Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Involving Healthy People

I have a problem with the gurus of the world, that is, the folks who reach a level of understanding that drives them to climb the nearest mountain and stay up there meditating for the rest of their lives. I am talking about the people who live healthy and enlightened lives, and remove themselves from those who are unhealthy. We live in a society that stresses the importance of "choosing the right people" to associate with. While I agree that we have to remove ourselves from negativity at times, I am frustrated and saddened when I see the lost souls who have exhausted all resources, and can't even get another human to talk with them for 5 minutes. All the gurus on all the mountains could be leaders, but they choose to quietly smile at the suffering world. While I admire this quality of non-attachment, and I have even strived to attain it at times, part of me still thinks we have to keep our feet in the world. Buddhists have, for example, the concept of the "bodhisattva," the person who can attain enlightenment, but will not enter nirvana by choice; he/she longs to teach others and help those who do not understand. The bodhisattva stays in the world to help others. To me, this is the ultimate in compassion. Christians also have a similar concept in "spreading the gospel." I'm sure all spiritual movements have some mention of the enlightened soul who is devoted to helping others after enlightenment. It makes sense, doesn't it? Who will teach if all the learners leave upon completion of their lessons?

Statistically speaking, if you take a random sample of 100 people in Canada, maybe 10 or 20 people will need a great deal of emotional support and resources (I'm really just guesssing here). Some of these people may have never been taught basic life skills. Maybe 10 or 20 of these people will be gifted, happy, blessed souls, and the rest are somewhere in between. It simply makes sense for the healthier folks to be supportive to the less fortunate. I think for the most part, really well-developed people help out the community... a lot of them volunteer, donate, and teach where they can. Yet there is an idea out there that nothing can be done about the suffering of humans, and that the wisest choice is an a-political, passive, and removed position on the more controversial parts of our society. Furthermore, many of the people who are "half-healthy" (if I can use this silly term) are either trying to "remove themselves from negativity," or do not believe that they are "ready" enough to help.

So you have a hundred people who are all separated from each other, when they could be digging in and connecting. On the street, people have learned to find counsellors and teachers within their own communities: one street person will emotionally support another. When I lived on the street, I saw all the roles of society carried out on a miniature level; there were "counsellors," and "preachers," "political activists," and "educators." Because the rest of society has exiled the street community, it makes do in whatever way it can. Unfortunately, the advice you receive is a little warped. "Counselling sessions" can be done over a bottle wine, and political activism might involve smashing the window of a government office(not incredibly effective). In many cases, it was just the blind leading the blind. There were a few genuine helpers who were not in crisis themselves, but they were so overwhelmed with the great need around them that they couldn't spend much time with their street clients.

We need the gurus to get off their yoga mats and befriend some struggling people, really. To me, it's part of the spiritual journey. We also need some of those average folks to admit that they are ready enough to help in some small way. Forget donating, go out and spend five minutes with somebody you would normal filter out of your life. We're all connected, so in a way, that's YOU sitting on the sidewalk needing help, and you are about to walk by and pretend you didn't see yourself.

1 comment:

Heidi Bergstrom said...

hi Derek,
I came across your blog while doing a search on homelessness in Victoria. Thank you for your comments and ideas. It is difficult to get involved for various reasons - you are right of course. In my case I am an artist and have created an installation work www.h3realty.org and it was hosted at the Ministry of Casual Living in September. It was an awesome eye opener for me to see how many people came out to talk and had such great ideas. This was the week when the protest at St. Ann's Academy was going full on. I am hoping to curate a show at Victoria Arts Connection with the Open Door for homeless women. Although I agree with your points about political action I think we need to push for more gov't policy that makes a difference. Funding research isn't necessarily it. We need to have gov't make housing a top priority with contractors. Literally - force the issue and build coop housing options. For my part I will keep trying to get the word out via the H3 Realty web site and hope that I can host it again in Victoria or other locations. I am interested in your comments.
Heidi Bergstrom
Heidi Bergstrom