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.

spiraling

i’ve long loved spirals. they represent to me an ongoing process of growth that returns, again and again to its origins. lately, i see myself spiraling. not in an out-of-control way (although sometimes it does feel like that!) but in the sense of circling back to a core place, with the same core questions and contemplations.

today, i stumbled on this blog post i wrote almost exactly five years ago, Notes from the Mainstream. then, i worked for higher education; now, i do not. my work is the same and it is different. i am the same and i am different. i bring new insight and learn from my old self. all at once.

the spiraling has brought nuance to my core question: how do i remain whole so that my actions are in service of the whole?

for now, wanting to just notice this spiraling. a calling back to my Self. with a deepening and widening perspective all the while.

suffering

My heart has been heavy this week.

I’ve spent some time considering why. Honestly, I’m not sure, exactly. And I’m learning to be okay with not knowing. I don’t need to understand. I don’t need to try to solve my sadness, or to fix it.

In fact, my tendency to want to do this–to get at the root of my own suffering–pulls me away from it. Pulls me away into my mind, where I ruminate on the past and theorize about the future. And while this maybe sounds like a good thing, it’s actually not helpful. We need to be present to our suffering, to feel it and fully experience it. This presence invites Wholeness, Holiness.

The thing with being present to suffering is that first, I have to notice it and allow myself to experience it. These days, in all our busyness, this isn’t an easy thing. We need time and space. A strange commentary of the state of affairs: we need time and space to be with ourselves and to feel what we feel. And yet, so true.

Just yesterday, in two separate conversations, when friends spoke of things happening in their lives, they were surprised by their tears, by the emotions that arose as they touched on what was bubbling underneath, all along.

Today, Good Friday, the day Christ suffered on the cross, I am thankful for this Christian tradition. Today, this day invites me to remember the sacred role suffering plays in transformation. Today reminds me of the power of being with suffering.

What if, when we touch on something tender, we simply stay with that tenderness? Instead of turning away and running (to a glass of wine, Netflix, another topic of conversation, a theory as to why, or a solution that will fix it), we tend to the tenderness?

Tending is not fixing. Tending is holding, caring.

And that is all. And that is enough.

warriorship

a year ago
i said yes to an invitation
that only my soul understood

to join with others
broken-hearted by the suffering of our world
open-hearted to the joy of our world
who shared faith in power unleashed through right relationship

this year has been one of painful unlearning
of letting go of false selves and forms and ego
of grieving hope and answers and truths
of remembering presence and connection and wholeness

how thankful i am that i trusted my soul
and dared to listen to my Self
i said yes to awakening
choosing who i want to be

which is to say i choose to be nobody
a valley rather than a mountain
mystery rather than a brand
free floating rather than attached 

funny that a path that feels
so new, so radical
traces back to the beginning of humankind
we only have to forget all we know to remember who we are,

together



Sacred Land Sanctuary in Crestone, Colorado with teachers John Milton and Meg Wheatley

undone

the past couple of weeks, i’ve come undone. this, i know, is life. over and over again, we become undone. the practicing comes in accepting it, being in it, and not retreating in utter fear.

i’m still practicing.

the thing is, all that we’ve learned our entire lives tells us otherwise: to hold on tight. to try harder. to grin and bear it. to be strong. to keep it together. these messages rob us of rich living and dying and in the process, dehumanize us. these messages tell us we are pathetic and incapable and weak for being just as we all…in the words of the great grace lee boggs’, “human human beings.”

so i get this. i’ve learned these lessons before. even still, this time as i practiced, i was surprised by my lack of self-compassion when i started beating myself up. as i transitioned from intense hospital duty with my mom back into life’s routine of kids, work, home, i began destructive self-talk as i started to drown. it got louder and louder. “why can’t you just let go of the dirty house?”; “why did you forget that email?” “you’re being hypersensitive.” “what is wrong with you? get over it. you’re so freaking privileged to have the resources you do.” in a time when i most needed loving-kindness, i met myself and my process of being undone with judgement.

now that i’ve noticed it, i feel lighter. i feel more compassion. i wonder what would it mean to accept being undone with an open heart and trust that from this place will be born life that is already taking shape within me–as a butterfly emerges from its undone cocoon.

i’ll keep practicing.