Some years ago, on a visit to Southeast Asia, my friends and I ended up on a sleepy little Malaysian island called Lankawii. When we arrived at the boat dock on this island, a lady in a business suit came up to us and said, “Would you like to go to the Sheraton resort?” Evidently, they had just opened the resort, and were looking for Westerners to find out about the place, so we were being asked to stay for free.
The place was truly outrageous. It was magnificent—swimming pools, tennis courts, everything. They even had brand new windsurfing equipment with all the latest gear. I had been windsurfing for a couple of years, and was capable of doing pretty well if the conditions were okay. The people in charge of the equipment didn’t even know how to put it together, so they were thrilled to have us show them how it worked.
Later that day, I was standing on the balcony of our chalet watching a guy pick up a windsurfing rig and head out into the water. The way he was handling the sail, it was clear that he didn’t know how to windsurf. Something you learn early about windsurfing is that if you don’t sail with the tide, the swell will take you down wind, and you won’t end up where you started. You could end up anywhere, and in this case, the wind was taking this guy out to sea.
As I was looking out from my balcony, I saw this man heading out to sea. I knew what was going to happen because I know windsurfing, and I knew the guys who gave him the equipment didn’t. So I went down to where the equipment was, and told the guys who had a boat that this man was in bad shape. They tell me, “He’s okay, he’s a strong swimmer.” I tried, but I couldn’t convey to them that there was a problem.
As it was, the bay had a mouth to it, and as this man was drifting out to sea, he managed to get hooked by the edge of the land. I was looking through my binoculars and could see that he was exhausted. He barely managed to get to the land. He was a mile away from the hotel beach, but at least he was safe. As I was sitting there watching him, he jumped in the water and started to swim back, leaving his board behind. When you’re in the ocean, the only thing you have going for you is your board.
I also saw that there were swells in the ocean, and I reasoned that this guy was not going to be able to swim a mile back.
He’s just not going to be able to do it. So I ran down to the beach again, and showed the guys there that he was trying to swim back without his board.
At this point, even they could see that the situation was bad. The guys on the beach quickly got their boat ready and set out. I went back to my chalet and saw, through my binoculars, that they picked him up.
I never saw him again, but I know he made it back. I don’t know if he ever found out that somebody saved his life. What basically happened was: I saw that his life was in jeopardy, and I acted accordingly. It was a bit of a challenge to go up to these guys on the beach a second time, since I had already approached them the first time to warn them, and they told me not to worry. The thoughts in my head said, “Why are you pestering these guys? They probably know what they’re doing.” But I went down anyway, and this man ended up having his life saved.
The reason I’m telling you this story is because we have a parallel situation going on here on Earth. We are dealing with two very tangible realities. One reality is that thousands of people on the planet are starving, dying from diseases that are easily preventable, victims of natural disasters and man-made disasters. It’s easy for us to recognize that need. We are in the curious position of possibly recognizing another need, a quest other than the one for physical wellbeing and survival—the quest for spiritual survival. We are the people who recognize the possibility of spiritual decay or dying. We’ve been given binoculars, which are our eyes, and we’re being asked to volunteer to be the lifeguard—to sit on the balcony and watch our peers, and if anybody appears to be in jeopardy, we could run down, jump in, and save that person.
You have to allow yourself to pay attention to others. If someone is falling down, in any of the ways a person can fall, and you don’t feel concern, you’re missing the fact that the Creator has put a face and a body in front of you. We’ve been given each other as a gift. You’re not going to invent something better than that. No supernatural phenomenon is going to replace our basic opportunity to look out for each other. By having concern, the possibilities are huge for us to learn how we are not separate. How are you going to learn that? Are you going to learn that from seeing auras? I don’t think so. If you ever really learn to see auras, it won’t be because you learned a technique. It will be because the separation between you and other people has dissolved to such a degree that you are they, and they are you. Having concern by being a lifeguard for each other is not an extra on the spiritual path—it’s a basic principle on that path.
As a human being on this Earth, your position in this life is very similar to what mine was sitting on that balcony.
It’s not okay to watch someone floundering and think, “They’ll be okay, they can swim, the winds will change,” or some such thing. The reason you make those assessments is because you don’t want to make the effort to respond. You have your own problems to think about—there’s some commitment or embarrassment or inconvenience involved. You think, “Someone else will take care of them,” and that’s not okay. If you see someone tripping and falling physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, and you’re witnessing it, then there is no one else. That’s why you’re there. You are their lifeguard.
Editor’s note: Excerpted from Justin Time, Autobiographical Stories from an American Spiritual Master, By J. Jaye Gold. Published 2016 by Peradam Press.
J. Jaye Gold, in his younger years, studied at a 500-year-old experimental Naqshbandi Sufi school in northeastern Afghanistan. He now lives in Northern California and has authored four published books: Another Heart in his Hand, Highway of Diamonds, The Roca Group, and Justin Time. He is the founding director of the Center for Cultural & Naturalist Studies, a charitable organization that focuses on relief building projects worldwide. For more information, visit justingold.net.