I never thought of it as an issue… well, until now I suppose. I knew if I stopped or slowed down to create a dramatic story or to ruminate I would be stuck, more than likely covered over by drug addiction, homelessness and poor self-esteem. I’ve been willing to fall apart, but rarely willing to say I got bad deal or things didn’t turn out how they should have. I just kept moving. Today I realize that I don’t know how to receive. It’s not that never wanted to, but that life didn’t position me in this way. Growing up I had to take care of myself and often times I was the only one strong enough and compassionate enough to take care of those who needed support. When I was a kid my brother and I had to cook for ourselves or we wouldn’t eat. We had to protect ourselves because no one was going to come along to save us from abuse or neglect. We buried our roots deep into the ground so we would be unmovable. We learned to act as old oak trees, solid and self-reliant. By the time I was 12 years old I was institutionalized and often beaten, drugged, left in solitude and seen as a paycheck and not a child. We weren’t hugged or nurtured, but shoved through a system too narrow for any thinking, feeling human being to pass through. We lived behind walls and were invisible to the world.
At 18 I left my life of institutionalization to take my place as a homeless young woman. I had been reduced to begging strangers for money and eating out of trashcans. For hours, weeks, days and eventually years I would sit on Hollywood Boulevard watching red carpet events in the distance, being hungry, hopeless and ignored by virtually every person who walked by. The range of response to my request for change varied between people who looked the other way, people who avoided crossing my path and people who yelled things like “get a job!” Much to the surprise of the latter response I did manage to get a job, which was tremendously difficult considering that I had no clean clothes, address, phone number, alarm clock or shower, but ended up losing my job as a direct result of homelessness. One hot summer day while sitting on Hollywood Bl. I had what many would call a moment of realization. I was frustrated, destitute and my body and mind were tired. As the sun beat down on my face and shoulders and the hot concrete burned my butt and legs, my moment of desperation fell away as I let go of mentally struggling with my homelessness and I was left with a quite mind. I felt a strong pull and words that mentally formed in my mind saying, “You came here to know this and to help invisible people who are in poverty.”
In my own life of poverty I felt invisible and unloved and in my journey to care for those in poverty I realized that the most impactful form of poverty is that of a lack of love or to quote my teacher Amma, “In today’s world, people experience two types of poverty: the poverty caused by lack of food, clothing and shelter, and the poverty caused by lack of love and compassion. Of these two, the second type needs to be considered first—because, if we have love and compassion in our hearts, then we will wholeheartedly serve those who suffer from lack of food, clothing and shelter.” Shortly after my realization of purpose, with a great deal of grace and an incredible resolve I worked my way off of the streets with the sole intention to help others, not only to give resources, but make people who were otherwise invisible and unloved, loved and visible again.
I’m approaching 30 now and I am a single mother of two children and the founder of a non-profit, which supports orphans in India as well as people living in the slums of India. Much like my child self I am still strong and self-reliant and I seem to always play the role of the savior, mother, helper, giver, etc. Now my receiving is scared and timid, even from waitresses and massage therapists and I secretly feel as if I should be giving to them. Most days I still feel invisible and unlovable. I’ve used my life as an opportunity to be stronger, more giving, more loving and as selfless as I can be, but now I find myself in a flood of desire and curiosity to know what its like to receive. The phrase “you deserve to receive too” circles around in my mind and out of my mouth mixing with tears and mascara. I’m learning that it’s okay to be with this feeling and that I deserve to be loved back in the same way and to the same degree that I give. I can’t guarantee that I will meet someone who can love me like that and who can teach me how to receive, but I can make every effort to love myself and to be open to receiving love. I’m still a tall, strong oak tree, but today I want to be a vessel.