I’ve been fascinated by the diversity of people, their lives, and their choices since I left protected and sheltered cocoon of my parents house to work for a non-profit in Harlem, NY. When my best friend became a 50-year-old happy black ex-con my bubble was officially burst. I was raised in a culture that described a correct way to live. Both my parents worked to support our nuclear family. I was put through private schools so I could get into a good college, develop a stable and lucrative career, and raise my own nuclear family. This was my understanding of a success life.
My perception of life dissolved and was replaced by tidbits of experiential truth. My Harlem friend, Tony, was unemployed, homeless, helping raise his son when possible, and had no prospect of developing a life that fit into my “right way” but every day he brought a positive attitude and was happy with what life gave him. A middle school memory struck: While looking through the student address book I wondered, “Why do so many kids have 2 addresses?” My peers and I all had wealthy parents and were being taught the same “right way” but about half of them were coming from broken homes. Did they really know the right way to live?
This ballooned into a 8 year adventure to discover the true diversity of lifestyles, perspectives, and choices. Sometimes I would passively ask questions and observe. Sometimes I would actively try to help people get on the right path. Every experience was a wonderful opportunity to learn. My two fundamental lessons were that there is no “right way” to live a life and in order to grow people need to live from where they are. These lessons challenged me to realize the I wasn’t really helping anyone by trying to swoop into a new community and teach them how to live the right way. People needed to discover their own right way.
So do I just go back to living for myself developing a monetary career and only sharing my life with those with similar backgrounds and life paths? Am I doing just as much good staying out of the way of the worlds problems as I would trying to fix them?
Vipassana has taught me a new way to help that aligns with my lessons from the past. Simply, I can help develop a safe supportive community of meditators so individuals can look inside themselves and discover their own personal “right way.” This space should draw all walks of life so people can develop tolerance and appreciation for the diversity of life paths but focus on allowing people to grow from wherever they are at this moment in their lives. I’m sure there will be new lessons to learn from along the way but I think I’ve finally discovered a “right way” to help people. Maybe this is my right way.