“Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sounds. By such means, …awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world. If we get in touch with the suffering of the world, and are moved by that suffering, we may come forward to help the people who are suffering.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
In last week’s post I shared my song of gratitude for being alive, It’s a Gift. Today I feel gratitude for having cultivated compassion when encountering suffering in myself and those around me. In this story, clarity was realized only after allowing calm breaths to help transform negative feelings, brought on by dissonant words and actions, into fresh, internal spaciousness.
Out for a cycle on the gorgeously clear and warm fall morning, I ran out of water. Should have been more mindful about filling the water bottle before leaving. Several miles away from any store I decided to stop at the first place that could give water. Along that rural road there are several vineyards. Noticing a sign for a winery I thought to stop in. It had been years since I stopped drinking alcohol and last visited a winery. Inside several people were sniffing and sipping. The owners kindly provided me with a filled water bottle. I asked how well their grapes did this growing season. Was told it was a very good year with the extended warm weather. I asked about water, as this year is now the driest on record in California. The woman told me that they put in a deeper well, since over the last years it produced less and less. Now they have an abundance of water, so their hillside of grapes and landscaping is lushly green. She said the water table is down for many in this area. This is not surprising considering the drought conditions. I asked if she thought the deeper well might affect other’s wells. In this area there are many farms, and not so far away is a town which depends on well water. She said “maybe, but that’s not my problem. Besides, if they run out of water they can always drink wine.” My heart sank hearing those words, as it did not seem she was joking. I pedaled away grateful to have water.
As I rode I wondered how common is it now to have such a privileged attitude? It seems perhaps, too common. A cultural habit of acquiring land and using resources with minimal regard to karma, or the consequences of actions. Perhaps this is what we should expect when seeds of desire and greed are watered, nurtured and allowed to flourish through unwise leadership and inadequate regulation to protect and preserve.
I felt a need to be in the presence of people who seem closer to the earth. So before going home I stopped at the local Wal-Mart, which is quite busy in the parking lot. Sipping on my water bottle, I people watched. Many in this crowd seemed economically poor, disheveled, some more down and out
than others. No one looked too dressed up. Shopping where prices are said to be cheaper out of necessity. Brief hello’s and smiles exchanged I remembered that in my travels it has been the poor who have offered a deeper hospitality. Poor men and women who have next to nothing materially, yet still generously offer thanks to their creator, to their ancestors, to the universe, to loved ones and to strangers. Expressing a wealth of spirit, they did not live with spiritual poverty. I believe many of those before me could be so generous. I went home, then later returned with fruit and nuts from the co-op, donating them to some people I noticed, transient, maybe homeless, camping out in the fields near the parking lot. Cycling home a passage from “The Grapes of Wrath”, popped into my mind out of the blue. Amazing since I read that story of California hard times way back in a high school English class. At the moment it serves me as a warning, a mindfulness bell, to wake up to what is happening now, for a future to be possible.
“And the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on…and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” ~John Steinbeck