I'm fiercely independent. Always have been.
But in the last few years I've yielded more to interdependence.
Yet my first response about five hours into the tsunami aftermath was to feel utterly on my own. I'm screwed I'd concluded: I've got only this bathing suit and my Tevas and a gaping hole in my knee stranded on a wee foreign island whose hospital is presumedly (as rumors go) washed away.
Alone? On my own? I was proved wrong time and time again in the next 72 hours.
No one ever asked for payment. And everything was provided.
They handed their cellphones "Do you need to call anyone in U.S.?" They handed water. They found us clothing. And sandals. I still remember all the brightly colored sandals survivors wore standing in lines at the Phuket provencial hall. They suctured and stitched wounds round the clock. They gave you a floor to sleep on. Rides in their pickups wherever. Whatever.
I thought I understood Buddhist centers' reliance on dana, a.k.a optional donations. As a business model, it's a strange animal. The teachings are priceless so how does one intend to set a fee? Freely given donations develop a generosity of spirit. That's the theory anyway.
Dana...I now realize is a recognition of our interbeing. That I'm not alone. We're not alone. Separate but not separated beings.
My teacher says you know that you're in the right (spiritual) territory if you are terrified. To live as Mother Teresa where the donations just pour in without pleading, or Buckminster Fuller where he recognized he did not belong to himself but to the Universe, or Peace Pilgrim walking on rock-solid faith is horrific and, paradoxically, compelling to me.
To rest in the knowing that Life supports life is the expedition into the unknown. An expedition I've embarked upon. (Anthony de Mello says enlightenment is "absolute cooperation with the inevitable." )
I was thinking rationally the other day (btw, here's the most rational and compelliing donation model post I've seen, it's by Seth Godin): "This person-to-person fundraising model is a huge tactical mistake", I concluded.
On the other hand, what I found so remarkable after the tsunami was that so much of the aid wasn't only due to magnimonious mammoth institutions. It was inspired action by individuals galvanized to contribute one by one - knitters banding together even - and push their own governments to up their aid commitments.
As we talk, [Petra] Nemcova has been fingering her necklace, a chain of carved ivory and black wooden beads with a silver pendant encasing a small Buddha. "I was in the hospital lying next to a Thai man, and he gave me this necklace," she says. "It was probably the last thing he had, which he gave to a stranger. He said, 'It will protect you.' I never saw him again. - "Petra's Story", Vanity Fair, May 2005 (btw, Petra is the supermodel who clung to a palm tree and lost her boyfriend in the tsunami)
Maybe we're re-learning how to rely on each other. Okay, make that me anyway. Social media knits interconnectedness in a way other media cannot. I think that's what pulls me in. Maybe it's no wonder young folks are flocking to it too:
It's where you go when you need a friend to nurse you through a breakup, a mentor to tutor you on your calculus homework, an address for the party everyone is going to. - "The MySpace Generation", Business Week, December 12, 2005
I've entered a new chapter in my life. I've stopped looking for God* and started living God. I dipped into Stacy's bookstore while waiting for my new passport to be issued last Friday. On the way in, two titles jump from the display buttressed side-by-side. Winks from universe: Maybe a Miracle and The Myth of You & Me.
And one way out the door, this last title flashes bright from its cover: Consider the Lily. (Hmm, consider Matthew 6:28-34.) I do not make this stuff up.
Only two weeks ago this long forgotten passage from the miraculous Shakespeare in Love seeps back into my memory because a friend mentions a line about miracles in the movie.
Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.
- from the film, Shakespeare in Love
I don't know how it'll all be okay and, I forget, I don't need to.
It's glum envisioning my future as that homeless woman on Shattuck I gave money to two summers ago. My last five dollars in a time when I was scrounging for nickels to buy bread and peanut butter while I tended a friend's studio apartment in Berkeley. I'd never wanted for money ever in my life -- until the dot-com crash, business blow-up and divorce. I gave it to her because she wasn't begging. I gave it to her because her knit cap head was bent over her cart fully absorbed scribbling into a journal. I gave it to her because I saw a kindred spirit.
Her sparkling eyes as she beamed at me pierced through my myth:
The Myth of You & Me.
In truth I didn't think. I reached in and gave her the five bucks. The whys were layered later as justifications and explanations for inspired action. The movement happened of itself. Ultimately I was being trained: giving = receiving = giving. At times I observe (later) myself doing without thinking - automatically, spontaneously - and it works stupendously. Until I think about it and ponder, "Wow, how did I do that?"
Dana isn't about an exchange of value. It isn't about transactions between us. It's about what's fundamentally us.
It's the only 'business model' that comes even close to evoking the spirit of oneness in the company of others post-tsunami. Every case is different. I don't normally advocate dana. This is simply what feels right for this tsunami anniversary trek now.
I'm tempted. The urge is immense to scramble back to that trusty supply - withdraw from my 401k and rely on my own self. I've not enough, the tape replays. And if I did the expedition ends right there right then because interbeingness is denied. I'm back on quite familar and well-trodden and circular-looped territory.
I'm reluctant to say this out loud, but the tsunami anniversary trek feels like a leaning, an inner inclination, a movement to tapping into a conversational and engagement field around interbeing. Andrew Cohen talks about people coming together for a common purpose and it's my vision too:
When we create the right environment, by coming together in authenticity and transparency, new and higher structures will naturally emerge, and a force will come rushing through that cannot be contained. - Andrew Cohen
This is all eludes my capacity for words. What the heck is interbeing? I read the following in the May/June issue of Yoga Journal. It touched me then. And it's only since and quite certainly because of the tsunami that Alison's words have become undeniably clear and real for me.
Photographer Alison Wright was riding in a bus in Laos four years ago when a logging truck careened into them. Her injuries: Left arm shredded to the bone; her pelvis, tailbone, back and ribs snapped; her spleen ripped in half; and her heart, stomach and intestines shoved to her shoulder.
Opening my eyes I was surprised to see darkness had fallen. That's when became convinced I was going to die.
As I closed my eyes and surrendered, an amazing thing happened: I let go of all fear. I was released from my body and its profound pain. I felt my heart open, free of attachment and longing. A perfect calm enveloped me, a bone-deep peace I could never have imagined. There was no need to be afraid; everything in the universe was exactly as it was meant to be.
In that moment, I felt my spiritual beliefs transform into undeniable experiences. Buddhism had taught me the concept of 'interbeing', the idea that the universe is a seamless mesh in which every action ripples across the whole fabric of space and time [or better yet, whole fabric of consciousness]. As I lay there, I felt how interwoven every human spirit is with every other. I realized then that death only ends life, not this interconnectedness. A warm light of unconditional love encompassed me, and I no longer felt alone. - "Postcard from the Edge", by Alison Wright, Yoga Journal, May/June 2005
* As Stephen Mitchell (best translator of Tao Te Ching, imho) says, "There is no God when there is nothing but God.
p.s. Contribute if and only if the spirit moves you here. Contributions at $50 and over get a free copy of More Space ($24.95 retail value) from my author's stock shipped to you direct from 800-CEO-READ. (Author's stock basically means the entire $50 donation funds the live-blogging citizen journalism project as these are my own copies and 800-CEO-READ is generously kicking in free shipping.) (Besides cash, a loaner digital camera and MP3 audio recorder for podcasting is also on wishlist for multimedia blogging.)