|This way to heaven in a concrete tub.|
|the luminous wilhemina|
I also heard from two old friends this week. One has been laid off the second time in three months as his employers' business closed. The other is facing losing his home. I wish I could say these were startling stories, but I've heard many like them in my practice this year. The wolf seems to be at the door for more and more of us these days. Hewlett-Packard, once the town's largest employer, has perhaps a fifth of the number of workers of 15 years ago. Most of those left worry every day about that pink slip.
When times are good, we need each other. When times are hard, we need each other even more. Suffering is universal if one lives long enough. Do you know the story of Siddhartha, whose parents were told he would grow up to be either a king or a priest? Wanting the king, his father asked how he could ensure that outcome. "Protect him from witnessing suffering", he was told. His father built a walled town, throwing out anyone who became elderly or infirm or sad. But one day, Siddhartha heard an unfamiliar sound from beyond the walls and asked his servant what it could possibly be. "Crying", he was told, and he was puzzled. His servant tried to explain but Siddartha could not comprehend what he was being told, and asked to be taken out to see for himself. Beyond his protected home, he saw for the first time the suffering that is part of being human. He watched people grieving the dying, he saw children who were hungry and had no solace for it. His heart was broken open with compassion-- a word that literally means "with suffering". He made it his vow to remain in compassion as long as he lived, and to teach others. His enlightenment transformed his heart.
When we suffer, we can be like animals-- like my dog, who at the end of her very long life, kept trying to isolate herself far from the us and her home, under a tree. Near death, animals isolate out of instinct, probably to protect themselves from predators in their vulnerable state. People in great suffering will also isolate. Sometimes it is to conserve their waning strength. Sometimes it is in shame about their state.
Withdrawal can be good for us. It can give us time to reflect and to plan. But it needs balance, because we need each other. We need to remember that we are loved and important and have something to offer, even if that something is receiving from others who care about us. It's true that not everyone we want to be there for us will be. Sometimes they are scared or out of resources themselves. Sometimes they just don't know what we need.
As noted in a previous blog, it's rare for people to have the sorts of community that was common in the past. We have to take personal responsibility for that. We fill up our lives with busy-ness and forget to keep our ties. We cocoon to preserve what little energy too much stress and too many work hours take from us. To learn more about rebuilding community, click here.
But reading won't fix things. Reach out to someone today. Offer a hand, lend an ear, fix a broken stoop, deliver a meal. Even if you are the one who is suffering, being of use is very healing.
Trouble and joy both need community. "Joys shared are joys doubled; troubles shared are halved." Make it happen.