Admittedly, I spend most of my waking hours obsessing over my own B.S. You’re probably familiar with some version of this ping-pong game with your brain:
What do I have to do today?
Will I ever figure out ‘such-and-such?’
What am I going to do if (blank) happens?
What will I do if (blank) doesn’t happen?
Why doesn’t so-and-so like me?
How can I get my work noticed more?
Back and forth the mental blathering goes, a literal non-stop barrage of self-absorbed lunacy that’s all about ME and my BIG important stuff. Aside from the occasional new ‘whatever’ to fret over, it’s all pretty much the same old garbage day after day. During those rare instances when I stop to think about it, I’m humbled at how unbelievably boring my incessant thoughts really are.
Seriously, sometimes I feel like I just need a break from myself . . . time spent NOT wallowing in doubt, fear, and worry. Thankfully, there’s a simple way to handle this very common problem: it’s called ‘Helping Someone Else.’ Or ‘Volunteering’ for short. Not only does volunteering get you out your head for a bit, it graciously exposes us to a wider world, reminding us in the process that, despite how we imagine things to be, we’re actually not the center of the Universe. It’s about going from an ego-centric view to a world-centric one. And as you might have guessed, it’s one of the absolute essential steps in the Awakening process.
When I switched coasts back in ’08 (for the third time in my Life thus far) and relocated to NYC from LA, one of the first things I did was start looking for opportunities to volunteer. And because there’s more than enough chances to do-good in the Big Apple, I had my pick of where to aim my focus. In the end I settled with Meals On Wheels. Yes, they deliver meals to people at home who are unable to purchase or prepare their own - as the name aptly suggests - but they also provide another service that piqued my interest: friendly home visits. So yeah, volunteers can also, if they’d prefer, just hang-out with someone and keep them company. While delivering meals to people in need is a totally awesome thing, the chance to actually get to know someone one-on-one was more in-line with what I was looking for, especially since I was new in town.
So after a lengthy interview process, background check, and the expected holding period while they found someone in their files who fit with my profile, I eventually met my match: veteran actor Earle Hyman. Then in his early 80’s, Earle’s best known for playing Bill Cosby’s dad Russell Huxtable on The Cosby Show between 1984 and 1992. Earle was also the voice of Panthro on the original mid-80s ThunderCats cartoon series . . . which is sort-of bad ass when you think about it.
As a sometime-actor myself, Earle and I always had plenty to talk about, so we hit it off from the start. Generally, I’d swing by his high-rise apartment a few blocks west of Times Square where he’d regale me with all sorts of intriguing stories from his past: working with Katherine Hepburn and Rock Hudson; his life-long friendship with playwright Edward Albee; hanging out with writer James Baldwin and other renowned artists during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement; standing a mere few feet from Martin Luther King Jr. as he delivered his iconic ‘I Have A Dream’ speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial . . . you know, normal everyday run-of-the-mill stuff like that.
Occasionally we’d spice-up our routine a tad and hit the town for a quick bite, an afternoon Broadway show, maybe take in a class at the Actor’s Studio, or even go on an impromptu shopping spree just for the hell of it. Well . . . Earle would ‘spree’ and I would watch in awe from the sidelines. I recall one afternoon in particular when he casually dropped $3,000 at Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Ave. Not a heck of a lot to spend in a place like that . . . until you tally-up what he actually got for his money: 6 white v-neck t-shirts, a pair of sneakers, some socks, and 2 pairs of silk pajamas. I’m serious. Earle didn’t even blink at spending money that could have paid my rent for 4 months. Still, it was fun watching him do it.
Needless-to-say I always had a good time hanging with Earle Hyman . . . a genuinely sweet man who was always smiling. I kept him company when he otherwise would have been all alone in his apartment, and he helped me keep my reptilian brain - the one stuck in survival mode - safely at bay . . . at least for a few hours each week anyway.
Over the years researchers have pointed out that volunteering promotes all sorts of health benefits like lowering stress levels, improving cardiovascular systems, and boosting our self-esteem. Now I can’t say for certain whether hanging with Earle nessasarily improved the flow of blood through my heart - I like to think so - but it did get me ‘out of my head’ for a while. And I don’t know about you, but I spend way too much time in there as it is.
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