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going hungry

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The topic of yesterday’s post continues to work. Several of you sent comments, so did my monastic teacher:

“When faced with this kind of complex and ambiguous problem the first thing to do is to look inside and see what is going on. Seeing beggars often makes us feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. We usually do not like to feel this inner tension and try to alleviate it.  Often giving something makes us feel better temporarily, but the problem is not solved and the inner discomfort returns.

“My suggestion is not to make the inner discomfort the problem, be willing to feel it. ‘It’ meaning the ambiguity, the conflict, the lack of clarity, whatever is our direct experience. Then with the willingness to stay in one’s own body, to feel what we feel, then when we encounter challenging situations, we do what seems best at that moment – sometimes give, sometimes not, sometimes avoid, sometimes approach. There is no ‘correct’ answer to the world’s suffering.”

Many things go on inside of me. The most immediate are memories of childhood poverty, never knowing what we’d have to eat, and then never enough. A boiled potato and a smoked herring would be a good meal. No snacks, no nibbles, no seconds. We didn’t own a fridge and the basement shelves held a few jars of preserved fruit, received as gifts and kept for special occasions.

My gut reaction to street people with cell phones, dogs, and cigarettes is to judge them as lazy and ungrateful. “I too was poor,” screams a voice within, “and I had to go to work at age 14  and …. and …” It’s a voice, one of dozens busying the mind, like it or not. People’s begging has nothing to do with me or my life story. They do what they do for their own reasons. They’re not asking for my approval or disapproval.

image: toonpool.com

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4 responses »

  1. No matter how you approach it, historically, medically, or in a global and current sense – homelessness & poverty are incredibly complex topics with equally complex solutions.

    Lines from a Mark Knofler song come to mind:

    “I wake up every morning
    Keep on eye on what I spent
    Gotta think about eating
    Gotta think about paying the rent

    I always think it’s funny
    It gets me everytime
    I wonder about the happiness and money
    Tell it to the breadline

    But you might get lucky now and then”

    Reply
  2. I can resonate w/ you, Peter, and your teacher’s comments. Though I would likely express it differently.
    I too notice how my reaction to poverty is fluid – some days I feel good about giving, some days I just give and move on, some days I feel helpless, and so on. Sometimes I get stuck in anger – blaming ‘them’ for the discomfort, i.e. my discomfort. And by ‘them’ I usually mean those in authority. The reality however is that while I cannot change what ‘authority’ does, I can change what I do, and how I feel.
    Noticing my feeling and reactions is now my key – being with whatever is going on for me.
    Mostly feeling uncomfortable.
    And my experience as a child, as I recall, was also one of acceptance. I accepted that some people had, some went without. Sometimes we were hungry. Sometimes not. Seems to me that my viewpoint changed as I got older and heard others complain about this. Then I too learned to complain, to be dissatisfied. As a child, it seems to me, I was much more in the moment, less in my head. I accepted and moved on. Now my task seems to be to return to that childish ‘innocence’ – that which I imagine is meant by the ‘beginner’s mind’?

    Reply
  3. Thought I would post this link to the “Life is a Place” blog – it seems appropriate….

    http://peacefullpresence.blogspot.com/2010/04/compassion.html

    Reply

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