“I got it!” I was so happy that I shouted when I took this picture.
I had finally captured the experience of being in our van, speeding past endless scenes of poverty as we drove around Sri Lanka. We traveled the entire country in three weeks, leaving very little time for reflection, and I was glad for this souvenir of the way it all felt to me.
I came home ready to help. I’m traveling to Arizona soon, assigned with the task of writing stuff that inspires people with money to hand it over, so we can get desperately needed supplies to Sri Lankan hospitals.
A steady flow of ingenious ideas is the precious fluid that keeps people alive in these third world sickbays. In one maternity ward, where two moms have to share the single beds, more experienced mothers are paired with first timers, who can learn the basics of newborn care from their veteran bedmates. This leaves the harried staff free to react to the tornadoes of urgency created when illness swirls with dangerous penury.
I am hoping that these creative solutions are seen as a valuable side benefit for Western medicine, rendering our cause worthy of the extraordinary financial contributions required to move cargo containers filled with heavy hospital supplies more than 10 thousand miles.
I can’t wait to tell these stories. Writing inspirational copy that helps hard working people is my favorite activity in the world, especially in a gorgeous place with good friends. It is the best way I know to help anyone, with anything.
Sometimes though, it seems too easy. I wonder if I should be down there in the rubble with those children. How can I offer loving kindness if we never meet? Is it better to live with them in the streets, like a Mother Theresa of Sri Lanka?
For today, I’m going to remember the wise words of Bhante Sujatha. “Heal your wounded mind. That is the only way you can help. Meditate and practice loving kindness towards yourself. That’s what I do. I take care of myself. That is how I help others. ”
I think I am finally getting this. Without mindfulness, I can only squint at the world through my Western telescope, which tapers off in the cloudy pinhole of ethnocentrism. My monkey mind refuses to believe that those children are capable of helping themselves, unless I address my reaction as the problem rather then their circumstance.
In her recent dharma talk at the Blue Lotus Temple, Bikkhuni Vimala reminded me that poverty and suffering are not the same word. The children I pity were born into a Buddhist country, where respect, meditation and loving-kindness are the pervasive answers to most problems. In many ways, they are more fortunate than their Western counterparts.
As I practice, my self- observation skills improve. Right concentration is the solid shovel I use to dig through the dusty clay of consumerism, leaving a hole big enough for a clear pool of acceptance. Refreshed by this right effort, I see the truth. Those children and I are equally capable of being happy. The exit doors from suffering open when we change our minds, not our circumstances.
Skillful, unconditional love for ourselves, a side benefit of right meditation, is the people mover we need to change our world. It is my new best way to help anyone, with anything.