Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blessed Agitation

"Sunshine and the Shadows"
-late afternoon in the desert-

Former President Bill Clinton, along with a variety of other "celebrity-types," are spending a few days in my little desert town of La Quinta here in the Coachella Valley. They are hosting the Health Matters Conference. 

In this morning's paper I read that one of the agenda items of the conference will be to call attention to the wide disparity between how people live on the western end of the desert as opposed to those who live in the far eastern end (the part closet to the Mexican border.)

The western end of the valley (where we live) is populated by well-educated, well-fed, well-housed people who live in relative comfort- some in downright opulence.  The western end is the land of sunshine- many tourists come here "in season" (especially to places like Palm Springs). Most of the western desert communities sport lush golf courses with beautifully landscaped grounds and flowering trees and flowing fountains. Tennis courts abound. There are lots of really nice restaurants, good schools, and supermarkets to meet everyone's taste. 

But, the more east (and south) you travel, the more you venture into the land of shadows. 

It all becomes pretty rural rather quickly out here - An hour from my house are miles and miles of vast flat terrain where famers and migrant workers harvest crops that will be sent out to tables across the country. In fact, while driving through the far eastern part of this valley, I have often marveled that such abundance could grow in such a harsh desert climate.

This morning's local paper pretty much summarized why this eastern valley is a land of such profound shadow and why a former president of the United States has come here to raise greater awareness of the plight of those who live and work there in the darkness. 

Many who live here pick vegetables by day but struggle to feed their children by night.

It is no exaggeration to say that this little part of the nation is one of the poorest regions in the entire country - people live in trailers and shacks, no lush golf courses or tennis courts here, no gourmet restaurants- hardly a supermarket in sight. 

In fact, "44% of the kids of the region (nearly one in two) do not know where their next meal will come from."

The story in today's local paper really got me agitated. I knew about that land of shadows only miles away from my sunshine home; I just didn't realize how bad it all was. 

As I sit in my garden and begin my day today, I can't get those images out of my mind. An hour away from me - workers toiling in the hot sun, picking the food I eat, while unable to give that same food to their own children who don't know where their next meal will come from. 

As I sit in the sunshine and reflect on that valley of the shadows, I ask myself how I can respond to it all.  In fact, like many people, I get very frustrated by the sight of such disparity and injustice because I simply don't know how to respond- what can I as one individual possibly do about it all?  

I know I can engage in all the typical solutions. I can certainly participate in contributing to local food banks, donating to charity, perhaps lobbying government officials to work toward creating greater equity.  - I can and I will.

But somehow this seems too easy. Make a contribution of time or resources and then back to my own life of sunshine and comfort - and so it agitates me. 

I suppose I can also pray for the needs of those poor people living in the shadows.  However, I also think this is too easy, it can be a real "cop-out."  - say a prayer or two and then plan the menu for this evening's nice meal and let God take care of the rest. So I am agitated.

And maybe that's how I can respond- maybe the best thing I can do (at least for right now) is to get worked up and agitated about it all.

In fact, the more I know about the disparity between this land of sunshine and the land of shadows, if I don't get worked up and agitated, there is something wrong with the spiritual path I am on. I am missing something. 

If I sit here this morning in my beautiful garden, feeling the golden sunshine, the calming breezes, the mellow sounds of the birds, experiencing a deep sense of inner serenity, but remain essentially unfazed by what is happening only miles from where I live, I am not walking on a spiritual path.  Rather I am sitting in a spiritual jacuzzi, and my spiritual path is little more than an exercise in self-help. 

And so this morning, I align my spirit with all those agitated prophets who throughout time have given their voices to speaking up on behalf of those who had no voice - Jesus, the Buddha, the fiery biblical prophets of Israel boldly advocating for justice, fighting for the the needs of the poor. I align my spirit with agitated prophets like Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr.  

I look out into the desert and in my mind's eye, I see them all standing there, raising their voices for the voiceless, and I put myself there along with them adding my voice to their voices. 

As I sit in my garden for my meditation today, I am not at all serene. I am agitated, "stirred up,"  frustrated and I am grateful for this "blessed agitation."  It is a fire that fuels me into doing my part to work for a more just society in everything I do.

May the sunshine embrace the shadows. 


  1. Being responsible for oneself is different from being responsible towards others.

    What is your responsibility towards those people without comfortable living conditions? Those who are hungry. Are you more responsible towards them, than towards others who are in similar conditions, simply because those are nearer to your residence?

    Your sympathy towards the poor does not necessitate action. The Buddha taught exactly the opposite of what you are describing. Feeling is one thing. Doing is another. One should do, when doing is right, regardless of feeling, or not feeling. And one must be aware of feelings, regardless if they are right or wrong.

    I admire your openness and sympathy. I admire your awareness. You should not force ideals on yourself, simply because you think others do the same. "When you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha."