The Star Metro featured an article on the life of the homeless in Kuala Lumpur on 19 July 2010. When nightfall comes, the homeless will take their place at the streets, bus stands and walkways of Kuala Lumpur. Some are existing or former drug addicts who were either chased out by their families or too ashamed of what they did to go home.
Some came from rural areas and are too poor to afford roof under their heads. These people actually have day jobs. During the day, they go to work and at night, the sleep on the streets. They go to shelters to have their daily meals.
A section also captured my attention- that some of the homeless who are housed in welfare homes actually chose to go back to the streets. This is because even in uncertainty, there are more freedom. Sometimes, even though a homeless person has nothing, his heart is more at peace compared to a rich person housed in a big and beautiful mansion.
When I was young, I have a friend who came from a very rich family but with parents who were controlling and emotionally manipulative. One day, my friend told me that her beautiful house is nothing more than a cage. She felt trapped in that beautiful home.
About 10 years ago, I became very drawn to the ascetic practices of the monks in Thailand that went and lived in the forests, caves and cemeteries. They had nothing with them except an almsbowl, tent umbrella, an extra set of robes, some matches, candles and other essential requisites. They do not carry any money with them and do not even wear slippers. They walked for miles every day, under the hot sun or heavy rain and sleep wherever they stopped. Every day, they went for almsround where lay devotees would place food on their bowl- they would eat whatever that they were given. Sometimes, they went for days without food- especially when going through deep forests without any habitation.
And yet, their hearts are peaceful. They preferred that mode of life compared to the comfort of a lush temple building. Unfortunately, due to deforestation, this tradition is dying out in Thailand. Still, during my frequent trips to Thailand, I had been fortunate to have met those who have really that mode of life. And they are the most peaceful people that I know. Their lives are light not only in worldly poccessions but empty of thoughts and worries. Life could go any moment (ie being attacked by fierce wild animals or die from illness) and so they make sure of everyday for their striving and practice.
That I would think would be a marked difference between the life of a homeless ascetic and a homeless lay person. A homeless layperson who sometimes separate from the family due to deep conflicts that could not be resolved may carry a lot of bitterness, resentment, unresolved grief.
For anyone to be able to live with that kind of uncertainty- unsure the next place to lay down the head at night, it takes a strong degree of courage and letting go. There is nothing left in life to lose and that danger can be everywhere. It may be inconceivable to those of us who never spent a day in our lives sleeping on the floor or a non air con room.
But to those who are living this life, it’s probably not as bad as it looks.
It is not about whether we are rich or poor, famous or unknown, healthy or sick- it is whether our hearts are contented with what we already have. To quote Dr Dean Ornish, the doctor who have scientifically proven that heart diseases can be reversed by lifestyle and attitude changes:
Real power is ours already- when we stop giving it away.
Real happiness is ours already- when we stop believing it’s something we have to get outside ourselves.
Real peace is ours already- when we stop disturbing it.
Real freedom is ours already- when we stop limiting ourselves.
Here’s the list of online articles published in The Star about the homeless in KL:
- Homeless in KL-Scores sleep in parks and five-foot ways in KL
- First census to have a category for people living on the streets
- Many rejected by their family and society
- Labour Dept helps 175 homeless folk find jobs
- Getting up close and personal– JOSHUA FOONG and SHAUN HO took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur for a week to see for themselves what it was like to be homeless.
- NGOs show their care for the homeless by offering free food
- Children who leave elderly parents homeless will be named and shamed