In the weeks leading up to the start of my service with the Peace Corps, lots of people have asked me why it is I've chosen to do this. Usually, I say something about how it’s a great opportunity to have an adventure, how it will help me to get work in international development, or that it’s a good way to avoid looking for a job during this economic crisis.
All of these things are true. But there’s more to it than that. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my reasons for wanting to join the Peace Corps are spiritual. While listening to a Speaking of Faith podcast the other day, I was struck by something that Jon Kabat-Zinn (the author of several books on Mindfulness) said:
“In a sense I think all of us, each in our own unique way, are being called upon to find out who we are, and to live that, authentically, in the service of this world.”
I went back and listened to that line several times. This is it, I thought. This is why I want to go on this adventure. I want to find the fullest expression of who I am and to live it in the service of the world. I want to face head on some of the fundamental questions I have about life:
How can a person who has grown up with privilege find ways to give back?
What kind of work is worth doing?
How will I define myself while existing outside of my own culture?
What kind of comforts can I live without?
And what will giving up those comforts teach me about what is truly
important and meaningful?
As regards this last question, I’ve been thinking a lot about a phrase that the mother of one of my college friends used to always say:
“Live simply so that others may simply live.”
I believe in this concept, and it is partly an interest in finding out just how simply I am capable of living that I want to do the Peace Corps. It strikes me that here in the US, we are constantly encouraged not to live simply, not just by advertisers but also as a component of our civic duty. Perversely, we are told that we must live consumptively so that others may simply continue to have jobs and support themselves.
Throughout everything that has gone down with the economy over the past year, I have felt a sense of optimism. Maybe it is through this crisis that people will be inspired to live more simply, to reconnect with what really makes life worth living – our relationships with each other, the pleasures of food and family and nature. I am hopeful that the whole culture will start down a spiritual path of simplicity and service. But I’m not willing to wait around.