“When we respect our blood ancestors and spiritual ancestors, we feel rooted. If we can find ways to cherish and develop our spiritual heritage we will avoid the kind of alienation that is destroying society and we will become whole again. We must encourage others, especially young people, to go back to their traditions and rediscover the jewels that are there. Learning to touch deeply the jewels of our own tradition will allow us to understand and appreciate the values of other traditions and this will benefit everyone.”–Thich Naht Hanh
When I was young I separated myself from the Catholic faith because I never could quite resolve, nor condone, its overt hypocrisy through practice. I found myself estranged from many family members because of this, along with the anger I felt towards them due to abuse I endured as a child. Those years of estrangement, ironically, when I carried no loyalty for anyone or any faith, were some of the most ungrounded of my life. My early twenties were wrought with drug and alcohol abuse, mixed with being a workaholic. While I had no desire to return to the church, nor to that part of my family, I needed a “home”.
Thankfully, I always had a good relationship with my mother and her unconditional love helped to keep me somewhat centered through those difficult years. After I found a yoga practice in my late 20s, my sense of “home” returned and I became (overly) attached to the safe feeling I experienced on my yoga mat. Then, in my mid-30s, I suffered a serious injury, ironically caused by the style of yoga I practiced. Not only that, but I felt like yoga had “failed” me. I was at a crossroads. Did I need to stop practicing yoga or did I continue to allow it to beat up my body? Instead of resorting to one extreme or the other, I decided to dig deeper into the study of Yoga and learn more about more than just the physical practice. This brought me to meditation, which helped give me the foundation to let go of old attachments and study my own karmic mistakes. I was able to acknowledge, and make peace with, the anger I had still held onto from my childhood. It allowed me to make amends with my family and forgive their past mistakes as well.
A little over a year ago, I spent a few months traveling around Europe, which meant there were a lot of opportunities to revisit the Catholic Church. I sat in one of those churches nearly every day and even attended mass at the Vatican. Most days, in each of the churches I visited, it was just me and a few other people who came to sit quietly for reflection and prayer. Surprisingly, these were some of the most peaceful (and often cathartic) moments I had had while recovering from a severe bout of depression. I had to laugh to myself that I found these moments in the church I had divorced so many years ago, of all places. While I have no desire of returning to the Catholic faith, the value of practicing sitting each day for moments of peaceful reflection was instilled in me and I finally felt whole again. I learned through practice that what Thich Naht Hanh intends to convey through this quote is most certainly true.
These little moments and pieces of our past are what we must root around and find, in order to reach a state of compassion for our fellow man. These are the gems that he speaks of. There is a certain amount of beauty in some of the rituals that faith-based traditions practice. The beauty of reverence and discipline and faith that is lost on today’s youth.
Presently, many young people lack empathy for their fellow man as we become more connected with our smart phones, tablets, and computers. In psychological terms, its a phenomenon known as abstractism. Hanh is making the effort to convey how he observes the youth of today are more disconnected than ever, not only from their traditions and culture, but from the human experience. Instead of having gratitude for the education and things they have been given and a desire to work to earn one’s worth, there is a pervading sense of entitlement that the world owes them a job, a big house and a fancy car. They fight more for rights to the material rather than the civil. And when I see videos posted on Facebook of a friend, a young girl, being sexually assaulted and then her friends making fun of her for it, I get the clear impression that they foster no loyalty towards their friends, or loved ones. Many lack respect for their family, or the foundation on which their heritage was built. To them, the Earth is as disposable as its people. They care for neither with any amount of compassion or kindness.
The more I sit and observe the world, the more I notice how quickly things move, how much patience we lack and how little tolerance we have. As a whole, we are ungrounded. Many people no longer seem to cherish soulful connections that were long rooted in the tribal and communal cultures of our ancestors. we must seek out and find these connections again, so as to create a sense of balance, of peace, and of home. We must reclaim these gems of knowledge so as to reclaim our appreciation of our fellow man and for the Earth. If we do not, one day, we will no longer have a place we can call HOME.