by Connie Hunt
I have been typing constantly (over 30 pages) since I returned from the street retreat, feeling compelled somehow to record every detail of my experience, so that I never forget any part of it. As my internal processing goes on, I continue to have deeper insight into the entire experience.
Every time I drive down the street and see the snow, experience the cold, my thoughts go immediately to the homeless. Where are they? Can they find shelter? How is it that I don’t even know what the situation is in my own community? I must find out about what the real situation is, what resources are available, what is still needed, and how I can play a part.
I have thought so much about the fact that I wasn’t just playing or pretending to be homeless, but felt that I had actually stepped into the body of a 48-year old homeless woman, fully experiencing the physical as well as the emotional and psychological distress. Somehow the separation between them and me was dissolved, and I truly experienced what it was like to be homeless. I’ve been thinking about what Thich Nhat Hanh said when I heard him speak last fall: If I hit my thumb with a hammer, I don’t yell at it, and tell it that it is stupid, or that it should go get a job, or be different than it is. I just take care of it. I hold it, and nurture it, and help it. Because it is connected to me; as we are all connected. I have a bigger, deeper understanding now about that inter-connectedness of beings. There is no line separating us from the homeless, we are them, life has simply unfolded for us in different ways.
It broke my heart to watch that woman at breakfast on Thursday morning, she was so sick. As a recovering alcoholic, I know very well that it could have been me sitting over there, if I had made different choices, or had not been able to get sober. Later when I was talking to my husband about the lady in the parking lot giving out food, I told him that she was attractive, well groomed, middle aged woman, just one lone woman, and in describing her I said, it could have been me out there. And finally, when I was talking about the woman who snarled at me when I asked for a quarter, I had the full realization that I had done the same thing at another time in my life, she was me, too. All three of those women were me, just different aspects of me, there is no separation between them and me, we are the same, we are all connected.
Dissolving those lines of separation explains the lack of judgment I felt during the days and nights on the street. In the past, when I’ve been involved with groups and seminars or the like, I have noticed that at some point there is usually someone, or more than one, who is just a little bit irritating, that I have some kind of judgment about. Amazingly, during the entire experience of the street retreat, not one single judgment or irritation came up in me. Not about members of my group, not about any of the homeless, and not even about the people who would not help, as I easily recognized that they were just a reflection of the society in which we live.
I have given much consideration to what it actually was that I saw in the eyes of those who offered their help. I cried every time I saw it; it makes me cry now to think of it. They looked at me with the eyes of compassion and knowing. They know something that others do not know. There were also those who looked at me or past me, through the eyes of unawareness and indifference. It was pretty clear to me that there are those who get it and those who don’t get it (yet). Those who get it are doing the work (Mother Michelle, lady in the parking lot, volunteers, ministers, etc.); those that don’t (lady who snarled at me when I asked for a quarter) are wrapped up in their own lives, as yet still unaware.
In they eyes of those helpers – the eyes of compassion, the eyes of God. I hold the belief that as we heal our own wounds and learn to open our hearts of compassion, that the energy flows from the source, into us, then through us to others, and that energy heals us as it flows through us. In those people who looked me in they eyes, I saw the love of God. They are the ones who know; and now I know too, and will have to do my part. We are all one, we are brothers and sisters, and we must learn to share.