“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’”
– The Tao of Seneca: Practical Letters from a Stoic Master
Someone asked me a few weeks ago what I feared the most. I responded with some flat statement regarding not living up to potential. Upon digging further (which is of course what good friends do), I later clarified by saying homelessness. I fear losing everything and living alone on the street.
So I did it (in a way).
This past weekend, I spent an afternoon sitting on a flattened cardboard box on a sidewalk in a major U.S. city. It was cold, rainy, and quite windy. No smart phone, no food or water, and nothing to distract from the moment.
Did I lose fear? I don’t think so. But I most certainly gained empathy. I saw mental illness and the effects of addiction up close. I felt the avoidance of eye contact by passing adults and the unblinking stares of children. I felt shadows of hopelessness and the impact of a simple smile.
What do you fear?
What do you want to understand better?
What do you find yourself judging without first-hand knowledge or experience?
Maybe it’s time to grab your flattened cardboard box and gain a new perspective.
(Note: I did find that while an afternoon with this exercise might be a good start, it’s not nearly enough time. I’m planning for a couple-day experience in the near future.)