Thursday, July 23, 2009

Panhandling for Dharma

I am the little bear doing somersaults on the easel, or at least that's me goofing off.  I'm doing a little big city living in a downtown condo in Vancouver high above the city on the 11th floor of a very swanky condo.  We're doing another home exchange and it's always interesting to move into someone else's living space for a little while.  There is always this period of transition at first, the feeling of being unsettled and not knowing quite what to do, a strange restlessness, a discomfort, but not quite.

It's interesting to see that I felt much more at home in the 2 island exchanges.  There is a constant din of traffic and sirens and car alarms and horns and while I always think I love the light, these floor to ceiling windows make me feel like a goldfish in a bowl.  There is no respite from the visual and auditory stimulation.  And while up front I don't feel overtly bothered by it, I sense a background, subliminal feeling of overload, if that makes any sense.  I couldn't imagine passing all my days here.  And while I know that quiet comes from within, I have a sense that until you are a very advanced practitioner, you need that outer silence as well, to help you connect with the inner silence.

What I love about the big city is the people watching.  There is such diversity, so many different, interesting sorts.  Today I saw an older woman pushing a baby stroller and instead of having a baby in the seat, she had a tame white duck or goose sitting on the canopy of the stroller.  A live goose in downtown Vancouver, I swear.  Standing on the corner waiting for the light to change as if this was quite common place.  As if she might meet another person coming down the street with say a small fox perched on a wagon.  Who am I to say what is normal or odd or how reality should unfold?  And as we strolled down Commercial Street, we notice a rather cool looking guy dressed all in black sitting in front of a closed shop.  Placed about 6 feet in front of him was a small table with some flowers in a pop bottle and a little sign that said: "Last Chance Counseling Service"  If I had a little more nerve I might have gone and asked for some.  He looked a little wise, like he'd been around the block once or twice.  And what was he doing there?  Was he offering a service?  Was he trying to make some money?  

And then there are all the homeless folk, asking for money, trying to sell you a bookmark, or a poem or just lying on the sidewalk with a newspaper for a pillow.  My heart goes out to them.  And I wonder, "what is it good to do?"  I know some people very firmly believe that you shouldn't give them money.  They just spend it on their "habits".  I have such mixed feelings about it.  Sometimes I give.  Sometimes I don't.  But one thing I try and do is offer them something, a smile, a word, a look that says yes I see you.  You exist for me.    A couple of years ago I attended a talk by a young man who had done the street Dharma practice where you go out and live on the street for a couple of days.  He talked about his panhandling experience and how he felt invisible and less than human because people turn away.  We turn away because we're uncomfortable, embarrassed, not interested.  But we forget that there is another human being on the other end of the turning away.  For us, the entitled, it may seem hard to understand how someone can be diminished when we look away.  After that I realized that it is very small offering, but it is always available for me to give, a bit of dignity offered in the willingness to look  you in the eye.

So that's my big city Dharma.  The noise reminds me of how important silence is to me.   And I get to experience a huge range of human diversity here where the sites and sounds are multiplied and magnified.   I can watch us strange and miraculous human entities, each with our own karma playing itself out.  I can offer what small thing I have, a bit of myself.  And I can live for a short time up in the sky, behind glass,  with the city lights twinkling all around me like stars, remembering all the strange things I have seen, which include a small package in an apartment window that contained jasmine scented angel snot (I am not kidding, I saw it with my own eyes) and I'd only had a single glass of wine!


  1. I have heard of these home exchanges. How interesting to be able to travel the world that way. The last chance counselling and the goose sightings were interesting to read about.

    And good point about the basic need for dignity. That seems harder to give than money.

  2. Your writings always make me smile, or touch my heart in some way... Thank you.