One of the great defining moments of my life came when I was in college. For about seven years, I had been practicing Orthodox Judaism , a very meaningful path for me. I came to a point, however, when the rituals had become rote and dry for me.
On one holiday, a fast day, I was very hungry. But I feared to eat because I might go to hell for violating the religion’s rules. After struggling with the choice, I came to a striking realization: fear is not a good enough reason to do a religious act, and certainly no foundation for a life. So I ate a piece of cake, which signaled a turning point for me. Soon I let go of my religious practices and entered onto the spiritual path, in which I explored the world, studied with masters in many traditions, and enjoyed an explosion of higher consciousness. The cake eating heralded the beginning of one of the most spiritually productive periods of my life. Ultimately, it led to me writing my first book, The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which became very popular and set the stage for all the years that have passed since that time.
At a recent seminar, I told the above story. After the program, a fellow named Ray shook my hand and told me quite sincerely, “Thank you for eating that cake. Because you took that step that generated the life that followed, you have helped me and so many other people.”
Ray’s poignant comment took me by surprise. I hadn’t thought about that act in such a broad context. I realized that one small act can change not just your life, but the lives of many whom you touch. Never underestimate the power of any act of courage or kindness. When you live in alignment with your true self, you send out ripples that affect the entire universe.
A Course in Miracles tells us, “A miracle is never lost. It may touch many people you have not even met, and produce undreamed of changes in situations of which you are not even aware.” You see but the tip of the iceberg of how you affect the world. You must trust that what you are doing with joy and inspiration is serving the planet, even if you do not observe immediate results.
Some of the greatest contributors to humanity were not acknowledged in their own time. Van Gogh sold but one of his paintings for a pittance, yet more recently one of his works sold for $150 million, the highest price ever paid for a piece of art. The divinely gifted Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave. Nikola Tesla, the genius who gave the world alternating current electricity, wireless communication and X-rays, has been little known or acknowledged until recently.
I am not suggesting that you need to be overlooked or unrewarded by the world; indeed, those who give gifts deserve to be well cared for by life. I am suggesting that sometimes the good you do is not obvious at the moment you do it, and its ramifications are held in trust until the time is ripe. When or how you see the result of your service is less important than the fulfillment you experience in delivering it. Van Gogh, Mozart and Tesla did not paint, compose or invent for social glory. Their art, music and science were totally rewarding for their own sake. True love requires not a response from the world. The satisfaction of love is in loving.
Every moment is a defining moment if you make it so. In the film Tin Cup, Kevin Costner’s character states that when the defining moment comes, either you define it or it defines you. If you let the world define you, you will feel separate, lost, alone and wonder what you are doing here. If you define your life according to your true values and intentions, you will find meaning, service, success and inner peace. If you have inner peace, you have everything. Without it, you have nothing.
Quantum physics describes “The Butterfly Effect,” or “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions,Â where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The name of the effect is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before” (Source: Wikipedia). You are the butterfly, and the world is the effect.
You can magnify your awareness of your significant actions by acknowledging others for theirs. You get more of what you focus on and what you appreciate. When you thank someone for doing something that has helped you, your expression of gratitude deepens your awareness of the effects of your own actions. Even if you are not able to be generous with money, you always have the wherewithal to be generous with gratitude. Whenever I receive a word, email or greeting card of thanks, the expression makes a big difference in my day. The next person I speak to receives the ripple effect of the good feelings I have gained. Every act counts.
The next time you stand at the crossroads of fear and faith, consider that thousands or millions of people might be helped by the choice you make. You do not walk alone.