Friday, February 17, 2012

The Joy of the Little

Several years ago a group of twenty from the U.S. went to India in a program on Gandhian nonviolence. We met up with some folks from India and began the program at a teacher training institute named after Gandhis' wife, Kasturbai. We were only there a few days when we were told the well had gone dry. Although the school normally had many more residing there, in a few short days, western water users managed to drain all the water available.

In order to supply even more modest needs, forced by the circumstances, we took a bullock cart each morning some five kilometers to another well, where we filled a fifty gallon drum. This had to meet our needs, as the whole area was in the midst of a severe draught. It meant each person had a little more than a gallon a day for drinking, cooking, bathing and flushing.

I discovered and appreciated water in a new way. I had always found joy in swimming, in being immersed in a lake or the ocean. But here I found joy in a cup of water, poured slowly and carefully over a hot and sweaty body. Each drop offered profound refreshment as I realized this was all there was.

This experience with water so invaded my consciousness that when I returned home, I continued my Indian bucket bath tradition. Next to the shower I placed my gallon bucket and plastic measuring cup. Each day I'd get half a bucket of water, squat in the shower and appreciate the pleasure of a little. This went on for about a year before the convenience and ready access of a warm shower overcame my consciousness of the worlds' lack. I'm convinced westerners need an experience of the needs of others at least once a year, or the materialistic nature of our culture begins to cut us off from any experience of solidarity.

Fasting has had similar results. The first time I did a serious fast of three days, I realized why people said the poor were lazy. It wasn't laziness. It was lethargy, the result of being nutrition poor. When you don't eat, you don't have energy. When you don't have energy, you appear lethargic. So rather than understand the dynamic, as often happens, the victim is blamed.

A longer fast, of nine days, helped me understand the joy of the little. Starting to eat again, I was advised to start slowly. It never tasted as good! It hasn't since.

I call it the joy of the little. A little water, appreciated. A little food, not taken for granted. A little kindness, unexpected. A little love, in that most vulnerable moment.

Nonviolence is about the little, the everyday, done in solidarity with all the sentient beings. I have to keep reminding myself of this in a world of bigness, where big and important people do big things, and miss the joy of the little.

Carl Kline

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