Just last week, I noticed one of my old habits creeping back in. The South African winter was on its way, I had no work permit and no work, and the little speech bubbles of my mind were telling me that I was pretty useless. I felt sluggish, depressed and unmotivated, repeating the subconscious message that there was no point doing much, as the autumn seeds you plant just lie dormant until spring. Quite forlorn, I was. Quite self-pitying, actually! Somehow I seemed to have forgotten much of what I’ve learned through my mindfulness practice. Where was that self-compassion I can feel so in touch with at other times? I tried to resist my feelings, analyze them, change them and when nothing worked, just succumbed to the sofa with my arms and legs waving in the air like a flipped beetle. This habit of mine is strong! What I have been taught, of course, is to accept whatever arises, both preferred and not preferred states, and to give feelings time to move through me, on their terms, not mine. Had I waited quietly, I could have unwrapped the great gift that this period of free time – my autumn bardo – was about to offer, without the pain of resistance!
On April 25th the earth shook – a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake. It shook, not under my own feet, but under those of the people of Nepal. A friend of mine was there, trapped in the mountains, and finally helicoptered out to join his wife and children. This was a story of reunion, but there have been many other – 8400 – stories of lives lost at the present count, not to mention the houses, ancient buildings, temples and monasteries. The remote villages have become totally isolated as vehicles are unable to access them. The world’s poorest have become even poorer.
Within hours of this news, the group of volunteers I had worked with 10 years ago when the tsunami devastated south east Asia, had reconnected across the globe, from the USA to Thailand to Vietnam, from Finland to Sri Lanka to South Africa. They had set up a website, a PayPal account, NPO status and developed a vision based on experience in Thailand, as well as the deep knowledge of Nepal and the needs of its poorest people. We were back in action as #WeHelpNepal. To date the group has raised almost US$200,000, mainly from individuals who contribute what they can, as well as larger movements, such as Avaaz. And these funds are heading directly to the people on the ground: Manjushri’s Helpers, the Yellow House Collective, the Health and Development Society of Nepal, the Rokpa Orphanage and others. These are the community-based organisations who understand both the short term needs of their networks, and will be around to help support their longer term needs as well, once the larger aid organisations have moved on. The tagline of #WeHelpNepal is “supporting locally-led, corruption-free Nepal Earthquake relief efforts so that your contributions fund need, not greed.”
Connecting both with the people who are suffering, and those who are on hand to provide support has shaken me clean out of my despondent phase, and back into a world where I believe in Buddha nature – the intrinsic good in every human being. I am using my free time to help field the stream of emails coming in through the website and to prepare updates of the work happening on the ground – the same role I once played in Thailand! Time and again I am reminded that when we help others, we actually create meaning for ourselves, and joy arises spontaneously. The Dalai Lama has reminded us of this truth on many occasions: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”