Red Ice Membership

Hell is Miles From Home
2005 12 23

By Michael Goodspeed |

Image by: Eric Pouhier

Nietzsche wrote, "The 'kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart -- not something that 'comes upon the earth' or 'after death'". I agree with his statement -- I've met people who have discovered what can genuinely be described as Heaven on Earth. They may not be expressively joyous every moment of their lives, but they seem to possess an unshakeable inner peace. They take everything in stride, both the best and the worst that the world has to offer. With an attitude of unconditional acceptance, their calm is not disturbed by life's inevitable tragedies and dramas. It is easy to recognize such individuals; they just seem AT HOME in every situation.

On the other hand, I've encountered many more people who have descended into living hell. Regardless of whether their life situations are truly "bad" or "good", sorrow, resentment, and hopelessness overtake them. Often, they express the belief that they don't have control of their own destiny. To them, the world seems an alien and hostile place, and fate a cruel mistress. If Heaven on Earth is the sense of being "at home", then hell on Earth is the feeling of being lost -- adrift in a violent sea without map or compass.

The aphorism "Home is where the heart is" is generally thought to mean that we have unbreakable connections to our physical homes, but I see a deeper meaning within the cliche. Home (like Heaven) is more a condition of the heart than a physical place. It is the sanctuary where one finds respite when everything external seems to be falling apart. To be at home is to remember to love and respect oneself when the world fails to do so.

As a child, I had a rather excessive attachment to my physical home. Even sleeping over at a friend's house had the potential to upset me. I sensed that to lose the anchor of home -- and the joy that effortlessly flows when one knows that he or she is safe and loved -- would be a fate worse than death. It's not that I was a clingy or fearful child. Rather, I appreciated the preciousness of my home in every fiber of my being, and was determined never to lose it or take it for granted.

I think this is why in adulthood, I have developed a haunting obsession with homelessness -- both physical and spiritual. When I see the ruined visages of human beings trudging up and down skid row, pushing shopping carts full of soda cans and mumbling words in one-way conversations, I know that I'm observing a snapshot of hell. Because these souls surely cannot remember the feeling of home.

Recently, I wrote an essay ("A Midnight Stroll Through An American Graveyard") in which I outlined my plan to "investigate" homelessness from a first-hand perspective. I proposed that I would live on the streets for two weeks with no assistance from family or friends -- and I would do this in Las Vegas, of all places. Responses to my proposal ranged from encouraging, to abjectly horrified. When my 66 year-old mother learned of my plan, she literally begged me not to go through with it. Why, she asked, would I risk my life exploring a phenomenon that on the surface doesn't seem like much of a mystery?

I'll explain. For clarity, I wasn't planning this "experiment" with an agenda -- either to celebrate my own "courage", or to portray the homeless as martyrs or saints. I already know that I'm not terribly courageous, and I don't carry illusions about the causes of homelessness. I understand that many homeless have been broken by addiction, and addiction, though a disease, involves a hell of a lot of personal choice. But I look at the homeless and I know they offer a lesson that begs to be learned. We need not perceive them as victims, but that doesn't mean they should be viewed as less than human.

Why would anyone hate a homeless person? We must explore this question, because hatred of the homeless is a sometimes deadly psychosis. As I reported in my previous essay, "Fear Murders", a 19 year-old man was recently arrested for allegedly paying a homeless man $5 to drink a poisonous cocktail of cleaning solution. The victim, an alcoholic who lived near the alleged perpetrator's place of employment, nearly died and remains in critical condition. One of the alleged perp's coworkers witnessed the "prank," and did nothing to stop it. Story:

Unfortunately, this incident is not isolated. It may even a reveal an underlying pathology that seems to be spreading across the U.S. A Google word search of the term "fuck the homeless" reveals nearly 1,500 hits, the first of which is a site that sells "fuck the homeless" T-shirts. These shirts apparently originated in Tulsa, OK, in 2004, after a homeless man beat a popular bar owner to death (an act that was subsequently deemed self-defense by the Tulsa District Attorney's office).

Even more disturbing is the popularity of the "reality" video series, "Bum Fights", in which homeless men are paid small amounts of money to engage in fisticuffs for the amusement of the viewing audience. There is also the sadistic series "Bum Hunts", where filmmakers assault homeless human beings and sell the footage for profit.

After these videos were released, young people in Chicago and Cleveland filmed their own assaults on homeless people (though it's not known whether they intended to sell their footage to the makers of "Bum Fights" or "Bum Hunts").


Again, why the HATE? It's perhaps understandable why so many of us are indifferent to the homeless -- given their high rate of addiction, we feel justified in writing them off as lost causes who have self-destructed out of personal weakness. But the majority of the homeless have done nothing to harm anyone other than themselves, so the hatred is illogical, aberrant, perverse, insane.

It is synchronistic that as I sat writing this essay, I received an email from frequent contributor Judy Andreas, with whom I've enjoyed an occasional correspondence. Judy shared with me her most recent essay, "Prison Break" -- a powerfully thoughtful meditation on the illusion of duality in the human condition. I don't think I've seen anyone articulate more beautifully the destructive nature of the attitude "us against them".

Judy writes, "It is easy to point your finger at a designated 'enemy' and suggest ways in which to defeat it. Have those ways ever worked? Have we ever had peace? If this is merely 'the one' pretending to be 'the many', then there is no victory for either side of the polarity. In the world of duality, how can you have 'good' without 'evil'? Isn't that akin to having 'up' without 'down'? Is peace possible when we are at war with ourselves?

"...When you give your attention to one side of the polarity, you energize the other side and, at the end of the day, your results are in opposition to the stated goal. It is the illusion of 'us' and 'them'. You have unwittingly widened the divide and added more bars to your prison cell."

(This MUST READ piece can be viewed here:

Judy's comments are absolutely relevant to our perceptions of the homeless. It is the ego -- the source of all perceived duality -- that compels one to view a "lesser" human being with contempt. As the spiritual manual A Course in Miracles states, "The ego lives by comparison" -- it keeps the psyche in a constant state of judgment, condemning others with labels of fat or thin, ugly or attractive, rich or poor, good or evil. Egos need to feel special, so those who have been stripped of all specialness -- the homeless, the diseased, the infirm, the impoverished -- are viewed not only as contemptible, but as somehow THREATENING. This might explain why governments have collectively spent billions researching eugenics, to try and rid society of those they perceive as "useless eaters".

The irony is truly astonishing. If you try to enhance yourself by diminishing another, then you have, as Judy wrote, "added more bars to your prison cell".

In other words, if I hold the homeless in contempt, I am condemning myself to a true state of "homelessness". Because my internal home -- the home where my heart is -- can only be found through the act of forgiveness, or the surrender of judgment against ALL of my brothers and sisters.

Incidentally, I've decided NOT to go through with my homeless "experiment" -- I was plainly wrong to believe it would serve any purpose. I will not change anyone's mind by leaping into the darkness and shedding my own inflict guilt and shame in others who do nothing. First, last, and always, I must take responsibility for my own thoughts, because that is the only level where I CAN be responsible.

But this IS enough -- as author David R. Hawkins wrote, "We change the world not by what we say or do, but as the consequence of what we have become."

As I write this, we are but three days from Christmas. I look forward to basking in the warmth of family and friends, ensconced in the comfort of a loving home. But this home that provides four walls, a roof, and a fireplace is NOT my true home -- the home that will outlast all physical form, the home where my heart has always resided. More than anything, I want this home to be illuminated, to shine like a beacon through the veil of darkness, so I might find my way to its welcoming door. I know how to do this -- I have done it before, I can do it again.

I will forgive.

Article recieved from Michael Goodspeed

Related: A Midnight Stroll Through An American Graveyard

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