I wanted to share a personal account that was stirred up as part of an Ecosattva (like Bodhisattva for the suffering of the earth) course I am taking with One Earth Sangha, I hope it breaks your heart a little - in the profound way that Mary Oliver so gracefully names.
I left my career in the international non-profit sector when I burned out after spending 4 years living and working in Mumbai, India. When I think of my burnout, two big struggles I faced really stick out in my mind:
1) When I worked in Ghana I visited a slave port where they had a church built on top of quarters where they kept slaves calf-deep in their own filth while they waited to ship them off. I have a visceral stomach-turning reaction to this whenever I think of it. What is equally disturbing was my experience in India of this “ghostly slave ship” that still exists today. The community I worked with in Mumbai lives in filthy and polluted environments and recycles garbage, some of which is turned into plastic pellets that are then shipped to China and turned into things like our cellphone cases. We give someone a barely living wage and then stop calling the role they are allocated in our system “slavery”. We are so distanced from the realities of this when we make our everyday consumption choices. As gut wrenching as the image of a church on top of slave quarters is, it is more honest than the system we are ensconced in today. There is something direct to fight against and get angry and sick about. Today we don’t know and don’t see the hardship that lives behind our way of life.
2) Another huge emotional challenge for me in Mumbai was the extreme dichotomy of life there. I worked during the day in the slums and then in the evenings and on weekends was absorbed into a class of privilege due to my work position, the color of my skin and my educational background. I started to find huge divisions in myself that eventually became irreconcilable, leading to a mental breakdown. On one hand I was extremely intrigued by the ideas and potential found in the elite classes – I was more intellectually stimulated in Mumbai than even in my graduate program – but I had a hard time stomaching some of what I judged to be superficial and egoic aspects of that society. This was especially difficult, because I could not say “that is them” as I found these things to be in me – attitudes of entitlement and the hedonistic appreciation of privilege. What I found is that my internal struggle both cut me off from the population I was serving – out of guilt and shame – and from the social circle I was a part of – out of judgement, recrimination, and even self-hatred.
And so I broke down.
And in breaking down that logical and professional part of me had to give way to a more raw, real and direct experience of life.
I love the Mary Oliver quote about breaking the heart open. This is very much what I still feel on a daily basis – a rawness of a heart that has been broken open. And I thought that this made me weak. I mourned that I no longer could be the analytical professional I had been, because from a heart level I could no longer see people as statistics and quantify personal impacts and objectives with objective precision.
And I share this with you because I am coming to a new realization about the power and strength of the emotional tenderness I feel. I got a glimpse of this yesterday as I participated in a Peace Pole dedication ceremony. When we were asked to share what we were bringing to the dedication, all I could bring was my tears. As someone who is used to being eloquent, it was deeply humbling to be so caught up in emotion that alI I could share with the community was my raw emotion. But I now see that those tears were a necessary and powerful element of the dedication ceremony. They took the discussion of peace out of the clouds and earthed it into the reality of our hearts.
When we hold our hearts wide open, while weaving in our analytical understanding, we partake in a yogic path of transformation... an evolution of ourselves as conscious beings and together as a conscious world. This is a yogic path that Thomas Merton wrote much about, and lived in a way that can be a guiding lamp. I feel this transformation in me viscerally as parts of my emotional body and mental body are transformed through this internal struggle to hold “the more”.
And if I am feeling uncomfortable I know I am on the right path. To me this feeling of discomfort means that I am on my growth edge. It also is part of the process of creating a “spiritual metabolism”, meaning that life can throw just about anything at me and with a good “spiritual metabolism” I could process it mind, body, heart, soul in the most compassionate and profound way for the highest good of all.
So let us all break our hearts wide open, and take the next step towards becoming the wildly compassionate beings I know we are!
Wild Lotus Living is me, Summer Starr. Here I share my personal musings and resources on my own path of unfolding