Friday, July 18, 2008

Sacred Life Sunday on Friday: Weekend

In a recent conversation with someone, my thinking was reframed. I saw something differently than I'd ever seen it before and in its own weird way, may be the answer to one of the things I've grappled with for a long time.

Whether you call it "fellowship" as the Christians do ~ or "sangha" as Buddhists call it, we all need community.

Community isn't something that western culture does well. Statistically, people like me who are divorced, middle-aged and without children, often find themselves horribly alone in the world. To varying degrees, I've definitely felt the effects of it. After a week or two of what seems like vast emptiness, I begin to feel depressed and hopeless. There's also a certain shame attached to it. It's not something that can be openly discussed with others because the automatic assumption is that I am simply unworthy of companionship. (This is a global statement ~ that is assumed about anyone in the same position, not just me.)

I admit to engaging in some blaming. If only the culture was different, I wouldn't be feeling this. If I was in Thailand, it wouldn't be this way. If only people I know would be willing to make a bit more effort and be a little more thoughtful, I wouldn't feel this way. If only....

An offhanded remark by a friend in Thailand, someone whose perceptions I trust beyond measure, completely changed my mind on all of this.

He said, "now that you know how you suffer, it is your responsibility to make sure others don't suffer similarly."

The truth is that I have resources some people in my position don't. I'm rather fearless about going into new situations and am also generally accepted whenever I do. Since I have a strong personality, I usually end up in a leadership position in most of the things I do. Looking back historically, that's just the way it works out.

That isn't true in corporate situations where I find my light dims to nothing. That is because of the dynamics and the ethics involved. I would be unwilling to give my energy to that kind of effort. Historically, I have not done well in those situations and if anything have felt totally repressed. On the other hand, in volunteer activities ~ those with a social service focus ~ I've done very well.

Most recently at the wat, it took about a month for me be appointed to a leadership position.

I suspect this all has to do with being in alignment with our passions, the things we really care about. I couldn't give more than a spit about commerce.

Back to the topic - isolation - I began thinking about what I can do to make sure others don't suffer similarly.

I decided to engage the wat in some interfaith volunteer activities. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that most people either work full time and can't give any of their time and/or a language barrier, I am the logical one to do the work. I began to look around for volunteer opportunities that would be consistent our values and at the same time, provide a way for the wat to get more public exposure.

Even though I will be the one doing the work, it is the wat that will be listed as the contributor.

The first thing I found was a dinner for the hungry offered by a Catholic church that is less than a mile from my house. I can walk there. I called and asked if they could use a volunteer to help feed people, clean up or serve. Naturally, the answer was 'yes'. They never have enough people.
They serve once a week on Wednesday evening. They typically draw a few hundred people. The volunteer requirement is a commitment of two hours a week, doing whatever needs to be done.

That's not the only opportunity available but it is the one I've chosen initially. I know my own limitations and can't have too many commitments without the risk of burning out. My health issues are a legitimate concern and I don't want to commit to things and end up not living up to it.

Twice a week will be my initial limit and it will expand as I determine it is possible.

This seems to be a step toward alleviating suffering that I have experienced. This is a very sound principle in my opinion. If you suffer in any particular area of your life, do something to make sure others don't suffer similarly.



heartinsanfrancisco said...

It is very true that helping others provides the best way out of our own loneliness and depression.

I think that we experience the feelings we do so that we can recognize them in others and in so doing, help to alleviate them. That is probably what suffering is about. We are not being punished by a vengeful god or just "unlucky." We are being given an opportunity to grow and to fulfill our own purpose, everyone's purpose, which is to free others from suffering.

womaninawindow said...

Brilliant. Simple and brilliant.

Nicole said...

This is a wonderful entry! Volunteering is one of the best things that's ever happened to me. I teach English to adult immigrants, and I makes my heart sing to do it. I hope you have a similar experience. :D

Carla said...

We all can change the world, all it takes is baby steps. It is true that if we have suffered in certain ways we often develop more compassion. I also thing that we gain more by giving than receiving. It gives us purpose.

Anonymous said...

That's great! I'm so happy that you found something close by and reasonable. I've been a bit disappointed lately that, because I have to find child care and can't, I've had to forego my volunteer activities, or I can't even get started because there are so many hoops to jump through.

Olivia said...

What a great idea, Chani. Let us know how it touches you, and how you grow...peace to you for contributing in this way, More blessings, O

Sorrow said...

it's always what you can, where your at...isn't it...

we_be_toys said...

I think choosing to volunteer to help others is a wonderful way to put positive energy back into the world. I hope you have fun and meet some great people.

JBelle said...

Easing the suffering of others sounds like a very active measure of healing. A very sound principle. My guess is that this experience will be one of the richest of your life.

The New Mom on the Blog said...

Hey girl, I just mentioned what I am soooo-not-going-to-let-history-repeat itself few days ago....

if you had read my 17 July post on 'A Heavy Heart' would have known that I am making sure my kids don't suffer what I went through!

STanghkanaurak said...

I wish you the best of luck with your chosen volunteer work. There can be no suffering where there is love.

BlackenedBoy said...

You're taking a good approach to this. Your idea if well-founded on two fronts: it will help others and help you.

Loneliness is something I often have to fight. For me, getting a job has gone a long way to helping with some of that.

Sienna said...

"now that you know how you suffer, it is your responsibility to make sure others don't suffer similarly."

This is amazing, I get this, I struggled to find the words explaining this over the weekend doing some work with disadvantaged kids and the network support group.

What a beautiful phrase, statement.
Thankyou Chani.


Anonymous said...

I think it takes an active effort to maintain community now. I have to seek it out and resist the normal desire to just be on my own.

Anonymous said...

I think it takes an active effort to maintain community now. I have to seek it out and resist the normal desire to just be on my own.

Molly said...

I used to be shy as a young person, but forced myself out of it. Because of my own experience of being a loner and often lonely I find myself drawn to the underdog, the one sitting alone. And I always get as much out of the exchange as they do, if not more. For all our fancy communications systems we're more disconnected from each other than ever. We have to make an active effort to connect. Some of my best friends are people I struck up a random conversation with and found a kindred spirit. I hate to think of what I'd have missed if I hadn't reached out. Good luck with your volunteering Chani. You'll be helping others and will be enriched yourself.

Brandi said...

I love your friends perspective. To be honest, many of the ways I donate my time or money or whatever are to try to alleviate a suffering that I am familiar with.

but I've never thought of that as a purpose-in fact, I felt sort of pathetic for it like maybe I was trying help someone to 'fix' myself in a second hand sort of way. Damn, that's harsh isn't it???

thank you for this post. You've helped me see that I what I do is beneficial and not selfish

Girl on the Run... said...

Chani what an inspiring post. I myself have often felt lonely and your friends words ring as loud through me as the Metropolitan Opera on opening night.

I know that sounds a bit dramatic but it's true. "now that you know how you suffer, it is your responsibility to make sure others don't suffer similarly."

Wow! I am writing those words in my day journal and would tie a string around my finger if only to help me not forget. WOW!

Thank you for sharing!

All the best,M

PS. All your kind words to me over the past months are exaxtly the sentiment of this post. Thanks again.

hele said...

Your willingness to move forward once you have made a realisation always fills me with pride at our shared humanness.

You rock :)

slouching mom said...

fantastic, chani.

i can't wait to hear about what you find there and how you process it.