Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Optimally Situated Between Chaos and Order

This year for the Coldest Night of the Year walk I'm thinking about something near and dear to my heart -- suffering. Wait, what? Yes, suffering is near and dear to my heart. How can that be? I'll explain in a minute.

If you like things short and to-the-point here it is: People are suffering in our communities and you can help alleviate that suffering. 

Google defines suffering as "the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship." Other dictionaries talk about intense, debilitating, or unrelenting pain or agony. The folks who arrive at Samaritan House, Hirst House, Safe Harbour, or Crescent House are all in pain or distress, often to a degree that it is completely debilitating.

When they step inside, have something to eat, and feel welcome and cared for, their distress and pain subsides. This is the essence of my appeal this year: Sponsor me or Wanda and you will help alleviate the suffering of many men and women in Nanaimo and Parksville this coming year!

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

But maybe you think I'm exaggerating. Are these people really SUFFERING? This year ICCS agreed to operate the extreme weather shelter in Parksville and it has broken records for the numbers of days open and the numbers of people served. The 8 bed shelter has regularly accommodated 10 to 12 men, women, and youths per night and one night saw 14 people welcomed in out of the storm. Our executive Director, Violet, has been co-chairing the Oceanside Taskforce on Homelessness, and Michelle and I helped her set up the shelter. Oceanside is a generous community. The RCMP detachment raised money for the shelter; Downtown businesses raised money; churches and service clubs and individuals have come forward with cash to see the shelter meet the needs of the people who are out there in the snow and rain and cold without anyone to turn to. One woman wrote a cheque for $1200 for a washer and dryer, just like that! They do this because they see the people on their streets, they know that these folks are suffering.

I've been involved with ICCS for 21 years. I've seen new shelters open, I've seen affordable housing open, I've seen supportive housing and crisis housing and transitional housing open. With every new idea and every new project there is hope and enthusiasm. And it is not unfounded. I've seen how effective "Housing First" is in our community. But right now, tonight, there are 17 women booked in at Samaritan House (And Martha's Place) and more expected. There have been 22 different women accessing services at the shelter this month. That's 22 women without a home in the first week of February.

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

The word suffering comes from the Latin "sufferre" which is a combination of "sub"- from below plus "ferre" - to bear. When you suffer you bear it from below, like a ferry bears a heavy load of cars and trucks across a river. Sometimes suffering is seen as "allowing," like in the phrase, "suffer the little children to come unto me," or as in the negative form, "he does not suffer fools gladly." Suffering has this sense of something happening to us that is not of our choosing, something we can no longer hold off and that we must allow, or bear.

This is how it is for most of the people who stay at our houses. They don't have much choice in the pain they get. But fairly often I have people tell me these people should, "get a job" or "give up their drugs and cigarettes." They dismiss them as "sleeping in the bed they made" or "suffering the consequences of their choices." I explain that almost all of the people they are referring to have been abused as children, youth, or adults. They didn't choose that. Many have deep emotional or physical wounds from a variety of causes, usually causes outside their control. They were born with a disease, they grew up without any advantages, they were dealt a series of blows that they couldn't fend off. They are suffering suffering suffering. They may have made some bad choices, that is true. But saying that, saying that it is their fault, doesn't help at all. Not one tiny bit. It just adds to the suffering. What does help, is coming along side someone and helping them gain some courage for the road out of suffering.

Recently I heard Jordan Peterson lecturing about this. He talked about how we all need to be "optimally situated between chaos and order." We need enough order to feel secure and stable, but enough chaos to feel alive and engaged. See Dr. Peterson for yourself here, it is a pretty interesting lecture. The trouble is that chaos can overtake us if we aren't careful. He said that people who are homeless have profound levels of chaos in their lives. That is true, they have mostly chaos, very little order, and on top of that they have lost almost everything of value from their lives. Because when you are homeless you have lost your home and everything in it. People who show up at a shelter have lost their kitchen appliances, plates and utensils, furniture, bed, entertainment devices, and everything else except maybe some clothing, their phone, and their shoes. They maybe have a sleeping bag or a back pack, but that's it. The chaos has been so invasive that it has put them in very dangerous places where people stole their money or wallet, and with the loss of identification they often loose a sense of self. Stripped of almost everything.

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

Since just after Christmas I've been sick, first with a cough, then with a sore back, then with another full blown cold, then with a sore back again from shoveling too much snow. On two occasions during this long ordeal I was so miserable and tired I just sat in my favorite chair and prayed for the time to pass quicker so I could feel better. As I sat there feeling pain, anxiety, and helplessness, I thought of how fortunate I was to be in a warm house, in a good chair, with medicine, a loving wife, and a safe bed to rest in. I felt thankful for the food I had, the quiet, and the hot showers. I felt thankful to have lived most of my life in such surroundings.

Imagine feeling as sick as I did, and not having the nice home and relationships I have. Imagine feeling that sick and having to sleep in a tent in the snow. Or on the floor of an overcrowded shelter. That is what I was imagining.

When you or I or almost anyone has this insight, it changes things. It moves us to consider others, to open our hearts to the plight of people who did not choose to suffer, they only woke up there.

Above is a picture of my beautiful wife Wanda. She is no stranger to suffering. I won't tell her story for her, but suffice it to say that since childhood she had to bear physical and emotional pain she didn't ask for. She understands suffering. She has a big heart -- not just that snowy one she is holding. She inspires me with her loving, nurturing nature.

And that is the thing! We can all inspire each other. Suffering doesn't have to be the end of anyone's story. You can sponsor Wanda or me in our walk. That will really help. And it might help in ways you can't imagine. Who knows what the people we shelter and support will go on to do. People who suffer can go on to do great things. I suffered with anxiety for over 20 years. I'm recovering now. I finally found help. What worked for me was a whole variety of things, including Schema Therapy, non-violent communication, mindfulness, Stoicism, meditation, and hours of talking and thinking and processing with friends who were also on a journey similar to mine.

One thing I found that really helped is called the Welcoming Prayer. It is this crazy counter-intuitive spiritual practice that involves welcoming the things into your life that you want to push away. Therapists say, "what you resist, persists." and I find that to be true. If we avoid looking at the thing that is causing our suffering, then we will continue to suffer. Simple as that. But if we open towards the thing causing our suffering something strange happens. We gain courage, and with courage anyone can move forward. One of the next lines in the Welcoming Prayer says, "I welcome all these things into my life today, because I know they are for my healing." Strange as it sounds, I started to heal from anxiety when I started welcoming anxiety into my life. Into my consciousness.

Becoming the hero of your own battle with suffering might involve some of these lessons. You have probably learned some of them yourself. And here is the thing: when you become that hero, you do heal, and you do grow, and you do become a more thankful, loving person. Not perfect, and maybe not even someone with less suffering, but a person of character and impact. That is why suffering is near and dear to my heart.

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

Wanda and I have a new definition for mental and emotional suffering. We suffer when we "want things to be other than they are." Accepting the way things are is the first step, for us, in reducing our own suffering. The next step is to do something to address the physical pain, the recurring thoughts, and the situation that has contributed to the suffering. The long term solution to suffering is in our own hands, but boy does it make a difference to have someone in your life who understands and celebrates the little steps in confidence, the gradual increase in courage, and offers support when both confidence and courage lag. That is what our staff do each day, for all the suffering individuals who call our houses home for tonight, or home for few days... or months. You can support this great work.

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

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