BootsnAll Travel Network

Epiphany Part Two:Being Courageous When Scared

Part of a three part journal entry…this is part two.

My dictionary defines courage as , ” The state of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self possession, confidence, and resolution;bravery.”

Courage, it’s a strange word, and when I think of it my mind runs the gamut from Ghandi to knights on white horses, waving banners. I don’t really generally think about being couragous in my every day life-and yet, traveling certainly puts one to the test. When you travel, you have to learn to find your courage.

Finding your courage. What does that mean?

Well, for me, it’s meant alot of things, these last few days.

It’s meant staying somewhere that has some uncomfortable aspects to it, and agknowledging that it isn’t comfortable.

It’s meant facing the fears of the unknown.

It’s meant being honest with myself that I am a little freaked out by being here, by some of the things I see and that I don’t have the skills to really process some of those things. It’s just not in my experience.

But I think mostly it has meant really stepping out of my own experience into the experience of others. This takes tremendous courage because you have to give up something of yourself to really understand how things are for other people.

People in Western cultures in particular, suffer.

In fact, I’m starting to think that people in Western cultures suffer much more than people in poor underdeveloped countries. Poor people may lack physical comforts and not have the grace of a long, healthy life-but people in rich countries are very poor spiritually and they are lonely as well.

Being here, these last few days, without as many people around , has given me the opportunity to meet and talk on a deeper level with the few residents and volunteers that stayed behind and did not go to the Festival.

More than once, I’ve had to gather up some courage from I don’t know listen to someone tell me all about their painful lifestory. I’ve had to gather up the courage to be strong enough to hear what have been some very difficult things to hear. I’ve had to gather up the courage to have some degree of self knowledge, of self possession, so that I was strong enough to hear their stories.

Why do you need courage to listen? Well, I think it’s because to be truly present for another human being takes a degree of self sacrifice we aren’t accustomed to-nor do we invite it. When you listen to someone else, it’s always thru the listening of who you are, instead of just from the act of generous listening without your identity. It sounds complicated , but it’s not. When we normally listen, we are always listening with our ideas, our thoughts on what we would do, on how we should advise. But the act of just listening-to listen, to give full attention to-that’s rare.

If you ever visited a prison (as I have) and talked with a rapist, or someone who did something violent, and needed to talk, needed you to listen, you would understand what I mean. That’s an extreme example, but it’s a good example of how far outside of our experiences other people’s realities actually are. And, how we risk our own realities by inviting new perspectives in.

It’s an act of courage to listen actively to another human being and give them complete love and attention for those few minutes or hours. It’s hard, because yourself, your judgements, they keep sneaking in, but you have to be brave and listen while knowing you are in unknown territory. You don’t get to fall back on what you think, what you would do, what your experiences are. You’re just there to listen, and while you are listening, your world view expands to include the persons experience, however temporarily, that you are taking the time to listen to.

Here, people haven’t done anything so violent-it’s more just discussions of painful pasts, without much experience of love of of being loved. It’s just stories of suffering, daily suffering, the kind we all have but that sometimes spirals into deep depression or a terrible sense of lonliness.

One man told me a particularly painful memory and then siad, ” Everytime I have told that to anyone, they have suddenly gotten up and walked away, and left me there. How could they leave me like that?”

I didn’t know what to say. I said, “Well, I won’t. Tell me more.”

So… I’ve come to some interesting conclusions at this point.

Life is really difficult for most people-and alot of people feel extremely disconnected and unvalidated in the world. People are tremendously desperate for love, for companionship, for understanding. But they are scared, and they lack the courage to move forward, to walk off the cliff, to go where they might be uncomfortable, to go into the unknown.

That’s what makes places like this somewhat popular. There aren’t alot of decisions to make about your life-they are made for you. And although you get to live in a somewhat utopian enviroment, you don’t get to think like a have to think a certain way, use certain language, follow certain protocol.

If you think about it, we’re all just barely managing in our lives-we all have days, weeks perhaps, that we’d love all the decsions to be made for us, just so we could stop thinking, feeling, suffering.

The past week has given many opportunities to really listen to people, in a way I never imagined that I could. The people here are all different, but being in such close quarters with people you hardly know causes strange things to happen.

People warm up to you unexpectedly, and suddenly you’re sharing cup after cup of tea, and it’s past midnight…

Or you’re out for a drive to go to the market and you get lost, and end up going on a country walk and listening to their lifestory…

Whatever it is, people will open up to you if you let them. But, you have to be in a certain state of mind.

You can’t listen to them if you are blocked by your own have to put all of that aside and find the courage to lose yourself temporarily so that you can really give them the gift of another human beings’ caring, no matter how brief. Its a little scary, but once you’ve stepped off the cliff, you have no idea how liberating it can be.

When I’m trying to be courageous, I’m generally being a lot more selfless.

And I like that, that’s a quality I need. Selflessness.

Because there are so many lost, lonely, disappointed, sad, depressed people..who are living with the pain of a solitude enforced by culture. And I see that, I feel that, so clearly now. I can’t help them all, I can’t listen to them all, I can’t do anything for most of them.

But there are a few that I can listen to, help out, and just be there for them, just for a few minutes, maybe a few hours. To do this this I have to be courageous, to put myself aside, to find compassion without the distractions of my own fears and my own sufferings.

I’ve been also speaking with some of the people here about this place-whats going on here, with this place itself and with the organization as well. This takes some courage because I am nervous to cross a line and discuss anything taboo.

In spite of the fact that there is much media coverage onon this organization and negative practices, it is surprising how little residents are aware of how they and their organization is percieved in the world at large. However, there is a general consensus that things are not as they should be for most people involved, and that some things are out of hand.

Most residents and volunteers consider themselves to be Buddhist practitioners, and don’t seem to be particularly well informed about other Buddhist teachings outside of the teachings of this group. This is because the Guru doesn’t allow any other books, magazines, or materials of any kind about Buddhism in the Centers (except the ones written by him).

All information given to the practitioners here conforms to the Gurus worldview, so when I ask questions, I get the same answers from most people. There isn’t alot of individual thinking going on as you would expect in a Buddhist tradition (Buddha was the one who said “Question everything.”).

It takes some serious gutsiness to talk about these topics, both taboo and otherwise. Things are a little freer right now because the bosses are gone at the moment, so its more relaxed and open-but not really open, just a little bit open.

Still, leaving caution to the wind, I’ve jumped right into the open doorway and it’s been a good thing. It’s started alot of deeper conversations about people’s lives and problems, and it’s teaching me alot about compassion.

Ah, compassion. I’ll save that topic for the next entry..



9 responses to “Epiphany Part Two:Being Courageous When Scared”

  1. Jim P says:

    Brillia–…amazi–…aweso–…, okay, there is no one word for this entry. I feel however, that it is such an important one that it will yield uncountable words. Important ones.

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