It's amazing how a single question can change the direction of your entire life. The question can come in a lot of different forms and from the most unexpected places; but if you aren't mindfully tuned into your experiences, you might miss the question entirely.
What is the question that changed everything for me? Before I get into that, I want to tell you a little about my life before I introduce you to the question that changed everything. From the time I was a young adult, there were a lot of factors that helped set me up to hear that question and know what it meant.
My brother Atman and I grew up in West Baltimore in the 1980s, before crack-cocaine took down a lot of individuals, families, and communities in that area. Outside of our home, our lives were a lot like those of our friends. But inside our home, things were much different for us.
Our parents were what we called "hood hippies." We grew up vegan, we went to a church where we practiced yoga, we went to Friends School of Baltimore, which was a Quaker school, where we did mindfulness practice. And we meditated everyday. Every morning before school, our father would take up to the back room in our house so that we could meditate.
As you might imagine, we were not master meditators. But the seed was planted early on. We were closet meditators; it wasn't something we wore around publicly. We all know that nowadays being a vegan meditator is cool, but in those days, I can almost guarantee we would have been made fun of by our friends.
Fast forward a few years. Our parents got divorced, we found ourselves stopping our meditation practice, and quickly after we were headed off to college. It was there we met our business partner Andy Gonzalez. All of us immediately hit it off. Even though we met while we were out partying, it wasn't long until the three of us had started a book club together. We would read about spirituality, the environment, philosophy, anything we thought was important that we could get our hands on.
Through this reading practice we soon came to realize the extent of suffering in the world. We noticed that suffering is widespread, and we also noticed that no one seemed to care about it. So one day when we were about to meet for our book club, Andy came in with the question that changed everything.
That's how we came to start the Holistic Life Foundation, a nonprofit that is committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities. We have helped develop and pilot yoga and mindfulness programs for at-risk youth, drug treatment centers, and juvenile detention centers.
Most recently, we have teamed up with meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg to teach retreats to other people who care for people. Next month, we'll be teaching a retreat on "Contemplative Care for Caregivers" at the Garrison Institute.
Through the work that we've done at the Holistic Life Foundation, we know firsthand just how tiring good work can be. If you're a caregiver, teacher, or anyone else concerned with the welfare of others then you have to be proactive about taking care of yourself. This is hard work, and is a question that requires mindfulness and self-compassion. Understand what your needs are, and that you will need to take concrete steps to ensuring that you are being taken care of, amidst all of the work you are doing.
If you find that the driving question behind your caregiving work is How am I going to take care of myself? then I invite you to ask yourself questions about self-care, and energy conservation. The most essential question to keep in mind is simply, but not easy, and it goes something like this: How can I maintain my energy to do what I need to do?