By Jennifer Deisher
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
Here we are on our beautiful blue green planet, travelling through time and space, hurtling toward infinity. Whether we realize it or not, we are united by our humanity.
As we each begin to flow into our spiritual journey, we become aware of a consciousness beyond our rational 3D comprehension. We begin to question everything we think we know about life and reality. We de-construct the illusions around us, and come to a new understanding of our place in the universe and beyond. And this new awareness is both liberating and extremely confronting, all at the same time.
Perhaps things are not quite what they seem.
The Hierarchy of Needs
We can understand our most basic human needs, and also our higher spiritual needs, through the psychological tool known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs [i]. The bottom of the triangle represents our most basic physiological needs and the top represents our own Self-actualization or Self-awareness (which, not surprisingly, is represented by the “all-seeing eye” at the top of the proverbial pyramid.
A common belief is that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, and that our full potential is realized through the practices of love and empathy, and the Ubuntu philosophy. And that’s true! But we can’t ever forget that we are also human too. We have simple biological and emotional needs – such as food, water, and a sense of safety – that must be met in order for our very survival, and although there are a handful of spiritual ‘leaders’ in history who were synonymous with fasting and poverty, for most of us, we can’t even begin to understand our potential for Self-actualization or Ascension until those basic needs are met.
So as messengers of a new paradigm, our challenge is not just to focus on the development of ‘higher’ personal aspects such as creativity, self-esteem and self-love, but to embrace and support those whose basic (and therefore spiritual) needs are not fulfilled, and help them create the sense of security and belonging they need as stepping stones to self-actualization.
Rainbow Day of Love
My friend, Deb Augenbaugh, decided to do just that when she recently started the non-profit organization Rainbow Day of Love to help feed the homeless population in her home town of Denver, Colorado. My husband, Aaron, and I had the honor of volunteering with her start-up organization this summer, and what we learned was a real lesson on our spiritual journey.
We came out on a Sunday morning to serve breakfast and as soon as breakfast was finished the group immediately formed another line for the next meal. Lesson #1: The sense of insecurity associated with unfulfilled physiological needs is ever-present, and does not go away with just one full belly. The tragedy of this situation is that these peoples’ lives are being spent trying to provide for their most basic physiological needs – quite symbolically, at the very bottom of the pyramid. In other words, they spend the whole day meeting the physiological needs of food, water, and shelter, while the rest of us take such necessities for granted and, as a society, waste the very resources these people so desperately need access to.
That Sunday morning, we struck up a chat with some people after breakfast and heard so many personal stories – war veterans, parents, college graduates – all who have experienced great hardship but are still living to tell their stories. Lesson #2: Survival instincts are hard-wired into our biology, including own need for safety. We each share the same primal instinct to live, and it’s a most natural response to do what we need to do in challenging circumstances in order to meet our most basic physiological needs. And although we may at one time be surrounded by friendship, safety and self-confidence in our lives, our physiological and safety needs that begin to go unfulfilled (whatever the circumstances) directly impact our sense of self and belonging.
Lesson #3: When we let people know that they are valued with something as simple as as smile or a hug or a question, the uplifting affect that loving connection has on their life-force (and yours) is both visible and immediate, sending ripples out into conscious universe.
A Collective Problem
As spiritual messengers and spiritual beings, we cannot speak of empathy if we are seemingly at a level of Self-actualization looking “down” at the reality of others, and dismissing their difficult experience as “creating their own reality”. But in truth, this limited perception is not based on reason or actual experience. We are ALL creating our own reality – and that creation includes a social hierarchy which is competitive by design, and therefore exclusive (to some) by result. If we – humanity – are to ascend to a new way of living, the only way to do that is TOGETHER. And yet our collective tendency is ignore their situation, and in big cities, even step over them in the street. We look to governments to “solve the unemployment problem”, which is an inherent part of our economic structure, and moan about the takers from the “welfare state”.
Not exactly conducive to a sense of safety and belonging, is it?
In reality, the majority of people living in poverty are – like the rest of us – incredibly intelligent, talented, creative and often educated people who have contributed to society, and who today are forced to use their talents and creativity just to sustain life; to survive. And that’s part of the “tragedy” – with basic needs met, their intelligence and creativity could be an amazing asset to our society! But while our society’s focus remains competitive not communal, a sense of belonging and self-realization takes a back-seat to the necessities of life for many people, and our spiritual life-force continues to vibrate on “survival” mode. While people are held by poverty at this base level of awareness, there is little room in their reality for other forms of safety, love, esteem, or self-actualization.
As enlightened beings, we have to be willing to see through the rationalizations of “the homeless problem” and our fears and misconceptions of “the homeless”, and begin to see that they too are spiritual beings who are desperately in need of our love, understanding and support.
The Empathy Card
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Science is finally beginning to understand what many of us have always known; that we humans are soft wired with empathy [ii]. It’s in our genetics. When we say “soft wired” it means that it isn’t a reflex like a knee jerk or a flight-fight response, rather it’s up to us to consciously exercise and utilize our empathy ‘muscle’ so we can gain a better understanding of our collective journey.
The second of the Seven Universal Laws, the immutable Law of Correspondence, tells us “As above, so below; as below, so above”. [iii] This means that we have an individual journey and a collective journey, and they are interconnected and correspond with one another in infinite synchronicity; that our outer world reflects to us our inner world; that what we choose within, we choose without.
Will you choose empathy and compassion? Or judgment and inaction?
We cannot consider ourselves a compassionate, intelligent, creative race of people until we change our relationship with homelessness and poverty in our society, and on our planet. There is certainly plenty to go around. According to http://www.worldhunger.org [iv]
The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day according to the most recent estimate that we could find (FAO 2002, p.9). The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.
Harmful economic systems are the principal cause of poverty and hunger… Essentially control over resources and income is based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do.
As we confront the reality of increasingly harmful economic systems and government priorities, the social and spiritual inequity embedded in our social systems can seem near-impossible to overcome.
But it isn’t.
Real, lasting social change begins as an impossible creative spark in our hearts and minds, and manifests in our society from the ground up.
Don’t Believe It’s Possible?
For those who believe homelessness is an unsolvable inevitability, take note. Since 2005, Utah has reduced homelessness by 74 percent and is on-track to end homelessness by 2015. [v]
How did they do this? Simple. They gave homeless people homes.
Why? Because it makes good sense, even in our competitive economy-driven society.
The obvious benefit is that, by satisfying the physiological and safety needs of marginalized people, they can begin to focus on ‘higher’ needs and rebuild their sense of esteem and belonging. But from a purely economic standpoint, providing permanent housing for the homeless is not only more humane than our system of competition and criminalization – it’s cheaper. [vi]
Utah policy makers realized that the annual cost of hospital and prison stays for homeless people was around $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 annually to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So the state of Utah addressed the basis of homelessness by giving away apartments, and assigning case-workers, as part of the state’s new Housing First program. As a result, Utah is saving money overall, while allowing all residence access to shelter and safety, a place from which other needs can begin to be met.
So far, the program has proven so successful that other states are modelling future programs on Utah’s success… and all it took was some clear, creative and compassionate thinking.
The Essence of Ubuntu
Ubuntu is a philosophy originating in Southern African that means literally “human-ness” or “humanity”. The term is used to represent a humanist philosophy or ideology, known as Ubuntuism, which is based on the universal bond of sharing that connects all of humanity. In our society, which institutionalizes competition instead of co-operation, this idea can seem like quite a paradigm shift. But Ubuntu is more than just a lovely idea, it is the communal foundation on which many cultures are built, ensuring the base needs of all individuals are met and freeing them up to pursue ‘higher’ needs of creativity, problem solving and self-realization.
As consciously evolving beings, we understand that we lift ourselves by lifting others, and that we can’t begin to uplift our world and our planet if we are personally unwilling to empathize with and empower the people who are most marginalized, and whose connection to Self and Source is most hampered by circumstance. When we add the Ubuntu philosophy into the mix, along with our pyramid of needs, we see the much bigger picture. It is about more than just empathy from afar. Instead of just looking at our reality from our individual, albeit empathetic perspective, we must acknowledge our connectedness – that “I am because we are” – and be guided by that knowledge into actions that reflect it back to us. “As above, so below”.
I came across this quote from Shakespeare the other day which says it perfectly: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”.
We have been riding this wave of ascension for some time now, shining light into the shadows… and many of us are tired. But now isn’t the time to rest. Our collective awareness is expanding, and momentum is gathering.
When you feel that fatigue, look for motivation to those living lives of poverty and uncertainty, whose entire being revolves around providing their most basic needs for survival – and consider the kind of fatigue that comes with that. When you feel that tired feeling that all “conscious warriors” feel at one time or another, remember that “I am because we are”… remember the power you have to generate positive ripples of change, starting with your immediate world… remember that the spiritual ascension of humanity is a collective process… and remember that we don’t just begin to heal others through altruism, we begin to heal our society as well as those pieces of our Self that are asking to be seen through our mirror of experience.
Then, from this compassionate and open place, we can begin to find new ways to fulfill, uplift, and inspire one another – to “enlighten” each other in the truest sense. We can begin to hear each other and meet each other’s gaze, get to know what makes each other tick. We can begin to fulfill each other’s most basic, fundamental, physiological needs, and ultimately overcome the unnecessary suffering of poverty and homelessness – without waiting for our failing, unprincipled governments to do it for us.
So, next time your paths cross with a brother or sister in need, it may be time to see if you can get to know them a little better, and see what makes them tick. Homeless people don’t need our advice on how to get a job; they need food and safety, and a connection to others – the very first steps toward self-realization. But more importantly, they (and we) need a new social system; one that reflects our human oneness and better serves and reflects our commUnity. And in creating that new social model, the perspective of those homeless and disenfranchised people who live on the edges of our current system is invaluable.
We all have a very significant role to play in the conscious evolution of our planet. We have the capacity to break the pattern of our “reality” as we know it, and leave a legacy of love and inclusion for our children, and their children. But first, we must change the way humanity feels about itself, and to do that, we must be able to look ourselves in the mirror and see our shared humanity reflected back at us.
[i] ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ is a theory proposed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation“.
[ii] Ted Talks: “Jeremy Rifkin on the Empathic Civilization”
[iii] Tania Kotsos: “The Seven Universal Laws Explained”
[iv] http://www.worldhunger.org: “World Hunger Facts”
[v] http://www.nationswell.com: “Utah Is on Track to End Homelessness by 2015 With This One Simple Idea”
[vi] “Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities” – a Report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless
This article adapted for Wake Up World by Andy Whiteley.