Last week, a couple of days before Amma’s birthday a friend was telling me about a group of people standing outside her window the night before. They were talking in voices that were louder than she was comfortable with and she wanted quiet so she could rest. She spoke of her internal voice expressing frustration and discomfort and the self judgments she had because her thought was that these people had come a long way for Amma’s birthday. She told herself that she was in her flat so what did she have to complain about, and to stop thinking that it was all about ‘me, me, me’, something along those lines. I imagined that along with wanting rest she wanted understanding and care for the people outside her window. They left shortly after she had these thoughts.
I contemplated on this after she shared her story. I know that there are many people who come from far away to be with Amma during these two or three days. Some tribal people walk long distances and have never before been outside their villages, let alone to the ashram. Most of them have very limited access, if any, to basic resources for housing, water, food, sanitation, clothing, health care, education. I can imagine them feeling exhausted and perhaps overwhelmed when they finally arrived at the ashram.
As i was having these thoughts, and imagined being in my friend’s situation, i heard a very small internal voice hesitantly speak up. “I am tired and I have come from very far and it has been a challenging journey. I want to have some quiet so i can rest. I don’t understand these languages. I feel irritated from being surrounded by so many people and such loud noises. It is really hot, i am tired and i want to rest. I feel overwhelmed!” I want to give space to this voice, to this part of me that wants to be seen and acknowledged, to be held with acceptance rather than banished as ‘wrong’, ‘selfish’, ‘privileged’. To simultaneously maintain my heart open to myself and others. To be with and hold my needs with gentleness and understanding; empathy and compassion. And from this fullness to understand and hold with gentleness the needs of others as well. To see our common humanity, our shared needs for comfort, care, and shelter. To look at, and acknowledge with gentle, loving kindness the ways in which i am privileged, and how this increases the options available to me for meeting my basic needs. To choose from this place of self awareness, rather than one of self judgment and shame, how i want to be and show up in the world, how i want to contribute to others, and how to live in integrity with what i value.
My learned behavior has been one of comparing, and in so doing to think of myself as not okay, as selfish, and even more painful is that i believe this. That it isn’t okay for me to experience discomfort about my own circumstances in the face of someone else’s hardship. In this instance i see my inability to simultaneously hold care and understanding for myself and others. When i hear about the hardships the villagers experience i compare my circumstances to theirs and i tell myself that what i’m feeling and needing is not important, that it doesn’t matter. In the moment that i deny my mattering, or the mattering of another i create a separation between myself and them. When i compare myself to another then one of us matters and the other doesn’t. Sadly, i have held a belief that it is not possible for both of us to matter simultaneously, and i learned to give up on me. And yet how can i fully care about another when i have given up on my own being? Who is left of me to do the caring? Is this not one way in which resentments are born?
I go to a place of judgment and shame. Judging myself as selfish and uncaring. I can see where this would be the result of being told repeatedly as a child ‘don’t feel this’, or ‘don’t say this’, or ‘what’s wrong with you?’ or ‘there is no reason for you to feel like this’, or ‘you don’t need this, she(or he or they) need it more than you do’…. and the list goes on. So what i learned and tragically have believed, and i doubt i am the only one who has this experience, is that i don’t matter, that my basic needs for comfort and care are not important, are not going to be met and that i am wrong for even having them. And out of this belief came shame, and the greater the longing the greater the shame. At times when i long for, or even experience love, care or companionship i feel my body contract, shut down in shame. I think that when we are in shame we deny the beauty of our needs. It is a denying of our Self.
In the moment i was aware of letting go of comparing my experience to someone else’s i was able to simultaneously value both our needs for comfort and care. That while our life circumstances are very different we share the same life serving basic human needs. And in this there is the absence of separation.
As i was walking through the ashram today, three days after the birthday, i found myself looking at the people around me. Brown people, white people, old, young, a myriad of dress styles. “We all have the same basic human needs.” I kept telling myself. I repeated this like a mantra while passing through the Indian canteen. I felt more relaxed, more at ease as i walked through the groups of people. “We all have the same human needs.” The sense of separation, of me and them lifted. I wondered what our world would be like if we were taught in school from the time we are very young what to me is this very simple truth. “We all have the same basic human needs.” Thank you Marshall Rosenberg.
I watched an old man slowly walk by. More like a shuffle. “Does he value ease, nourishment, support?”. An older woman was walking just ahead of me. Her white hair tied back. She was literally bent in half at a ninety degree angle from just below her waist. Her arms hanging down about a foot in front of her legs. As a result her height was half my size. “I wonder what it would be like to go through life bent over like this. How painful is it? Does she have support, care?” As i passed by her side i thought “She could be me, i could be her.” I felt the sensation of my heart opening, of inner expansion. A spacious, peaceful moment of just being.
In this moment i also want to imagine the needs of the people i find myself labeling as privileged because of how they dress, the size and type of car they drive, or house they live in, and where they live. I want to pause and let go of the habit of comparing, judging or evaluating. I long to consistently choose to come back to this place of “We all have the same basic human needs.”
This all happened around the time i was reading Spinning Threads of Radical Aliveness – Transcending the Legacy of Separation in Our Individual Lives by Miki Kashtan. I thank Miki for the insights and deepening of self understanding and acceptance that her book has given me over these past few days. Especially meaningful and transformative were the sections on “The Denigration of Emotions”, “Shame” and “Privilege”.
I am grateful to Amma who keeps inviting, tugging at me to seek understanding of myself and others.
Amritapuri, Friday October 3rd, 2014 9th day of Navaratri – Saraswati Devi