It’s 2017 and I’m determined to see that the power to act weds nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for my individual clients, for the civic body, for the common good.
I was a reluctant student of power. And in my efforts to exercise power and speak truth to power, I burned out as a non-profit professional by the mid ’90s.
My life took a different turn. I learned about other kinds of power: the power of the body to heal itself, the powers of the plants, the transformative power of embodying the nondual. I grew into a healer and an herbalist. The social activist entered a long sleep even as other parts of me were awakening.
Still, my years as a community organizer taught me to listen to my clients’ stories, to listen not only for the impact of their family life, but the impact of skin color, wealth, opportunity, gender, sexual identity, and the other societal constructs that shape us.
The Baltimore Uprising in April, 2015 woke up that sleeping seeker of justice. The November election energized me.
2017 promises me ample opportunities to explore the relationship between healing and empowerment, to marry the seeker of justice with the healer, to explore ways to heal our civic body.
What could that look like? How about we figure this out together?
Here’s my back story, with a deep bow to remarkable teachers of mine.
I was a reluctant student of power.
Charm and subtle manipulation served me so effectively for so many years in the daughter-mother-wife-entrepreneur roles. And when my few strategies failed me, I had learned to simply withdraw. I was 36 and recently separated when I was hired by the Northeast Community Organization and underwent a week-end church-basement training in Alinsky-style organizing. Among other things, I learned that those who have not amassed wealth to spread their influence around had better learn to amass a lot of human bodies. Also that an opponent, aka enemy on one issue might well become a bedfellow on the next.
Over the next fifteen years, two black professionals tutored me in different aspects of power. I inherited Organizational Psychologist Michael F. Broom, Ph.D. as my mentor when I took over as Director of The Maryland Food Committee, a statewide anti-hunger organization where I’d been working for five years. He was the first person – yes, really – to talk with me about “use of self”: actual skills for becoming aware of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and using intention to choose behaviors that would optimize getting desired results and minimize or at least manage difficulties along the way.
A few months into working with me, Michael cut through my foggy persona like a knife through butter with five words: You’re not helpless, you know.
I certainly had been helpless up to that moment, given how unconscious I was about my – um thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
I went on to learn an enormous amount from Michael and his colleagues Edie and Charlie Seashore, deans in the field of organizational development. How to participate in and then facilitate race and gender conversations in organization settings. How to run multi-day large-group consensus-building processes to address social problems.
But to learn play in the political arena, I needed more street smarts than my tidy upbringing could ever have imagined. My tutor and role-model was Reverend (now Bishop) Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church. Doug also headed Baltimore United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church and neighborhood-based organization affiliated with Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). He picked up with me where the church-based week-end had left off. No, I never set out to learn how to preach from this master of conscience, nor inspire crowds to action as he did.
Doug taught me about the importance of relationships built on trust, and the time, skill and heart needed to develop them.
He taught me about the courage and inner strength human beings draw from standing together, walking a street together, powering a meeting together. About the importance of everyone being crystal clear about the goal and the negotiating position.
Twenty years later
When I left social justice work, my colleagues and I had made some inroads in opening up what we thought of as the real conversation: the poverty that fostered hunger and birthed hundreds of food pantries and dozens of soup kitchens. The resistance to naming and delving into next level of reality, the institutional racism that drove poverty that drove hunger – that resistance was fierce.
Now racism, and all its kin are the stuff of daily conversation, from the raw to the scholarly. The lid is off and #this is our history, #this is who we are. What are we – together – going to do about it?
I am determined to figure out how you and I can each use our life of practice to see that we wed the power to act to nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for our individual clients, for the civic body, for the common good.
How can we open up meaningful conversations across the divides in our families and communities, make life-changing strides for our hurting kin, all while being our wise and foolish human selves?
Here’s my invitation: Join me via Zoom, Tuesday, January 17, 7:30-8:30 pm EST
in observing Martin Luther King’s Birthday.
Let’s mobilize our yearning and our practice to bend the long arc towards justice.
TO REGISTER: email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please make Subject line BEND THE ARC