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Poverty isn’t just a lack of money—poverty is a disability. Poverty actually has little to do with money. Striving for material goods alone has brought much heartbreak, and doesn’t always result in the security people expect.
Poverty is about disconnected, marginalized, oppressed, uneducated, thrown-away people who think money alone will save them. Poverty is about the wealthy not allowing equality with the poor. Poverty’s ripple effect—one generation handing down more poverty to the next generation—causes more poverty. Poverty is continued racism and do-nothing politics, it is reducing social services for the homeless, the mentally ill and society’s elderly. Poverty means ignoring justice systems that need to change. There are many faces of poverty, and each of us looks into those faces daily.
One of poverty’s worst ripple effects is alcoholism and drug addiction. I know, because I was a child of parents caught in the dark web of addiction—which they handed down to my two brothers and me. I bottomed out in total insanity in my late 30’s, and handed the stress of this lifestyle to my daughter. Over time, with some very hard work, and thanks to the AA/NA program I was able, with the help of a higher power—God—to stop the vicious cycle of addiction. I am, at present, 37 years free from this dark shadow. My daughter was spared somewhat, but not totally. When people suffer they need stress relief—a fix—and one of the most readily-available stress relievers is alcohol, or in some states marijuana. For the addict, this can be a death sentence. That’s the greatest poverty: losing control over your own body and mind.
Addiction is the true face of poverty—total despair, desperation and lack of hope. Many are trapped in this kind of spiritual poverty. Many have stepped out of their hearts and into a survival mode of intellectualizing as a strategy for survival. There is a lack of mindful clarity when an addict is trapped into states of resentment, fear, anger, self-pity and worry, which always leads to foolish and even life-threatening decisions.
We know that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and that alcohol in excess is a poison. The Baha’i teachings prohibit the use of alcohol and other drugs:
Regarding the use of liquor: …both light and strong drinks are prohibited. The reason for this prohibition is that alcohol leadeth the mind astray and causeth the weakening of the body.
…In brief, I hope that thou mayest become inebriated with the wine of the love of God, find eternal bliss and receive inexhaustible joy and happiness. All wine hath depression as an after effect, except the wine of the Love of God. – from a Tablet of Abdu’l-Baha to an individual believer.
Think of how that spiritual teaching would have spared my parents, their children and grandchildren from the ripple effects of poverty and addiction. Until that new spiritual guidance penetrates the consciousness of humanity, poverty will still be with us, and the children of poverty and addiction will suffer the most. Isn’t it wonderful that we’ve been given a spiritual path that will prevent the addiction cycle, and that we have recovery programs for addicts?
Israel Bayer, executive director of a local street newspaper in my community called Street Roots, recently did a Ted Talk on the nature of poverty and homelessness. In it, he told the story of one of the newspaper’s venders, Cathy E., a homeless addict and a friend of mine, fresh off the streets. Cathy said, “The cold air scratches at my bones as the windy rain makes my body shake uncontrollably like the Angel’s bobble heads I used to own. Used to own—I hit rock bottom so hard that I can feel the heat from the core of the earth singe the hairs off my skin.”
While the world negotiates these shadows, we all suffer much loss. A solid mental and spiritual education informs better choices, and with better choices people struggle less and have more freedom and happiness, just as all religions promise us. One day, the Baha’i teachings tell us, there will be a world free of poverty. That is what we are all striving for, one world awakened and conscious in a state of unity and oneness, healing from conflict, fully transformed.
In AA the third step prayer states, “God I offer myself to Thee to build with me and do with me as Thy wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties that I may bear witness to Thy Power, Thy Love and Thy way of life. May I do Thy will always.”
One of the beautiful Baha’i prayers, from the mid-1800s, could have been the inspiration for that AA prayer:
Learn about Grace Reed’s book on addiction here: http://www.negotiatingshadows.com