Saturday I spend time with a dear friend and colleague who is a beloved elder and healer. Over a fantastic lunch, with a mountain stream rushing along beside her home and a decidedly autumnal rain falling, we talked about our long friendship and the challenges we have faced. The discussion was, in turns, playful and serious, and deeply nourishing. We are both in our 60’s and have seen our share of challenges, personally, and in the lives of our families and clients; perhaps as a result we agreed suffering is inevitable, as is aging, which often brings its own suffering. We also agreed that it is a relief to soften one’s heart in the face of suffering; being present to pain is also an integral aspect of healing work, both for self and others. (Often, I find paying attention to my own pain is much more difficult than being with the pain of others.)
Over the course of the afternoon we arrived at the topic of Greed. A difficult thing about living for sixty plus years is one sees the ways Greed catches people and makes for suffering. Sometimes it seems to catch entire countries; people forget that at some point in our lives we all suffer and need the aid and kindness of others.
Greed takes many forms. One I find particularly troubling is the tendency of some popular authors to learn something about the healing traditions of Native cultures, write about them, create workshops using them, then trademark the knowledge. Some of these folks even claim techniques they discovered in anthropological writing as their own. This is appropriation, as is the theft and patenting of traditional medicines; it’s just greed and suggests a deeper illness in a culture that allows it.
I used to believe that Greed arises from Fear, and sometimes it does. Then again, it seems to do fine on its own, finding many allies in its efforts to colonize our lives, and leaving much sorrow and suffering in its wake. Looking around our home we often say, “Sure have a lot of stuff”. Inevitably we give much away, only to find new things we “need”. I try to notice the various offers Greed makes in our lives, and I have to work pretty hard to limit its influence. Sometimes I do better than others.
It seems to me that Lack is, in Western cultures, almost as much of a problem as Greed. Folks often come in for aid because they live in poverty and are afraid. Too many young people live lives of desperation, overwhelmed by student loans and poor job prospects.; many elders face poverty. In a society that over values the accumulation and consumption of goods, having too little is particularly painful and shaming. Still, Greed encourages us to take ever more, even though consuming too much harms others and threatens to make the planet unlivable for us.
Greed is a very strong force in our world, as is Hunger. How often they collaborate to eat our hopes and dreams, and our children. These evils must be confronted. They are hardly all-powerful; the practice of generosity, kindness, gratitude, and joy challenges their dominance while enriching our lives. These attributes are good to consider and to cultivate; they soften our hearts, helping us to be present to the needs of others and ourselves. Tellingly, having a soft, pliable heart is seen by many Indigenous people as a positive attribute, even as the term “soft-hearted” may be used as an insult in the dominant culture.
We are all going to face suffering; pain is unavoidable. Recognizing this, we have the opportunity to recognize our kinship with all living thing: we all suffer. If we are willing, we can walk together, offering mutual aid and kindness, and removing some of the isolation that so often accompanies pain. May we walk together while we may.