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.