Monday, September 11, 2006

Coming home

I grew up in two worlds: Portuguese and American. I never felt completely at home in either world. I did not speak a single word of English until first grade. At home I spoke only Portuguese, and at school I heard only English. The feeling and thought patterns of these two worlds became locked up in separate language systems.

I felt uncomfortable whenever my parents came to school. I did not want my friends to see me with these people who spoke very little English. If one of my American friends came over to spend time at my home, my mother became very uncomfortable. Before long my friends stopped coming over, and I wasn't allowed to visit them. School became the middle ground and battleground between these two worlds.

We all live in many worlds. Some of us may be attracted to the transcendental, but at the same time want to live a worldly life. Many of us want to be free of possessions, but still have a beautiful car or home. Most everyone feels at some time that the "grass in greener on the other side."

The question "where is home?" is deeply important. I've always had two "homes". After spending time in either home, I would get an urge to go to the other home. At home with my parents, I wanted to be in school. At home in school, I wanted to be with my parents. That was the restless quality of my growing up in two different worlds.

At the moment of birth, separation from our mother's womb, we lose the most secure home of all. From then on is pure change. All humans eventually come home -- by physical death or by becoming enlightened or fulfilled.

Where is home? Being truly home is being centered in your real self - an inner center of gravity. Home is our own deepest center. If you don't find home within yourself, you'll keep searching for it outside yourself. Home is where we rest.

Home is where the heart is.

Monday, September 04, 2006

At home in the Park

In the spring of 1990 my business partner and I stopped at People's Park in Berkeley. We sat on a log among the homeless people. Some were cooking food. Others rolled around in the grass with their loved ones. Some smoked weed and some drank booze. Most dressed in rags, tie-dye shirts, jeans, long hair, short hair, leather jackets, and bare chests.

We were two businessmen sitting there with them—would-be land developers. Such was the power of People's Park to attract all kinds of folks. A worn-out looking Park resident came up and said, "What are you guys doing here? You don't belong here!" My partner responded, "We're people too!" We kept sitting. The long-term resident shrugged his shoulders, indicating we were okay. We had established our turf on a log.

Dozens of homeless people lived in People's Park. Eventually the University built a volleyball court, and pushed some of them out into the streets of downtown Berkeley. But the Park remains; people still live there. For nearly 40 years People's Park has been a symbol and a home to people who did not or could not live the "American dream"—all for different reasons. There's freedom there. It is a freedom akin to crossing the Frontier in a covered wagon. Dangerous, lonely, and alienating, but space and time are your own in a way that no mortgage payer or renter ever knows.

Some Park people refuse to live in shelters. They want the street. This is their home. Others were in complete misery. They were there because they fell off the edge of the housing market. Not enough money from odd jobs, too few friends and family, a mind slipping away from the stress of life, and no housing they could afford. A formula for coming to the street as home.

Some of my radical friends from 15 years back became disgusted with the Park. One noble liberal preferred to work for social justice from his antiseptic non-profit office, while taking offense at People's Park. He wanted those dope-smoking bums out. He was once a radical fighting the establishment—now he and his associates were establishment but they didn't know it.

I've had my moments close to the edge. Only my friends kept me from the street. My business partner had similar troubles. You owe it to yourself to hang out with the dispossessed. As the Depression proved, very little separates us from the street.