I asked him how old he was when he started getting in trouble, and he told me that he started hanging out with the drug dealers and bullies in his neighborhood when he was about fourteen. “Before that, I was a good kid. I never made trouble.” So I imagined this fourteen-year-old boy who had always been well behaved, and I wondered what led him to get involved with that crowd. I said, “Can you picture yourself as a fourteen-year-old boy? Right around the time you started hanging around those people?” He closed his eyes and nodded again. I asked him what he would say to that boy if he could. “You think this is fun and you wanna be a big man. That’s good. You have dreams. But you don’t see where this is gonna take you. You’re trying to be big, but you’re gonna get locked up in a cage for your whole life! I know! Don’t do it. You gotta see where this is taking you. It’s not where you think. Look at my life! [He’s crying now.] You need someone who can show you how to be big like you want. These people aren’t your friends and they’re all gonna end up dead or worse. You need a real grown-up who knows about life!” When he finished, we spent a couple of minutes in silence. Eventually he said, “That feels good, man, but it’s too late. It didn’t happen.” I was struck by how passionate and persuasive he’d been. It was really powerful. I asked him, “How many fourteen-year-olds are there in your neighborhood who are about to make the same mistakes you did?” He understood immediately, and his expression transformed from pained exasperation to one of focus and purpose. He said, “That’s it. I know something they don’t know. They don’t wanna hurt anyone. They’re just dumb kids. They wanna feel big, but they don’t know how. That’s it.” He was quiet for a minute and then continued, “I couldn’t hear what my pain was telling me, man, and it was gonna kill me. It was trying to tell me that I have something important to do, but I couldn’t see it. Now I know.”

Desmond, Tim. How to Stay Human in a F*cked-Up World (p. 54). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

One day, Thich Nhat Hanh was meditating in the jungle in Vietnam and he saw a young banana tree with just three leaves. The first leaf was fully grown, broad and flat and dark green. The second leaf was still partially curled beneath the first, and the third leaf was very light green and tender, just beginning to unfurl. This was during the middle of the Vietnam War, and he was leading a huge organization of young people who’d help rebuild villages that’d been destroyed by bombs and napalm. He’d spent nearly every day with villagers whose lives had been ravaged by war, and he’d witnessed the deaths of several of his closest friends. The central question in his life at that moment was how to reconcile the intensity of his calling to help suffering people with his mindfulness practice. He knew that he needed his mindfulness practice to keep from being overwhelmed with despair, but how could he justify cultivating peace and joy in himself while so many other people were dying? He was holding this question in mind and looking at the young banana tree when he had a deep insight. It occurred to him that the eldest banana leaf was fully enjoying her life as a leaf. She was absorbing the sun and rain, radiating beauty and peacefulness. However, she hadn’t abandoned the other leaves to pursue her own happiness. In fact, as she nourished herself, basking in the sunshine, she was also nourishing the younger leaves, the banana tree, and the entire jungle. He decided that human beings are just like this. As we nourish ourselves with peacefulness and joy, we’re also supporting the well-being of every other person in our lives.

Desmond, Tim. How to Stay Human in a F*cked-Up World (p. 9). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

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