There is something wrong with immersions. It is difficult to point out what exactly it is – it could be from the preconceived goals it sets out, or from the execution, or from the follow through (or lack thereof), or perhaps it stems from somewhere else.
Shuttle to the problem
This thought came during a three-day immersion we facilitated in a fishing community in Lian, Batangas. For an immersion site, the place was actually doing pretty well in its rehabilitation, but the people were not without their problems.
On the first night, we had dinner with a woman whose daughter lost a battle with lupus a few months back. A quick internet search would reveal that the disease is not particularly life threatening, but given the concern of money and accessibility of medical care, the girl’s case of lupus proved to be fatal. The mother who we fondly called Ate Nora told us about the time her daughter said goodbye as she made her way to the city for treatment, doing so still with much strength and with confidence that she would return despite the sickness – this part of the story, she told over and over again – and how she did come back but in a coffin. We sat a good two hours after dinner listening to Ate Nora as it could easily be seen that her storytelling served as catharsis for her. The next night, her son dwelled on the same story.
We continued to encounter more people, different kinds, who related to us bits and pieces of their lives; how they were so accustomed to treading the day’s heat and walking in the pitch-black night; how medical treatment was hard to reach, and good medical treatment even harder; and how they converted to other religions so freely because of the lack of funds for the weekly commute to the local church. Here we saw conditions which seemed to us like problems but were everyday realities for them. It came to us that we viewed their conditions as problems because we were fortunate to be in a position to seek solutions, but others do not have this luxury.
Little by little, as is typical in many immersions, we came to realize just how blessed we are, because for the most part, back in our reality, we live comfortable lives. We understand that everyone suffers but perhaps not equally. We are born in situations randomly, and this is the conundrum of life’s lottery. Perhaps we who are lucky enough in this lottery ought to take it upon ourselves to reach out to those who are less fortunate, because we have the ability to do so.
And so we started to believe that after the immersion, we would find our way back to the community to stay in touch and help somehow – a silent promise that was made poorly in hindsight. Because after a few days had passed, we found our way back to DLSU and back to our own homes. We returned to doors with locks, showers with heaters, and rooms with electric fans. We can still sleep comfortably at night, unfazed by the problems of the people we encountered. Of course we would be unfazed, wouldn’t we, because the problems are not our own.
And here, maybe, lies the problem. Perhaps it can be said that the flaw in immersions lies not really in the immersions themselves, but in that part of our nature which limits our experiences and feelings of compassion to the few days we are given to live in others’ shoes.
It’s a situation that varies with everyone, and whether or not a person actively seeks a solution, or at least chooses to experience better the way he or she conducts him or herself, depends entirely on the person. We find ourselves with the opportunity to do good, or be good, and it is here that we encounter a problem similar in nature to the body’s fight-or-flight dilemma.
Thus the way our bodies are choose to fight or flight – the way we as humans choose to relate to others in more ways than simply talking about it – is dependent on our own personal conditioning. And perhaps unless we choose to, not even a thousand immersions can allow us to further the experience.