I couldn’t ask for a better dose of inspiration this morning then to work on compiling all of my notes, materials and recordings from the past 8 months of Awakening Coaching…and to finally write this blog post that has wanted to express itself for some time.
Some time at around this time in 2014, I was sitting on a stone wall in the sunshine of Cap-Haitien, in a courtyard green with palms and shrubs, a wall away from a busy street. Hot, afternoon haze, women walking by selling fruits, peanuts, soap and underwear, and stray dogs barking, motorcycles flying by and horns honking. I was visiting the office of my first host institution in Haiti; I had come there a year earlier on an internship. Now, I had a different job, but I was still in that area, keeping touch with the dear people who had first introduced me to their unique country. I had an afternoon off, or perhaps the week (I think in the Caribbean it’s harder to tell when you’re working and when you’re not!) and one of my favourite drivers had a moment free too. So, we had a chat.
We had always had good conversations, this driver and I. He tells me about his big family and extended relations. We both love the mountains and the Haitian countryside as well as the more festive and party atmosphere of the city. And we both enjoy driving. He’s just one of those people, those kindred spirits, that I can see eye to eye with right away. Every time we cross paths he embraces me warmly, as if I were one of his many daughters.
He’s a smart guy; he’s curious and an observer. That day, he got me going on a familiar topic: The how and why of the Haitians in Haiti dreaming a singular dream – get the heck out of their country and find a “better” life elsewhere.
“You know, people are people, so it’s not like it’s so very different elsewhere”, I began, “It’s love, life, work, daily activities, and people’s emotions wherever you go.”
“Your problems don’t just magically disappear when you leave Haiti (contrary to popular belief). Yes, these other countries are much more organized. Physically, they are more comfortable. There is plenty of electricity, water and food. You can get these things when you have some money. You can also rely on the police when you call them in an emergency; the systems work, the government is pretty stable and we don’t have political uprisings every week. Then again, I assure you, people in Canada, the USA and all over the world, have many problems of their own. Simply, they usually have problems of a different nature. People have depression, anxiety, they live in a lot of mental fear. They often feel very alone. Some people commit suicide, some young people too.”
Thinking back on that conversation now, it’s as if I were saying that a migration out of Haiti is a move towards freeing oneself from material-based problems and going deeper into thought-based problems. Like fighting less external demons and facing more inner demons. Point being, for most, the fighting continues.
We continued our talk. I was not surprised when I asked him, that a suicide occurring in Cap-Haitien is a very rare event. A once-in-every-twenty-years kind of thing. In this city bustling with activity, full to the brim with youth and with the adamant need for survival, no one is seriously considering taking their own life. Communities know each other, families interact constantly, many people live together in close quarters and privacy is an occasional concept. Then again, you never feel alone or separate. In general, people don’t struggle with existential questions of what they should or shouldn’t do – they simply do. When you’re poor, daily survival takes up a lot of time – getting the water, hauling it in buckets, making your food, taking a shower and washing the dishes all take more time and more logistical creativity. By the time you’re done surviving, it’s time to sleep again. The intellectual or the spiritual realms are rare treats, to be dabbled in perhaps, but for which there is little time left over and relatively few resources available. Sitting around and asking big questions is a luxury left over for the wealthy.
But do we, as the wealthy ones, actually take advantage of this luxury? Or, instead, do we set the bar higher for what is considered “survival” (an annual salary like this, a sizeable home like that, a nice vehicle) and continue in this crazy dance forever?
We as Westerners, live in a world of thought-based problems. Problems that can be argued are real (planning for retirement, choosing a career and doing our part to halt global warming) and that, in this very moment, for you, exist uniquely in your mind. As you are reading these words, you are simply here. You are hearing sounds around you, you are seeing shape, colour and texture in the images that are before your eyes, and you are experiencing sensations in your body. None of these experiences, of hearing, seeing and feeling actually take any effort or thought to occur. How often do we experience the present moment as it is? How often are we in our thoughts, thinking of a past we have a skewed memory of and dwelling on a future we can’t predict? And for what? One might say, to work hard now to gain the freedom for resting later. In my experience, however, this is simply not true, because constant doing and thinking are forms of addiction. If we do not practice being present with what is real now, today, we will not master it for later… and our mind will continue to create problems and introduce more fear regardless of whatever security we think we have gained. We will be caught in the endless cycle of surviving our mind’s increasingly inventive insanity. We will very likely change our standards for survival to continue the addiction we have grown used to.
Right now, some of us have a unique opportunity to live in comfort, in relative luxury, and to learn the nature of mind and connect with our hearts’ inner longings. I wonder how many of us are actually taking advantage of this luxury. I wonder how many of us are squandering this incredible gift.
Rest assured, I wonder this for myself also.