Hanging with Gandhi at the Beach
by muddy feet mama
I spent a few nights this week sleeping on the beach, meditating on three particular situations in my life. All three I’ve historically considered key elements of my future, and all three are looking pretty dubious right now. One has to do with my family – something I’ve blogged a lot about. One has to do with my farm, or rather the expansion of the farm, and the last has to do with my so-called political career. Three seemingly distinct endeavors with one thing linking them together – me. And when all three seem to teeter on the brink of obsolescence I can only look to myself for answers. What are the common threads, what are the similar relationships, at what time did I sacrifice my power to someone else? With the possibility of wiping the slate clean, am I able to create a future with my own best interests in mind – and what does that look like?
I was reminded over my mid-week reading that early-on, Mahatma Gandhi was a married man with kids and a pretty swanky law career. As a young professional he was a loyal citizen of the British Empire, one who thought himself to have a certain amount of political clout with the policy makers. He wore tailored suits. However, it was through his law practice – his public service – that he became radicalized, and at some point he had to surrender that supposed clout to continue his work as a humanitarian. Had he not done that I’m sure he would have died a decent man with a pretty-good pension, but because he renounced his earlier plans we have a world saint – and he saw the end of British rule in India. He says in his essay The Gita and Satyagraha, “Civilization, in the real sense of the term, consists not in the multiplication, but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants. This alone promotes real happiness and contentment, and increases the capacity for service.” Clearly one ‘reduction’ he saw early on was the egotism he had tied up in his law career. In hindsight it seems like an obvious choice, but I feel confident it was not. He followed his own self-realization through service to others, and at some point had to go it alone to continue forward.
In politics I find myself entangled not only by my own egotism but also complicit in other people’s ego-driven ends, often just through association. I can see how disassociation would free me and “increase my capacity for service.” Five years ago I can honestly tell you that I was called to serve, and considering the radical turn-around we’ve seen during that time I can only feel pride, but now my term of service is complete. I was considering another political position – one in which I could act as a watch-dog over this system, serve from a slightly more removed position – but perhaps Gandhi’s message is to seek a greater change. Perhaps it’s time for me to go it alone….
The expansion of my farm is also a conundrum, essentially due to the blind trust I showed in another self-serving person (I’m detecting a theme!). Fear of the future had me constantly desiring the comfort of a “plan,” and since I knew I had a future in farming – and a capacity for animal slaughter (sorry, Gandhi!)- I conceived of the Bone Yard (see past entries). On one hand I regret blindly trusting this supposed partner to keep my best interests in mind, but on the other hand I have yet again been offered the lesson of less-is-more – and in this case, before I really had to extricate myself from something messy. Again, my ego is involved. I had PLANS. I finessed relationships to realize them, and now I’m on the outs… I am less nervous about making money than I am about losing face. My grasping at hopeful strategies of self-support during Jay’s demise is understandable – I even feel compassion for myself in that regard – but again, it seems more driven by ego than actual, urgent financial need. As Gandhi asserts in the same essay, “How can one seek Truth, or cherish Love [both words for God] without fearlessness?…. Fearlessness connotes freedom from all external fear – fear of disease, bodily injury and death, of dispossession, of losing one’s nearest and dearest, of losing reputation or giving offence, and so on.” Freedom from dependence on the benefactor as well as the false-friend is probably best for me. It was my fear that drove me to depend on them. I do not need to excel at some fabricated business. What I need to do is – yet again – avoid being used by others as a means to their own end.
On one hand I see that I should redouble my efforts to serve, but on the other hand I must remove myself from the situations in which my service can be manipulated by others to their own ends. I must look out for my needs while serving the needs of others.
Sadly, I cannot see how service to Jay and the kids could have ended any differently. It is the one example of tonight’s exam that I leave as-is. I knew Erin was planning to screw me while I served my family, and still I welcomed her into my home. I chose the path of service without blinders, clear about her intentions and clear about my priorities. “Non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer, but it means the pitting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant.” Jay’s death was inevitable, but my response to it was not. My love for him and my kids cannot be undone, despite the “will of the tyrant.” Jay’s life and death with cancer was a catalyst for me – an exercise in fearlessness and love. His gift is my future. And like all saints, his message transcends his death. Clean Slate.