Two days ago I dropped off some of my grandmother's clothes at a charitable organization to which my grandparents contributed. Having travelled only with hand luggage and a yoga mat, my own wardrobe is extremely constrained, so I asked if I could pick up some clothes.
The woman said "this is for people who don't have clothes" (I pictured them arriving naked) "it is not a clothes exchange place". I said, "let me talk with the person in charge of this to explain my situation", to which she answered "fine" and directed me to an empty waiting roon, where there was a single clerk focused behind a computer and didn't acknowledge me, so I simply sat down and waited.
I fumed in my mind but not with my heart--that is, I didn't believe what my mind was telling me: these people volunteer to gain perceived superiority over the people they help, and by not saying "good afternoon I'll be with you in a minute" they silently say you are as good as invisible.
After around 15 minutes of waiting, a different lady popped her head at the doorway of the waiting room "you don't have an appointment right?" she asked, "right"--"ok, come with me". We went to a cubicle and she showed me a seat. "So you want to sign up for help" I responded affirmatively, and then handed my Canadian passport. "Oh, you are Canadian? This is meant for refugees and people in need".
I admit my case is not nearly as dire as most of the people who come to this place, in my mind I was simply going to pick up a shirt or two because my wardrobe is extremely limited, but by now I understood I was signing up to be a "person in need", to which I reflected a little bit, I remember when I used to live in Madrid and I would see people lined up at soup kitchens, I would think "I sure hope not to have to resort to that one day", but today I felt no qualms about it. In fact, the idea of going to a soup kitchen appeals to me, no matter if it's here in Canada, in Spain or in my hometown. If you need help, there is no shame in receiving help.
So I explained: I usually live in Mexico. My grandmother passed away. I came to clear out her apartment and hand it back to the landlord. I'm in a tight spot because we only have access to the funds she had in her bank account at the time of her death.
The lady was sympathetic to my plight, but she said "right now we only have food. There's a long waiting list for clothes, and even then we don't usually have enough men's clothes. I will clear you for food and make an appointment for clothes", and so we did.
I went to pick up the food. A man of around my age was dispatching the boxes. He spoke in perfect Spanish with another man next to me. I asked him where did he learn Spanish, he said his father was Spanish and his mother from Perú. He gave me a box with assorted items: chickpeas, pasta, candy, rice, chips and such, another with fresh produce (potatoes and carrots) and then asked if I brought my cold bag to take meat, otherwise it would be 3 dollars to purchase one. I searched in my pockets, I was carrying nothing. He shrugged and said it was worth it. I considered going to the dollar store to get one. Then he found pity and produced a slightly ripped cold bag where to put the meat, he said it was government regulation.
I then biked to yoga and went on with my day, coming back home at night. I thought I was justified in taking food from the food bank, but I would say that if my mind is continously reaffirming the reasons why it was OK to take food, then there must be a more quiet voice that is saying "you didn't really need it". Does this voice come from the ego, or from the soul?
Coming from the ego, "you didn't really need it" is being unappreciative of the good fortune fate brings you because you don't want to identify as a "person in need".
Coming from the soul "you didn't really need it" would be knowing that you cheated, that getting $50 in food will give you $50 in discretionary spending because the money you didn't use to purchase food will go to something else. If I were to buy a bottle of wine, or weed at the SQDC, you could even argue that I exchanged food for vice.
As I write this, I realize there's a third way: I am experiencing being on the receiving end of the universe. I have given (time, money, attention and even myself) to altruistic causes, and I must understand the receiving end of this action. We must be able to give to others while respecting their sense of dignity, and to resist the temptation of feeling in any way superior to the person you help. Most people would think this is not a problem for them, but they don't realize the undercurrents that the subconscious carries. When you help people it is because you are their servant, any other attitude is toxic to the soul.