How innovative is it to be present to someone?
This could be interpreted as a profound question. We could pore over stacks in the library and lie awake at night mulling it over. We could write lengthy discursive treatises and develop research projects and have Talmudic debates over the answers. But for Adam Bucko, that’s not his point. Availability is simple, and that’s profound enough.
“We make things complicated by over-intellectualizing what our engagement or what our calling should be,” says Adam, when simply being present and available is enough to bring us to the heart of our engagement.
Contemporary ideas about social activism and service often emphasize creativity, innovation, and sustainability. All of these are admirable – and indispensable – but in our enthusiasm for this trinity, our culture seems to overlook the modest virtue of availability. When he finds himself confused by the difficult existential questions of his own service and purpose, Bucko goes back to the basics – making sandwiches. “I start feeding people, and then I invite my friends, and we pray together, and we do it together, and that always kind of locates me in my truth.”
Availability goes even a step further than that, however. “We’re available to all of our gadgets and what they need from us, and I think we learn how to respond to things that call our name, in the moment; but I don’t know that we know how to be available in a way that’s committed availability, where we really make a commitment to someone, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable; even if it doesn’t always serve our best interests.”
Where that availability takes us is deeper than an intellectual awareness or a measurable outcome. It’s a path towards a deeper, perhaps visceral experience, where we “accompany people to the depths of their pain,” as Adam puts it. “An authentic experience of inner peace in my life didn’t happen until I was able to be broken with the people that I serve.” When our availability immerses us in another’s suffering and pain and carries us beyond that breaking point, something emerges that allows our presence to surrender to the moment, to the way things are, and to the persons for whom we are available.
Bucko describes this as a two-fold path: contemplative practice and social engagement. Simultaneous involvement in the two, he says, “oftentimes leads to a sense of just knowing what’s next, what is required.” It’s a path that connects every part of one’s being and aligns it with the core. For some, it requires years of practice, but according to Adam, it’s a commitment worth making.
His advice for staying on that path is to have a good community, friends, and mentors who are available themselves, who are supportive and honest, and who will remind each other to be committed to availability, because, he poignantly reminds us, “aren’t we all here to do that?”
Adam Bucko is an activist, spiritual director to many of New York City’s homeless youth, and co-author of "Occupy Spirituality" (2013). He collaborates with spiritual leaders across religious traditions and mentors young people, helping them discover a spiritual life in the 21st century and how to live deeply from the heart in service of compassion and justice. Adam is a recipient of several awards.
Find more information about Adam at www.reciprocityfoundation.org and www.adambucko.com.
Interview conducted by Cameron Wenaus of Retreat Guru and Sarah Lipton of the Shambhala Times,transcribed by Emma Sartwell, and written by J. R. Gilness.