Monday, September 04, 2006

A Distant Look at Poverty

Hi to all those who read this blog! (Not many I presume). It has been a while. Not that I haven't been boiling over with ideas but not an inspiration to write them. I just read Catherine Ingram's introduction to her book In the Footsteps of Gandhi for the second time, and though I think the book is stupendous, I suddenly felt that if I read another white rich person give their resume of Eastern contemplation and meditation, and then brag about how their well-fed low-cholesterol heart has been ripped open by the poverty of the third world I might puke.
Okay, I know that is truly ridiculous because of course their hearts are ripped open, especially if they have been meditating for 12.5 years, or even if they have never meditated, because it is truly a shocking thing to witness extreme poverty. And furthermore, of course they are writing about it because they are the ones with the education and means for attaining publication. My nausea was actually personal and has more to do with my own confusion and inertia than anything else.
I am now a TA for a class called "Spiritual Models of Social Action." In this class we study Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Desmond Tutu, among others (-even women!) all of whom have explored and expressed social action birthed from contemplation of the spiritual. This is a primary interest of mine.
What is truly helpful in this world? It is true that it often appears hopeless when there are people fasting to the point of illness in protest of the war and President Bush smiles into the camera utterly unnaffected. Do we give up attempting to reach politicians? Do we throw away our modern lives to travel to places where we can work more directly with governments more porous than our own? Do we live in the inner-cities of our own country in an attempt to reach those most affected by the imbalance of the modern ways?
Do we sit in our houses writing blogs and waiting for inspiration to seize us into booking a decisive flight on travelocity?
I do not know.
The other question is: Whose pain do we want to mitigate? Is Catherine Ingram trying to save the world, or attempting to quiet the questions in her own heart? It seems to me that it is the latter for most of us, and perhaps along the way we find a selfless heart amidst our own journey.

I have of late been contemplating vocation, as I just graduated from a Masters program. As of late I have been craving an emancipation from the "disease of American prolongued adolecense." This disease seems to manifest for most, myself included, in an inability and disinterest in the intellectual pursuit of selfless integration into the working world. I am not talking about becoming Mother Theresa and opening an orphanage/hospice/contemplative halfway house. I am referring to the ability to realize vocation fully through the human means available to us. That is, if in fact we are modern people, which I assume anyone reading this blog most likely is, and we have access to education, etc., than we have the means to bring ourselves into the circles of conversation which have throughout history documented the opening and expansion of human thought and human consciousness. Some would argue that intellectualism is unneccessary as really we must move beyond thought into the realm of the Ultimate. But this is truly short-sighted. In actuality it is only thought itself which can lead us to the Ultimate (thus all the world wisdom traditions and contemplative philisophical pursuits). And through education we can bring ourselves into conversation with those who contemplate the spreading of peaceful ways and the opening of the modern human mind.
What is limiting our access to this conversation? This is a huge question, as it has to do with oppression in many arenas and in many levels. Obviously education will not serve alone to bring one into this larger converstation. For education cannot overcome histories of oppression as many people of color have suffered, for instance. This affects language, the ability to be heard by the larger community, and all sorts of other aspects of communication. How, then, can we help the oppressed to enter this conversation? We must ourselves first be a part of it. So, here I will explore briefly my own self-imposed limitations in this area.
I must first realize what I have to contribute. This has to do with my personal life experience, my race, my education, my gender, etc. To narrow things even further, it has to do with my areas of interest. Through understanding these things I can more easily contribute. Furthermore I must not limit the arenas in which I contribute. The more ways I attempt to make contact with the larger conversation, the more likely I am going to reach someone who has an interest in responding, thus creating movement in the direction of greater understanding, which is always the goal of conversation.
So I don't really mean to pick on Catherine Ingram who has written a truly beautiful expression of her vocation, however, I do want to pick on the modern spiritual tendency to stick with emotions and meditation and avoid intellectualization. Let's not be afraid to think!
Okay I will stop there and head off to bed.
Good night!