What do you want out of life?
The story of Ruth and Boaz is a gentle love tale from the 4th BCE biblical book.¹ Overall, it is about a loyal and courageous young woman who faithfully cares for her mother-in-law, despite the deaths of all of the males in their families. The turning point in this love story happens when Boaz, a successful farmer, meets Ruth as she gleans crops he has donated for the poor from his field. In ancient Israel, gleaning was the practice allowing the poor to pick remaining grains after the fields had been harvested. Farmers would use some of their excess crop capacity to give back to those who experienced food insecurity.
¹ Ruth is the 8th book in Hebrew scriptural cannon.
In the story, Boaz learned of Ruth’s loyalty to her widowed mother-in-law. He was impressed that she had accompanied her own culture to care for her. From the start, Boaz took an interest in his newfound distant relative. He discovered Ruth to be a tireless worker. He instructed his harvesting crew to watch out for her and allow her to harvest grain right after their regular harvesting. Boaz arranged for Ruth to dine with his family and farming staff.
It is because of Boaz’s compassion for Ruth’s tragic plight that he wanted to marry her. He wanted to do the right thing. Their marriage would ultimately yield children and Ruth and Boaz were the ancestors of King David.
I mention this ancient love story as an example of using excess capacity to benefit others. We find our purpose, even God, in mindfulness of how we direct our own excess capacity to help others.
The pandemic has pushed most of us into a retirement-like state of being. My wife and I go grocery shopping during special senior hours, wearing masks. We stay six feet apart from others while waiting by the register. I wear latex gloves while in any store and we wash our hands and use hand sanitizer. Through these months, we’ve had only a few people visit in our home. Receiving them, we’ve all donned our masks and sat apart from one another for the conversations. I wear latex gloves when pumping gas. Conversations with our neighbors are with masks and are usually brief.
It has been a diminished and restricted form of life throughout these pandemic months. Gatherings and committee meetings of the non-profit organization, of which we are members, have limited to Zoom video chats. Even though we have gotten to know several from this community, we are all confined to 50–80 miniature video rectangles, making us feel we are participants in a Hollywood Squares game. It’s regional retirement, whether we want it or not.
We ask ourselves what we want from life.
What do you want from life?
An Indian guru
To show you the inner light?
What do you want from life?
A meaningless love affair
With a girl that you met tonight?
How can you tell when you’re doin’ alright?
Does your bank account swell
While you’re dreaming at night? ²
We all want society to return to the “normal” we once had. Certainly, without the horrible news of sickness, death and economic calamity. But living with all these social and economic restrictions is forcing us to be actors in a play where our character is now retired. I am now retired from career work but with some disabilities.
Some Additional Restrictions
In the last four years, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. That gives me a physical battery of energy —that is good for about 4 hours before I need a nap. Then there is the twice a year chemo-infusion therapy that keeps the MS from crippling me. I’m grateful for that and the health insurance that pays the nearly $200,000 annual cost. That therapy keeps me ambulatory but immune-suppressed. Thankfully, I can live a near normal life but I can’t hang out with people with colds, the flu or other respiratory illnesses.
Add that MS immune-suppression and chronic fatigue to the required Covid social distancing, it is as if I am 85 years old. So what do I want to do with my life? Now that I’m living “the retired life” the question comes to me, “What do you want from life?”
I want to make life as pleasant and nurturing for my wife. I want her to feel as if she is living with someone who unconditionally loves her and makes life more fun. To some extent, I also want to contribute parts of myself to my daughter and her family. My wife and I want to be among the humans in our grandchildren’s lives who unconditionally affirm and nourish their lives and their unique personalities.
I truly miss being able to make contributions in the various careers I have had. I have been in teaching, administration, marketing and technology. So what could a figuratively 85 year old do who is no longer in the boardroom, office or doing technology support?
The two way street of the internet
We cherish our online connections. We have access to the best and the brightest people and the most fascinating products in the world. Because we can learn and gain transformative knowledge. Through the power of online education and sharing, we learn and grow. Amidst the suffering and hardship of the Covid 19 Pandemic, we have seen astounding innovation and adaptation. We and our children have been able to continue our learning. We can see videos and consult in real time with our physician through telemedicine. Our human family is a giving and nurturing lot. Because we are more good and nurturing than not, most of us willingly and happily contribute the best of what we have. We want to help others meet more of their needs.
But it’s not only what we get out of life. There are content consumers as well as content producers. We can be providing help and information to others through the internet. You already know this through your email and texting (and previous telephone) experiences. The give and take and what we’ve experienced has created and sustained relationships. It is in our DNA. We share through speaking, writing, listening and responding.
Being kind to other people can make both you and them feel good. And that’s not all. Research shows that when you make the effort to feel compassion for others and treat them with patience and kindness, it causes a physiological reaction that can reduce the harmful stress hormone cortisol³ . . . so anything that decreases cortisol in your system is good for brain health. It turns out that learning kindness and compassion can create this effect, according to a study by researchers at Stanford and UC Berkeley.⁴
³ Being Kind to Others Is Good for Your Brain, Stanford Research Shows, When 51 participants took 10 weeks of compassion training, their anxiety levels went down By Minda Zetlin. Nov 16, 2020 inc Magazine.
Each of us has some excess capacity. We are not living hand to mouth. If we pause and reflect on things we enjoy doing, it is clear we have abilities and resources that could benefit others.
Everyone’s circumstances are different. To get you thinking about your own abilities, here are some ways I have been able to donate some of my excess capacity to help others.
For some time, I have been making online email-able forms for two non-profit organizations. One is in New York and the other is here in California. These forms enable their members to supply information to their administrators. I use the EmailMeForm.com tool. This lets me create any kind of survey or questionnaire, enabling users to submit the information from a web page or an email they receive. Respondents can submit these forms with any computer or smart phone at their convenience. Their online submissions are encrypted for privacy and security and submitted to the individuals or groups requesting that information. Now, even not for profit organizations benefit from sophisticated technology. Here is a website I’ve created to show a few examples of online forms for those new to the experience. Venture over to the sample website to see these examples.
I provide tech support to acquaintances having trouble with their computers. Since I cannot go to their homes or offices, I use a remote connection to connect with their computer. For work, I used to use Join.Me (owned by LogMe.In) but lately, I’ve been using TeamViewer.com. This free tool enables anyone to share their computer screen with me. It is as if I am sitting at their side, working with them on their computer. I can teach them and help solve some of their software issues without their having to take their computer in to a computer store.
I have created a video on how to set up an IMAP email account in Microsoft Outlook 365. There are a few perplexing details required in setting up an email account in Microsoft’s current Outlook client that are not covered in their online documentation. I have finally figured it out and this video shows how.
A writer friend wants to begin putting her poetry on a blog. I explain some of the available blogging tools such as WordPress.com, Blogger.com and Medium.com. I speak with her about how she can get her own domain name so that her readers can simply go to her personalized domain. I summarize the costs and the differences in the ease of use. There are so many avenues of support I could offer to support her publication project.
Since we live near our grandchildren, they can come to our place whenever they like. We are fortunate to be able to give them ourselves, our time and abilities. This is why we moved to California. We can give of our excess capacity to our loved ones.
It’s great that our technology enables us to be helpful to anyone in the world. We don’t have to be a wealthy farmer or a technical expert to make a difference in someone’s life. There are millions of avenues we have to give help and support to others. Some view their retirement as if our Cosmic Coach has benched them for being too old to play. Before we complain about how our talents are being wasted, I suggest we stop and take a breath. (Are we grateful for that breath?) And suck it in. Here are the first three questions standing in front of us in 50 foot high letters.
What do I know and am able to do?
What do I enjoy doing?
Who would benefit from that help?
Notice that none of those fifty-foot tall questions had the words “money” or “profit” or “earnings” in the sentences. It’s about using the excess capacity that we have. Living life with contentment and happiness springs from using our excess capacity to benefit others.
To be happy, practice compassion.
Being kind to others benefits everyone. When we have compassion for others, treating them with patience and kindness, we become world-changers.⁵
⁵ Being Kind to Others Is Good for Your Brain, Stanford and UC Berkeley Research shows. When 51 participants took 10 weeks of compassion training, their anxiety levels went down. Research by Minda Zetlin, Nov 16, 2020 inc Magazine.
Think about your own excess capacity. Do you have the extra energy and compassion to say hello to people you meet on the street? It makes the world a less lonely place.
· Do you have knowledge or abilities you can share with individuals you know? What would you appreciate if you were making your way through life and were stuck on an issue?
· When you stop and think of your years of life, what of your experiences and talents would add to the life of others?
What we do with our excess capacity is a direct portrayal of our spiritual values. Whenever we are with others, listen for what they need. Stay open to connecting their need with your talents, abilities or resources. When your empathy causes you to respond and connect your excess capacity to their need, that is the spiritual magic you were born to create. It’s your calling and purpose in life. In a way, it is a true sign of the spiritual presence that envelopes your life. It is your take-home from this article. But take it not only home but take it anywhere you go. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” ⁶
⁶ Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.