Ep. #4 Synchronistic Altruism: Homeless and on the run: Meeting Norbert in Amsterdam.

If eighteen years of brainwashing at the hands of nuns and priests in Catholic school taught me anything, it was to be charitable, help those in need and the Golden Rule: Treat others how you would like to be treated. These are basic tenants of humanity, we all can agree. But how many of us actually carry them out; how many of us demonstratively match our actions to our words? Forty-five years into this ‘simulated life’ and I am still learning every minute, day – lifetimes.

Growing up it was instilled in me that as helpful as it was to give a man a fish it was far more valuable if you taught him how to fish for himself. A soft-spot for those less advantaged in life, it was innate. Something I never had to specifically learn or be told; it felt natural to me to look after them, almost instinctive. It was as if I was preparing one day to be on that side of the table without knowing how, when, or if. We now have that answer – complimentary wheels included.  

It is late 2010s, I am spending my summers living in Europe as a writer. And another three to four months a year traveling the world in my wheelchair, blogging for those whom travel is a challenge. Later I would have an apartment in Amsterdam, Holland, but for much of my time there it is spent in an upper-scale hostel. Hostels are the absolute best for meeting all different type people the world over. Amsterdam: surely a city not lacking in off-the-wall personalities.

This one particular summer I decided to divide my time in Amsterdam into two separate six- week trips. The first would be a bit earlier, in spring, the latter later, into fall. I had never been there for King’s Day, which meant I would be in the city for a time and an event new to me. I had heard it was a wild party but nothing could have prepared me for the mayhem. During the debauchery, shockingly I witnessed a man in the nascent stages of a psychological melt-down.

Later that afternoon in the café, when approached to check his mental state, as he was heavily dosed up on multiple drugs, resulting in adverse ‘Sponge-Bob Square Pants’ type stares, in need of adult supervision, he finally allowed me to talk with him. He would affectionately come to be known as Davo AKA “Crazy Dave.” Davo was a straggly, dreadlock haired down-under wild man, hell-bent on pissing away his newly acquired Australian lawsuit money that summer in Europe.

Each night, at the hostel bar, a gaggle of us would gather to imbibe and indulge decadence. Basically, we were motley group of new friends, from all over the planet, amalgamating as one. Like moths drawn to the magic of ‘the trail’ – sharing understanding and bonding through rich inter-cultural conversation. One night a new guy appeared in the picture – or rather, on the couch. Who was this cat? He looked disheveled – oddly a wee bit dodgy. Something was amiss.

Days passed and he was still there. On the third day, I noticed different people in our crowd ordering food, and when it arrived they would say they were not hungry, pushing the food toward the yet unknown scraggly person, now a part of our ensemble. Later that day I found out that he was from Poland, homeless with nowhere to go each night, other than the streets. Wow, really?! My heart immediately went out to him. But my mind had so many questions.

The next day in the auditorium, a public room with lots of couches and chairs for us to loiter, our group clustered. We would do the same outside the hostel almost every night, on Oostpark. Some days we were there from 11:00 to 03:00 the next morning. Everyone boogied off, doing their thing, leaving only him and I alone. “Hello, what is your name?” “I am Norbert,” he said. He went on to tell me, “I am homeless,” and “I currently live in the park, hidden in the brush.”

Immediately my eyes welled up. I was unsure what I had just heard. He went on to tell me, “Everyone I know steals from me. No one is honest; they all lie to me; take advantage of me.” He continued, “I have no real true friends in life – I am alone on the streets. Currently I live in a park, under a tree, on the dirt.” He explained, “I was squatting on a boat but one morning the owner came home and I had to run, leaving all my belongings there, including my cell phone.”

Before continuing on with the story, let me interject some perspective. I am a spiritual person who has walked through hell to be me. Reading has been an essential tool on my journey. It was also a key part of my recovery and ultimately, healing. It was the foundation needed for writing my first book: Unbreakable Mind.  Although I espouse ‘Doing The Dirty Dishes’ of life, sometimes a person just needs a hand extended with love to get them get back up to the sink.

Being a prolific reader (3-5 books a week), and especially since spending my summers living in Amsterdam, I packed a small library to read. One book that I was most enchanted: Altruism, by a favorite author of mine, Matthieu Ricard. A 700 + page yellow behemoth of lessons awaited me.  As with all books, there are no mistakes – they come to you at the time meant. And, true of all lessons in life, one must first be receptive to change before any enlightenment is possible.

This book changed me; it affected me in profound ways. The book spoke to my soul, extending deep into my core being – Holy Spirit. I thought I understood altruism but I was tremendously mistaken. It is so much more than simply lending a hand or helping someone. Often it is argued how possible is it to be ‘purely altruistic’ but this book makes the case. It explains the high level of compassion, care and concern needed for the well-being of another to help them in their life.

 “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

Well, it was time to put the metal to the grind. What better time to hone an indispensable life lesson? Or simply put, welcome the universe at play with synchronicity. We were both meant to meet one another and speak alone that day. I decided that I was going to step up and show him what it meant to have a good friend, someone who is genuinely concerned with your inner-prosperity, not just today but also the future – someone who wants better for your life, always.

While he was visiting the bathroom I took the opportunity to fold up Euros, placing them under his beer. Being a poor writer did not pay my bills but being a trader did, providing me enough to share. When he returned for a sip of beer he saw it and said, “What is this…Why?” It was hard to play dumb as no one was there to scapegoat action I would have preferred unseen.  Aware he was Polish, I asked, “Are you Catholic?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Merry Christmas, early.”

That afternoon he went on to tell me a story of extreme heartbreak. At this time he was ‘on the lam’ from the law in Poland – other friends were not so lucky. Some unfortunate things outside his immediate control happened. He and some friends were working for a wealthy businessman and were not paid.  So they robbed his property in order to eat. They worked for two months and were left to starve. All this meant he had no papers, thus living in Holland illegally – a ghost.

“Show me a man without a skeleton in his closet and I will show you a man without virtue. “         – Abraham Lincoln

None of that mattered to me. And at this point helping him with lawyers and legal fees was the least of his worries. He was homeless, living on the streets of a major European city. His biggest daily concerns were primal: food, water, shelter – basic survival. He was living like an animal in the bushes of many a popular park in central Amsterdam, including Vondelpark. Whilst tourists passed by, ignorantly bliss to his dire plight, someone’s son, brother, uncle – was living a hell.

As we sat in the auditorium one chilly spring afternoon on the couch together, drinking beers and eating fries (top 3 in Amsterdam), talking and smiling, he was completely baffled – he wanted to know why I was assisting him in life, why did I chose him? Who was I? He only knew me as the quiet general who liked to eat and drink, puff and chat, meet new interesting people, listen to music and wonder beneath the stars with anyone crazy enough to join the cacophony.  

Norbert, “You deserve to have a good friend in life; you merit to be treated with dignity and respect. You are worthy of love and having someone in life that values you and treats you as a real friend – and now you do not have that. You are lacking the primary essentials in life, needs all humans require and warrant. I will be that friend, I will show you that there are good people in the world still, who love others unconditionally and wish happiness for you.” He cried softly.   

The thought that someone I had just crossed paths with synchronously needed to be reminded he was human, entitled to respect, kindness, goodness, love, courage, dignity, worthiness, joy, hope and dreams – like every other human on this planet, hit me like a ton of bricks. Searching for an opportunity to marry my actions to my words, the universe provided me an alter: a triple cross, draped in neon. Our lives would be forever altered in time. So many others’ lives too!

Friends suddenly all poured back in, the party was back in full swing. Not ten minutes passed since everyone had gone off for a smoke or to the café to fetch some more beers and two lives, now inextricably intertwined, had universally changed in tremendous ways, setting off ripples of love and goodness, ad infinitum. My heart felt like it never did before; it was electrified. The light that was lit inside of Norbert was clear – he now had a friend for life. His grin said it all.

The next morning I was awakened by a knock at my door at 08:30. Aware the cleaning service was not due in that morning – I was puzzled as to who could be at my door so early. It was Norbert, with a big smile. Over time his constant thirst for living life and daily dose of positivism secretly lifted me up on my most difficult days. He stood there, two large white plastic bags in tow. They were filled with food and shower items – gifts of love. What had just happened? I was stunned.

This slim-shady looking Pole, coming from spending the night sleeping in the local park located adjacent the hostel, without the most basic necessities of life, could only think of me, of how he could make me content. Wow! Are you kidding me? The night before I gave him my room key so he could go have a hot shower. He took note of the fruits and snacks I had on my desk and decided to surprise me with my favorites. The fruit was [always] fresh from the Turkish stand.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.  — Proverb attributed to Buddha

On my return trip that summer, upon arriving at the hostel, Norbert was waiting outside for me. He always had a welcome satchel of treats and bathroom items when I arrived; and travel to-go bag when I departed. From that day forward, to the end of my stay in September, never once did he leave my side. Amsterdam is a big city with dangers, aside from all the drugged up tourists ‘running amok’ in Centrum, home to the Red Light District, where safety is prudent.

A person whose life has been dealt a bad hand but approaches every morning with a glimmer of hope, always overly optimistic the sun will shine tomorrow. He almost has a touch of innocent naïveté. He now had a safe place to keep his bag of life’s belongings, to eat whenever needed, or have a shower and rest. Without ID he could not stay at the hostel; papers are required for proper ID. Often I would give him a pillow and linens to bring to the park to sleep for the night.

Every morning he was at my door – even one day after being stabbed in Oostpark on his way to see me. The greatest helper an injured person could wish, forever a step ahead of me. Always he handled the wheelchair for all Uber rides – endlessly my guardian, always ensuring my safety everywhere we went. He constantly checked locations we patronized for accessibility. He never knew how much that meant. His love and care meant the world to me. I am forever grateful.

We went everywhere together, most times surrounded by other friends from the hostel. Over the next two summers we shared countless memories. We visited museums, exhibitions, the zoo, the beach, went to lunch at fancy places and spent much time in the sun at local cafes, enveloped in conversation. He told me how special all those trips were to him – how they made him feel like a little boy again. He had a hard upbringing in rural Poland where money was tight. 

If ever I wished [secretly] to have a little brother in life – I had found him.

Many nights at the start of the relationship he wanted to know why I was so generous to him. Explaining the 700 page opus on Altruism was out of the question. But a story from a past life was not. I told him that most likely in the 1500s, in Europe, I was a poor peasant in trouble, in dreadful need, and he was a rich businessman who took pity on me and my family. This was the universe’s karmic balance. In fact, truth told: he was my helper, an angel – my life teacher.

Not my circus, not my monkeys.  – Polish Proverb

But, oh, yes, it is our circus, and they are our monkeys.

The measure of any civilized society is how it treats those who are in need. The measure of an individual is how he/she, through daily virtue and practice, treats those same in need. By which he transcends all differences, helping relieving suffering of others, giving fellow humans hope for days of happiness ahead, assisting others without question or prejudice, eliminating despair and instilling hope, truly caring and concerning for the welfare of others. That is just a start!

Life’s worth and happiness do not come from how many toys or titles you can collect but the good you do in life.  We all originate from the same wellspring of humanity. It goes beyond the ethos of a society, squarely at the base of your core values as a person, as a human. Anyone can help another person – Altruism is about transforming their whole life into one that guarantees them the same universal dignity and respect afforded all humanity. It is about service to others. 

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”  – Albert Einstein

There is no limit to what ‘true altruism’ can accomplish. In the end, we are here on this planet to contribute to the betterment of humanity: it is our sacred duty, to the extent our best inner strengths are utilized for the sake of all people. When we die no one remembers our 3000sq meter home but they certainly remember those whom we helped from disparagement, those we supported their greatest inner qualities so as to awaken happiness. That is one’s true legacy.

Everyone within them possesses immeasurable gifts of treasure and promise; it is up to us to tap into that creative light, encouraging others to be their best self – to shine their brightest.

Life is a dance best done together. Thank you for being my partner – your love, Norbert.

Three years on, life is vastly different for Norbert. No longer are the park, jail or prison nightly sleeping options. He now has a full-time construction job, a Polish girlfriend and an apartment replete with friends, in a nice suburb of Amsterdam. He has made progress on the legal front, expecting to get his “papers” within months. He now has dignity, hope, confidence, joy and happiness in his life again. He dreams of one day going to America. I’ll be waiting, arms open.  

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Thank you for your love and support.

WARNING: A Drive-Through-Guru is coming to a Facebook post near you.

Have you seen their work firsthand, perhaps you know one, or have even spent time in the presence of such a peculiar angelic being?  Like as not, I have met my fair share of Drive-Through-Guru douches and the nouveau-riche halfwits who keep them employed. There are an endless amount of various type coaches or guides online who, as the twisted sadistic irony plays itself out, themselves are in drastic need of coaching; let alone being in a place in life that has deemed their experience reverent and advice worthy.  Facebook, the wet-dream of self-medicating narcissists and Instagram, where anyone can be a model, are filled to the brim with untold numbers of these lost souls. It is case in point: the blind leading the blind – in between their never-ending self-fulfilling prophecies, that is when they are not leading their heard to eternal happiness, love and financial successes.  This person will sell you whatever is the hottest trendiest social ‘busy you’ cash cow they can wrap their little greedy and undeserving sausage fingers around. 

First, a person who calls themselves a guru cannot be one, strictly by its definition alone. That should be the first red flag you are dealing with the crème-de-la-crème of Internet graduated ass-waffle. The titles never-ending, creative too: Life Sensei, Wellness Warrior, Spiritual Guide. There is a title for everything. To the person who wants to be my life coach – what have you done so great in yours to prove to me I should accept your wise and sage guidance?  What “hats” in life have you worn and mastered? What is your level of understanding of human psychology? How well versed are you on matters of metaphysical nature? How high an education on quantum physics do you possess? You can make my business more successful too? Really? Aside from being total baseless claims of complete bullshit, I welcome these same ‘successful folk’ to be open and willing in sharing their W2 or tax returns for the past three years. Prove your worth, Bucko.  Otherwise please take your overly inflated ego and dreams of castles in the desert sky and go pound sand. 

Furthermore, beware the one who can easily and happily sell you whatever you are looking for that day; as he was probably an expert on another big niche self-help craze that sold well in the past – such as how to have happy and loving relationships, all the while his short lived ‘oh so loving’ perfect relationship was a disaster that recently flamed out after one too-hot-to-handle year of magical union. As with love, he also views happiness as an object, a commodity if you will, able to be bought and sold. What he fails to realize is that love and happiness are not objects, they are each a process. Each requires you match your words with your actions; neither can be purchased.  He was probably a ‘best-selling’ author in the past too, for all of two long weeks until his efforts fizzled out and his attention moved onto the next in vogue social change-yourself ‘this week’ trend – also guaranteed short lived.  Whatever is the most popular societal self-help issue du jour, they are on it, like white on rice. People, do your homework, there is no easy way to happiness, love or financial success. And it certainly cannot be marketed and sold to you: save your money, look within, it is free.

The answers are free to you. They lie deep within your inner being.  Most people are not interested in ‘Doing the Dirty Dishes’ of life, they would rather opt for a silver-bullet solution, later becoming even less satisfied. The journey is not easy, it requires going to the deep and terrifying annals of your soul.  If you have never been lost and confused in this strange world, plumbed the blood-curdling depths of your inner most existence, explored the frightening and spine-chilling parts within your being, faced your hair-raising fears head-on, done your ‘work’ in life, slain your dragon(s), as a result, no amount of Law of Attraction is going to assist you. It is similar to what I wrote in my book, Unbreakable Mind, in a chapter on diet and nutrition: If your cells are not healthy to begin with, no amount of vitamins or supplements will substitute a healthy diet; the unhealthy cells are not in a position to receive healthy supplements and so, as a direct result, one ends up with very expensive pee instead.  If you are not spiritually prepared and ready to receive the lessons of the universe, they will not come. Other lessons will arrive however, soon enough; and usually the hard way – exit stage left.

Life is lived and experienced by knowing and being aware of all its boundless possibilities, even within one’s own made-up reality. One cannot know light until one has experienced darkness; equally one cannot know happiness unless one has experienced sadness.  Otherwise we would have nothing to compare and contrast; one does not come first without the other; they inextricably exist and are married in eternal duality – what we refer to as ying-yang, life. The same lesson goes that in order to know happiness in your life one must also know sadness and suffering.  So, if you are only being sold one half the equation to the solution, you are being robbed blind.  In my book I state that in life we all have our own agenda, but do not forget life also has its own agenda. Want to take any bets on whose wins? Life’s does, always; it never fails.  It is only our perspective and reaction that determine the outcome – that hold considerable sway and help determine our level of happiness in this world as well.  These are deep and spiritual matters of the soul, not superficial and shallow echoes of the social media guru of the week.  A wolf in sheep’s clothing? Better he is left to his ways au natural.

The Guru is most apt spending more time in front of the mirror primping and preening, wrapped up in himself, Inc., the perfect social media photograph forever eluding him, than attempting a teacher.  Most of what he tells you can be gleamed from a few hours in the self-help section of your local corner bookstore. He knows not of the masters or their teachings. He is lucky to have read the only a small number of scratch-the-surface books, rarely delving into any original thought or text, and certainly not language. He does not tell you the whole story, both sides of the equation; he cannot, he is incapable. He does not know that of which he tells you, nor has he lived any of it. To him it is all wrapped in theory only; he is a master of talking the talk. Otherwise if practical, he would understand he has no answers. He most likely does not even know where to find the answers he himself is searching for out of life; he is too busy falsely proselytizing them to you. The critical important part they do not inform you on, since they are unaware through all their craft-brew filled sophomoric philosophizing, is that one can only find light the result of traveling through utter darkness. True intellect and intelligence must be bestowed upon us from a higher power. No amount of Guru-Juice or learned theoretical book knowledge will get you there quicker – it is a dark and lonely road that must be traveled alone, only by you.

Some of these ass-clowns are the same ones who will preach to you the value of the Law of Attraction. Yet they do not understand it. They make it sound like some fast food order drive-through of the universe. Yes, hello, I would like an order of a mass produced cookie-cutter McMansion in a suburb, throw in a high paying job, a beautiful bride, a perfect boy and girl and a side of happiness, while you’re in a giving mood. These same fools think that prayer or meditation works the same way.  They think that prayer is a wish list of things you desire in life. As if God already doesn’t know what you want in life. It is only when we have gratitude and thanks for what we currently have in our lives that we are prepared to receive more from the universe.  The Law of Attraction has two parts, but these “spiritual masters” only tell you one side of the story: they sell you on the light, never filling you in or instructing you into and through the dark inner work required to come to true happiness.  Your greatest prayer each day is why you are thankful.  These absolute asses are too busy teaching you their ‘successful’ ways that mean nothing and will get you nowhere – when all you need to do is take the time to look inside.  All answers lie within. 

The Guru who always wants you to Private Message (PM) him or her is also thought to be suspect.  These same type 15 minute rodeo yahoos would also always rather send you a voice recorded message or reply – it keeps them from having to give ‘actual’ or ‘real’ answers that could really guide or aid you, never being tied to the written word.  They are modern day social media snake oil salesmen.  Life coaches with certifications are not as bad on whole, though most are akin to those who enter into the field of study of Psychology – they are trying to solve their own deep inner personal concerns and questions – and definitely are not in any place to be giving out advice or guiding others in life. One can always attend a pay-to-play graduate school like University of Pennsylvania, continually pumping out unqualified consultants, many misguided and unfulfilled, resorting to ABC (insert fancy title) Coach. In fact, many are probably in need of seeing their own therapist or guide in life. Rest assured, either way, come hell or high water, when the next hot ‘sliced-bread’ item comes down the infinite toll road of people’s insatiable appetite for innermost self-betterment, through any means possible one can be hoodwinked, he will be ecstatic to control the click-whirl intimate toll booth reward circuit, smiling all the way to the bank.  You have been forewarned.  Buyer beware! 

You might as well go flush money down the toilet because otherwise these modern day online Bonnie and Clyde fraudsters will continue to take your hard earned money with a perfectly orchestrated and polished smile, while they play off of your insecurities to their ultimate financial benefit. Some of them even have weekend retreats or even go so far as to schedule foreign trips. I would be willing to bet most participants initially walk away happy. But ask those same people in six months what has changed in their lives and be prepared for many blank stares. It is back to business as usual.  There was no real or actualized change that occurred outside the warm-and-fuzzy feelings they all had when manipulated for a weekend away at a tranquil spiritual destination, ignorantly anonymous and blind, drinking the cool-aid with contented delight.  They paid for that part but did not receive instruction how to continue the lessons in actual everyday life because the teacher was either unaware the importance of this, the process of how change actually occurs in a person through daily habit, or was not qualified and/or competent to train you on such.  Refund! 

The newly discovered ‘spiritual rich’ who buy themselves up the Buddha Ladder are guilty just the same.  Somehow they think that because they now have financial success that affords them the time and right to seek out the best spiritual guides that money can buy. Although this same person also thinks he with the most toys accumulated wins the race, it is no surprise spirituality is the greatest atrocious omission from his list of life’s personal goals. This person is the same void of a being as before, now with money – money that has only bought him further disquiet.  Spirituality should be atop his or her wish list, yet it is relegated to another trophy for the oak mantle. What new part of life can we objectify and control this week?! The head monks at the monasteries understand the unspoken relationship; they also understand their monks have to eat. The ignorance of one brings light to many – a fair deal according to the monks. So the pay-to-pray patronage relationship that has greatly benefited them in the past, often financial, continues to assist struggling monasteries and their causes unabated today.  In the end, these wealthy ass-hats only find themselves higher up the proverbial spiritual mountain, with lighter pockets. Confucius say: Never get too high up mountain, no one hear you scream.

The Dali Lama has been quoted as saying: There are eight billion people in this world; there are eight billions realities in this world. Recently on Facebook I saw a post on why this one particular Guru was unlike all others.  Most witty people would have stopped at the first line but rest assured, many not only read on further but also believed this hot-air-filled idiot. He went on to pontificate his experience with ancient cultures and shamans. He had spent 1000s of hours with shamans though I am unsure he could define one or its role in society. He had also notched in his fine Italian leather belt 10,000 hours of laser focused meditation.  And? That means exactly what to me? It tells me you are wrapped up within your own narcissistic mind, concerned with meaningless numbers and your boundless self-inflating ego; that you have no real understanding of love, any matters of the heart or even a shred of comprehension on human consciousness or psychology. It only reinforces and makes clear to all reading this blog, the only thing any amount of personal hours has ever done to benefit you was to make your last Facebook profile selfie look like it belongs on the cover of GQ.  Perhaps your greatest egoic attributes and abilities could best be utilized, no doubt improving humanity in untold ways, by retiring as a douche Guru extraordinaire and morphing into an international social media model-phenom. I hear Instagram is hiring.   

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher

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Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.  

Thank you for your love and support.