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The DK Foundation

The Ten Commandments of Everyday Living 7

Donate some time and effort to the world at large: e.g., pick up litter every day, feed the birds, put out water for animals, plant something – avoid becoming motivated by the gratitude of others and the expectation of reward.

One of the biggest causes of spiritual poverty in our daily lives arises from the consequences of not taking responsibility in those areas of life, physical and psychic, which because we share them with others, are not our direct personal responsibility. Nevertheless, we influence them as we move through them and they impact upon us as they form the backdrop to our personal lives.

We keep our own homes and gardens tidy but we view the street in which we have our homes as the responsibility of ‘someone else’.  Rather than pick up a bit of litter we expend a considerable amount of energy complaining about the filth and condemning those who do not share our standards.  Blame scenario results.  Litter is no longer a common problem created by the innocent wind and the sheer volume of packaging that food shopping generates; it is rather the malice of an unseen army of thugs who eat jam tarts in the street in the middle of the night and leave the packets behind.  This notion makes us feel vulnerable, and another bolt goes on the front door and the car windows stay closed.  And the business of sharing a planet becomes bigger and more oppressive.

If anything exemplifies the separatist mentality and sacral centre consciousness it is this rigid delineation between mine and others in our environment.  It is this mentality that creates the wastelands of modern life which then become seeding grounds for fear.

In England, now such a crowded island, we live forlornly in our few feet of expensive space, behind our bolts and security lights, nurturing the perception that others are invading us, and becoming more and more paranoid and more defensive.  We are like battery hens, crowded together and turning on and pecking each other out of mistrust and fear.  Such faith as we have has been invested in legislation, a state of affairs which resembles the imprudent enthusiasm of the physically fragile for rough contact sports. The more of life that is governed by legislation and coercion, the less time and responsibility we give to using our imagination and compassionate intelligence in meeting needs in that sphere of life which was once recognised as the community.

So we wait for the road sweeper to make his once fortnightly visit to clear up after the jam tart vandals have left packets in the road; we wait for ‘someone else’ to clear up the countryside through which passes our favourite walk.  As for birdbaths it seems that their function has become purely ornamental because they rarely ever have water in them, especially in the hot weather that has dried up puddles and ponds.  We wait for ‘someone else’ to report the case of animal neglect down the road or to tell us whether the old man across the road who has not been seen for weeks is dead or alive.

When this isolationist tendency is talked about publicly it is almost always done so emotively and upheld as evidence of indifference to the fate of our neighbours.  It may manifest as indifference and heartlessness but it is surely rooted in a sense of powerlessness.  We do not really believe that anything we might do could have any positive effect.

It is powerlessness that makes us fear to get involved in other people’s lives in case we cannot control the situation thereafter.

We make ourselves powerless by relying on legislation and rules to secure for us the standards and conditions that we want.  It does not seem to occur to us that if we expanded our sphere of influence and became more involved in areas of life outside of those which are obviously our own responsibility, then less of life would be ‘other’ and a source of threat to us.

Prove this to yourself.  Clear up litter in your street and see if over a period of time, it does not encourage others to be more proactive in this matter.  Show responsibility towards something in your locality which is obviously needy, and see if it does not encourage more constructive attitudes and a greater awareness.

As you are doing this, do not look for thanks, agreement or enthusiasm of people telling you that they are on your side.  That is not what it is about.  In fact the less of a big deal you can make it, the better; just take action unselfconsciously, secure in the knowledge that it needs to be done, and strike a quiet blow for intelligent individual initiatives coming from a place of responsibility.  As my friend Reshad Feild says, “Ours are the only hands that God has.”

And if you do overlook something and cause offence to someone, then apologise for the oversight and reassess your handling of the situation.  But break out of this timorous approach to life that means that we walk on eggshells past objects and situations which would benefit from our attention.  Our lives are sterile not because we are heartless but because we detach, fearful of getting it wrong and giving offence.  Trussed up in legislation, imagination and compassion wither.

My neighbour objects to the small flock of pigeons which collect on the roof at first light every morning.  She has not lived in the locality long enough to remember the time when these birds were looked after in a coop.  And she would probably not have a different attitude to the situation if she did.  When their owner moved away, these birds were turned out to fend for themselves and now live with a tribe of dumped animals in the nearby cemetery which is as close to their old home as they can now get.  I am concerned about these birds which once had shelter and which for years were fed twice a day but now have to forage for themselves, which is hard in the winter.  My young neighbour is concerned about her expensive car and seems to think that pigeon excrement has the properties of acid rain.  We have sorted it without drama and unpleasantness because she had the common sense and manners to approach me directly rather than grumble to the neighbours, and I respect her concern about her car which I know to be her most prized possession.  She and I have such different value systems we are never going to see life in the same way, but that does not matter.  What we have is enough: commitment to preserving the quality of the shared space, respect and responsibility, and a sense of empowerment.  I now take the food to the cemetery, even though I cannot get in because the gate was removed two years ago and replaced by an 8-foot wall adorned with spikes.

Take a risk, come back to life, put something positive into the space through which we all move, but which if no ones invests in becomes a wasteland.  When the business of sharing a planet becomes big and oppressive to us it is a sign that we are in trouble spiritually, because what we put out to the community is a measure of what our personalities, in all their variety, are offering to Soul.  

Suzanne Rough

June  2006
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