less bo, more god

further adventures of bo lozoff

Whether the community is a neighbourhood or a nation, an ecosystem or the whole Earth, it is the interrelatedness of all the beings within the community that allows for evolution. The Kindness House, an intentional spiritual community in North Carolina founded by Bo and Sita Lozoff, is based upon the ideals of simple living, a dedication to service, and a commitment to personal spiritual practice. Bo has also founded the Human Kindness Foundation and the Prison-Ashram project, an internationally respected initiative that inspires and encourages prisoners to recognize their depth as human beings and take responsibility for changing their own lives. In the fall of 2001, just before he embarked on a year of silence, we talked to Bo about his own human evolution. Now that one year has passed, we asked him to write an update on his life and work.

"Do we still believe, like all the sages have told us, that life is about moving beyond the small, petty self? Or, have we changed our minds? Do we feel like the small petty self is actually really cool, and we want to work with it, satisfy it? I think that's the crossroads that contemporary culture is at. Deciding, what do we really believe in? And is it worth it? And depending on what we say we believe in, is it worth a measure of sacrifice?"

Bo Lozoff
from "Opening to the Unknown"

Dear ascent,

My forty-day retreat beginning September 2nd of 2001 was enormously hard, and I recommend it for anyone involved in serious social activism for a long period of time. An intense solo retreat removes everything except the essential inner struggle for enlightenment, which, when it is done right, is the ultimate, supreme task of social action.

My Guru, Neem Karoli Baba, was once asked by a devotee how to find God. Baba said, "Feed people; serve the poor." The devotee then asked, "But who is poor, Maharaj-ji?" and my Guru responded, "Everyone is poor before Christ."

I have been focusing around that one statement, "Everyone is poor before Christ," in all my solo retreats for many years now. Experiencing our essential spiritual poverty is a crucial element of the proper humility needed for spiritually based social action. One Christian elder of mine, Father Murray Rogers, once agreed that true Christians "teach and witness through their brokenness, not their wholeness." The modern Western culture, even the most spiritual edge of it, is so thoroughly consumed with wholeness and healing and feeling positive and well-balanced, that I think sometimes it is very hard for God's power to come through such a full-to-the-brim vessel.

My Guru also once said, "If you don't empty it, how can I fill it?" It's useful to empty. And being empty is hard. Feeling broken, useless, poor does not go over well in our culture. Father Murray, who has spent most of his life in the East, said on one of his first trips to America, "Bo, I wonder whether Americans are psychologically healthy enough for the spiritual journey. They seem to need so much reassurance that they are okay. How can they go through the dry periods, how can they experience their wretchedness that way?"

So partly I go into retreat in order to experience my brokenness and wretchedness at regular intervals. And it inevitably deepens and expands my compassion for all beings. As compassion expands, so does the effortless helpfulness of any activism I engage in. There seems to be less Bo and more God as I allow Bo to be gradually decimated, annihilated, dismantled part by part. This is neither fun nor pretty, any more than it is fun or pretty for a car to be sanded with harsh abrasives in preparation for an exquisitely beautiful paint job. But if we don't get sanded down, how can we expect the paint to stick?

The forty-day retreat started off a year of silence for me. In terms of the practical expression of social action that has evolved over this year, it seems that every one of our projects has grown and deepened in its services. Our Prison-Ashram Project has never reached further into the hearts of prisoners and staff in prisons across the world, even though this past year has seen a tremendous wave of new censorship and obstacles in the form of mail regulations at prisons in the US. The courts are allowing prisons almost total local autonomy in allowing or disallowing prisoners from receiving books and tapes. Some institutions won't even allow our newsletters anymore. So we find we must be more politically aware and engaged than in past years, even sometimes threatening legal action to resume a flow of mail.

Our community, Kindness House, has grown as well, attracting a larger number of prisoners looking not just for a decent parole plan, but a way to serve others and deepen their spiritual growth. We have around fifteen residents at any given time now, and always several visitors from many walks of life all coming together to run the projects of Human Kindness Foundation, and to grow much of our food, bake our bread, build our structures and keep our vehicles running.

I have noticed during my year of silence that without any conscious intention on our part, the community has taken a remarkable number of seemingly coincidental steps toward greater self-sufficiency in the event of major disruption in the social/political order. I don't know whether such a disruption is imminent or not, but it does seem that this small group of spiritual activists here will be stable enough in our own lifestyle to respond as helpfully as possible to pretty extreme circumstances.

We have one new project in the works, so new it doesn't even have a name. It is a resource-oriented project to help emerging parolees find decent jobs, housing and community contacts upon their release from prison. There are many people sitting in prison for years past their parole dates simply because they have no job or home plan. We have gotten a few such people released and not one has returned to crime. Yet they would still be in prison if we had not offered them a home and job.

There's no way to describe what it feels like to look into the face of a perfectly decent, reformed human being who is productive and law-abiding, and knowing that your tiny act of friendship was responsible for the difference between his sitting in prison for the rest of his life, or being out and about as a free person. In the US alone, more than 50,000 prisoners per month are being released to the streets, and very few have decent plans or stable social connections. Imagine.

Blessings, Bo

For more info on the Human Kindness Foundation: www.humankindness.org

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