Saturday, April 3, 2010

Stranger In A Strange Land

Today reading Peter's post over at Monkey mind I was reminded of what practice is really all about for me. It's about getting acquainted with my strange little self, seeing what I get up to. (egads I'm hanging out with that rusty moose again.) Peter was talking about his feelings of awkwardness when faced with the homeless folks in his neighbourhood.

And isn't that it, being brave and honest enough to see our own awkwardness, our stinginess, our acts of self protection? On one level, it's personal. Yes this is what I do, but on another level it is simply the human condition, because if I do it chances are you do too (I have seen you with the rusty moose). So this confession of awkwardness speaks to us.

And isn't the first act of doing something differently, to see with clarity what we do now, in this moment? Only then can we perhaps become a little kinder (even to ourselves) a little more patient, a little more forgiving. It's not like we're on some self improvement quest (10 steps to a nicer me! ) In fact that's not me with the moose. I am the prickly cactus in the background. Some days I am the one dimensional white headed woman, too tall to fit through the blue door?)

Self improvement accepts the fact that we want to strengthen that little self when in fact what we are aiming for is to loosen the grip of the little self, to not accept that modern day fairy tale that we are the centre of the universe. Can we imagine that the needs and wishes of that homeless person are as important as our own?

And why do we feel awkward when we meet homeless folks, anyway? (or any folks at all?) Are we faced with our own lack of control? Are we reminded that one day we will have to give up the comfort we cling to, our homes, our loved ones, our bodies? Do these folks remind us that we are not who we like to think we are? Are they the ghosts of groundlessness? Are they the opposite of order and perfection that our modern world is always selling us? Whiter teeth, trendier clothes, a better address, won't those settle that 'anxious quiver of being' (Ezra Bayda's term)? And perhaps they pose the question: where is our true home?


  1. I'm drawn to your Buddha images, not easy to use the Buddha in a way that really comes off. Looking forward to more!

  2. I have experienced the same "dilemma" about "giving" to the homeless as Peter describes in his post. One day I drove downtown and gave a homeless person some money at the request of someone I had "bought" an on-line ebook from, instead of paying them for the book. It was quite an emotional experience. I cried all the way home. My heart broke open, and yet I couldn't help but think that the "giving" was more about "me",more about doing the "right" thing. But was my "giving" actually the "right" action, or was it to assuage a sense of the little me's guilt... to make me feel better in doing the "right" thing. I still don't have the answer for that one... Each situation would be different I guess. Then I wondered if "she" was spending the money on drugs. A friend whom I shared that with said: You can only cast your "bread" upon the waters, you don't have any control over where it goes.

    It seems that "giving" has many faces - like the homeless...

  3. Very thought-provoking post. I was sitting around for two weeks with "persons of privilege" - myself included. We forget that thin moment when it can all be gone. We can become physically homeless and in a flash equally bereft of nourishment in all its forms. I sat in the Plaza in Santa Fe one day watching the homeless men and women gather in their own form of sangha. One of them played the guitar and sang the most beautiful rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama" I've heard. They laughed and posed for pictures with a passerby - all goofy and childlike. For a moment, my deluded mind caught all this and dismissed their needs. Luckily, a few moments later I walked by and had a moment's gaze into the haunted eyes of one man. Just bearing witness doesn't feel like generosity yet if it transforms one act of greed in my life, it's a start.

  4. Thanks so much for your contributions to this discussion. I agree MeAndri that when we give, we let go of what will happen to the gift. And yes to have the first hand encounter is heart breaking.

    And Genju, we often forget we are persons of privilege, at least I do. And it is true, I think, if we can just remember to experience whatever it is that we encounter at a gut level, then whatever action we take at that moment is whole hearted. And as you point out, perhaps we can take it away with us, to transform us in some way.

  5. maybe some of the awkwardness comes from the feeling that we are the ones being taken advantage of - either monetarily or emotionally.

    so maybe letting go of that "little self" and our idea that what we own is what identifies our selves will eliminate the awkwardness.

    Homelessness is a different story in Mexico. This topic you've started is something I dealing with now. Good to see this discussion going.

  6. I know that when I see a homeless person I always wonder what set of circumstances brought them to this plight-- and how lucky I am as one can never predict the future..but you raised some good questions here.

  7. Such important questions you pose, Carole, in the last paragraph especially. I am reminded of a story I heard on a local Vancouver news channel about 2 years ago. I can't remember the name of the project but it all started when a young professional woman left her workplace in gastown and was waiting for her bus when she struck up a conversation with a homeless man and became interested in his life story. She missed her bus (several times) and from their discussion learned that he loved to paint. She began bringing him art supplies and soon he was painting cityscapes of Vancouver and the downtown eastside. Awareness began growing, and there was an exhibition and his art began earning him a modest living and raising money for charity. I wish I could remember the name of either one of them. But the point is that when I heard about it, what I do remember is thinking: if only we took down our own walls more often and stopped to genuinely listen to the stories of strangers, the world would no doubt be a better place. Only good can come of it.

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