Yesterday a commenter responded to our critique of “saving Africa with yoga” with a simple, and presumably snarky, question: Who did you help today? [emphasis added]. Luckily for me, the question happened to be asked on a day when I actually did just get finished “helping” another person. But, man, was that a close one! Dodged a bullet there.
Truth be told, I think the word “help” is one of those words that’s gonna eventually be weeded out for other more nuanced phrasing. Like “server” for “waiter” and “multi-passenger auto-systems conveyor” for “bus driver.” Eventually, instead of saying “I helped someone,” we’ll end up saying, “I helped provide the environment for another person’s growth,” or “I co-created with my animal companion a space for healing.” And, you know what? I’m fine with that. The more we come to understand the symbiotic relationship we share with one another, the more phrases like “I helped him” will seem almost egotistical. “Oh you helped him, did you? And, what was his role? Passive receptacle of your transcendental wisdom?! Fuck you, fascist!”
Then again, I’ve been around this I’m-American-and-I-have-no-idea-where-to-put-myself neo-spiritual scene long enough to find myself already cringing when I hear newbs fresh outta Oberlin’s “Difference 101” referring to their Contact Improv class as “a circle for skill-sharing one’s knowledge base with student-teacher co-facilitators.” You know the deal. The same people who at twenty-six years old refer to that little four-year-old girl they nanny for as their “friend.”
Ah, but I digress. What I really want to relay is this wonderful quote on helping others by Naropa University and Shambhala Training (not Shambhala Buddhism) founder, Chogyam Trungpa, from (once again) The Myth of Freedom:
“The idea of helping each other is more subtle than we might think. Generally, when we try to help other people, we make a nuisance of ourselves, make demands upon them. The reason we make a nuisance of ourselves to other people is that we cannot stand ourselves. We want to burst out into something, to make it known that we are desperate. So we extend ourselves and step out into someone else’s territory without permission. We want to make a big deal of ourselves, no matter if the other person wants to accept us or not. We do not really want to expose our basic character, but we want to dominate the situation around us. We march straight through another person’s territory, disregarding the proper conditions for entering it. There might be signs saying Keep off the grass, no trespassing. But each time we see these signs, they make us more aggressive, more revolutionary. We just push ourselves into the other person’s territory, like a tank going through a wall. We are not only committing vandalism to someone else’s territory, but we are disrupting our own territory as well—it is inward vandalism too. It is being a nuisance to ourselves as well as to others.
“If we learn to not make a nuisance of ourselves and then to open ourselves to other people, then we are ready for…selfless help. Usually when we help someone we are looking for something in return. We might say to our children, ‘I want you to be happy, therefore I’m putting all my energy into you,’ which implies that, ‘I want you to be happy because I want you to provide me with entertainment: bring me happiness, because I want to be happy.”
Eh, but what does he know? He slept with his students. So, we should probably “boycott” him, right?
PS: I should say that I also don’t think people need to become enlightened beings before they can lend a helping hand. I think some people take Trungpa’s words above to suggest that you shouldn’t offer yourself to others unless you’ve purified your intentions. I don’t think that’s his thing. I say: 1. Check yourself. 2. Don’t be a dick. 3. Support if you can and in ways people in need suggest. But, be sure to get #s 1 and 2 down.