A story was told at the METal Saturday breakfast about a brave soldier in Afghanistan who thought his time to die was at hand, along with his troops.
Manning a hilltop outpost they were suddenly surrounded by Taliban forces. With explosions and gunfire all around his perimeter, the troop leader was sure they would be overwhelmed and presumably slaughtered, but not without a fight. He gathered his men for a final talk.
He said three things, according to Mark Thornton, an author and teacher, who had interviewed the troop leader, later at Ft. Hood.
The first thing he said was, “Men, it’s been a pleasure to serve alongside you,” followed by, “This looks like the end.”
Then he said, “Be brave and do your best.”
The leader wanted just one thing – to help his men survive and return home safely.
“When I heard that story I realized I didn’t have a big enough ‘why’ in my own life,” said Thornton, a former investment banker who now teaches meditation to help people overcome fear and anxiety and discover clarity and purpose. Thornton is author of “Meditation in a New York Minute” and also teaches a course at Harvard Law School.
At the breakfast, hosted by Ken Rutkowski in Los Angeles, Thornton didn’t say how those soldiers got out alive, so I asked him later. It seems that a French fighter-jet pilot in the area performed a low level flyby just to say hello. That drew Taliban fire and thus informed the pilot that troops were in danger. The pilot returned fire and help was on the way, allowing the troops to recover and escape.
The soldier’s tale touched Thornton deeply and inspired him to dig deeper, to discover his why, his purpose in life. He now focuses on helping military personnel and athletes with meditation practices that help reduce stress, elevate creativity and achieve higher levels of success.
Someone else who has clearly found his why is Cameron Sinclair, co-founder and “Chief Eternal Optimist” of Architecture for Humanity, which brings innovative housing and building solutions to communities that need help.
Sinclair also presented at the Saturday breakfast with updates on what he’s doing now. He is soon off to New Zealand to help rebuild Christchurch, which has been wracked by a series of devastating earthquakes. His organization creates architectural solutions to humanitarian crises. This includes the building of health centers in Sub-Saharan Africa, community centers in Southeast Asia and low-income housing on the Gulf Coast of the U.S. In the past 12 years they’ve worked on 400 projects in 44 countries. Current projects include Haiti and Japan.
As an example of the boldness and creativity of Sinclair and his team, they developed a project in one of the most violent areas outside Cape Town, South Africa.
“For years this was an area where women were routinely raped and where people killed were dumped,” Sinclair said.
Architecture for Humanity used what Sinclair calls “urban acupuncture,” sticking the needle right in the heart of the problem. After building community and health centers the area showed a sharp drop in crime and a big jump in perceived safety.
Sinclair has clearly found his why in life.
Which brings me to the story of my friend Ed, who I recently saw for the first time in 32 years. Ed was my roommate back in the days we were paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne Division. He was a photographer and I was a journalist.
Ed had some amazing stories of significant highs and serious lows. Through it all he emerged a much different person. Ed had found a serenity I’ve not often seen.
In recent years he had delved deeply into meditation with teachings from a master. He claimed the ability to attain out-of-body travel which, if you’ve read about this experience, is so incredible that most grounded people consider the claim nutty. I was intrigued. Suffice to say that Ed had reached deep inside himself. He said that what we experience here on Earth is just a tiny dot on a fingertip of what’s really happening.
I always knew Ed as being strongly creative and highly inquisitive. It seems those traits held. He was also being very sincere when he said to me, “Brian, you are perfect.” He wasn’t referring to just me but also to all of you. And he was being real. He explained how everything happens for a reason and how each experience is for us alone.
Ed had found his why and in the process set out to help me realize that my place in this Universe is unique, and that I am part of all it’s glory and beauty.
I drove home that afternoon feeling different, as though some of Ed’s energy had entered into me. And I can only describe it as a life-changing experience, albeit a very subtle one.
I am searching for my own why, and now have new tools to reach that goal.
I hope you have found, or will soon find, your why too.
Strength & honor,