It’s been a doozy of a couple years for us as a nation. We’ve been given lots of opportunities to look at our stance toward those unlike us. I loved the way poet/playwright Claudia Rankine put it: How can we have this conversation and still stay in this car together?
A great hibernating bear is shaking from his long slumber...we can no longer ignore it. We have been handed an opportunity to re-examine ourselves, to unknow our current comfortable realities. We’ve been asked if we are willing to see WHAT IS. We are not, for example, done with racism.
If you’ve begun reading James Hollis’ Living an Examined Life, you might remember that he asks us to investigate the beliefs we’ve inherited that no longer serve our true Self. I dare you to make a list of these things. Scratch off what no longer serves the well being of you and others. There’s a whole lot of buzz about Marie Kondo encouraging us to get rid of what no longer brings us joy. I’ve seen friends heave self-identified clutter into photos documented on facebook and instagram. Though it can be argued we are appropriating her intent, can we apply it to beliefs? Do our beliefs about people, about life, about God bring us joy? For, as we believe, so we become. This is true for us as individuals, societies, institutions, and civilizations. The dominate ideas shape our realities, and we are being given an opportunity to reshape some of these and get rid of what doesn’t bring us joy and connection.
Our stamina for sitting with what is uncomfortable is remarkably thin, but those are the exact places we need to grow. Let me say this: people of color, especially black men in this country, seem to know how to live a restricted public life - how to conserve their every move so they don’t die. I wondered out loud to Josh once, “Why does Mr Anderson (an older black man we know) insist on calling me ma’am? It makes me squirm.” Then while visiting the lynching memorial in Montgomery I read a plaque about the era of white terrorism in the south stating that black folks were lynched for something as small as leaving ma’ams and sirs off the ends of sentences. That’s why Mr Anderson can’t drop the ma’am. That terror lives in his body. Who knows what he has seen or what stories he has been told. The cumulative effect of trauma caused by racism shortens lives, induces chronic stress...it changes genes, and these stressed out genes are passed on. As long as whites think there is no problem, that we aren’t racist, we might continue to live longer than our black counterparts, but we will live without love and curiosity, and that gene won’t get passed down. I don’t think that’s what we want.
Obviously I can speak more clearly about being white as that is my racial experience, but to echo Claudia Rankine again, if we are too entrenched in our whiteness it limits our imagination. If we continue uttering trivial statements like, “I don’t see race,” then we can’t see racism....And we need to see and deal with racism. If we remain blind to it on every level (from personal to systemic), it limits empathy. It can be said that entrenchment in any identity constricts our imagination, so we begin by softening the identities we are clenched/imprisoned/caught up in. We first have to know what the cages are. When we soften to those areas in ourselves it enlarges our inner and outer experience. Then we can experience the fullness of our being, inside and out.
But we have to be willing to unknow what we think we know.
We are in the midst of an apocalypse, the Greek meaning of which is not the end of days but an “uncovering, a revealing.” If we look under there, in the shadowy spaces, in the places where we are caught, there is transformation, creativity, and possibility. There is IMAGINATION. The inner world of the mind and the outer world of being are not actually separate, but we put up many blocks - doctrine, ideologies, fears, societal “norms” & social hierarchies - instead of realizing we already live and breathe and have our being in nondual reality. Martin Luther King Jr. said it this way: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
I’m thinking of when my middle son got in trouble for saying in a moment of 6 year old passion, “If you don’t play with me I’ll kill you!” He had a sandwich in his hand, not a gun. Another kid told on him. He was brought to the front office, and he got suspended. Yes, in kindergarten. I was dumbstruck. Literally dumbstruck. When I found out my mouth fell open and nothing came out. I happened to be at the school in that moment, in another room, having a conversation with administrators about teaching with a social emotional lens, and I was called into the assistant principal’s office. I could see the terror in his eyes, the too big chair swallowing him up. I sat back on the floor, opened my arms, let him crawl onto my lap and just held him as he cried. “I know baby,” I said. “I know you didn’t mean it, but you can’t say things like that.” Surely SURELY he is not the only 6 year old to have said something like that. I don’t know that for sure, of course, but he was called violent. On the paper it said he was a Level 3 Threat. And I had to sign it, to consent my understanding of the severity of this moment. My SIX YEAR OLD. He is still, at age 8, learning how to speak his raw emotions without losing his ever loving you know what. Hell i’m still learning how to speak my emotions without losing it at 42, but no one has ever called me a Level 3 Threat. I wish I had refused to sign. I wish I had pushed back. The way we talk about violence has a loaded meaning when we use it to describe a young black or brown boy. There is no way to get around that fact other than to face it. I cannot be certain that race factored into my son’s specific consequence, but I can be sure that zero tolerance policies have disrupted the lives of black and brown kids in far more unbalanced ways than their white counterparts. Cole is no more violent than most little boys I’ve been around. In fact, in many ways, he is probably less so. But we have a veil clouding our collective psyche around how we see black boys and men. We have allowed white men in power to get away with so much more, minimizing their behavior with statements like, “He didn’t know better,” or “He was just a boy.”
Time to unknow that reality.
The whole point of the path of love is to transform motivation from “I, I, I” to “Thou, Thou, Thou.” It can be said that “We, We, We” is also an operative term. Essentially it is to be willing to see ourselves in the faces of another. Of every other. And then the other and I become one. Those “who see themselves in all and all in them” are simply not capable of harming others (Eknath Easwaran, The Bhagavad Gita). This!! Yes! This is what it means to be fully human, perhaps what Thich Nhat Hanh refers to as interbeing. It is the way of compassion and wisdom - the very same that Jesus taught. Love your neighbor as yourself, he said. Read that again....as yourself. As if your neighbor were you - another way of saying I am not other than you. To work on behalf of this kind of love is holy work. This work, of course, is circular. The more you love inwardly the more it shows up in the outward arena. This cycling goes on and on and on. When you can see, truly see, yourself in another and another in yourself, when you can truly see yourself as you are, that’s where transformation lies.