When traveling in Kenya way back in 1975, I was humbled by a gentle man with a disarming smile. He lived amidst very challenging circumstances—barely supporting a family of five. They lived in a one room hut assembled with bits of leftover construction materials. They had no plumbing and no water other than rain and buckets carried from a far away source. But this husband and father exuded a sense of peace and freedom. And he was eager to share his meager food resources with me. He offered me something precious to him, a gift of kindness. This is our most profound freedom.
The peculiar thing about freedom is that we can become enslaved by its very notion. If we do not consider how our thoughts and actions affect others, we are never truly free. We get shackled by a wish to control our personal circumstances. The only thing we are free to choose is how we respond to any situation. I often think of that man in Kenya living in a so-called “squatters village” on the outskirts of Nairobi. He was free to offer what little he had to a stranger, and this seemed to make him very happy.
This is in stark contrast to an army of mostly privileged white folks complaining about an election and thinking they have lost their freedom. They seem shackled by their anger. I weep for their unnecessary suffering and desire to hold others responsible. I see the mirror of my own mind when I think I controlling something ‘out there’ will make me happy. But then I remember an African Buddha teaching me about humility—and I aspire to offer something precious to the world.