Poverty has several meanings, several problems, and several faces. The usual meaning, in an affluent society, refers to the lack of economic stability. The usual problem, that I witness too often, is judgment of those who are poor, in other words, blaming the victim. The faces of poverty, however, that get sorely overlooked, include poverty of the heart and poverty of the spirit.
Through 30 years of my life, regardless of a mere subsistence income through most of this time, I have discovered abundance in so many other ways. The people with whom I experienced this abundance have not been affluent. Counting myself among such folks, we live very modestly, yet beyond the worry of poverty, while seeing our purpose in life as something different than the accumulation of money.
Other individuals whom I have known had more visible indicators of poverty. They lived, regardless, with reasonable grace and forms of generosity that are not related to money. These folks experienced some if not all of the circumstances that I next identify.
Aside from the silly arguments that I endured among (mostly former) more affluent friends who quibbled about what “real” poverty actually is, here are a few starting points in an affluent society. These circumstances include: too little money to cover basic living expenses without debt; development of health problems triggered by the stresses of poverty; diminished self-confidence, and dignity; and financial inability to get needed medical treatments.
I recall a particular friend, Darwin, who fit most of these circumstances. Lack of money would have terminated his life sooner had I not intervened. I did not loan, but gave him, several thousand dollars to get life-saving medical treatments.
(This donation came from the sale of a house, after a marital break-up, not from my limited income. I believed, however, that I never would need to worry about earning income, unable to prophesize today’s hidden yet widespread unemployment.)
Darwin had AIDS. I knew him in the mid-1980s, when people afflicted with this disease were horribly discriminated against, marginalized and, as well, in Canada unable to obtain the types of medicines then only available in the United States. My donation enabled Darwin to travel there several times to attain the life-saving medicines and go to AIDS conferences, to gather knowledge in order to stay alive.
Let me tell you why I helped Darwin. He numbers among special friends who have blessed my life, because of their courage and spiritual commitment to choose the road less taken – the road that mainstream society usually passes by – to contribute to the well-being of the larger world and to advance the evolution of human consciousness.
Darwin had worked as a librarian. As an avid reader, he discovered his passion – books focused on spiritual insights and phenomena largely marginalized, and sometimes disregarded altogether, by institutionalized religion. Through time, Darwin began to accumulate editions of such books, rare and out-of-print.
He quit his day job, to become a collector and seller of such books, but not targeted at making profits. His vision was to place such books into the hands of individuals who cared about the spiritual content, and also market them to selected library collections where such books could be preserved for fellow seekers.
How and why we met became the basis of our friendship. Darwin saw a feature story that I had written on the Religion page of The Toronto Star about the discrimination against Aboriginal spiritual elders, who were not being recognized as legitimate spiritual chaplains by the Canadian prison system. In the story, I had outlined the yuwipi ceremony and the reasons why it was misunderstood.
Darwin already was familiar with the yuwipi ceremony. He had taken his mother to such a ceremony in South Dakota, seeking to cure her cancer. Darwin believed doing so had extended her life. He therefore contacted the Religion editor to find out how to reach me, as a `fellow traveller’ respectful of Aboriginal spiritual healing practices.
Thus began an intellectually stimulating, and spiritually uplifting, friendship, during which Darwin and I would share many hours of philosophical conversations. We spoke about our respective, direct experiences with the spiritual dimension, and also what he had discovered in his voracious reading of numerous books.
Darwin’s ancestry was Irish, as is mine. Originally focusing on ancient Irish beliefs, he then added the exploration of Indigenous spirituality. What he discovered were many parallels between pre-Christian Celtic and Indigenous beliefs.
His discovery fascinated me, and further encouraged my chosen path to build cross-cultural understanding between Euro-Western and Indigenous peoples. My quest, in turn, has been to heal the fractures in Western cultural consciousness in order to renew the holistic perspectives essential for restoring inner and outer human health, and learning how to live respectfully on the earth again.
Most significant to Darwin in his subsequent travels to the United States, after being diagnosed with AIDS, was a second trip to South Dakota. He participated again in a yuwipi ceremony led by Frank Fools Crow, a medicine man and also a Ceremonial Chief of the Teton Sioux. Fools Crow gave medicine to Darwin to bring home, medicine that Darwin felt enabled his life to be extended a few years longer than the prognosis.
I will speak more about Fools Crow in a future blog post. For much wisdom resides in Indigenous culture that needs to be better understood and appreciated, especially traditional spiritual insights and medicinal knowledge of Indigenous people, globally.
My chosen role as a messenger to build cross-cultural understanding never was easy. But the most valuable pursuits in life are never about what is easy. My professional work – vocation, really – began in social justice and continues on a path to shift human consciousness.
In that pursuit, tapping the inner wealth of the heart and the spirit requires sacrifice to discover, and even begin the journey to understand, what really matters. A moment arrived, however, as a totally self-supporting storyteller, confronted by increases in the cost of living but no increases in freelance journalism fees, when my writing livelihood ended (although my work continued to be published, intermittently, for some years).
I began graduate studies to change my direction, ultimately hoping to teach part-time at university, which would enable me to write books, and also raise money to produce documentary films. I did create one film titled Soop on Wheels, a life story about Everett Soop, who illustrates the tenacity of the human spirit, and who became another spiritual friend.
Everett was a courageous seeker, who fought three types of discrimination – as an Aboriginal person, as a truth teller through his political satire and, even among his own people, discrimination because of his physical disability, muscular dystrophy.
Indeed, Everett opened my eyes, poignantly, to the fact that, among the attributes and the possibilities that the human family holds in common is the need to develop much more compassion toward each other – within all human cultures as well as across cultures.
So, here’s the thing. Storytellers like me, oriented toward truth telling, since the 2008 economic downturn, have found it even more difficult to pursue the professions of investigative writing and serious documentary filmmaking. This situation is serious, and has several causes. I will examine this issue at a future time, because it relates to the diminishing of freedom of expression to which many people are oblivious.
As for our most important spiritual teachers, always know that you find them precisely where, and when, you least expect them to appear. Meanwhile, never, ever, take freedom of expression for granted.
I do not see myself as a spiritual teacher. I am, however, a truth teller who offers to open doors to your awareness by introducing lesser known truths and truth tellers whose love, wisdom and generosity inform us about what is essential to create a world worth living in.
In recent years, I still feel blessed by abundance, although I seldom have found paying work, despite all of my credentials. In fact, lately I now have descended to the list of circumstances by which I identified poverty above.
The abundance, regardless, resides in: receiving love and generosity from caring friends who believe in my life’s work; making spaces in my life to discover the beauty and delicacy in the multitudinous forms of Nature; and awakening joy and inner peace in the ongoing pursuit to deepen spiritual qualities such as gratitude, compassion and more.
How else can I speak of what really matters, unless I authentically walk on this road less travelled? Yet, my sincere wish is for more people to find it and develop a highway as we journey together to co-create a more caring world.
Donations to my blog will help me continue my contributions here as one helper seeking to inspire a new humanity.