My family calls me Pancho and even though some of you don't know me, I'd like you to know that I love you all.
Last Wednesday, people shared many beautiful and profound insights during the circle of “aha-moments.” When it was my time to share, anybody could have surfed the wave of collective wisdom that had developed by that point. After listening with attention to my fellow meditators, I saw how intimately related was the interaction I had had earlier that Wednesday with brother Matthews and the insights shared at the Kindness Temple. This time I shared a story about inner simplicity, kindness and wise farmers.
Inner simplicity, a place you have not heard of, we are what we eat and happy communities.
Also on Wednesdays, some of us volunteer at the Free Farm in San Francisco. At noon all the volunteers have lunch together preceded by a mini-circle of sharing where we introduce ourselves and give thanks for the meal shared and cooked by volunteers. We were holding hands in this circle formed by close to about thirty people when an energetic man in his thirties with dark black skin and with a huge watermelon (almost as huge as his smile) joined the circle. Everyone had already shared their names, so it was the perfect timing for him to say: "my name is Matthews."
When we broke up the circle to start ingesting the food, I felt pulled to his "electric feel" :-). I wanted to welcome him for his presence. But I was not the only one interested. He was already engaged in a conversation with two of the volunteers who have worked in the farm for many months. I noticed that one of my fellow volunteers was approaching Matthews with some sort of a presumptuous tone as if there was nothing we could learn from this man. While it is kind of a miracle that the Free Farm has become, in less than a year, a very productive piece of land, there are so many things we need to learn from Mother Nature in order to keep facilitating the grow of flowers, trees and healthy food, let alone how to learn to kindly treat each other!
Despite of this not-welcoming, inquisitive tone, brother Matthews remained calm. "Where are you from?" "I never heard of this place, where is that?" asked my beloved "experienced" volunteer brother who already forgot Matthews' name and later referred to him as the "black man." Calm and with a bigger smile, Matthews replied: "I'm from Malawi... you probably have not heard of this country because it is a peaceful place and we are not in wars. The [corporate] media simply doesn't pay attention to us." Then, with superb teacher's skills and an immense kindness, he went on and described the location of Malawi, using his hand as a map to describe the African continent. Matthews said, at the same time as he was pointing to the tip of his fingers: "Do you know where is South Africa?... if you go up, there is a country called Zimbabwe and another on the coast called Mozambique. Malawi is three countries up from South Africa." He continued, "Are you familiar with Madagascar, the big island? Well, Malawi is right in front of it, passing through Mozambique in the in-lad."
Our volunteer sort of appreciated the geography lecture, but got distracted. Little did he know that when he left, I had with Matthews one of the most enriching talks I ever had at the Free Farm.
Brother Matthews is a nurse and he is currently attending University of California, San Francisco. He is part of a larger crew that is taking a class on sustainability and permaculture, a class where the students will get engaged to volunteer in one of
the many community/project gardens in San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area. He is very interested in organic farming and he wants to share with us not only huge watermelons but the wisdom of his community back in the part of the planet we call Africa.
Always kind, always present, hermano Matthews told me that he felt sad and sorry for the "people in [the part of the Planet we call] the U.S.A. who are in their fifties or older, and yet they don't know how to cook, or anything about healthy food." As a nurse, he deals with a lot of these people. He said: "You know, in my community I don't remember a single time when we held a class about farming or cooking food because that is our way of life. I just took it for granted. I thought this was a common practice in most parts of the World."
Growing up in a community of farmers, Matthews made a statement: "we are what we eat." He has been around some hospitals in California where he had a revelation: "People wonder why they get sick when they have been eating chickens and cows and animals that have been mistreated and finally killed. All that suffering goes to the eaters. Also, some of the [immigrant] cooks are experiencing great pain for the ruptures in their families. All that suffering goes into the food too. It is not the same as if one cooks food full of love, a basic ingredient of any meal."
I mean, this man was talking "Wednesdays' language," and I could hardly contain myself to remain equanimous while letting the magic completely unfold from this being. I decided to keep learning from him. And what a class!
"A lot of people are eating all this junk food, and they are centered in individualistic activities that isolate them even more. That's why depression is so common in the U.S. As a matter of fact, in our language, Chichewa, there is no word to describe a 'depressed' person. We don't have a word for 'depressed.'"
He saw my surprised, happy, and intrigued face and, as if he had read my mind, he continued: "Yes, we have a word for 'pain,' and a word for 'sad,' but there is no word to describe a _continuous_ state of sadness. That's crazy!" "In our community if a person is sad, we all come together in a circle, prepare and share a meal, share stories and support this person until [s]he comes back to the [natural] happy state." This beautiful story reminded me of the documentary Children Full of Life.
"But we are starting to lose these precious traditions" brother Matthews said. "Now some people in Malawi are migrating to the cities and many of them want to adopt and mimic the Western way of life. Many farmers are buying chemicals for their crops to be more productive [in short term]. A lot of the land now is suffering from the pesticides and fertilizers used on the land. Not only that, due to this agribusiness now some farmers who have been doing this for centuries (if not for millennia!) cannot afford to farm any more."
When Matthews visits Malawi, he is recollecting some of the ancient wisdom as he asks the elder peasants: "How did you used to farm before all these pesticides and fertilizers?" Then he affirms: "Progressive people in the U.S. are doing these practices. Let's do it again! Let's start again!" :-)
This was the story of brother Matthews who, through inner simplicity, radiated kindness and touched the core of my being. Hermano Somik briefly mentioned in his comment the story of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, a man who formed an army of one hundred thousand satyagrahis—one tenth of one million love warriors. It is my hope to see the many Matthews of the Planet, and the many Khan Abdul Gaffar Khans of the Earth Community, to proliferate in small acts to listen to each other and to act nonviolently, for this is truly the weapon of the brave. I only hope that we all can learn the ancient technology of farming and of sitting in a circle to heal each other and to inspire each other as the "happy man with the big smile" did with me last Wednesday.
May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.