JOSEPH TIEGER Hello, and welcome again to Reaching Out, a seven-part series about coming together as a caring community.
If you've been with us before, you know that these television programs grow out of a course of town-hall gatherings hosted by Ram Dass in Oakland California, and attended by a thousand participants from the greater Bay Area.
Many people came seeking a way to help relieve suffering in our world. And many came out of a sense of isolation and despair, seeking to regain the capacity to feel and care and act.
Over the course of those meetings, it became apparent that, in a fundamental way, we all hurt. And it became equally apparent that we are all capable of caring about each other. Suffering, after all, is a part of each of our lives. It is one thing we truly all have in common.
The question isn't whether suffering exists, but whether we'll turn away from it--and let it separate us from one another--and alienate us from our own selves; or whether we will acknowledge it, together--and let it open our hearts, to ourselves and to each other. Now, Part Three of Reaching Out.
RAM DASS Is it possible within a cultural context in which there are so many dysfunctional paradigms--is it possible for people to sit down and....how do they get through that with each other?
JOANNA MACY I can perceive you as you might want to be perceived, and as according to the prevailing myth and ethos of our culture. That is, that you are a self-contained person who has it all together, and everything's just fine with you. We are encouraged to convey that kind of image. I have to see through the image, in other words. I have to look past the cultural persona that you wear so that I can trust that I can communicate with something in there that can resonate to what is in my heart.
People in this time experience suffering. We mask this suffering in our culture. So in order to make it a bridge for connection and occasion for love, I must look beyond the mask that you, not even deliberately...
RAM DASS I understand.
JOANNA MACY But it's just, you've learned since you were a kid to show this self-possession and lack of vulnerability. But the vulnerability is the gateway. The vulnerability is the door.
MARTÍN CANO All week I've been thinking about what happened last week, and how do we serve people that are suffering when we're not suffering, that are in disadvantaged positions when we're not in disadvantaged positions, when we have more of an education, when we have comfort and security, and we don't have to worry about where our next meal is coming from--how do we get past this difference in position that we have?
DAVID T. For me, I have to get away from the feelings of guilt, you know. And when I see somebody who's suffering, and I don't have that same type or that same depth of suffering, I can't help but--not particularly feel bad for them--but just somehow feel guilty for the position that I'm in. And that's something that I'd really really like to get over.
RAM DASS Tonight when we open the microphone, I'd like to ask us to practice listening--to observe the way the mind responds to somebody's story. And how it responds with judgment, with some way of distancing itself. Let's practice listening, and watching our own reactions to the things we hear and see. And let's see if we can quiet down enough to understand the way in which we are being in the presence of suffering.
MICHAEL Hi, my name is Michael, and I come specifically here to focus my volunteer work with the homeless. And I come as a recovering alcoholic who used to live on the street.
And how do you interact with people on the street? Who are they? Who is a street person? Is it just some bum--or is it you and I? When I was on the street, for my birthday a wonderful poet called Bob Randolph--I'll keep this very brief, I know there are many of us--came and read a poem to me, and I'd like, very briefly, to read it to you. It's called "What Can We Learn from the Homeless."
Imagine suddenly you are homeless.
How would you manage?
How would you get through the day when now you have eighteen cents and it's 6 AM?
Can you smile at anyone?
Can you say a cheery word to anyone?
Can you eat a balanced diet?
Can you write a love letter?
Can you call home?
What would you do if your one blanket is stolen?
Can you go to the toilet?
How do you shave or change your socks or handle diarrhea or bandage your finger or say hello to someone lovely you'd like to know?
Would you be alive tomorrow?
How do you have dignity? How do you have beauty?
These last I know.
You have dignity and beauty--
The dignity of survival,
The beauty of sharing a bottle of wine you shared with those whose pennies helped pay for it, to still their hurt, to still yours.
Your child years, your beautiful years, your survival years--all these tell of dignity.
They tell of your spirit, though soiled now.
Below the layer your beauty remains in the tree rings of your life.
The rich years.
The survival years.
It is the tree of your life.
That's from Bob Randolph.
KATHLEEN HOLLAND My name is Kathleen, and I had an extremely incredible opportunity to go and work with the prisoners in San Quentin. And what I was faced with was my own stereotyped conception of what these men were--represented--criminals and minorities; and just a whole set of standards and boundaries.
Before there was any contact between them and me, I felt real separate and very aware of my fears and my pre-conceived notions about who they were. And the minute I started asking them to share, and listening, just listening, a lot of those stereotypes just sort of vanished.
And the experience for me was just such a change in how I am with people, and what I take with me to people, and last week's whole subject about minorities and what separates us. It's just a matter of being with someone, and allowing them to share who they are, regardless of the situation, that they're doing time or they have done something wrong. It was really quite an amazing experience.
JIM WALLIS I think at the heart of all the issues that we all struggle with--homelessness, hungry people, refugees, people being bombed, as we speak, in war--what we've lost is a basic sense of solidarity with one another. Our communion with each other has been destroyed.
In my neighborhood a whole generation of young people is being lost to drugs and poverty and violence. We see kids shot in the streets every week. A whole generation of us is being wiped out. But white America doesn't see it that way. It's them. It's a crime problem, a drug crisis, an issue of urban violence, but it's we, it's us, who are being destroyed. There is no 'them' anymore. The world's too small for that. It's only 'we.' And unless we can re-establish our connection with one another, then we really don't have any future to speak of. The critical question is the re-establishing of that communion, that relationship, that solidarity with each other.
RAM DASS It's the words of a Salvadoran peasant woman. "I worked on the hacienda over there, and I would have to feed the dogs bowls of meat and bowls of milk every morning, and I could never put those things on the table for my children. When my children were ill, they died with a nod of sympathy from the landlord. But when those dogs were ill, I took them to the veterinarian in Sochi Toto. You will never understand violence or non-violence," she said, "until you understand the violence to the spirit that happens from watching your own children die of malnutrition."
JEFF I never have had any contact with people that have been suffering. I mean, I've participated in community service, but it's always, I've always distanced myself from other people. I've worked in the peace movement, I've helped in environmental projects, but I've always kept myself away from the people that really need me. And it's hard to know what's keeping me away. Guilt or...or just it's a new thing. It's a really new thing for me. And I hear all these people dealing with AIDS patients and people dying, and it just scares me. But I do, I do, want to break through it.
RAM DASS There's a timing in the process. And if you try to do it before you're ready, you do some violence to everybody involved. Because you get ahead of yourself. Your head gets ahead of your heart, and you close down. So trust the process that's going on. Trust that you're caring about the earth, and you're caring about things. Just keep that quality of the compassion of the heart. And just what you're saying now: that's the doorway to the next process.
Don't make it into a big thing. It's just another thing. It's just another thing. Because you're dealing with lots of suffering all the time. Family. Friends. Society. The political oppression. All the news. You're dealing with it all the time, all the time. So it's not like you go get a dying person--you know, rent a dying person--and then suddenly you're going to know suffering. [audience laughs, applauds] You can't...it's not a hype like that. Just let yourself open. Keep opening your heart and loving people more and more, and you'll become very aware of their suffering.
RAM DASS How would you talk to somebody who is afraid of suffering? Not their own suffering, although they're afraid of that, but they're afraid of other people's suffering. They're afraid of getting too close to it. How would you talk to them?
DAVID STEINDL-RAST The fear of coming too close to other people's suffering, which I have experienced, and strongly, is really, when the chips are down, a fear of your own suffering. So we come back to fear of our own suffering. So it is a matter ultimately of coming to terms with your own suffering.
And the Bible--the Hebrew Bible, Greek Bible--throughout uses only one basic image for suffering. It always stands behind it. And that is birth pangs. It is, that's the one image that is consistently used. It means there's something to be born when you suffer with the grain, you see. Now the suffering against the grain is totally barren and useless, and not only useless but destructive, life-denying and so forth. So you want to suffer with the grain.
RAM DASS Say that, the 'with and against the grain.' What does that mean? Tell me.
DAVID STEINDL-RAST There's a suffering against the grain. When suffering comes up in your life, when a situation comes up that calls for suffering, then you can either go with it, and you will suffer, but you'll suffer with the grain, or with the flow, or with the force. Or you can say no, no, no, no, no, and you're dragged along by your ears, but you're suffering as much or more because suffering cannot be evaded. It is part of life. But when you suffer with it, it will give birth within yourself to something new.
RAM DASS Don't you have to override something to do that, because isn't there a tendency to resist suffering?
DAVID STEINDL-RAST Resistance, yes, but that's the fear of life.
RAM DASS That's the fear of life?
DAVID STEINDL-RAST Yeah, because life implies suffering.
JOANNA MACY Suffering is not so much an invitation to minister, or to be the alleviator of suffering, as an opportunity for solidarity. And a solidarity, a connection, that would not otherwise have happened. And I bet a lot of you have experienced that in your work: that what people are most grateful for--have you noticed?--is not that you're alleviating their pain, but that you're noticing it, or that you're receiving it, or that you're being there with them.
ROB KRUGER I started my service. It was actually last night. I contacted the Berkeley Emergency Food Project. And I was a little shocked, like, "Oh, there's no real training or orientation?" And, you know, I was a little nervous.
And then actually what happened was they opened the door and all these people came in, and one of the volunteers there introduced me to this woman who was running the kitchen. And basically she kind of just took me under her arm, and talked to me for most of the evening.
And the thing that was very enlightening to me was that she kept bringing up, "Well, to do real good service work all you really need is compassion. And I just kept hearing that and going, yeah, that is kind of the whole...I guess I don't really need a whole lot of training. And as the evening went on, I helped with putting food out and actually interacted with some of the people there. And there was a wide diversity of people. And by the end of the evening a lot of my anxieties and fears had subsided substantially. And I'm really looking forward to continuing with this.
MARTÍN CANO What kind of fears did you have?
ROB KRUGER Well, I had a lot of fears. First of all I had some image of homeless and poverty. That, you know, I see a lot of beggars on the street. And sometimes I don't look at them and don't want to deal with them. And other times I do, and, you know, sometimes I give them some money. I've never really engaged them in conversation. So, I had some fears with how I'm going to deal with these people, and whether they would accept me or reject me.
And then also I think I had some questions about the people running the program. Like where were their egos going to be from, and whether they were going to boss me around. And how I was going to deal with that. Because I basically run an independent business, where I have a lot say in what I do, and I didn't really know how that....So those were some of the things, you know, the fears. But I think I was very fortunate, because this circumstance just...a lot of those fears were subsided--at least temporarily. I may have to deal with them again as the service goes on.
MARY BEATON I started my service this week also at Children's Hospital working with the kids who are waiting in the emergency room to be seen. Being a mother, of course, it's quite a thing to watch these moms come in with their children.
And there was one mother who had bruises all over her face and the child had bruises on her face too and a bandage. And I have no idea what the woman's life was like, but I knew that it was pretty horrible. And you could see the pain in her eyes and the child's eyes. And one of my first reactions was, "Oh no, don't look at that. That's too sad. You can't look at that. It will tear you apart from what you're doing." And then I realized that if what I could do was give her love, even from a distance, and just pour it out to her and just look at her and love her, and just feel--that somehow that could make a difference in her life--even if only on some ethereal level--but that...I don't know what else to say, but that it was just incredibly moving to see that and to feel that and to see that child. And also really sad.
And I didn't know what to do with the sadness. That's the part that I don't know where, you know, where do you go from there. You look at this and you see it. And what do we do with it? How can we help people in those situations?
ROBERTO VARGAS I have a friend down in LA who's living with AIDS. And, well, I guess a couple of years, two or three years ago, I was doing a lot of work with AIDS in San Francisco. I was involved with other folks developing a Latino AIDS Project.
So this man, Daniel, he's like a national Latino AIDS advocate, you know, advocating for policy resources. And so now he's ill. So I wanted to connect with him and take my family down and just sort of spend some time with him.
And, so, in a way, it was a very nurturing trip. I mean, you know, it wasn't like vacationing in some beach or something, but it was really nurturing for all of us. It got me in touch with how grateful I am for the experiences I've had now to be able to be with someone, and to be with them and not be scared of their situation. To be able to be honest with who you are and what they're dealing with, and just be there honestly and talk about, "OK, you know, how do we prepare for dying?"
And I guess for me it's sort of like a reminder that voluntarism...I don't know, I have problems with the word 'voluntarism' sometimes, and the like. It's just being--it's being human. It's looking for opportunities to be there for others. And it doesn't have to be others you don't know. It can be folks that you do know. I mean too often we don't extend ourselves to our own families, we don't extend ourselves to our friends. I know too many people who said, "Golly, I wish I would have related to this person before he died."
I mean, why wait? Just reach out. And so, I guess from a lot of working on the large projects--you know, organizing programs--now it's sort of like being more conscious of the small projects. Sort of like being there for someone. And it's a gift for them, and it's a gift for yourself.
LOUIS WYATT Just being in this group, I'm starting to feel real good about the people, the vibes, you know. And as I look around the ten people here I see these auras changing and that's really a good feeling. I really like that. So I feel a spiritual high when I am here, for some reason. It's like being intoxicated but not drinking, you know, or not having any drugs. It's a natural high. And I sort of like that. And I sort of want to dance the dance of life with you guys, you know? So that's about it for right now.
Sometimes it takes a rainy day
Just to let you know
Everything's gonna be all right
I've been dreaming in the sun
Won't you wake me up, someone
I need a little piece of mind
Wake me from this dream
That I have dreamed so many times
I need a little piece of mind
Oh, I need a little piece of mind
When you open up your life to the living
All things come spilling in on you
And you're flowing like a river
The changer and the changed
You've got to spill some over
Spill some over, spill some over, over all
Filling up and spilling over
It's an endless waterfall
Filling up and spilling over, over all
Filling up and spilling over
It's an endless waterfall
Filling up and spilling over, over all
Like the rain falling on the ground
Like the rain falling all around.
©1998 Choice Point