(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)
I'm sitting watching the sun set, and thinking how I wanted to feel the air and see the light in Africa - would it be so different?
Yes and no. It reminds me of remote Montana or Canada in clarity and vividness - and yet there is something different. There's a heightened sense of isolation, of danger. Like, something bad happens out here and sister, you're on your own. That gives it excitement - but a wary edginess I can't shake, no matter what time of day, no matter whether I'm outside or in the mission house.
Maybe Maslow's layer of security makes us soft Americans, but displaying a tender heart is what Pema counsels us to have. Is poverty different in a Buddhist society? Although, things that are part of society here are not stolen - our iPods would be, but that neither the pile outside the clinic nor the bikes, bricks or lumber we see outside the Lutheran church for days are. So perhaps this is as peaceful a place - minus teachers with sticks, of course!! - as it can get. Or is it a detente of sorts? A recognition that you don't take bread out of a hungry man's mouth, even you're starving too - even if you're starving more.
I've also been thinking today, after the clinic experience, about my possessions - things here, like the little nail clippers I brought and just used, that work so perfectly for their one exact use - and things awaiting me at home, like the exact right clothing for a mood, for the weather, for a celebration or mourning at hand. And people told me, and I expected, to think of my possessions with awe at how much, too much, I have. But you know what? I don't think that.
I think... I'm so grateful to have what I do, and I have long been trying to value it all by only keeping things I love. I already work to implement rules. No continuing to wear something I don't feel great in. No more decor pieces I used to like, or was given as a gift and I feel too guilty to give to Salvation Army. No extras - we currently have only one set of sheets, a half dozen towels, no good china (just one set of dishes I like and use daily), no more clothes than can all fit into my closet at any one, single time (a full ban on seasonal wear that cycles in and out of storage!).
So I look around here at people who own so little and I don't feel guilty for what I have because I'm not unconscious about it. It's not wrong to possess an item because it brings joy or beauty or function or ease to my life. It is wrong, maybe, to possess an item I don't use, like, or enjoy.
So it hits me. I expected to discover totally new things on this trip - new realizations, thoughts, conclusions about human nature and history and spiritual life, revelations about the rest of my own life! But - that has - I think - universally not occurred.
Instead, all the revelations - the aha moments - and experiences and ideas here are connected to current ones. I see the through-lines of my own growth and spiritual maturation. What brought me here continues to be experienced here, and will continue when I get home. Everywhere I go, there I am. There's nothing new under the sun, or even inside me. All of the learning, here, is part of what I already wanted out of life, what I already seek - giving up control in order to be freer, calmer, more loving and compassionate and kind. Giving up rigidity in order to experience joy and surprise, to be present in the moment with gratitude. And, I sigh as I write this. It's so fucking hard.
I stop short here of saying "be happier" though because I don't pursue happiness, as a general rule. I don't use happiness as a yardstick to measure much of anything. I use novelty, excitement, especially accomplishment and completion, to judge success. When those line up, happiness probably follows. But I'm a terrible judge of putting happiness first - usually, I end up overeating, over drinking, oversleeping or oversharing, and the thing that was supposed to make me happy makes me bloated, tired, embarrassed or hung over.
Far better to use the other yardsticks, and far better to keep a continued, and ever-honed, sharp eye on my possessions as a tool to ensure this feeling of value, appreciation... real gratitude even in material things... is not at all out of place.