arrogance

i grew up fearing taking up too much space.

doing so was despicable. unacceptable. this was for many reasons given the circumstances of my growing up. least of which was that i was a white girl from the south.

i grew up shrinking.

as i grew, i was trained on all the ways in which i hold power and privilege. so much. privilege. it bounded me. i internalized the lessons: “take up less space. make room for others.”

i grew up shrinking.

now, i’m sayin’…nah. not so much.

our power is not in our privilege. it’s not in shrinking to make room for others. it’s not in hiding behind “humility” or egolessness. power is generated from living into all we are and letting our light shine. brilliantly. and as only we can.

shrinking for others is a lie. an excuse we tell ourselves to let ourselves off the hook for the real, brave work of being audaciously who we are. the business of shrinking maintains status quo and stunts us all.

by shrinking, we shrink our collective capacity for growth and life and love.

this line from Rilke’s Book of Hours keeps playing my heart strings,

"If this is arrogant, God, forgive me, but this is what I need to say. May what I do flow from me like a river, 
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children."

the latin root of the word arrogant is “arrogare”, meaning “claimed for oneself without justification”. at the heart of arrogance is staking a claim on your Self for your Self. it’s not about asking permission or pleasing or accommodating. it’s pure.

and yeah, it can offend. it will offend.

yeah, it might step on toes. it will step on toes.

but i’m starting to see arrogance as the light that shines when we are being our brilliant, whole Self.

unapologetically.

and the beautiful thing is that in doing so invites others to be their unapologetic self, too.

the blues

what does it mean to practice egolessness? to get out of our own way so that we can be in right relationship with those around us? to open ourselves to the world and be liberated from harmful patterns that shut us down and divide us?

one of my teachers, jerry granelli recently drew on his experience and love for the blues to demonstrate. it is worth sharing.

for jerry, the blues is much more than a method that he can use to teach spiritual leadership. it’s in his blood, his soul. as he taught us, his embodiment of the music was magical and mysterious. he was giving us a part of himself.

nearly eighty years old, jerry is an experienced jazz percussionist and spoke of what it meant to be a white drummer taken under the wing of african american musicians during times when venues were segregated and times were different. and yet the same. he taught us of the history of the blues, drawing on the inspiration of the likes of louis jordan (who, according to jerry, introduced rap) and bb king, and marveled at the sheer genius of the form of blues–“a perfect cycle”, made up of 12 measures, 1,2,1,5,4,1. this form, from jerry’s perspective, has shaped the music of the world. for jerry, the blues is everything. and everything is the blues.

jerry. ghost ranch, new mexico. august 2019.

as jerry was careful to point out, the blues originated from slaves and their descendants–from those most oppressed. this form of expression has a lot to teach us about liberation and the source of power.

for example, the blues offers a clear and unwavering form that allows improv and beautiful musical expression. but here’s the kick: the expression is not about self-expression but expression in service to the music.

the truth was simple and yet beautifully complex: “freedom is in the form”.

over the course of a week, jerry taught our cohort the blues–and we learned, with a lot of discomfort. this was by design. we were forced out of our comfort zones to embody an expression that literally went against our ingrained patterns of domination. this process was disarming and painful–tears and rage were expressed more than once.

one day, we were directed to move from one point in the room to another point in the room in the span of a blues’ cycle. so, while the cohort sang the blues, i had to move from point A to point B, and touch point B on the exact end-beat. the group struggled as we grew distracted with witnessing each other’s performances; we screwed up–nearly every time–due to an interest in both “performing” and “witnessing”. i got a sense of how hard it is to hold true to form. to distant ourselves from our own self-interest. to be in service to the greater good. or service to the music.

dang, how hard this lesson was. the last evening, we sang the blues, collectively. each of us had created our own personal blues song. we sang these, while the rest of the cohort held the form, singing the background. at one point, one woman in our group began a very emotional piece and as the rest of us were drawn into her song.—distracted from our service to the greater thing—we let the form collapse. in that moment, we failed her. and ourselves. and the music.

“this is unforgiveable” jerry asserted. he went on, “it’s like we launched an astronaut into space and then moved earth–we just let her hang out there, all alone. we let her down and let our form collapse.” meanwhile, tears ran down the woman’s face.

from that moment on, during our collective blues song, i shut my eyes and tuned out my friends’ songs. as much as i selfishly wanted to hear their blues, i cared too much about failing them by failing the form. our liberation was in my holding the form. and i was going to do that. so, i focused all of my attention on the form itself. i was not going to let anyone else down. i took myself out of the equation. until it was my turn to sing my song.

i’m questioning the training/conditioning i’ve received about love and justice. the training has not always served me well–has not served the common good. what i’ve come to believe is love and justice can also be disguised as self-serving and ego-driven. even while well-intentioned. maybe especially when well-intentioned. at times, these tendencies are about me feeling good about myself and the best i can do for all of us is to stay focused on the form…

freedom is in the form. there is freedom in becoming nothing. in losing my self in the greater whole.

the question on my mind is how we determine what the form is…or how do we create a form that is healthy and whole and can hold us all? i’m interested in serving the music. i am an instrument and need to get out of my way so that the music can move through me.

i believe jerry and Spirit knew that this bunch of white women needed something to move us out of our heads and intellects and into our bodies and souls…and the blues were the key. right now, we are being called to serve not ourselves but the life force that connects all of us. it is a path that demands egolessness and learning to get out of our own way, to discover connection and right relationship. it is the path to liberation.

thank you, jerry.

numbing

my heart breaks at our inability to be with suffering. my mind, body, and spirit hurt at our numbing–in all the ways we distance ourselves from the pain we experience personally and collectively.

this weekend, i was in a workshop on dismantling racism. an elderly african- american man stood to share work he had done around racial reconciliation. as he spoke, a crack open up within him and he poured out his truth of what it means to be a black man today in this country. he wept, beating his chest repeating, “i am weary. i am sick and tired. i just want to be seen as man. not a black man. only a man.” his truth pierced through me and i felt in communion with him, joined in our shared humanity and in right relationship. and yet, the group moved on without acknowledging in any way this moment of sacred truth-telling. other participants simply proceeded as business-as-usual, giving updates on trainings and activities, as had been directed. i attempted to articulate my feelings of discomfort and stumbled. i felt small and alone and weak as our group–myself included–was incapable of being present to his pain, and our own collective pain.

i’ve been studying JoAnna Macy’s Work that Reconnects alongside adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy all while engaged in the work of racial justice and healing and systems change. here’s what i am seeing with increased clarity: our ability to be responsive to the needs in front us–whether those are our’s personally, our child’s, our friend’s, our organization’s, our world’s–will be unlocked only through growing our capacity to be present with suffering.

as living systems, we are interconnected. we exist as part of a larger whole. while this is a spiritual worldview for me, science has offered the clearest insight into this through systems thinking and emergent theory. we only have to look at nature (our own bodies!) to understand that the health of the whole depends on the health of the self and vice-versa. life is a beautifully complex dynamic set of processes that channel ever-flowing energy and information. when those channels aren’t working and information is shut down, there is sickness, disease, death. pain signals where to point intention and attention, diagnosing the overall health and wellness of the living system, at that moment.

experiencing pain unleashes power. pain is a bridge, a connector. through pain, we join our whole selves, we join with others. through pain, we heal. we open up to a vastness of life force and that opening generates power. this power is a different sort of power than the kind of power generated through white supremacist, patriarchal power structures. it is not power over. it is power with. it not mine but moves through me and connects me to you and all other life. for me, this power is God, Spirit, Life, Love.

so, when i witness a numbing to pain, my heart breaks at the loss of possibility, power, and life.

and when i witness a presencing to pain, my heart fills with joy and gratitude and aliveness. paradoxical and true. all the great myths and faith traditions teach this. and yet we are conditioned otherwise. we are conditioned to numb the pain, quick-fix-it-and-not-feel-it, turn away.

i am practicing naming pain when i witness it. understanding the fears associated with being present to pain help: fear of guilt; fear of shame; fear of being perceived as too-emotional or hyper-sensitive; fear of doing more harm; fear of not being able to manage it; fear of evoking panic; fear of falling apart.

and some of the behaviors associated with these fears help me stay clear, especially around white fragility and white distancing like savior complex, minimizing, denying, competing victimization, debating data, deflecting, over-analyzing.

we cannot do the work of healing or justice or social change if we do not get radical and get at the root of what is doing the harm–the disconnection and numbing to the harm itself. what if the answer to our hurt is not to fix it or stop the hurt but to open to it. when we open to it, the response will come. and then how might we stay open?

i wonder.

this question is on my mind now, at 3:30am on day 3 of a three-day think tank i’ve been participating in with system change leaders from across the country. we’ve been brought together to design models for “understanding the impact of collaborative change”. as a group, we have only barely touched the surface of why we need to do this to begin with: our systems are broken and we are desperately in need of new ways of working (i only named this for myself just now!). we cannot seem to locate ourselves as a collective within that story and i am curious if we’ll get there in the three hours we have together, today. my belief is that without doing that then we will be unable to unleash the only power that can transform. the power-with power that comes through connection and wholeness.

(as a side note, as an evaluator, i wonder: what would it even look like to measure the impact of collaborative change in terms of capacity for being open to pain and suffering?)

i also wonder: how might we end our numbing so that we can be with our pain and in doing so, heal?

so i here i am awake, at 3:30am, pained by our numbing and the possibilities that are passing us by. and grateful for the awakening and connection and inspiration that this pain generates.

change

Everything has a beginning, middle, end. 

For some time, this teaching
Seduced me in trying to diagnose 
Which phase I was experiencing--
As I questioned the life of a relationship, 
Whether my mother was dying,
Whether I was menopausal...
I now can see that there’s no way of knowing. 
The peace comes in simply understanding

Everything has a beginning, middle, end.


whiteness

One thing I’m noticing is the suffering of White folks.

This statement makes me uncomfortable to say as a White woman. I’ve been trained and conditioned to not attend to White suffering and to direct my noticing to the suffering of those more directly oppressed by racial injustice and White Supremacy. I’ve diminished the suffering of those with privilege and focused my justice-making and healing intentions on “those people” with less power and racial privilege.

Damn, we can be dangerous as well-intentioned white folks. Because at the end of the day, this approach reproduces dominant power structures. This framing only (re)positions the dominant as dominant.

I’ve been wondering about how we are all subject to structures of domination and how we are all harmed by them. How might we notice and tend to our own internalized White Supremacy and Whiteness so that we can actually be in community with one another?

White Supremacy is so baked into the DNA of every molecule of everything in this nation that it really screws with the dominant group. For white people to awaken to ways in which we are have been harmed by White Supremacy is damn near impossible. The forces of Whiteness—institutionalized and structural racism as well as internalized Whiteness–make it very difficult for White folks to see Whiteness and to notice how it impacts us. Mostly, when we can see Whiteness, it is too scary. It calls into question everything we think we know about ourselves, our world. We turn away with all our distancing behaviors and white fragility before we have the chance to experience our fullness, our wholeness, our connectedness.

For me, ego is a helpful red flag of sorts that signals when my internalized Whiteness and other dominant patterns are showing up. My whole Self splits up and my mind drowns out my body. Sometimes I catch myself not breathing, I am so withdrawn into my mind. The world is reduced to terms of either/or and right/wrong and my life force moves out of the present moment into the future with goals and plans and outcomes and answers. Connection is lost with those around me as I become distractingly invested in their opinions of me. I become much too big, swelling up like the marshmallow monster in Ghostbusters while also losing my Self, driven by racing thoughts and triggered emotions. My determination and drive to do more, do better, go faster increases as I try desperately to fix and solve and please.

I’ve noticed that this happens especially in moments when I feel expectations of how I’m supposed to perform, when I’ve internalized scripts about what “successful”, “smart”, “knowledgeable”—all driven by White Supremacy and systems of domination. I beat myself up when I don’t perform these roles well, when I fail or stumble or come up short. I ruminate on what I should have said or done or not said or not done. I can be my own worst enemy.

This behavior is certainly not in the service of the world. Being stuck here, in ego-driven Whiteness, is not helpful in meeting what the world needs right now. Or in living a full and rich life with those around me. So we gotta figure out how to notice our own internalized patterns of domination so that we can disentangle our being from them, and be free.

Free. It is for sure unsettling to land here—on freedom for White folks—given the state of the world and the impact on Black and Brown lives. And yet, here I am. Because I just keep seeing racial and social violence perpetuated by White folks that cannot—or will not—see their actions as violent. We cannot feel and experience the disconnection that has rooted within our minds and hearts branching out into our relationships and worlds. As White folks, it is too threatening to our identity, our worlds to let go of the promises Whiteness falsely claim and surrender to not knowing. It is too painful to really look at ourselves, to experience our own pain.

And yet this is the path to love and liberation.

It’s a conundrum. Letting go of all we know and believe in order to be free. To undo ourselves completely in order to be whole. And that as White folks, we’re the ones who need liberating.

Maymoud Darwish’s The Prison Cell gets at this beautifully:

It is possible…
It is possible at least sometimes…
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away…

It is possible for prison walls
To disappear,
For the cell to become a distant land
Without frontiers:

What did you do with the walls?
I gave them back to the rocks.
And what did you do with the ceiling?
I turned it into a saddle.
And your chain?
I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me
In the morning,
He shouted at me:

Where did all this water come from?
I brought it from the Nile.
And the trees?
From the orchards of Damascus.
And the music?
From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad;
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

Where did this moon come from?
From the nights of Baghdad.
And the wine?
From the vineyards of Algiers.
And this freedom?
From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…
He begged me to give him back
His freedom.


Are we ready, as White folks, for what this will take? I’m choosing yes.