Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Time Is Now

To act, or not to act?  That is really the question that Shakespeare should have asked.  Whether it is more noble to act in a positive manner and to contribute to society, or to do nothing, and complain and moan about the state of everything?  I will always chose positive action over negativity and lethargy any day.  Yesterday, I witnessed an incident that reinforced my thoughts about our societies and made me wonder when are people going to wake up to the fact that they are the society in which they live?

As I walked the pavements of London, I saw a woman cycling her bicycle alongside a stream of cars, all making their way home from work.  Almost at the instant that I saw this cyclist, her shopping bag gave way, spilling several apples, that rolled on to road, until they came to a stop right in the middle of the road.  Too far away to lend assistance, I watched as the woman fought to balance her bicycle and at the same time, to pick up the apples.  Some people walked past on the pavement, the cars continued on.  Not one person stopped to give assistance.  Not one car paused to allow the woman more room.  In this one moment was a clear demonstration of everything that I believe to be wrong in our modern societies.

How would you have acted?  Would you have run to give aid and help.  Perhaps you would, but ask yourself truthfully, would you really?  It is all too easy to say to yourself that it is not my problem, that she will be okay, that someone else will stop, that I would like to stop but I really have to get to that appointment, to get home to put on the dinner, to go to the gym, to walk the dog, to pick up the kids.  The excuses go on and on.  Our modern and sophisticated society seems to always tell us that it is some else's responsibility, to provide an excuse for not acting, and for not being held accountable for your actions.

Here's another situation you will find yourself in.  You walk along the street and you see some litter laying on the pavement.  What do you do?  Do you stop, pick it up and carry it to the nearest rubbish bin?  Or do you mutter to yourself about the state of people these days and complain about where your tax payments have gone and leave the litter exactly where it is?  It's not your job to clean up after someone else is it?  That is the job of the local council, that is what unemployed people should do to earn their welfare, that is what criminals should do to help make amends for their wrong doings.  Why should you do it?  After all, you did not put it there.

As far as I can see, the trend in our society is to become annoyed, to complain about how things are, to accept them, to turn a blind eye, and to pass on the responsibility.  This is wrong.  Some people will say that capitalism is to blame because it breeds a culture of selfishness and greed.  It does not.  That is just another excuse that you give yourself for your lack of action.  We are all part of our society and as such, we each have a direct responsibility to make the society in which we wish to live.  We are all accountable for the state of things.  It is not the fault of the government, our economic system, materialism, the local council, immigrants, nor the youth.  It is your fault.

In the Bible, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan.  The Samaritan was the person who took pity on the man at the side of the road who was in great need of help.  This only occurred after other respected persons (a priest, a levite) in the society at the time had passed him by and done nothing.  This is exactly the same as now.  People are walking past, turning away, and doing nothing.  It is not a question of religion.  Neither is it a question of race, gender, or age.  It is for each of us to do something to turn this around and to change it.

I was in New Zealand recently, at Lake Taupo.  As I walked from my motel into the town one morning, I saw on a picnic table discarded fast food wrappers and cartons.  It made a horrible mess.  No more than 5 metres (15 feet) away was a rubbish bin.  At first, I muttered to myself about the laziness of people and I walked past the table.  But I could only walk a few more paces before I was forced to turn around.  I walked purposely back to the table, picked up all of the litter and put it into the rubbish bin.  A woman passed me by as I did this and gave me a big smile.  This was my reward for my unselfish action.  Later that morning, I thought some more about what had happened.  By clearing the table, I made a woman happy.  I also made sure that from that moment on, no one else would see it, no one else would have cause to complain and to have negative thoughts which could spoil their morning.  I made sure that the picnic table could be used again.  It meant that the local council workers could focus on more important matters.  I did something positive.  The ripples of my action spread wider than I had first realised.  Indirectly, I had touched the lives of others in a positive way.  I had contributed to the society in which I found myself in a positive way and for that, I felt good inside.  I took that situation and made it into a positive experience.

I am no saint.  I am not perfect by any means.  What I do want to do though, is to make a difference.  I want to know that I tried, that I did not sit idly, that I did not just complain and moan about the state of the world and society.  I want to know that I helped people, that I reached out through my actions to enrich those around me.  I have a strong belief that if others started to act in a positive way, to begin to take care of those around them and the societies in which they lived, others would begin to do the same.  Once a cause gathers momentum, it quickly experiences a snowball effect.  The minority becomes the norm.

We each have the power to make society in the form that we wish to see and experience it.  Each of us is responsible.  Most of us are luck enough to live in a free society, we enjoy freedoms of choice.  This is your choice.  Do or not do.  You have the power to change.  It only takes one spark to light a fire.  Take your energy and do something good.  Quit complaining, stop saying it is someone else's fault, and start doing something positive about it.  Each of us can make the difference.  Many ripples that join in harmony become a wave.  Let's create waves and make the change.  The time is now.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Dolphins, The Sea And Me

The day had begun in utter darkness, no moon nor star shone this night.  The boat rocked and rolled over swells that swept in from the open ocean, heading towards land where they would become the waves that broke against the shore.  Before long, a line of grey had appeared in the sky heralding the approaching dawn.  Across the land, huge shapes emerged from the dark and slowly transformed themselves into the misty gloom of a mountain range.  To the east, out over the ocean a curve of orange light slowly rose from the water and became a perfect orb of pale light, more reminiscent of the moon than the sun, masked as it was behind a thick veil of cloud.  As it lifted, the day finally dawned and rays of light struck upon the surface of the water, creating glittering shimmers of gold.  And there, within that golden light, the dolphins came.

At 4:50am in the morning, when my alarm woke me from my sleep, I wondered what I was doing.  What had driven me to say that I would go and swim with dolphins so early in the morning?  As I lay there, in that time between sleep and true awakening, I asked myself what the refund policy would be for a no-show, so I could sleep on for a few more hours.  It was very tempting.  No, that was not going to be how my day would begin.  A chance to swim with dolphins, how often does that happen in life?  I threw back the cover and kick started myself into action.

Forty minutes later and I was at Dolphin Encounter, sitting in an auditorium, wearing two layers of 7mm wet suit to protect against the cold  16C water, and equipped with fins, hood and mask and snorkel.  A large group of people had assembled all with the same purpose and possibly all asking themselves why they are here at such an hour?  What is clear now though, is that the tiredness and lethargy so evident when we all first arrived, have been replaced with excitement and anticipation.  After watching a short briefing film for 15 minutes, that educated us on the dusky dolphins that inhabit the oceans that surround Kaikoura, we all board a bus and are driven the short distance across the peninsula to South Bay, where the boats are waiting for us.  Shortly, we are underway in darkness, the twinkling lights of the jetty and of the town that is gradually stirring to life, receding behind us.

Sitting at the back of the boat, leaning backwards over the port side, feeling the early morning air rush over me, I knew I was in that moment between dream and reality.  It is a time when all of your imaginings of how an experience might be cease and those of actual memory begin to replace them.  I was on the verge of realising a dream, all that was needed was a pod of co-operative dolphins to appear.  Although the sun had now risen, the day was dark and gloomy under a grey blanket of cloud that filled all the sky.  The breaking day and the sunrise are the triggers for the dolphins to return to the shallower water after their night time feeding, so this lack of light was keeping the dolphins away longer than usual.  I wondered if this would be a false start, whether there might be a need to return the following day for a second chance?  As I looked out in to the golden light that played on the ocean's surface, I saw the ocean come alive as dolphins leapt clear of the water and swam our way.

The day dawns
The dolphins, the sea and me.  That is all that existed.  We were caught in our own universe, held in an existence that was only ours to know.  Everything else was gone, shut out and put away.  I turned around and around, almost making myself dizzy, chasing a dolphin as it tried to swim around me.  I tracked it as best as I could, spinning myself through the use of my hands, pulling the water in front of me, over and over again, faster and faster, as the dolphin tried harder to evade me.  It was a game, our game.  I would play this game many times during the morning, it seemed to me that the dolphins enjoyed it as much as I did.  Cat and mouse, mouse and cat, which was which, I could not tell, it did not matter.  There were times when I was under the ocean, desperately holding my breath in my lungs, fighting to hold myself down, as the buoyancy of my wetsuits forced me back towards the surface.  For those few seconds under the surface, I was able to barrel roll myself around, to see dolphins swim over me, to the sides of me and underneath.

Perhaps the most precious part of the experience was taking a breath and duck diving down to see five or six dolphins speeding towards me, coming directly at me, their heads bobbing up and down as they pushed the water with their powerful tails.  Whoosh! They separated in time, swimming past me, to the left, to the right, over my head, beneath me. My mask filled with water.  Smiling and laughing whilst wearing a diving mask is not recommended since it breaks the seal, letting water flood in.  But what could I do?  I could not help myself.  I was happy, ecstatic, lost to the moment.

Dusky dolphins playing at the bow.
That moment.  A moment that you never wish to end yet it must.  It was time to swim back to the boat, time to share the smiles, happiness and the experience with the other swimmers.  Reluctantly, I pulled myself back on to the swim step at the back deck.  My time swimming with dolphins was over but I knew that the experience would live on.  This was a dream come true.  A tick I could place in another box.  But it's not only ticks in boxes, is it?  It is knowing that you dared to realise that dream and in do so, you discovered that the reality was indeed better than all of the thoughts and wondering.  Why?  Because you made it a reality.  Dream becomes experience becomes memory.  Memories like these become smiles that will last until the final breath, and accompany you on the next journey.