by Shinko Andreas Hagn
During my many years of giving care in prisons, homeless shelters and to all the people who asked me for support, I was given the opportunity to get to know people, through their life stories, to the deepest depths of their beings. Two life stories have touched me deeply. My motivation to start this project is rooted in these two biographies.
One of them tells the story of a young man who entered prison at an early age and spent many years there. After his release, he asked me to support him further. He would often ask me if I knew a place where he could live, work and practice Buddhism. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help him out. He lived in Upper Austria, which is why we texted regularly, talked on the phone and met in person every few months. One and a half years ago, while lying in bed being high on drugs, he suffocated.
The second case tells the story of a young woman, barely 28 years old, whom I met six years ago through her mother. Together, we managed to end her drug addiction, which had been going on for eight years already, and she started to live a rather normal life. About a year ago, her mother contacted me again. The young woman had in the meantime become a heavy drinker and moved to Munich. I visited her and we stayed in constant contact through phone calls and texts. We managed to pull through some rather dramatic hours together. One time, I picked her up and drove her to a Betty Ford residential treatment center for substance dependence and saw to it that she would get some follow-up care in Munich. She never visited the counseling after her return and quickly picked up drinking again.
Her excesses became worse afterwards, she begged me to go through the alcohol withdrawal process with her, to give her a place to live where I could look after her. This wasn’t possible for me at that time. A few weeks later, she started another withdrawal at the Betty Ford Clinic and met a young man, who tried to get off heroine. After a short time, they both left the clinic. Shortly afterwards, she overdosed and was found dead.
I don’t know if a more extensive care, communal living, work and Buddhist practice might have saved both their lives. We will never know, but we can try to change these fates by creating such a space and offering it to anyone who needs it!
This is what we want to achieve through this project.
Early on, we learn to separate ourselves to ensure our emotional survival. But by doing this, we enforce our internal separation from the world and we see everything as being outside of us. We don’t experience ourselves as being part of the world. This insight can be gained and confirmed by means of contemplative practices. Through the practice of approximation towards all-encompassing, unbound compassion, we abolish the felt separation between the world and ourselves and learn to stay in the constant feeling of immediate, permanent connectedness with all beings.
This way, we can start to reclaim our unbelievably fragmented and uprooted world, in which we have removed all areas from our focus that are defined as being problematic, such as crime, addiction, psychological illness, burnout and the like.
We also believe that when it comes to taking care of others, keeping a professional distance does not work in the long run, be it in prisons, hospitals, retirement homes, hospices and so forth. Slowly but steadily, the strokes of fate and the encompassing emotions diffuse into the deeper levels of the caretaker’s self, often ending in a change of profession, burnout or total indifference towards the care that is given and the people who receive it.
As explained before, this closeness to the real tragedies of life cannot be grasped by reason: why does somebody die at such a young age, why does anybody die at all, why do children get cancer, …? Internal separation may be our first impulse, to cut ourselves off the pain, but in the end, this leads caretakers to a dead end, where they are cut off from themselves and the rest of the world.
From my point of view, the ungraspable can only be approached through contemplative practice, reason alone is of no use in this regard.
Based on our own experiences and our many years of taking care of others, we have realized that an established framework, paired with contemplative practice, can be very supportive and beneficial. This is the reason why we start this project, and we rely on your support, in whichever way it may find its expression.