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I have been mired in material poverty for quite sometime now. I can say this from a point of privilege because it is the first time in my life where the reality of it has been so prevalent and pervasive. My privilege recognizes that there are billions globally that have suffered (and continue to do so) from material poverty to such a degree that I, even in my immediate lack of financial flexibility, could never even imagine.

With my personal, material poverty there also comes marginalization. This came up in my studies last night. Carolyn Kagan and Mark Burton (Community Psychology: In Pursuit of Liberation and Well-Being) talk about the disempowerment that comes along with marginalization and the effect that this can have on an individuals self-worth and self-efficacy as the cultural practices of “victim-blaming” get internalized and echo throughout the longevity of our personal struggle. “What is essentially a social and historical phenomenon is presented as a biological or an intrapsychic event” they noted.

The authors go on to talk about the factors of resistance and resilience that come out of the mud (keep this word in mind) of marginalization. On the one hand you have resistance and resilience that uses negative agents to transport one through the pain of being forgotten. This would include drugs, violence or forms of rebelliousness that are masks for a pain that is often hard to vocalize. Then there is the resiliency of gathering strength and commitment to find solutions, find new networks and positively move through the isolated psychosocial torment.

This, for the authors, is a preface for conversations around liberation and well-being. In their analysis, this liberation is the various practices that community psychologists can implement with the help of members of the marginalized population, community stakeholders, etc. to promote the healthy liberation of individuals out of the uncomfortable stickiness of marginalization into promoted well-being. Yet, what I have found on the track of my material poverty is a different kind of liberation.

Being on the outside of the movement of our socio-economic machine gives one a different perspective from when you are completely consumed within the dynamics of the socio-political operation. One of the things that is immediately relevant is that you become situated with a class of individuals that have been experiencing this marginalization for a looooong time and that intimacy/connection is revelatory. It changes the structure of your consciousness by stripping you of all of that you have known so that your vulnerable humility recognizes, “Wow … billions of people live like this.” When you become intimately connected/related with the vulnerable masses you have quite a different outlook on not only your personal life but on life in general.

The life that I had been attached to got all of the nectar squeezed out of it until the pain of that compromised position asked me, “What matters most?” Immediately I was able to realize, “None of that shit!!” The material prosperity that most of us are moving towards gets recognized as a facade that cannot hold a match in the face of what truly matters. So, what is it that matters most? For this question there are many answers, but for me it came down simply to – relationships.

This is where the impact of our existence is most felt … in relationship. This naturally implies relatedness and ones ability to relate. For me, and the transitional phase that my life has been on for almost 2.5 years, the one reality that I have been consistently faced with is transforming myself in order to help me to improve the depth of my relationships. It is difficult to do this consistently with the pressures and busy-ness of life within the dysfunctional operation of the unnatural man made word.

I get lots of time to sit; to sit and contemplate the aspects of my old life that need to be transformed and set the intention for the life that I am living consciously; to sit and look at all of my missteps to learn how to take better conscious steps; to sit and look from the outside at the inside of the broken machine and creatively imagine ways to scrap what’s broken and create something new.

This is where we are right now. We are at a moment in human history where we are tasked with the creating of a new, more sustainable world as this old broken one is blowing smoke and in need of replacing. This new world’s seeds of potential growth begins with our relationships with one another. Within those relationships we have to religiously look at what is preventing deeper connection, extract those dead weeds and replace them with greater self, interpersonal and community awareness.

This will move us from material poverty consciousness to awareness of the importance of our interrelated spiritual wealth and how to spread that wealth in such a way where we can work towards sustaining life on earth.

Thich Nhat Hanh says:

“It’s like growing lotus flowers. You cannot grow lotus flowers on marble. You have to grow them on the mud. Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate.

From this perspective. I’m grateful for my suffering … for the mud of my life (and all of its dynamics). It has made me a better person and will continue to. The question is, can the suffering of the world in which we live now – ecologically, economically, socially – help us get to greater understanding and compassion so that we can create a more sustainable reality?

It is up to you and I.