on either side of the conflict. And so he was one of the original founders of this organization called the Parents Circle. it’s an organization that is comprised of Palestinian mothers and fathers, family members of individuals who were killed due to the conflict, you know, whether they were shot by a rubber bullet or whether they were, incarcerated and died or what have you. And individuals, Israeli individuals who were killed, whether on the IDF or in bus bombings, etc. And so every, the Israeli Defense Forces. ; rI see. And so this organization brings together these individuals and it weaves this incredible connection where two sides, again, who have been in conflict for so long and see each other as the enemy, they’re othering each other, are able to connect and recognize that they speak the same language of loss. That they, through their loss, are able to actually connect and recognize that they can’t continue this cycle of violence and avenge the death of their child or their husband or their wife, etc. But rather that they can come together across divides, have these conversations and really create a new legacy and a new language around this loss. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful mission and a beautiful dream that I think is starting to be realized because people are tired. They’re getting tired of fighting and they are recognizing that it’s a cycle that is just never ending. It’s never going to end until we end it. And as Jack Kornfield writes, you know, all of the world’s afflictions, right, war and famine and food insecurity, homelessness, you name it. All of those issues, racism, have a root in matters of the heart. And so, therefore, no amount of technology, no amount of biotechnology, nanotechnology, sending people to space is going to solve that. The only solution is to then turn inward and actually get to the matters of the heart to solve where the root is.
Rick: That’s great. I don’t know whether you said it or you’re quoting somebody, but in your book you made a similar point, which is that, you know, all of the world’s problems, and all means all. Are just manifestations or symptoms of the state of mind of 8 billion people taken collectively, you know, or state of heart, we could say. And so, if we really want to get rid of those problems, we’re going to have to achieve inner transformation on a mass scale. Otherwise, no amount of political or economic or technological fiddling is ever going to really change things dramatically.
Shelly: Yeah, but I think it’s also important to stress that, that yes, we absolutely have to do the inner work. We should never skip over the inner work. It’s incredibly important. But there is that connection. And a lot of people who are stuck in that kind of inner work loop, you know, this kind of hamster wheel that they can’t seem to get out of. And I think you and I probably both know a lot of people who have like 42 certifications and go to every retreat and they’ve done like 72 ayahuasca ceremonies. And, you know, and they’re still searching and they’re searching. And it’s like, you know, I try to kind of push people out of that hamster wheel and remind them that, yes, the inner work is important, but connecting it to the outer world is incredibly important, too. And there’s got to be that connection if we’re going to create those transformational shifts on a mass scale.
Rick: Yeah, that’s what we started with today. You really can’t have one without the other. In fact, either without the other is hampered or limited. There’s a couple of verses in the Bhagavad Gita, which this reminds me of, you know, Arjuna was confronted with this situation and he didn’t know how to carry on. And, you know, it was irresolvable. So Krishna, who was his advisor or teacher, said, “Okay, first of all, you have to be without the three gunas,” which means sort of go to the self, go to the innermost level of life. And then three verses later, he says, “Okay, established in yoga or established in union, perform action.”
Rick: And so there’s this balance of having the transcendental value, if you will, but also having the expressed value. And without the deeper value, the expressed value is foundationless and it always misses the mark, which is actually what the word “sin” means in Aramaic, missing the mark.
Shelly: Yeah. Beautiful.
Rick: So you were in college studying, I guess, business-related things, and you just decided to take some sort of philosophical courses or something, and you ended up taking some courses from Robert Thurman, who’s been on BatGap a couple of times. And that led to your meeting, going down to the Bett House in Greenwich Village or lower in Manhattan someplace and starting some classes with Sharon Salzberg, whom I haven’t had on the show yet, and I really should, and learning metta meditation, which means loving kindness. And as I was listening to your story about that, I was wondering whether you resonated with metta because you were a very metta kind of person anyway, or whether your practice of metta made you much more compassionate and led to the life you’re living, as if it strengthened your compassion muscle to be doing that kind of meditation for so many years.
Shelly: I think actually the latter. I’ve given that a lot of thought. It’s not that I didn’t have a compassionate heart, but I would have had a selectively compassionate heart. Probably one of the most tangible examples that I can give you of why I am a firm believer that it is metta actually helped to expand my softened heart is the fact that when I got a divorce from my ex-husband, and this was, again, during a really no divorce, even if it’s amicable, is a pleasant experience. But I was going through health issues at the time, was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, which caused blindness, which we briefly touched upon. We’ll go into more detail as we go along. Yeah. I had a lot of bitterness, a lot of anger. I had a lot of just judgment about the way that he was showing up for my son, the way that he was showing up for me. And it’s really interesting because as I kind of reflect back, so he was my difficult person. So for those individuals who are listening, the way that loving kindness practice works is that, and it could work in many different ways, but you say these phrases, these affirmations. So mine are, May you have joy and happiness. May you be free from suffering. May you have peace no matter what life brings to you and so on and so on. And so you send these beautiful affirmations to individuals and you start, at least I do when I start my practice, I start first with a person who is known to me, somebody who is easy to love, right? It could be my son. It could be my mother. It could be a good friend, somebody who I already have love in my heart for. And so it’s very easy to send them that affirmation and send them those phrases, really feeling the quality of your heart expanding. And then you move to an acquaintance, somebody that maybe you see often but don’t really know, could be somebody you work with. It might be somebody who is the same person at the supermarket where you frequent or the person at your dry cleaners, what have you. And so you could send them love and you could feel the quality of every time you see them how joyful you are getting, you know, when you see them and you don’t really even know them. You may not even know their name. And then you kind of turn to a person who is difficult, that you have difficulty with, and it might be a person that’s known to you or unknown to you. And so for many years, for over a decade, my person was my ex-husband. I used to basically, you know, sit and send him joy and happiness and freedom from suffering. And I used to wish him peace. And that was so, so difficult for me to do because I had so many stories that I had attached to him and so many layers of just emotional triggers, just the conjuring up an image of him or thinking of him would bring up, right? So much hurt in my heart. And what’s really interesting is that, you know, over time, all that really dissipated. And you might say, well, you know, time heals all wounds. And I have to disagree with that. I think it’s hard work that over time that actually heals wounds and can put that salve on those wounds. And so it’s really interesting to have noticed, like, how the quality of the way that I interacted with him specifically. So this is just a very specific example. I send Metta to Vladimir Putin right now, you know, on a daily basis. And it’s very hard. And so what I will tell you, and I learned this actually from listening to when I attended a retreat a long time ago with David Nicknern, that if you’re having difficulty sending Metta to an individual, you can imagine them as a younger version of themselves. And so I did this as well during, you know, during the Trump administration. I do this with a lot of kind of world leaders that I’m having issues with.
Rick: Have you ever tried it with Hitler?
Shelly: I have never tried it with Hitler, actually. That’s a very interesting question. But I think I’m trying to stay in the present moment, I guess, you know, and thinking like maybe if I send them Metta and loving kindness, like it will actually move the needle somewhat. And that therefore, you know, if they’re more compassionate beings and more awakened individuals and they’re not suffering anymore, perhaps they would not make the decisions that they make that are affecting us all today. But, you know, I got to a point where I was imagining, you know, these world leaders as babies in a bassinet. Because, you know, at that moment, you can say, well, it’s just a baby. I can have compassion for this individual who also had a lot of suffering in their lifetime. and maybe wasn’t loved by their parents and maybe was taunted in school and had all of these other issues that, you know, we tend to have compassion for for strangers that we don’t know. And yet it’s so difficult for us to do it for adults, especially when their choices affect our lives. And that, of course, makes sense. But I think, you know, I think that, you know, to go back to your original question, people are abhorred when I tell them that I can send Metta to such individuals. And I would say that it is absolutely the fact that I’ve been practicing for this beautiful contemplative practice for over 20 years that I can that I am able to do that. And not kind of harden my heart and shut myself down.
Rick: Yeah, this this theory, a theme of hardening the heart comes up from time to time. It reminds me of, you know, what Moses went through with the Pharaoh and they kept using the phrase that the Pharaoh would harden his heart and he’d promised something and then, oh, he’d harden his heart and then he wouldn’t do it. And then he got frogs or locusts or something. But it’s a it’s a it’s almost a literal metaphor, you know, because you can really I think we’ve all experienced degrees of softness and tenderness of the heart and degrees of hardness, you know, and having it fluctuate one way and the other. So I think part of the spiritual journey is the softening of the heart, but it sort of has to be accompanied by inner strength, because if if that’s not there, then a very tender, open heart is much more easily wounded.
Shelly: No, it’s interesting that you bring this up, because this is something that I learned really recently, actually, when I was in Poland, my friend Michael told me that when he visited the pyramids of Giza, in in the pyramids, there were hieroglyphics, of course, you know, on the wall, and in one of them, and there was a scale, hieroglyphic of a scale, and on one side of the scale was a heart, and on the other side of the scale was a feather. And, and they were balanced. And the idea is that even back then, right, the the the Egyptians, the ancient Egyptians, understood that in order to be in balance in order to be in equal equilibrium, you know, and to be in a place, you had to be in a place where your heart was as light as a feather. He told me this story, when we were sitting in Poland, we were having a cup of coffee very early in the morning before, you know, kind of heading out to do the work. And, and he was like that. It’s so it’s so amazing to, you know, know that even the ancient Egyptians that thousands of years ago was inherently understood thatin order to be in balance, in order to be a balanced individual, that you needed to have a light heart. That your heart needed to be as light as a feather.
Rick: It’s interesting that we have that phrase heavy hearted, you know.
Rick: As I say, we have all these different faculties, we have intellect, mind and senses and feelings or heart, and obviously organs of action and so on and so forth. But my understanding is that spiritual development is ideally, if it’s going to be balanced and stable, a simultaneous development, a holistic development of all of them. Ken Wilber talks about lines of development and how sometimes, you know, the line, various faculties can get way out of line with one another, one can be quite advanced and the other is very stunted. So I think it’s important to have this kind of balanced development if we’re serious about our own spiritual progress and also about our impact on the world.
Shelly: Yeah. And I think it’s also incredibly important that we don’t adhere too strictly that there’s one way.
Rick: Oh, absolutely.
Shelly: that there’s one module, that there’s one right teacher, etc. And, you know, I can say this as somebody who was raised as an Orthodox Jew who had a contemplative practice that I was taught. It was very boxed in, you know, I was incredibly just, you know, in a rote way doing the same kind of things on a daily basis that were very defined for me at a really young age. The way that I woke up in the morning, what I had to say, what I had to say after I washed my hands, what I had to say before I ate food, you know, and there was no veering from that path that was like, this is the path. This is what you say. This is what God wants you to do. And so it’s really interesting to, I think, as an adult, when I finally sort of realized that there were a lot of other ways of being in the world and that not one was right, but that there were a lot of, as John Kabat-Zinn says, there’s multiple doors into the same room. So I recognize that I could, you know, kind of try door A and door B and door C and see what works for me as an individual. So I try to encourage people, especially when they’re new to any type of contemplative practice, to not say, well, I tried this once and it doesn’t work for me. We hear that a lot. A lot of people, especially when you talk to them about just meditation in general, they’re like, well, I tried meditating once and I can’t because my mind is too busy. And I’m like, well, what do you think the point of meditation is? More often than not, people are like, oh, it’s to quiet the mind, to get all your thoughts out of your mind. And I’m like, no, that probably will never happen. You can’t eradicate all the thoughts from your mind, but you can learn to coexist with them and not react to them. kind of like reframes things for people. And they recognize that maybe that one type of meditation didn’t work for them, but there’s a multitude. There’s so many different ways for them to really turn inward and to start that self-discovery process.
Rick: For some reason, as you’re saying that, I was reminded of Crocodile Dundee in the first movie where he came to New York and they were in some hotel room and the woman turned on the television. She said, have you ever seen television before? She turned it on and happened to be I Love Lucy. He said, yep, that’s what I saw. As if that were the only thing on. I mean, just look at the world. Look at the rainforest. I mean, the more nutrient rich a place is, the more diversity there is. And that seems to be the way God rolls. And I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t be the case with cultures and spiritual traditions and all the rest because we’re all so diverse. I mean, when you were growing up and you were expected to do all those strict regimens, was the understanding that everybody should be doing those things and that if they’re not, then they’re doomed and your people who do that are the only ones who got it right?
Shelly: No, so Judaism is very different than I think what I think or what at least I’ve been told, you know, and my husband who grew up, you know, Polish Catholic was told like, if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, like you’re going to hell, basically. So Jews don’t believe in hell. There is no concept of heaven and hell. Actually, Jews believe it or not, which is why I think there are so many Bujews. We believe in reincarnation. So that’s a whole nother topic for another time. There’s a great book called The Jew and the Lotus, actually, for people who are interested in that intersection of faith.
Rick: Bujews, by the way, means Buddhist Jewish people. There’s also the term Hinjews.
Shelly: Yes, exactly. Totally. I was taught that, you know, that as Jews, we are, you know, the chosen people and that therefore, therefore, we’re supposed to be a light unto all nations. And so and God chose us and gave us the Ten Commandments and the Torah, which is the Old Testament. And that these are the rules, therefore, we have to follow because we are sort of the moral compass or the litmus test, if you will, for for every other different type of civilization that ever has existed and will exist in the future. So this this was like essentially the conditioning that I had when I was younger. what I recognized is that. there’s a lot of beauty in certainly the rituals and in every religion, really, there are and I realized that, you know, that there are there’s there’s some sensibility to a lot of the practices in terms of even from a mindful perspective. Right. Like pausing before you eat to like bless the food and really think about where it came from is a beautiful practice. But I think that what happens is, is that when it when it’s something that is kind of pushed upon you and you’re told that if you don’t do this and it’s fear based versus like based in joy and, you know, celebration, it becomes really restrictive and it becomes less joyful and it becomes completely just rote. t least for me, that’s that’s sort of how it manifested. And I found myself, you know, as as an Orthodox Jew, praying three times a day, morning, noon and in the evening. In Hebrew, we have the word Kavana, which means intention loosely. Right. It means intention. And I realized that as I was praying three times a day, I knew these prayers by heart at this point. And I had no Kavana, I had no intention at all. Like there was no connection spiritually to a higher source of any kind, because I was busy thinking about what I had to do that day, what I was going to wear, the test I had to take, the, the to do list that I had, whatever, wherever stage I was in in my life. What it what had happened is that praying for me was just like another thing on my to do list. It was like, let me just check that box off, get my mitzvah points, get my good deed points with God. bank them away for a rainy day if I did something bad and connect to a higher source, to all sentient beings and to really connect to myself. There was no exploration. There was no spirituality, really, for me. And so, per chance, the first time that I sat in meditation was with Sharon Salzberg in the, you know, mid 90s at Tibet House. And the very first practice that I ever closed my eyes to was loving kindness, you know. And suddenly, something shifted and I thought to myself, well, wait a minute, I can speak to God without words, you know, being prescribed to me. I can focus on how I’m feeling and have this like felt experience that is really incredibly a different quality than what I was used to feeling, which at that point was already nothing, really? And so that was really incredibly intriguing to me. And I just really resolved to continue to go down that path. But I did so in sort of secret, in hiding, right? Because I thought, oh, I can’t have the people in my peer group know that I’m coming to Tibet House. Because, you know, the Orthodox Jewish community, I was part of like the student, the community, the Hillel on campus, et cetera. And for them to know that I was like getting on the one or the nine train and heading down to Tibet House would be like sacrilegious, you know, it would be like, what are you doing? That’s insane. And so I realized, you know, through a conversation with Sharon, that I can hold two truths in duality, multiple truths, actually more than two. And that I don’t have to choose to be one thing or the other, but that I can, again, access that same room through multiple doors. And that was a huge shift for me, that understanding, that kind of permission that she gave me. It was really important. It was critical to the rest of the trajectory of my life.
Rick: Some people think of or have taught of spirituality in terms of becoming one with God, like Jesus said, I and my father are one and Eastern traditions talk that way also. And, you know, if you think about it, what would that really mean? It would mean sort of having God’s universality. And, you know, obviously God incorporates all conceivable perspectives and somehow, harmonizes them all within himself since he is omnipresent. And, you know, everything would have to be harmonized within that greater wholeness. So, if we could achieve something approximating that, then everything will seem well and wisely put, you know, all the different traditions and approaches and paths, all streams lead to the ocean or all paths leading up the mountain lead to the summit. We would see life that way and just be respectful of everybody’s choices.
Rick: Let’s go further back then. Let’s go back to your getting kidnapped and how that’s quite a story in and of itself. And it also, you feel, had a lasting impact on your life.
Shelly: Yeah, it absolutely did. I am, you know, I credit that story and I’ll tell a short version of it in a second with providing me with really a sense of agency. Of course, we’re all born with agency, right? We’re all born with this kind of God given sense of free will. But really a sense of agency, this ability to rise up, the ability to assert ourselves and to become or believe we can become an agent for social change, regardless of our circumstances is really what that experience, even though it happened to me when I was two years old, was able to sort of seed within me. And so the story, the short version of the story is that my parents came here when I was to the United States when I was two years old from Jerusalem. My mother reluctantly came here, did not have this like notion of the American dream in any which way, shape or form. But, as a dutiful wife decided to reluctantly come over here with my father, did not speak English, had, you know, three children. I have two older brothers, seven and 10 years older than me. And so my father had a friend in New York City, got a job in Brooklyn as a mechanic in a garage. And we were living in a Syrian Jewish kind of community neighborhood off of Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. My mother went to go get her driver’s license a couple of months into arriving in the city. And I was a very gregarious child. I will tell you that I was a child who was not shy. I loved going up to people and like, talking to them, going through my repertoire, whatever that was at the time. And so at the DMV, while my mother was getting an eye exam, I likely wandered off. And I was picked up by a couple who walked out the front door with me. And this woman who was a good Samaritan, I defined her in the book as a good Samaritan, was sitting in the waiting room when my mother and I were also in the waiting room, noticed that there was something not right. And in that moment, that split moment decision making skills that she had were incredible. She had a choice to make. Right. And I think we’ve all faced at one point in our life, or many times in our life, a same type of situation where we could go right or we could go left or what have you. And so she could have, you know, done nothing, which is, by the way, an active choice, because a lot of us choose to do nothing often. And that is a choice. She could have run into the area where my mother was and gone to alert my mother about what just happened. And the third option, which is what she ended up doing, was she wound up following these individuals out to see where they were going. And fortunately, they didn’t get into a car with me. They actually walked many city blocks into a housing complex. And she saw them going into this housing complex and ran back to the DMV, where at that point, all hell had broken loose. And because of that split second decision that she made, that agency that she had, I was found eventually, right, hours later. It’s an incredible story, because the story was told often for shock value at like our dinner gatherings, like dinner parties, my mom would sort of casually drop like at dinner, you know, we’d be at a Shabbat dinner, like a holiday dinner. And she’d say, Oh, yeah, we you know, how long have you been in the US? Oh, we’ve been here for five years. We got here in 1979 and then my daughter was kidnapped. And she’ll just like, drop it like that. You know, of course, everybody sitting around the dinner table would be like, Well, wait a minute, we got to hear this story. You know, that’s crazy. What do you mean? And it was so interesting as I was growing up to hear the story recounted and told over and over again, and to witness people’s reactions to the story, because oftentimes, it was obviously a lot of empathy, or sympathy for my mother, right? Like, oh, this is terrible. Like, I can’t even imagine as a parent, what you were going through. And then also for me, thinking, Oh, you must have had this incredibly traumatic experience. And the truth is, is that I didn’t have any trauma, like I’ve actually done regressive therapy, like no trauma from that experience at all, because I probably thought it was like a fun field trip or something with a new friend. But really very infrequently did people actually think about this good samaritan and talk about that moment and the fact that this woman did such a heroic thing with no benefit to herself. And possibly she could have gotten injured or killed or hurt in the process. And so, I really thought about this my whole adult life thinking about would I have made the same choice? Would I have done the same thing as this woman? And oftentimes, you know, earlier in my life, I think the answer was really no, I don’t think I would have been heroic enough or altruistic enough or thought that I, you know, had the capability to make that decision. And I think as I started to dig deeper, I recognized that it was not because I didn’t have agency, we all have that, right? But really, because I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t feel like I was good enough or healed enough or had the right the right tools or understanding or credibility, if you will, to actually rise up and do something and speak out.
Rick: Yeah. Well, I guess the thought that gets triggered is that everybody has a tremendous potential. And the vast majority of us haven’t really begun to tap it. We all have the potential to be and do great things. And each in our own way. Even if, you know, we’re still working as a plumber or some simple thing, we can touch lives profoundly, if we unfold our full inner resources.
Shelly: for most of us, and especially for myself, you know, I always thought that in order to do something, you know, and you use the word great, you know, that it had to be something big and spectacular. And the reality is, is that, you know, so many great things are done incrementally, in small ways, every single day. And the way that I sort of view the world is that we’re all a pebble, a pebble that like throws ourself willingly and sometimes unwillingly, we’re tossed into a pond right up this proverbial pond. And all of the people in that sort of first ripple are around us, right around that impact is, they’re all people that are in our circle of influence. And so we have this opportunity to affect the people in our immediate communities, people who are individuals that we see on a daily basis, maybe people in our family circle, people in our neighborhood, people that we work with, etc. And we don’t recognize, oftentimes, how wide and how far reaching those ripples are. Many times we won’t even see how far those ripples actually of influence extend out. It’s interesting, ripples of influence is an acronym for ROI, by the way. So there’s a new, a new version of ROI. That’s right. I think what it what it really comes down to is that, and I love this Buddhist proverb, you know, of tend to the area of the garden that you can reach. Because if we just remember to stop looking at our neighbor’s flower bed, and comment like the, you know, the person across the street’s grass, and how that looks, but rather like look to the circle of influence that we have, and the area of the garden that we can make beautiful, ensuring that every single person within that ripple has enough. That they’re okay, that they’re really okay, you know, that will make the biggest impact on the world if we all did that, because those ripples will eventually, you know, overlap, and and combine, and that that ripple eventually becomes a wave and eventually becomes a tsunami.
Rick: Very true. I know, and there’s no wall that ever stops the ripples. Every thought we think every action we perform ripples out through the whole universe. And in my understanding, yeah, I know Gandhi is a big hero of yours. He wasn’t a flashy guy. He was very simple, great dignitaries would come to visit him and he’d say, Wait a minute, I’ve got to feed the goat, or I’ve got to finish weaving this yarn that I’m weaving, or, you know, something like that. When the Brittish imposed the salt pact all he did was, okay let’s walk to the ocean and evaporate some sea water and make salt. These real simple gestures, but he moved an entire nation and defeated the greatest power in the world without a military conflict. So simple can be very powerful.
Shelly: Exactly. And we’ve seen that time and again with different, iconic world leaders throughout history.
Rick: Yeah, Jesus just walked around in his sandals in a very small area that you could actually walk around in a few years. Look at the impact.
Shelly: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. No, that is really the case. But I think, you know, in this age of influencers, in this age of us thinking, like, I need to be an influencer to have an influence in the world, or I need to be somebody and I just really try to remind people like you are somebody. You know, stop waiting for somebody to do something like you remind yourself that you are somebody and that you can impact even one person’s life. In the Talmud, it says that he who has saved one person, it is as if he has saved the entire world.
Rick: You know, the story of the starfish?
Rick: Why don’t you tell it so I’m not talking as much.
Shelly: The story of starfish is that, you know, there’s there’s a father and son, it’s told in different ways. There’s father and son, a mother and a daughter, etc. Walking along the beach, and, and there’s like 1000s of starfish that are washed upon the shore. And so the little girl or the little boy picks up the starfish, one of the starfish and looks at it and throws it back into the ocean. And the, the parent, says what’s the point of even doing that? Look, there’s like 1000s of other starfish. It doesn’t even really make a difference. And the child says it makes a difference to this one. It made a difference to this one. And so I think, yeah, that is exactly how we need to be living our lives is to think about all the people that made a difference in our life. Maybe turn the turn the camera around and like, you know, look in the mirror and think about the people who maybe didn’t think they were having an impact on our life, that teacher that we had in middle school, maybe who made us believe that we were smart, or, the uncle or the aunt who, you know, kind of sheltered us when things got difficult at home, or, or the friend who was there for us in a in a really tight in a crisis or a time of need. And so there’s so many different ways that we are interdependent and to, you know, lean on Dr. Dan Siegel for a minute intra dependent, right, we’re interdependent, but also intra dependent because we are of the same organism, we are of the same ecosystem. And so I think we oftentimes forget that, you know, just as people have impacted us and continue to do so on a daily basis, we have the same effect on other people as well.
Rick: Yeah, I’ll tell you another story. So there was a mother bird who laid her eggs in the sand. And at one point, the big wave came and washed the eggs back into the ocean. And the mother bird said, give back my eggs, the ocean didn’t say anything, you know, and she said, if you don’t give back my eggs, I’m going to make you dry, the ocean didn’t say anything. So she started taking a beak full of water and taking it out of the ocean and another beak full, taking it out of the ocean. And she just kept persisting. And eventually, this came to the attention of the king of the birds and the king of the birds was this Garuda or something, this great godlike being who could suck up the whole ocean and make it dry if it wanted to. And so the king of the birds said, you know, you better give back those eggs. So the ocean said, okay, okay, gave back the eggs. But the moral of the story is that persistence on something, even if it seems small, it elicits kind of support from, I think, a larger intelligence that governs the universe or orchestrates it. if it’s in alignment with the dharma or the purpose of that higher intelligence. So one should never think that, well, I’m too little or ineffective to make a difference.
Shelly: Yeah, well, I think that goes back to really the first lines of the book, of my book in the introduction, I talk about the secret to life. And I talk about really what the secret to life is showing up as simple as that. Because that is literally the most important thing that we could do, but showing up not just one time, but consistently and persistently, even when nobody shows up, showing up for ourselves, showing up for others, showing up in a way that people feel seen and heard and held. And in ways that we could feel the same way as well, you know, and we discount that often. But I think, you know, what showing up requires is that we are the most sort of centered and present version of ourselves when we do, because the quality of that interaction of showing up is completely different when we’re actually there, with an individual and we’re able to connect with them on that deeper level.
Rick: Tell us the short version, because there’s a lot of things we want to cover, the short version of your having gone blind when you were 27. And there’s some lessons to be derived from that experience too.
Shelly: I was going through a divorce. My son was a toddler at the time. And I really was not taking care of myself. I was working, you know, full time, overtime, if you will, wasn’t tending to my health in any way, shape or form, was incredibly stressed out over the situation that was taking place in my household. And,I woke up one morning, my then husband was not in the house at the time he was, you know, out that morning, I had to get my son to school. And I realized when I had opened up my eyes that I couldn’t see anything. it wasn’t a darkness, it was a whiteout. That’s the best way that I would describe it because the disease that I have causes white blood cells to sort of rush into your eyes and create this like dense, dense, dense fog that you can’t see through. And I couldn’t understand what was happening. And yet here I was as a parent, responsible, there’s this tiny being that I was supposed to get dressed and get him down the stairs and, you know, get him to school that morning and so on. And so, thankfully, it was back in the day when phones actually had like those buttons.
Rick: Physical buttons.
Shelly: Yeah, you could actually feel around. So I knew what number I was, and you actually also was back in the day when you remembered people’s phone numbers. And I was able to call a friend who was able to help me get my son to school and get me to an ophthalmologist who then referred me to an eye hospital in Miami, Baskin Palmer Eye Institute, where I was diagnosed with a disease called uveitis, which is, I was told, the leading cause of blindness in people under 40. So remember, I was 27 at the time, and I was told by one of the doctors, you are going to be blind by the time you’re 40. And so when you’re handed a diagnosis like that, right, when you’re handed this like sort of finite time period, and somebody takes an hourglass and sort of flips it over and says, these are the sands in the hourglass, you know, like, these are the days of your life, and this is when the sand is going to run out. for many of us, that becomes, it literally is a ticking time bomb, because you’re thinking, okay, well, I have 13 years of sight, possibly at best, right, the best case scenario. And there’s all of these things in my life that I want to see, and do, and learn. And there’s all of these moments in life where I could choose to place myself in the line of beauty, right? Sunsets, sunrises on a daily basis, where we get lazy, because we’re like, I don’t want to wake up, tomorrow’s another sunrise, you know, tomorrow’s another sunset. And actually, it’s like, no, like, every day, there is one and every day, we have this incredible opportunity to put ourselves in the line of beauty. And so it really helped me, you know, become more present, have a sense of urgency, with the way that I live my life. It caused me to stop and to, study things, notice things that were not noticeable to me before, you know. And it was incredible, it was really beautiful to be able to see this box of darkness, as Mary Oliver says, this is one of my favorite quotes ever, from the poet Mary Oliver, you know, that life once, somebody once handed me a box of darkness. And it took me years to realize that it too was a gift. So one of the biggest gifts in my life was actually being diagnosed with this disease. And so, you know, fast forward to now, I’m turning 45. And through a lot of, you know, surgeries and treatment that I’m still going through on an annual basis, I was able to sort of stave off blindness for a while. But a few years ago, I actually lost the vision in my left eye. So I’m now blind in my left eye. And, you know, I’m still fighting to keep the vision in my right eye, but it hasn’t stopped me. I still snowboard and I still, skateboard and hike and I still put myself in the line of beauty as often as possible. Because that’s the gift. That’s the gift of today. That’s the gift of being able to wake up every morning and have your breath, you know, and be alive.
Rick: My grandmother met Helen Keller.
Shelly: Wow. Really?
Rick: My grandmother used to do Braille for people and then she herself eventually went blind. But when I was a kid, she met Helen Keller. I remember that. I didn’t meet her myself, but I was, you know, she was wonderful. There’s some amazing stories in your book. Really sweet tearjerker stories in many cases. But maybe before we get to some more of those. This whole initiative you did where you got people meditating on the beach in Florida, that was a cool one. I don’t know if that’s still going on or what, but it grew from just 20 people on a windy day that ended up becoming a downpour to, you know, 15,000 people, I guess, on your mailing list. I don’t know how many showed up every week. It really grew.
Shelly: Yeah, I mean, well, that’s a testament to showing up, really. So I used to sort of, you know, again, I was so people don’t know this necessarily who haven’t read the book, but I was in the corporate world for 20 years, you know, and I like to say in spite of myself rising up the corporate ladder because I was good at something that I didn’t really care about. I was rewarded constantly with promotions until I became the president of a mid-sized company with 2,400 employees. My Sunday mornings were really important to me because they would allow me to sort of recenter. And I lived in South Florida at the time, so very close to the ocean. And I would go to the beach on Sunday mornings and I would meditate and just create that clearing in the dense forest, so to speak, and prepare myself for the Monday for the rat race that I was about to drive into on Monday morning.
Rick: And that quote from your book, if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.
Rick: Lily Tomlin.
Shelly: Yeah. I love that quote.
Rick: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
Shelly: No, it’s true. She’s so she’s so funny. I love that quote. And so I really tap into on a daily basis. I try to really think about, again, this word Kavanaugh, my intention. Right. What is my intention? And really, because I spent my entire life centered around goals as a very goal oriented person. And not that there’s anything wrong with having goals in your life, but, if they’re not sort of fueled by intention and mission and vision and purpose, that’s like kind of a higher than than just like accomplishing a goal and getting recognition or whatever. So I really try to tap into, like, what is the intention that’s fueling what I’m doing? And what kept coming up to me and sort of washing over me like waves crashing ashore was, you know, community, community connection. And so sitting alone at the beach on a Sunday morning, not that it’s not beautiful and wonderful, but I really missed having community. The quality of meditation when you’re sitting in community is very different than that when you’re sitting alone. And so I decided just on a whim, really, to to put a post up on Facebook. I just on a whim said, you know, I meditate on Sunday mornings on the beach. And if anybody wants to join me, even if you’re a new meditator, I’ll do a guided meditation. I can kind of teach you how to meditate and we can come together and really, you know, just have a beautiful experience together, build community. And I thought, you know, maybe a few people would show up. I really had no idea. And 12 people showed up to the first meditation, which was November of 2015 on a very blustery day. And again, the power of showing up. You know, I really decided that regardless of the fact that the weather was very inclement and uncooperative on that day, I was going to show up to the beach where 12 other people showed up. And we had such an incredible experience together and we decided that we’re going to get together again. So what ultimately happened was that those friends told friends who told friends who told friends. And then we’d all ultimately have people walking by on the beach and who would be curious as to like what we were doing and if it was free and they would join us. And eventually that community of 12, you know, over the course of six months, as I remember, in November of 2015, we started with 12. And then by May, a Mother’s Day of 2016. So really just six months later, we had over 800 people that showed up to meditate. And we were gathering every Sunday morning at that point. And we continued to gather and grow this community. And so we had people that would come every week. We had people that I call crisis meditators who would show up when things were not going right in their life. We had people that would show up, you know, there were snowbirds when they were in town. But ultimately, the community grew to, yes, about 15,000 individuals that had meditated with us consistently and would show up at various times or another. But on a weekly basis, we would have anywhere from depending on the weather, 500 people to like a thousand people that would meditate together, which you can imagine is incredibly powerful. And in this beautiful, idyllic setting of the beach where you’re getting the benefits of the free radicals of the ionization from from the saltwater. And it’s amazing because, you know, we did this until COVID, by the way, we obviously the last time we met was in March of 2020, before social distancing became a thing. And then we continued to meditate together online and online community, which was great. I think what that experience proved to me were a lot of things. First of all, it was the impetus for for me finally having the courage to quit my job, which was really, you know, just killing me. I mean, literally, like just I did not just physically, mentally and emotionally. It was very hard for me to continue to work in the sector. And I finally realized that the universe was trying to tell me something. As much as I kept denying that it had anything to do with me being the person leading the meditation. It kept reaffirming for me that no, like, yes, it’s the right time and it’s the right place and the beach is beautiful. But if you weren’t there, this wouldn’t have happened. Right. So that was an affirmation for me that somebody who works through and continues to work through. And I talk about this in the book, issues of self-worth and imposter syndrome and all of these like afflictions that I that I deal with on a daily basis. But the other thing that it proved to me was really how, you know, you could when you start small, if you have the right intention, that there is that ultimate that ripple is guaranteed, that ripple effect. Ultimately, that snowball will happen, whether it’s seen to you or unseen to you. And I and I initially thought, well, this is a fluke, you know, the whole beach meditation thing and like gathering this community. But what I realized was that it kept happening again and again because I kept showing up in big ways. You know, like I showed up for, you know, on a political in a political sense. I realize that now that I was on had this community, I also had a social responsibility to not necessarily get up on a soapbox, but at least to speak about the issues of the day. Being in South Florida, we were affected, obviously, by mass shootings. We were were affected by by a lot of, you know, very important issues, immigration, et cetera. These were issues that that I that I wanted to speak out about and I wanted to speak out about in a way that was not divisive, but actually maybe invited people to come into a conversation with each other rather than polarize them and and create this kind of safe space where people could come together from the heart and try to find this sort of like commonality, even in places where we think that there is none. Right. Like it’s black and white and you’re right and I’m wrong. And so I just continue to show up in those ways and create different types of communities and movements and and really start to move the needle in, especially underserved communities and communities that are affected on a daily basis by traumatic events. And that proved to me that, you know, if you do so, if you show up on a consistent basis, that that and in a small way, incrementally every day, that the aggregate of that, the aggregate of many little things makes a huge impact.
Rick: There are three stories that are vivid in my mind from your book that I’d like you to tell. One is when your son and his friend gave up their birthday presents in order to fund a music program at an underprivileged high school. The other is those nine guys who were on a hunger strike and what happened with them. And the other is that woman who on Christmas Day in the middle of a long drive in California went into a diner and her baby boy had an interaction with this really disheveled homeless person, apparently.
Shelly: Just to touch upon those three stories and sort of the intersection of them and how they relate to each other, right? Talk about showing up. My son, who I mentioned earlier, who went with me to Poland, he’s 20 years old now. But when he turned 10, my son is a drummer. He loves it. He loves, you know, was drumming since he was five years old. And when he was 10, had a friend in fifth grade who played the guitar pretty well. And so the two of them decided they were going to form a band. And so for my son’s birthday, he was like, you know, I really want to perform for my friends at school. And that’s what I want for my birthday party is kind of like a rock concert and to be like a rock star. And so, you know, us parents, we made it happen. And we invited the entire grade, 150 kids to come to this venue where we had a drum set and a microphone for guitar. It was like a two person band. And it was incredible because, you know, one of the things that I always discuss with my son, I remember when we were kids, like we used to wait for our birthday or for like Hanukkah or Christmas to get like our big presents, right? But like in this day and age, especially if you’re a kid that comes from a privileged background, you know, and in the age of instant gratification, you don’t have to wait to get those things twice a year. You just kind of, you know, you’re able to get things on the fly. There’s not like this longing or wanting or like a layaway plan because now we even have like ways to pay for things before we even get them, right, with credit lines, etc. And so, my son realized that he wanted to, you know, and said to me, like, you know, there are kids who don’t have music in their schools, you know, because I was a Title One school teacher for a year. So he knew this because he would come to visit me in my classroom at this Title One school in a pretty rough area of Fort Lauderdale when I was there on sabbatical, and he would see that they didn’t have a smart board and they didn’t have all the things that were afforded to him at his fancy private school that these children did not have access to. And so we decided to look for an organization where we could give funds to help buy musical instruments and fund a program. And we connected through the VH1 Save the Music Foundation to a school in Pahokee, Florida, which is actually, believe it or not, in Palm Beach County, one of the richest counties in the country. And we met this teacher named Alan Goindu, who we called Mr. G affectionately, who is like the character from, and I know it’s based on a real story, but Mr. Holland’s Opus, if you’ve ever seen the movie.
Rick: Yeah, I saw it years ago.
Shelly: Yeah, he’s exactly like that. Exactly. He like basically created something out of nothing. He went into an area that is incredibly impoverished, where there’s not a lot of hope. And most of the kids that are there, the only kind of way out for them is football or, you know, getting involved in drugs and in gangs. And so, he created sort of this alternative third way for people to get out, which is music and music scholarships and has provided them with an entree to see the world. But the point here is, is that my son really, you know, was able to raise thousands of dollars that was matched by different corporations eventually as well to help start to seed and fund this program and support this program to ensure that they could even expand it to like a streams program. And the idea, the thing here is, is that it could have been like a one time thing. It could have been like, hey, we’re one and done. We presented you with this big check. We had this event, you know, etc. But rather, I think for me, again, always consistently, it’s so important to teach, especially my own child, you know, that you can’t just sort of do something and then abandon it. You have to see things through. So if you’re committed to making change, change doesn’t happen… Very infrequently… Does it ever happen like instantaneously, or when you do one thing. It happens incrementally. And so that means that you have to continue to sort of chip away, chip away, chip away like a sculptor, right? Who’s who’s going to sculpt this like fine, fine piece of art. And so we continue to this day to support Mr. G and that community. And, you know, this is this is a decade later, which is incredibly amazing. And it went well beyond just supporting them for instruments. You know, we would help them with their food drives and with, you know, their their Christmas holiday drives, etc. To make sure these kids had what we would take for granted. Most of most of the kids that were, in my son’s kind of inner circle of friends. And so the other story that you mentioned, you know, was the story of the Hunger Nine, which is a circle of brotherhood in Liberty City, Miami.
Rick: I just want to interject about that school, I’m sure that that has resulted in kids living many kids living very different lives than they otherwise would have lived. Had you not had that influence there, you know, probably kids going to college who wouldn’t have or, you know, having not taking drugs, which they otherwise would have. And so, again, the ripple effect that you were talking about earlier, there’s a lot of ripples created by something like that.
Shelly: Yeah, exactly. I mean, look at the story of Louis Armstrong, you know, Satchmo.
Rick: Right. And he was raised by prostitutes, wasn’t he? Or his mother was a prostitute or something.
Shelly: Right. But he was he was given his first trumpet by a Jewish family in New Orleans who called him Satchmo, which is like a Yiddish term of endearment. that’s why he wore a Jewish star around his neck for his entire life. People would always ask him, like, why you’re not Jewish, like, why do you wear a Jewish star around your neck? And he said, because it’s an homage to this family that I worked with and that took me in and would feed me my meals and basically gave me my first trumpet. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. And that just is, again, it’s just a small testament to like how one person can do one family did this one act of kindness. And because of that, the world got this incredible gift. It was Louis Armstrong. Right.
Rick: That’s great.
Shelly: Yeah. So who knows how many Louis Armstrong’s are going to come out of pokey? Pretty incredible. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. It really is. So the next story was the Hunger Guys. Yeah. So the next story was the Hunger Nine guys. So in 2018, I’m sure, you know, many people can recall this moment where they heard about the shooting at
Rick: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14th. I got very involved with the March for Our Lives movement. As a parent, my son was in 10th grade at the time. So as a parent, I got involved as a community organizer and leader. I got involved politically. I was very involved as the area leader of the Broward Democratic Party. But also I got involved as a meditation teacher, you know, a trauma informed meditation teacher who worked with populations that were struggling. And I recognize the writing on the wall in terms of like, you know, just the extreme measures of PTSD that were going to continue to affect this community, my community. A year later. After the big March for Our Lives, March, you know, marches that happened all across the world and in Washington, D.C. in March of 2018, a year after that, in 2019, I found I found myself on that same day In Liberty City, Miami, after hearing a story on NPR about a group of nine men, Black men who were community members in Liberty City, which is a very rough, quote unquote, part of Miami. It’s sort of like our our South Side Chicago, if you will. Right. To just give you a frame of reference where there’s a lot of shootings that happen on a daily basis. So here were these kids and this community in Parkland of like middle to upper class families that were getting all of this news time, were getting all of this amplification about mass shootings and gun violence. And yet here was this community in Liberty City, Miami, where they couldn’t even get any coverage if somebody had died on a daily basis due to gun violence. And so these men, these really brave men from this organization called Circle of Brotherhood, decided they were going to go on a hunger strike. And I heard about it on NPR on the local Miami station when they were like 10 days into this hunger strike. And I first of all, I was really upset that it took me that long to even hear about it, you know, that it wasn’t like on the front page, that that it wasn’t being amplified more. And so what I realized and I was with my friend Samantha Novick, who was from the Parkland community as well, was that we could actually bring Parkland to them and use our platform and use the fact that, you know, we had this like voice that was being listened to, to actually give them the mic and give them the stage and give them the ability to tell their stories about not just what was happening in their community post trauma, but really present trauma. They didn’t have the luxury, quote unquote, if you will, of like healing from trauma because trauma was happening and is happening on a daily basis in these types of communities that are affected by gun violence in this country every single day. And so while the drama and sensationalism of mass shootings gets you that 15 minutes of fame on the news, these other communities are just falling to the wayside and change is not being affected. And so what it taught me, you know, again, about showing up is the importance of the fact that, yes, sure, we all have a voice, but some of us have a louder voice or more privilege or more influence. And we need to be willing to kind of move over and share that voice and use that voice for good and amplify, you know, what’s happening in the world.
Rick: What is this friendship you established with one particular guy, brother, Albert?
Shelly: Yeah. Yeah. Albert’s an amazing individual. You know, Albert was. He had been in prison for 35 years or some such thing. Yeah. And actually was the last individual that President Obama granted clemency to, believe it or not, before he left office. And Albert, you know, was a drug dealer, run drugs in the streets of Liberty City when he was really young. And he sounds like, look, I didn’t murder anybody that I know of, but I’m sure I indirectly caused a lot of pain, suffering and death due to the drugs that I was selling. And when he was in jail, he found God and found community and recognized that if he said to himself, made a promise that if I ever get out, that I’m going to go back to my community and make a positive change in my community. And completely, you know, I can’t undo what I did, but I can certainly plant new seeds and help to kind of change the trajectory of a lot of the lives and the offspring’s lives that I the lives of the offspring that I that I affected. And he’s doing just that. And it was incredibly inspiring to me to see that an individual could have such, you know, not just such an awakening, really, but but also inspire others to follow suit, you know, to do the same. And I felt like a calling to to to not just be friends with him, but to help him in any way that I can. And I made a promise to him that I would never abandon the community. You know, again, it goes back to you can’t just show up one time. You have to make sure that you’re showing up consistently and that you are, keeping to your word and your promises.
Rick: Yeah. And you can’t go into it all right now. But there’s that that whole section in your book is really cool about how you almost were sent away and then they brought you back and then how you met Albert and, you know, this rapport that formed between you and you know, sitting there with tears running down your cheeks, both of you. And anyway, that’s a tease for people to get the book. And then there was that story of the woman in the diner with her with the homeless guy and her baby that that was a sweet one.
Shelly: Yeah. So that’s not my story. That’s actually a story that I heard at a retreat. Oh, I see. That really affected me emotionally.
Rick: Yeah, me too. When I heard it, I thought, oh, man, you can make a movie out of that almost is this poignant Christmas story.
Shelly: Yeah, no, it’s a beautiful story that Unitarian minister named Nancy Dahlberg. You know, her son is now almost 30 years old. So it happened so long ago. But she she she wrote this this sermon that she gave years and years ago. And I heard this beautiful story about this love affair between her baby boy and this homeless man who was all tattered and in rags that she had created stories about. And again, our conditioning tells us like it’s unacceptable. You know, this person is a nuisance to society. And she saw the humanity in him on Christmas morning in a diner in King City, California, which is like a really a pass through type of a place, you know, for many people who they you know, when you’re driving through through the coast of California.
Rick: And her baby saw the humanity in him instantly. But it took her a little while.
Shelly: Of course, yeah, you know, and she was really judgmental of herself as well. And it’s interesting. So Nancy, I had to get permission, obviously, to use the story. And I hunted her down, found her. And I said, you know, may I print this sermon that you gave in my book? And she said, Yeah, but can I tell you the follow up to this story? And I said, Sure. She said, you know, I got so many, so many people were moved by because I think the story was also printed in like USA Today or in Parade magazine again, years ago, you know, probably like a few years after she had given the sermon. And she said, when my son was old enough, like six or seven, I shared this story with him. And the first reaction that her son had was, I can’t believe you let a bum hold me. And she was like, you know, on the one hand, yeah, we kind of laugh at that. But on the other hand, you see how quickly you go from an innocent baby, who is non judgmental and is able to instantaneously connect to the humanity of another person, without any judgment to becoming this like you’re seven years old, and you suddenly have formulated this judgment about what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. It haunted her in a way because she was like, wow, like, you know, how quickly we went from being these like innocent, you know, children who children of God, if you will, to being these judgmental individuals who have kind of compartmentalized and separated people. And so I think that was really impactful to for her to share that with me, because I realized like, if anything, the purpose of the work that I do today is sort of like this delamination, if you will, it’s this ability to continue to take these layers of conditioning off these layers of paint that I think we spend most of our lives shellacking on. And, and I think it’s, you know, imperative that we sort of start to chip away at those and really get to the root. Again, the heart, we go back to where we started, right? These are all matters of the heart.
Rick: Except you be as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Rick: Okay, so we want to talk about, certainly not going to be last but not least, but we want to talk about Pandemic of Love and also a couple of questions have come in, which would you like to do first?
Shelly: I’ll just give a brief kind of summary of Pandemic of Love because I’ve done it so many times. So I think I can be pretty succinct about it. And also people can go to PandemicofLove.com for information and also if they need help or if they want to give help. So we’ll get into that a little bit. But basically, you know, again, a testament to showing up in March of 2020, like everybody else, I was feeling angst and fear and, you know, just a lot of agitation over this impending closures of everything that was happening, you know, this virus that we didn’t know anything about. Take yourself back to that moment in 2020, where, we didn’t have any information about the virus, really, we didn’t have tests for it yet. There was no PPE available. You know, they were trying to kind of hustle it just even for first responders at that point. We were, you know, Cloroxing our groceries, you know, at the time, right? So take yourself back to that moment in a minute, you know, just to really center yourself as I’m sharing this with you. But I felt the same thing that everybody else felt and I also for my own family and for myself, but I also started to think about the people in my community and in my meditation community, people that I knew that I’ve gotten to really know over the last five years, the kids in Pahokee. All of these individuals in need who were relying on free lunch and free breakfast at school, for example, right? That’s 10 meals a week. So imagine if you’re a single parent and you have three kids and three mouths that you need to feed. That really helps when you’ve got 10 meals a week provided to each of them, right? And suddenly you’re being told by somebody in an office somewhere that got elected, “Hey, guys, like everything’s getting shut down. You can’t go to work. You’re not going to earn any money. And you have to fill your fridge up and stay at home, shelter at home with your children.” Well, how are you really expected to do that? So I knew there were a lot of people in our community that would not be able to fill their fridges up, wouldn’t be able to necessarily keep the lights on, didn’t have access to a laptop or Wi-Fi so that their kids could go to school. And I also knew a lot of elderly people in our community, people who are vulnerable, who would be alone and wouldn’t be able to really even go out to get their basic needs, you know? So I thought, you know, that I could channel this fear and angst into action. What I kind of call that process in my mind is empathy action mode. And I lean into a beautiful practice by oftentimes when I’m feeling really agitated about the state of the world, I lean into a beautiful practice that Tara Brock teaches often, which is RAIN. And RAIN is an acronym for Recognize, Accept or Allow, Investigate and Nurture. It’s a beautiful process. And I invite everybody to Google the RAIN acronym for meditation because it’s very, very useful. But I feel like there’s something that needs to happen after the RAIN, right? What happens after you go through the nurturing process and you start to sort of say, “Oh, yes, this is what I’m feeling. And I’m allowing this feeling and I’m nurturing it.” There’s this space and start to lean into two questions. What am I going to do about it that’s tangible in the world? What can I do about what I am feeling in this world? Oh, I’m so upset about racism, so angry about what’s happening in the world. What can I do about it? And come up with something tangible. But the second question, which is really important that I asked myself on that day was, how do I come from a place of love? Right? And the second question is really important because if you, for example, identify that you’re feeling angry about something and you say, “What can I tangibly do about it?” You can tangibly do a lot of things that are not coming from a place of love when you’re feeling anger. So the follow-up question is very important. And I sat and I thought about this and it took me probably a good few days to sort of sit with this. And I thought, “I’m going to connect people in my community who have enough, more than enough even, with people in my community who don’t have enough. And I’m going to connect them in a time of disconnection where we can’t meet in person so that there’s a human connection that takes place.” So the way that it works, Rick, the way the Pandemic of Love was designed is that you basically fill out a form if you’re a person in need and you say, “I’m so-and-so. I need my utility bill paid this month. I can’t make this utility bill. It’s $150.” And somebody in your community fills out the form that they want to give help to pay for a utility bill for, let’s say, up to $200. And then our volunteers match you and they connect the donor to the person in need. And then we step out of the way. And then they have to have a conversation. The donor drives that process, right? The donor is the one driving the bus there. But we vet the people, by the way. So I’m sure that will be a question. We vet all the individuals that are in need to make sure that they’re legitimate and it’s not a scam, etc. And we make this beautiful connection. And then when we step out of the way, amazing things happen. Because the person, the donor, gets to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes that may be in their community that they never would have met otherwise. They get to help somebody not just by giving them financial assistance, per se, but to make them feel seen and heard. And for a lot of people on that side of things who need help, especially during the pandemic, where there were a lot of people that never had found themselves in a position of needing to ask for help in their lives, they were usually the helpers. Suddenly, they found themselves in a different position. So to be asked, like, “What do you need? How can I help you?” is an incredible gift that you’re giving to somebody. And it’s this beautiful, mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship, this ecosystem that forms where we can see, again, the humanity in somebody else. And friendships were formed, like between Aileen and Christine, who we talked about earlier. So I created these two simple forms. I’m not a technologically savvy person. I put up two Google Forms, thinking it was just for my community, put it up on Instagram, put it up on Facebook. And when I woke up the next morning, I was shocked to see that these two forms had gone around the world and come back, that they had thousands of people had responded and said, “I want to help,” or “I need help.” And also, I was getting messages from communities all around the world, from Italy, from Portugal, from Canada, from places that had already shut down long before the U.S. was shutting down. And people were saying, “This is amazing. Like, how do I start this in my community?” So I started to replicate the forms, and I started to create these communities all around the world. And fast forward to today, so we’re two-plus years into Pandemic of Love, and we are still transacting. And, the Pandemic of Love isn’t just dependent on there being a global pandemic, because pandemic has many different meanings, right? But we have, at this point, connected over 2.2 million people, and we’ve transacted, helped those 2.2 million people transact directly over $62 million of aid. We exist in 280 communities across 20 countries, and we have over 4,000 volunteers who are the drivers of this. And I will also say to people that we’re not a nonprofit. I’m really proud that we are a nonprofit disruptor. We actually are doing things in a really effective and efficient way, creating human connections, but also, you know, helping with direct aid, so you know exactly where your money is going. And there’s no skimming off the top. We don’t have a bank account. There’s no overhead. This is driven by human power. This is driven by human love, and it’s just such a beautiful testament to how a lot of people doing a little bit, because the average donation, the average transaction is $100, can actually amount to a huge impact.
Rick: So when you say you’re not a nonprofit, you’re not a profit either. I mean, you’re not, like, amassing wealth in this thing. It’s all just, you’re just a sort of a connector that…
Shelly: Yeah, that’s right. Exactly.
Rick: You know Nipun Mehta?
Rick: He started something called Karma Kitchen, which were these pay-it-forward restaurants where you go in and eat, and the bill is zero, and you just pay whatever you think it’s worth. But anyway, he’s done a bunch of other things like that, and he has a bunch of emails, like The Daily Good and Karma Tube, which has all these beautiful stories. I’ll send you a link to my interview with him and to his website and stuff.
Rick: Yeah. Good. Well, let me ask you a couple of questions that came in. One is from Mila Now in the U.S. Her question is, “In your experience, what would you say is the relationship between financial abundance and spiritual awakening?”
Shelly: It’s tricky because I know people who have financial abundance and are spiritually awakened, and I know people who are financially abundant and are completely empty and devoid of any spiritual awakening. I can only relate it and give you my personal sort of mantra. And my life now is really centered around the mantra, “Enough is a feast.” So think about it this way. When you go to a buffet, you see people sometimes who put 20,000 things on their plate, and their stomach is this big. As my mom would say, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” And you’re like, “There’s no possible way that this person could even attempt to eat all of these things.” You could only eat enough. And when you get to that point of enough, then you’re full. And so what do you need more than enough for? It just doesn’t make any sense, even from a microeconomics perspective. It’s like diminishing returns at some point. And so I’ve gotten to the point where I realized, and I live a nomadic life now. I’m actually in Lake Tahoe right now. I got rid of 80% of my belongings, probably more than that actually now, because I realized that even 80% was not enough. And I realized that I wanted to live a much simpler life and that I know what my sort of threshold, what enough is, right? and I want to spend the rest of my life giving the rest of it away and making sure that other people have enough as well. And so I think in this age where we’ve got these billionaires who have more than they’ll ever need in their life, in their lifetimes, and literally could change the world. They could change. They could eradicate hunger if they just said, “Okay, you know what? A billion dollars is enough for me. I’m going to give away my other $42 billion that I have.” And we see some people who are doing this, of course. But I feel like the connection has to be where we tap into this self-awareness of why, what is the intention behind the acquisition of goods and material things? What is the intention that we have behind the way that we spend money? Is it to bring people together? Is it to create connection? Is it to help us create a connection within ourselves or to a higher source? Or is it so that we can look better and feel like we’re better than somebody else or keep up with the Joneses or whatever? So I think that the connection here is really rooted in the intention and the tool of spirituality, of meditation practice in particular, is to create self-awareness around the why. Why are we motivated to amass financial wealth?
Rick: Your last statement reminds me a little bit of this. It might be a good segue into this question from Suzanne Stroud from Sugar Land, Texas, outside Houston. What does individual spiritual awareness mean in your work? Can a practice of meditation and prayer grow our awareness over time?
Shelly: Absolutely. Yeah, because I think that, and you tapped into this a little bit earlier, Rick, when you said, when we talked about the only way out is through and that we have to sometimes go through a lot of the uncomfortable and the dirty work initially to get to the other side and to get to this blissful or beautiful experience that enriches our life. The more I think that we are committed to practicing or bringing into our lives some sort of a contemplative practice, the more we become self-aware. The more we become self-aware, the more we’re able to create shifts in our lives in the way that we interact not with just other human beings, but the way that we respond to life versus react to life, which is another really amazing quality or outcome of meditation is that we spend so much of our life being reactive in sort of like this default mode way of life, whereas I think the more self-aware we become, the more that we realize we have the agency, we have that moment where we can pause, make a decision and respond, choose to respond, which is very different than reacting.
Rick: Okay, I have two more questions for you. There’s a very real possibility that you might lose sight in your right eye as well. And I have a feeling that if you do, you’ll still be kicking ass, you know, doing all kinds of great things all over the world. But what are your feelings about that? How do you – well, it’s ironic that I’m using the word envision, but how do you envision your life functioning if that were to happen?
Shelly: Yeah, you know, so I think about that often. Obviously, I’ve been thinking about it, especially during that time period where I thought, okay, this is, you know, the countdown to age 40, but here I am right at age 45. And so I really, really meant what I said when I quoted Mary Oliver. Like, I feel like I’ve done – you always think, oh, have I done enough? You know, I want to see more. There’s so much more to do. But I see and I’m inspired by so many people who have the same, quote, unquote, disability, if you will, right, that I do have now, like I’m vision impaired, but people who have full blindness who are still doing incredible things, both physically and, how they’re showing up in the world in so many ways to inspire people to move to action and to live their life. And I don’t think it’s going to stop me. I think that I’m prepared for it. I really, really feel that. I’m not going to say that there isn’t going to be this, like, moment. Of course, I’m a human being. I’m going to feel ambiguous loss and grief and, you know, sadness. But I feel really fortunate as well that I’ve had over two decades now of being able to practice and gather tools and gather community. And I also feel really fortunate that I’m not living in a time period that Helen Keller was living in. I’m living in a period where there’s technology. There’s technology that can read me the things that, you know, if I don’t — if I can’t learn Braille because I’m too old to, like, wrap my head around it, to basically be able to dictate my speech and to be able to have something read to me and have self-driving cars. I mean, who knows what the future is going to look like. So I feel really fortunate as well that I have access to all of those tools too.
Rick: You’ll still be the Stevie Wonder of helping people. [Laughter] So final question, big picture kind of question. You were referring a minute ago to economic inequities. And the world is so out of balance. There’s so many inequities in so many ways, health and finances and educational opportunities and political freedoms, and we could go on and on. And, you know, I spoke with a guy last week, and I’ve spoken to many people, and I’ve felt this way myself very often, and many “spiritual people” feel this way, that some kind of a better world is coming, you know, some kind of a new age or an enlightened world or some such thing. But the specifics of the transition between the way the world is now and the way the world will hopefully become are very unclear to me at least, whether it’s going to be utter chaos as things collapse or whether it’s going to be somehow smoothed out in some way, and, you know, exactly how it’s going to happen. All these things are–or even if it’s going to happen, maybe I’m just optimistic and naive. So what are your–you’ve probably thought about that stuff. Like, for instance, the war in Ukraine. I think, okay, as horrible as this is, maybe it will somehow result in a better world, just as perhaps in a way World War II did and all the horrors that happened there. Germany is a very much better place now than it had been for a long time. And, we’ve learned through these traumas, in a way, to be better people.
Shelly: I mean, I guess my question is, do we really learn from these traumas? Because, history repeats itself. We’re like–I feel like when I look at humanity– when I look at what’s happening in Ukraine, when I think about the genocide, not just in Ukraine, but that’s happening all over the world, right, with the Rohingya, or like, you know, in– Places in Africa. Yeah, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, like places that we just turn away from, too, because, like, oh, no, they’re Muslims or they’re Black or whatever, you know, like, so we don’t give as much attention to people that don’t necessarily look like us, in terms of who the media wants to give attention to. But I don’t necessarily know that humans actually necessarily learn from their mistakes long-term, because I think we have amnesia. by the way, amnesia is why women continue to have babies, because if we, like, you know, remember– – Remembered. – Yeah, exactly. And you’re like, oh, that wasn’t that bad, and then you’re like, oh, crap, it really wasn’t that bad, you know, but I’m going to do it again and again and again. And so the reality is that I think that– First of all, I want to say that I–you know, people often ask me, like, oh, have you–you know, has this given you this experience of pandemic of love or other experiences given you faith in humanity again? And my answer is always, like, well, you’re assuming I’ve lost faith in humanity, and I haven’t. I’ve never lost faith in humanity. I think that, you know, the pendulum is always going to swing towards good. I think that inherently most people in this world are good and kind, and I think that where we’ve gone awry is that people don’t have the tools that they need to work through the suffering of just human existence since the beginning of time, right? We’re always going to have trauma. There’s always going to be suffering in the world, but our reaction or response, I should say, to that trauma, to that suffering, our self-awareness around it can change. And so I am optimistic as well because I think that, with the advent of technology and mass communication and platforms that are also being used for good– for example, I use my Instagram account for good. Every single day I post and shine lights on stories and amplify stories of people who are suffering and in need, and every single day we clear out, you know, all of those people’s needs and meet those needs, you know, from filling up Amazon wish lists to them to helping, you know, an exoneree who was wrongfully accused and in jail for 25 years, you know, find an apartment to helping somebody pay their bills. And so I feel like if we can collectively get this right, all of these incredible tools that we have, this incredible, wave of technology that is able to connect us in meaningful ways too, if we can create a social movement for good using that technology and giving people access to tools at a very young age so that it’s, like, built in, that we could change the world, that the world will change, that we will be in a place that is very different and that where anything that is not kind and compassionate and based in equity is not going to be the norm.
Rick: And again, I think that, you know, that’s not going to happen without the foundation of some deep spiritual development that I think is becoming more and more prevalent in the world. Thoreau said, you know, build your castles in the air. That’s where they belong. Just put foundations under them.
Shelly: Exactly. Exactly. And that goes really to the root of where we began this whole conversation, which is connecting that inner work to the outer world. So it’s great that there’s got to be a spiritual awakening. But I will tell people that are listening to this that if you’re in a, you know, ask yourself, look at yourself in the mirror, look at yourself in the mirror and really be frank with yourself. Ask yourself, am I doing enough? Am I doing enough for my community? Am I doing enough for the world? Am I doing enough for even just one person a day? Or am I solely really focused on just the inner work? And if the answer is, you know, that you’re solely really just focused on the inner spiritual awakening, then we’re missing something.
Rick: In that case, you’re building a foundation, but no castle, I guess. Yeah, already. Well, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice to throw another quote.
Shelly: It does.
Rick: Martin Luther King.
Rick: And so keep up the good work. I mean, it’s so wonderful that you’re doing what you’re doing. And, you know, I’m really glad that we got a chance to talk. And I hope that, you know, other people will take inspiration from what you said today. Thank you.
Shelly: Thank you so much for this platform. Thank you for using your platform and your voice to amplify other voices and to create good in the world and for showing up consistently. So I really appreciate you and I appreciate this community so much.
Rick: Thank you. Likewise. And I appreciate those who’ve been listening or watching. If you’d like to see who we’ve got scheduled, go to batgap.com and look at the upcoming interviews menu. So we’ll see you for the next one. Thanks, Shelly.
Shelly: Thank you.