Sunday, March 25, 2007
Presence (of Mind)
“ Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”
By kind permission of the author, Michael Lewin:
Do we really know who we are, what we can achieve in life, what we can become once our real potential is tapped for the betterment of ourselves and others? Too often we restrict our personal growth, curtail our positive energy in order to become less than we could be. We can all spend so much time embedded in the same rigid patterns of habitual thinking. We can all carry on in our everyday lives unaware of the enormous, hidden capabilities that lie beneath the surface. Sometimes the realization that we could be much ‘ bigger ‘ than we are allows us to work slowly and steadily on a gradual path of self expansion. But there are other times, when we are in the moment, that we just have to act……
When a young student had a seizure on the New York Subway he collapsed and fell onto the track. The platform was full with commuters who looked on in shock at what had happened. Suddenly a bystander, without any regard for his own personal safety, jumped down onto the line to try and assist the young man. The crowd, who had gathered around in amazement, started to express their fear when a train was heard coming into the station. Our hero quickly assessed the situation. He just couldn’t leave the man there, in a seizure, knowing that death or serious injury was a likelihood so he laid on top of him, firmly holding him down in the central trench. The train driver had seen the two men and applied the emergency brakes, but two carriages had pasted over the men before the train finally stopped…..” We’re OK down here, “ our hero yelled, his head just millimetres from touching the underside of the carriage.
The father of the young student said afterwards: " Mr Autrey's instinctive and unselfish act saved our son's life, there are no words to properly express our gratitude and feelings for his actions." But Wesley Autrey would not accept this. He replied: " I don't feel like I did something spectacular. I just saw someone who needed help." Later he added: " I'm still saying I'm not a hero... 'cause I believe all New Yorkers should get into that type of mode….you should do the right thing."
Engaging with action that expands and enlarges us is doing “ the right thing,” finding our place in a ‘ bigger ‘ and better world of which we are a part. This might happen in a moment, a defining instant that changes someone’s life forever, as in the actions of our subway hero. At other times it is less dramatic, more incremental, more calculated but nevertheless still of value and significance. We are all ordinary individuals that contain the seed potential to perform extraordinary feats, if we only but realized. St Augustine said we were: “ Great deeps “ but that embraces the negative as well as the positive aspects of our psyches so the real challenge, the real test we must face is a choice: do we hold ourselves back in self –limiting, self-restricting ways that contribute to our diminishment or do we push forward to mobilize our passions and positive energies for the greater good? Do we live a life half awake, half engaged or do we live passionately, fully opened, fully attending so that we are made available for greater things? Perhaps we should ask our subway hero these questions.
[Copyright: Michael Lewin 2007]
Reading through Michael's piece (above) I noted the comment "But there are other times, when we are in the moment, that we just have to act……" and my quibble would be that there's no "have to" about it: it's more an instinctual act devoid of "self" (and thus unselfish). For me unselfishness (a Christian concept) means intentionally and willfully setting aside self-interest, i.e, "sacrificing" or "subordinating" one's own interests to, or in favour of, another = altruism. I don't think our eponymous hero did that, indeed he disavowed doing so. Like many before him, he says "I only did what anyone would have done". Surely he didn't have time to do the ethical calculation in his head? He just acted out of pure "presence of mind", thus NO self in the way of pure action, and certainly NO heroism. I've acted the same way myself (admittedly not jumping on to railway lines) on a few occasions in the course of my nursing work, but also once when my baby daughter stopped breathing. My response to the emergency came before my mind was even engaged, hardly in gear! My mind caught up with the act, as it were, after it had taken place.