Spirituality and Homelessness
I continued to study Taoism and the I Ching during my experience of homelessness. Thinking back, I only wish I had had a spiritual mentor in the flesh to talk to and gain wisdom from. But Taoism did help immensely to keep me from going off the deep end, emotionally. A major aspect of Taoist philosophy involves understanding of the inevitably of the ups and down of life.
In the morning I would find my way to a coffee shop, write out a simple prayer and study Taoism or, more specifically, the I Ching. For those who don’t know, the I Ching provides you with random messages of wisdom on a daily basis. The randomness, in my view, is an important aspect of “throwing” the I Ching and gaining insight, because receiving messages of wisdom randomly prevents you from driving, over and over, down one fruitless “thought-track” in the mind. It can shake things up, in a good way, as you consider the relevancy of ancient Chinese wisdom to your life.
Engaging in simple prayer and my own form of meditation helped me to approach each day as NEW day. It is very important to somehow maintain this sense of starting over when you are homeless. Otherwise, you can fall into the trap of thinking that you will be trapped forever living in a shelter or bouncing back and forth from a shelter to the street.
I think that a factor in my descent into homelessness involved my losing touch with the spirituality I had found in the Catholic Church during the 1980’s. I was especially drawn to the magical feeling I experienced during the liturgy. If I had continued with my exploration of spirituality through Catholicism, perhaps I would also have maintained contact with a priest or spiritual director who could have provided pastoral counseling. But I lost contact with the Church in the pre-homeless and homeless period.
I have always perceived a strong linkage between spirituality and creativity, and as a creative person it has been essential for me to stay in (albeit somewhat remote) touch with my Higher Power. I have borrowed the Higher Power concept from the 12-step work I have done intermittently in my life. I think that each homeless person will have his or her own way of relating to the Higher Power. Many people prefer to identify the Higher Power with the deepest part of the self, or psyche, the part that transcends the illusions we erect at the superficial level of consciousness. I am sure that 12-step work can be very beneficial to homeless individuals. I did not personally continue involvement in a 12-step group during the pre-homeless and homeless periods.
In my own way of thinking, you do not have to be Christian or any other specific religion to stay in touch with your spiritual center. It has been said that there are many pathways to God, or what the individual conceives of as his or her Higher Power.
I do think that if the homeless person can engage in some form of creative expression, whether it be writing a poem, keeping a journal, painting a picture or playing a song, etc., this kind of activity can be of enormous benefit—both emotionally and spiritually. Thankfully, I did continue with my creative writing, music-making and journalling during my pre-homeless, homeless, and post-homeless periods.
It would be good for shelters and homeless rehab centers to find a way to encourage creative expression; a simple open-mic could be established for homeless individuals; it could also be open to outside participation. In this way, the homeless person could perhaps become integrated with a creative community outside of the facility. Interaction ONLY with other homeless people and staff certainly can inhibit growth and confidence in one’s ability to reestablish residential independence and involvement in the wider community.