Some people say that after growing up in the country they would never live in a city or if they had to move there for work, they could not be happy…
I grew up in the mountains of Vermont and I don’t choose city life for the ‘fun’ of it or even for the opportunities. I love getting to know people from all over the world, but I am not here for the culture. I am here because of the people.
I have known a great contrast to streets full of vehicles, exhaust, noise and complication. I know how life can feel when surrounded by fireflies, star-filled skies and the smells of plants and grasses in the meadows. I know the cozy friendliness of a small town and the ancient feeling of swimming in fresh, wild waters. When I encounter natural beauty everywhere I go, it is a constant reminder for me of how deep and rich life is. In the city, although there is nature here and there and it is precious and very supportive, it is impossible to experience the fullness of being submerged in a mostly natural and partly still-wild environment. In the city there is a concentration of the toxic: there is the constant reminder of the de-natured human being nearly everywhere I turn. Yet I keep feeling moved to work and to live in cities.
Los Angeles was my first one after high school. I spent five years there and learned lots about the world, about people and about myself. I discovered that, under our exteriors, people are all the same everywhere you go. There are no ‘city people’ and ‘country people’: in truth there are only people who have become more used to one kind of environment or another. As a child I used to think it was outrageous when Fresh Air Children (a program where inner-city youth would get to spend time in the country with a host family) would come live with my cousins for the summer and they would be so afraid of things like mosquitos and bears. Yet when I went to the city, I was terrified of the subway, of getting lost and afraid of all the ‘strange’ people… it’s the same thing: a tension with the unfamiliar and the unknown.
Now I’m in Oakland, California where I find a sampling of all the things that are going on for people everywhere in the world: the illness and abuse, the lessons and avoidance, the stagnation and struggles, the internal suffering and the growing sound of a true call for something different.
I find my apartment, the parks and redwood forest nearby, to be absolutely beholding… And, with the support of the Ageless Wisdom, I have been developing a growing steadiness within myself. It is this second factor that makes it possible for me to handle what is going on around me without reacting (too much) and withdrawing like I used to do, which was painful, since I knew that when I was focusing on ‘what was not working’, going into misery and giving up on myself, that this then contributed to the very suffering I so hate in the world.
I now find a deep sense of purpose in taking care of myself so that I have the kind of fitness that makes it possible for me to wake up and go ‘out there’ being me and staying with myself.
What I see is that despite all the delay that comfort and distractions can buy for us, the turmoil and pain of not living life in a way that is true to who we are, leads people to call for something different. This is the point where people are more likely to instantly recognise something in another, seeing another way to be without getting caught up in the spin of life.
As one example, I have had people thank me when I get off the bus, simply because we have had an open, considerate, mutual exchange based on connecting. I wonder why this is not collectively seen as our norm?
I can’t ignore what is happening – the absence of true community, the plague of given-up-ness I see in people and how we are living that contributes to keeping it all going around and around…
What I see and feel when I walk down the streets of the San Francisco, (one of the country’s greatest tourist destinations) are daily examples of this devastation in humanity.
I’ve seen an elderly man cooking up heroine in a bus stop while a girl and her mother waited outside. I see individuals, and sometimes entire groups of individuals, sitting on cardboard and trash covered sidewalks, shooting heroine and smoking and selling all kinds of things. I have been offered many things to smoke and I have seen a long row of people frozen in the stupor of the drug they call spice (a dangerous synthetic version of marijuana). I have seen people urinating, masturbating and defecating on the busy sidewalks while business people walk around them to go up into the impeccable, yet flashy, corporate buildings… I have looked in their eyes too and I have not felt that they are much better off than those on the street…
I’ve seen multiple homeless camps around Oakland of varying quality. They are funded by many sources, including the Government, profiteering companies and charities, yet all of them are riddled with crime and violence, and so are perpetuating the self-defeating cycles the homeless people are caught in. None of these presented solutions truly deal with the cause of homelessness…
What I have learned in my life is that we need to truly understand what causes an issue before we rush to ‘help’ otherwise that ‘help’ may just contribute to the very thing we don’t like.
But what I have also experienced is the many daily examples of what is possible when I connect to the true beauty I find in the eyes of people when they are reminded that they are so much more than all this mess.
For example, recently a disoriented young man that wandered into my place of work and started having seizures. By simply remaining present with him while the medics attended to him, looking into his eyes, covering him with a blanket and holding his head, – focusing on the care and respect for him, I was able to offer a true connection that was not laced with sympathy. On another occasion, a young woman walked onto our campus, looking very dishevelled and barely able to hold a cohesive conversation. She became argumentative when she was advised she was trespassing. By simply holding the understanding that she was disassociated from her body’s senses, walking with her for a while and chatting with her quietly, this offering of true connection – again without judgment or sympathy – enabled her to calm down while we accessed the support she needed.
All of this confirms within me my resolve and commitment to never again withdraw from life, giving up on being me in this crazy world. I understand now how that guarantees that I join and contribute to the illness, psychosis and suffering that I so hate to see and feel happening for anyone. I know what direction I am going and what I want to contribute to this place while we are here.
I have come to know that it is my quality of presence that makes a difference. I see such immense, otherworldly beauty in the faces of people when they catch a glimpse, a reflection, a reminder of who they truly are…
No matter how convincing the illusion of our smallness can be, no matter how pain-filled our existence can be when not accessing the greater aspect of who we are, we light up from within when we are reminded of the same powerful quality that lives within us all. When we meet someone who is with themselves and shining, despite living in the same world we do, we can be reminded of something more true than the reality we have personally fallen for and collectively created.
The more I come back to what makes sense to me, the more alive I feel. It feels both natural and truly lovely to be more ‘with myself’. I have more access to what I’m feeling and what I know deep down. I can sense how interconnected we all are, and I’m able to offer the best present anyone can give or receive and that is simply me, a true presence; my presence in the city.
By Jo Elmer, Safety & Security Advisor, Oakland, CA, USA