Spirituality and the 87th Legislative Session

I have said on more than one occasion that working as a social work intern at the 87th Legislative session is a spiritual experience for me. This might sound like a juxtaposition when one of the ideals that our government was created on is “the separation of church and state.”

I have been on a spiritual journey for a very long time, a life-time you might say, because I believe my true purpose on this earth is to understand and connect with how I can serve the universe. I was born a Buddhist and when I immigrated to the United States, the church was where I first encountered people of service. It was through the Christian Church that my family gained access to this country during the Vietnam War. It was also through the church that we were given support in a new world.

From a very young age, I belonged to many different denominations of Christianity, and for a short time period in all my teenage rage I was an atheist, and when I married I converted to Judaism. After a lot more living, wisdom, and maturity, I came to discover my religion, or rather my spirituality, is a simple quote from his holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet: “My religion is simple, my religion is kindness.” Being an intern with the Texas Legislative Study Group is another step on my spiritual journey, another step closer to discovering my humanity.

“I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion–and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.” Ram Dass

Working at the Texas Capitol and for the Texas Legislative Study Group,I see all the differences and sameness of Texans come together and diverge. This is where the intersectionality of all our issues, ideologies, values, and beliefs comes together. The task of recognizing our differences is the easy part. It is the coming together that can be a source of great comfort or great suffering depending on the values you hold dear. Where it becomes a spiritual practice is when we look for the likeness in others that we see in ourselves. I would even hasten to say we see ourselves in what we dislike the most in others.

In my early and on-going conversations with Dr. Suzanne Pritzker, director of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative internship Program, I was told that the work at “the Lege”(Legislative Session) is more bipartisan than it appears. This, I was excited to see. I actively looked for this in my daily observations in committee meetings. I felt that if I could see that bipartisanship, it would allow me to make peace with what I feel are the injustices of our country. So in beginning my work at the Lege over the past few months, I have met incredibly intelligent, inspiring, and passionate people that are working on incredible issues that need to be addressed in this country. As I continue to work over time, my like-mindedness with these groups pushed me further away from seeking this bipartisanship. The more alike I saw myself with these groups, the easier it was to see the differences in the counter groups.

“Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.” Rumi

Again Dr. Pritzker urged me to continue to observe the processes at the Lege and encouraged me to observe the work that lies in that space of Bipartisanship. In reflection I realized that the work in that space of bipartisanship, no matter how small it seems, exists, and within that space is where change happens. So in turning towards my spirituality, I practice daily to see the sameness in people of opposing views.

“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.”
Ram Dass

I have noticed that the deeper the divide in ideologies, the harder it is to create change. The caveat to this is that it is also easier to see differences than it is to see the sameness. Change takes willingness to set aside differences and to see another person as just like yourself. A son, a daughter, a mother, a father, a family member, and a friend, we are all those things. It is in these small spaces that true work can be done.

As the pandemic continues to keep us at a distance, Texas last month faced an unprecedented winter storm that left us again turning towards our legislators for answers. More often than not our government bodies move slowly towards an answer. While the debate of “who is to blame” will always be visible, there was some agreement that this was preventable and that change must occur to ensure the safety of all Texans. It was unfortunate that a tragic effect had to happen for us, rich or poor, Black or white, to see that we all have the same basic needs. Moving forward I would like to argue that if we could always make this part of us visible, “our sameness,” then we can move towards meaningful legislation that reveals the best part of us, our humanness.

“The warrior of the light knows that no one is stupid and that life teaches everyone – however long that may take.” Paulo Coehlo

The week following the winter storm, committee schedules were released. At the Legislative Study Group, our committee responsibilities for the remainder of the legislative session were assigned. There began a growing urgency around the work that must be done among our state representatives and their staff. In our office this has brought a sense of excitement as well as dread for the weeks to come.

Reflecting on my own experience, it is my hope that I will continue to stay conscious of my oneness with each and every person I have had the honor to cross paths with. Truly without this I don’t believe that I would be able to do this kind of work.

I believe that we all possess a light within ourselves and it is our duty to share that light. And at the Lege, I believe this is what every representative, regardless of party, race, or gender knows and that is why they have chosen to do this kind of work. While this may seem naive of me to believe so, if this belief moves us towards positive change then I am willing to remain naive.

“A human being is a part of the whole universe called by the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ― Albert Einstein

By: Phuong Nguyen, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group

Originally posted from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. This post was syndicated with permission from its authors.

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