Sunday, August 15, 2010

To see one's predicament clearly...

On the first day of Sociology 105: Social Problems, the professor asked the class to write a list of social problems in our notebooks, then circle the most pressing one. When he asked for students to share their opinions, common answers arose like homelessness, unemployment, drugs, hunger. Everything was as he had planned until my hand rose and out of my mouth came something that turned heads:

"Uhmm.. sure. Yeah... mental health issues... that's good," the professor said, misunderstanding my remark.

I can't remember if I responded or not in the moment, but internally my mind raced. No, no. Mental health is something pinned on the individual. Alienation is a collective human experience -- one of the most painful and pressing of our existence. It's having countless ways to connect but feeling devoid of connection. It's existing cut off from our true selves, and therefore cut off from one another. It's believing that we're in this life alone and that our survival is completely up to us. As if we're not all going toward the same eventual end. As if we're not all hoping for the same things before we get there. As if we're not all present in this very single moment, capable of showing up for our own and each others big truths. Capable of making a better world to exist in.

The class moved on and alienation didn't come up for the rest of the semester. Years passed and I'd completely forgotten about what happened on the first day of Socy105 until I read this line in Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth:

Alienation means you don't feel at ease in any situation, any place, or with any person, not even with yourself. You are always trying to get "home" but never feel at home.

A heart-sinking feeling came to me as my eyes graced this line. My mind raced back to that day when I sat on that squeaky wooden chair and was quietly washed over by a feeling of alienation just as I tried to bring the very thing to light.

To this day I still believe that an inability to be present with one another is at the root of our social ills. There are cures and there are answers--things we each hold in our hearts when we slow down enough to listen for them--when we believe in our potential for progress and trust in Tolle's closing remark:

To see one's predicament clearly is a first step toward going beyond it.

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Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a story you might know, which seems to me to present the opposite of this alienation . . .

Rachael Maddox said...

this story just changed my day. thanks so much!