There was a man hiding under my van this morning here in Los Angeles.
I was parked in an enclosed parking area behind an apartment building where I am staying, in a “good neighborhood” as we often like to say about neighborhoods where the ills of society are far less visible, and when we opened the door, there he was, lying on the pavement, right underneath Tilly. After a brief jarring moment, I gathered myself and began to speak with him. He told me he was hiding from a gang that was chasing him because he got his check today.
“I’m scared. That’s why I crawled under here. Just give me a half hour, please.”
Of course I obliged him. I told him I was sorry there wasn’t something more I could do to help him. I told him that I would pray for him.
I went about setting up my morning meditation practice, as I do every other morning…lay down the blankets, take out the singing bowl, light the candle, pour the water, burn the sage, get my copy of the Tao te Ching….
When I knelt down upon those blankets and began to breathe, I could not help but acknowledge the great disparity between the world I am navigating and the world this man, lying under my van not 50 feet from me, is navigating.
Here I am, safe in a loved one’s home where just last night we gathered with another dear friend to observe the full moon. We read about the astrology of this moon and the energies currently at play, we meditated, we consulted a deck of fairy cards… we discussed abundance and manifestation and playfulness of spirit…we contemplated our crafts, our work, our dreams.
And here this man is, hiding under a stranger’s van.
My life is one of privilege. This is not some new revelation to me by any means. I am and have been very aware that many of the reasons I am able to live the life I live the way I live it is because I am white, male, and I come from a middle class family with two loving parents, all of which afford me many luxuries of safety and security that many others would not be afforded. And just to have the resources of time and energy and money and safety to spend so much time in contemplation and communal dreaming is truly a blessing unimaginable for many humans that are immersed in the suffering of our world.
This man under the van is one tiny example of how unjust a world we have created for ourselves to live in. People are not bad. We are wonderful creatures that have the ability to love and nurture one another and ourselves in beautiful ways. And yet, doing so has become a privilege in this world, even though it is our inherent birthright as earthlings and as humans. People turn to gangs not because some of us are bad or evil, but because gangs provides the safety of community when the larger community has turned its back, and community, in whatever form we can find it, is essential for human survival. People turn to crime and violence and hatred not because some of us are bad or evil, but because desperation arises and overrides our loving nature when our basic needs of healthy food, safe shelter, clean water, clean air, and strong community are unavailable to us.
Civilization as we have built it, in particular capitalist civilization, is not worth the side effects inherent within it. The suffering is immense. Violence against self, others, and earth…depression, anxiety, and fear…poverty, hunger, and sickness…greed, hatred, and anger…these are not the ills of society as we have come to see them, nor are they just a perpetual and inescapable part of the human existence. These are symptoms and side effects of the larger illness being our model of civilization itself, built upon the premises that we, man, are the pinnacle of evolution and all else here on this planet, and the planet itself, are simply resources that we own and have the right to do with what we’d like. This way of thinking has separated ourselves from Life, from ourselves, and from one another. These symptoms of suffering within humanity have intensified every year since this civilization model began about 10,000 years ago (if interested in learning more about this, please read “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn), as has the suffering of the rest of the community of life in which we are embedded.
This is not worth it. Of course we will always know suffering, and we will always be called to learn to be present with our suffering and the suffering of others, and to meet it with fierce compassion in order to alleviate it. But there are many other ways to be human, ways in which our collective suffering can be greatly reduced. We have been alive as a species for about 2 million years, in our current incarnation of physical and mental capacity for something like 200,000 years. We have only been living in this model of civilization for 10,000 of those years. We are sadly mistaken in thinking this is the only way to live as human, and that this is the only way to live in civilization. There are ways to return ourselves to the circle of life, to renew a mutually beneficial relationship with the planet and the ecosystem in which we depend, AND have the gifts of technology and comfort. We are at a point in our story that we have the ability to provide healthy food, safe shelter, clean water, clean air, and strong loving community for every human alive, and to do so within the boundaries of the natural order of laws. And the longer we fight against actively participating in this inevitable transformation, the more forcefully it will be thrust upon us, and the more intense our immediate suffering will be.
So to return to this moment…to zoom back in to the immediate here and now, where I sit at a computer listening to Pandora Radio, about to eat a bowl of granola (damn hippie!), I am more and more clear that first and foremost, our job is to cultivate and practice compassion, a compassion that grows and evolves and spreads into all the arenas of our lives, even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient. Especially when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient. This is the way we allow ourselves to transform. Eat food that has been acquired with compassion. Use products whose materials were acquired with compassion. Speak with one another, and with ourselves, with compassion. And meet every creature, human and otherwise, with a heart full of compassion that recognizes none of us on this planet are better or worse or more or less valuable than anyone else, and no one is more or less entitled to or worthy of a life of wellness and peace and justice. Not me. Not you. And not the man under the van.
Walk in peace and beauty tribe. It is the only way home.