Election Day and the Color Line, One Year Later

I have found myself jittery and anxious the past few days – and concluded it was anniversary jitters, as we approached Election Day 2017, a one-year marker of sorts. Not unlike the anniversary of more personal traumas – say the death of many loved ones during the month of March. Related feelings of grief that wash over me in the spring sometimes take me unawares. There was no way to be unaware Election Day was immanent and the color line accentuated.

 

I have also been dreaming, vividly.

For which I am grateful: these dreams have been instructing me about shifts in how I perceive and make meaning. It is during sleep that our neurons are pruned and our learning is consolidated.

To all appearances we were eight white women of various generations seated around a table in a well-appointed middle-class livingroom. The table had been set for lunch with a starchy cloth and full place settings. We had just finished lunch. Our mostly-empty plates sat in front of us.

My mother was sitting not directly next to me, a woman between her age and mine sitting between us. Mom was quiet, though it was a setting in which she could be at home.

Greg C., pastor and executive director at a local spiritual wellness center, came into the room, greeted each of us as he went around the table, and then left. I knew Greg lived a life of practice, although different from mine. He had his own deep and truthful way of listening to text and life.

Then the youngish woman sitting across from me told her story. Of how, at a young age, she was separated from her family at the auction block. How she  was sold with her mom, “but of course the sons went with their fathers when they were lucky.” She filled in  details. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Around the table every woman, including my mom, was crying.

 

Abruptly I woke up.

It is the day after Election Day. I have not yet seen the results of the campaign for governor of Virginia that, after some months of focus on local bread and butter issues – transportation gridlock, affordable housing – had turned acrimonious with an influx of campaign bucks from all quarters of the nation, and inflammatory rhetoric about confederate monuments and laws regulating women’s wombs.

 

Step up to the color line and listen.

I look at how my mother grew up on one side of the color line. How I grew up on one side of the color line – during both our generations the line reinforced by Jim Crow. How my kids grew up on one side of a color line just barely fractured by the civil rights movement. How my grandchildren are growing up on one side of a color line stretched but not breached by Obama’s eight years as President and Commander in Chief.

Whichever side of the color line we grew up on, it’s long past time for each of us to listen prayerfully to generations of stories of the color line. To live inside one another’s stories, as the women in this dream. To weep together. To guard these stories as treasured truthfulness. To take in what it means “to pass” – as a woman of color, as a human being, as a democracy. To wrestle what it could mean to rebuild a democracy founded on knowledge of our shared and deeply flawed history.

 

One story at a time.

When we don’t recognize our own stories, they are powerful unthought knowns that steer our perceptions – and our votes.

It takes courage to risk the telling, humility to risk the listening. As we allow one another’s stories to live, to take up a square in our quilt, we birth one another into our full sorrowing humanity. That’s when we stop “passing” as humans.

Who knows what we might create together out of such broken-heartedness, how we might bend, bend with the long arc of the moral universe.

 

AN INVITATION TO PRACTICE…if you are ready have your heart broken open

This week, whose story are you prepared to invite – without burdening the teller with your desire to understand?

This week, whose story are you prepared to receive?


Banner photo taken at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, October, 2016

 

 

Changes of season, changes of state: they matter

We humans, as all life on our planet, are made to shift with the seasons,  change our state,  our activities, our being.

Changes of state fascinate me.   The roles of temperature, pressure, motion, scale. Vapor to water to ice.  Relaxation to anxiety.  Mystery to revelation. A sudden change of mood, perception, mind, heart. Uncountable changes of all these types fly past us unnoticed every day.  These moments matter, and so do the properties they exhibit.

Venetian Glass i was inspired by the following curated description:

Although glass … acts like a solid, it is actually most like a super-cooled liquid. When glass is cooled, it cools too fast for the atoms to form a crystalline structure. This means the atoms are still able to vibrate slightly but not rotate or translate the way they are able to do in a liquid or gas phase.
Quote and banner photo above: Dale Chihuly Venetian Glass exhibit
Alamance Arts, Graham, North Carolina
August, 2016

 

Venetian Glass i

by Sara Eisenberg

gone, the season of

august heat,

air heavy with with-

held rains,

sun-loving plants thrusting straight,

straight up into the open furnace-door of sky,

shade plants and me

on our knees,

hugging the ground then

 

cooled down,

I’ve been cooled down,

swung, sassed miles riding on

blue notes wailed by some

saxophonic wind-force

 

vacillating still between

demon and angel.

 

You can still trace my shape with your fingers,

follow the gold strands embellishing my surface,

feel how I vibrate slightly.

 

I occupy the same space,

act like a solid, yet

I can no longer

pour myself into the shape of my life

nor diffuse through it.


For more poetry:

 

 

 

Falling down as a leader and getting up again

Falling down and getting up again is one of the hallmarks of the Nondual Kabbalistic Healing community that is my home.

This morning I fell down as a leader, and my healer-colleagues caught me.

And this is how it works among the imperfect humans that we are.

 

I always, always want to be at my best when I facilitate a meeting.

Clear intention. Clear agenda. Clear (preferably flawless) communication. Definitely flawless documents that reach participants in time to prepare. Show up knowing what I want, ready to state it and also make plenty of room for others to state their views. Open to learning and to changing my mind. But still, as a leader, I expect myself to be able to confidently say: we are going in this direction!

Oh, and presence. Taking in what is going on, considering it with wisdom, and…well, you get the picture (aka fantasy) in play here.

 

Today’s reality: unrelated to any meeting anxiety, I ‘d been awake since 3:00 am before this 8:30 meeting. Still recuperating from a respiratory bug, with a muzzy head and bleary eyes. With an unstable internet connection that could (and did) drop me from the meeting at any moment. I wasn’t the only one. A mom’s cancer surgery. A newborn grandson. A dog’s death. Everyone had Life going on.

One issue on the agenda – creating a Master Calendar for projects, was a big departure for this all-volunteer group’s working style. I expected a range of resistances to this proposal. There was none. On the contrary, people saw the need and how it would help. Exhale.

It had taken me a week to drop into how to frame a second major issue. That involved our vision for the community that we serve, and how to bring it alive in the biennial gathering we are planning for next summer. I felt very clear that offering attendees different creative ways to explore the theme of the gathering – movement, mask-making, a community mural – was the way to go. But in the service of what intention, with what goal? I was alarmed to find that as the chair I was coming up empty. I felt the best I could offer was an empty form. Ugh.

 

So here’s what happened.

My energies were low, my mind not too sharp, my level of presence questionable. I simply could not run the meeting in whatever my usual style is.  This left room for different conversations and inventiveness. Many dots were connected about how this could support that. Oh and of course the theme of the meeting could play out in this inspired way so it was really an integrated part of the whole. And oh this and that person have wonderful artistic specialties they might offer. In fact, that community resourcefulness is precisely what we want to harbor at the big gathering. Oh!

Lesson of the day: I was off my game, and this made room for fresh movement, new information, originality, heartfelt desires, initiative, skills, engagement. What a rich stew. An outcome that helped me get up, and left all of us uplifted, and in awe of one another.

I became useful in a different way when I fell down – off my own standards for myself. My colleagues picked me up and the whole committee enterprise too. Next time you feel off your game, consider you might be making room for something wholly new and brilliant to emerge. Including enlivened trust and intimacy in your group.

 

How to wake up in the middle of waking up

This morning I woke up in the middle of waking up.

I realized that I was making a series of definitive statements to myself, declarations about the state of my body and my relationship with the world. I was reconstructing my very identity for the day! The questions to which the statements appear to be answers were either understood, implied, or went by too fast to be noticed.

I have a bit of a headache. That’s unusual. That pain in my left arm that I got up to take care of in the middle of the night doesn’t hurt. The St. John’s Wort Oil I rubbed in must have worked.  My sinuses are less congested. That osteopathic treatment yesterday helped. I have a whole day to finish those two essays for my homework assignment. The uninterrupted hours are nervous-making. I’ve worked the Kabbalistic Universes to death figuring out how they relate to personal and social identity. What I’ve got is far too complicated. I just want to give this group what they need to know now. I want to leave out a bunch of the usual stuff but I’m afraid of over-simplifying it. That other piece – on my relationship with the unknown: I’ve hardly thought about it. The house is really cold this morning.

Then the cat jumped up on me, having noticed I was stirring. She roused me to get her breakfast, ending this bit of waking up in the middle of waking up.

I regularly sleep through this process in the morning when I wake from sleep. What is really going on here?! 

I am reconstituting a self that I recognize, and a life that I recognize. I am naming and rating various body sensations, and in the process making judgments about actions I’ve taken – in this case in the prior twenty-our hours. I am translating certain sensations into recognizable anxieties so readily that I now suspect that I have paired them habitually: only this white wine pairs with that fish. There’s a thing I have to get done, and it has to meet certain standards – of usefulness and clarity that are good enough, close enough to perfection. I am naming an anxiety that sets up my relationship for the whole day – this thing I gotta do, I don’t know how I’m gonna get it done. All this brings alive muscle memory, posture, ways of sitting/sitting out and walking towards/away that shape how I move through life.

There are a whole lot of unthought knowns operating here.

They underlie the process I have described, and they love statements. Subject. Object. Definitiveness indicated by the period at the end. Period. Distinctions. Judgments. Interpretations. And every one of them sets me up to go about my day assuming them to be reality.

I didn’t stop to question the validity of any of it. I didn’t stop to question what I was including or leaving out. I didn’t stop to question the meaning I assigned to a sensation or the judgement I paired with a thought.

Question? Introduce something curvy to slow my speedy process?

I didn’t pause to let in more information or to allow for possibility, until it occurred to me I’d better get right to the computer before these insights could sink unexamined back into unconsciousness.

Then I went into the kitchen and fed the cat.


Read more on other ways of Not Knowing: https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/i-dont-knows-small-life-stopping-and-life-giving/

 

Growing up racist in Post-World War II America

Banner photo: Girl holding a child  Arkansas, ca 1855, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

I am grateful to white historian Charles B. Dew for The Making of a Racist, a stark and insightful guide to his personal acculturation to the Southern story of slavery and the civil war, and to his profound cognitive dissonance on waking up to it. His primary sources, documents of the slave trade in Richmond, Virginia, chill Dew and the reader alike with what was their obviously pedestrian nature at the time.

 

Raised in the industrial midwest, I have my own version of growing up racist.

When I saw the banner photo above, I immediately recognized its personal significance. Somewhere in my family album was a picture of a dark-skinned Fannie Mae holding a white baby – my older sister. It would have been taken in Cleveland, late in 1938, 83 years after Girl Holding a Child. By my birth in 1944, someone replaced Fannie Mae, and I think she was white.

I was in 11th grade before I met Paul, the first black student I ever went to school with – seven years after Brown v. the Board of Education.  The only other direct contact I had with African-Americans growing up was with Gertrude, the cleaning woman who worked for us for many years. She was kind, friendly, reliable, and just about as distant from my world as any other adult. My mother referred to her as “the Woman,” which even as a kid I thought was strange. And the feeling of how I remember this is that my mother also seemed to make a point of fixing lunch for Gertrude, same as she would for me, an act that carried some unspecified moral weight.

 

And somehow I imbibed that by weekly proximity to my white family, Gertrude was blessed to have escaped a fate of poor character or bad luck.

A few years ago, I wrote the following vignette:

According to Historic District documents,  I grew up at an aspirational address. My parents had been among “newly married couples of social prominence” drawn more to “the street of the brides” than to any other real estate in late 1920s Cleveland. The Winslow Road house stood on a prominent corner, one convenient block from the Lynnfield Rapid Transit stop. Convenient also for the Shaker Heights police, whose black and white cruiser regularly sat for hours just past our driveway, ready to spring right or left onto the nearby boulevard in chase of – something. It was the 1950s, suburbia: segregated from despair, violence, and color.

Loudly enough to be shushed, I used to ask my mother about the poor people as the Rapid took us through trash-strewn gullies and neighborhoods of shabby, grey, tilted homes. I hit a rust spot in my imagination when I try to recall, or reconstruct, her answer.

The civil rights movement was in full swing, heady and terrible, by the time my own children were born, and I can note only these tiny incremental changes, and with the same unspecified moral weight I had sensed from my mother: It was always Mrs. Bond. And we often sat down to lunch together.

Not surprisingly, Dew is never quite able to reconcile his love of his parents and his admiration of his mother’s kindness with the stories he was fed (including the same Little Black Sambo of my childhood) and the way his father treated the black gardener for coming to the front door. Over and over again he asks, “How could they?”

I understand his dilemma. They” could and my mother could, because they didn’t question. For way too long I didn’t either.

What did you take in about race while you were growing up?


More on our cultural stories:

https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/stories-to-heal-what-ails-me-what-ails-america/

https://alifeofpractice.com/bend-the-arc/getting-to-justice-stories-that-heal-me-heal-america-part-2/

“I don’t knows” small, life-stopping, and life-giving

The small I don’t know

“I don’t know” surely ranks as among the most difficult phrases for many of us to utter. Our families and culture indoctrinate us, implicitly or explicitly, in one or another story of the associated dangers. Test anxiety, performance anxiety, terror of public speaking are some of the common ways this shows up in our lives: the unknown is an enemy.

I grew up shaped by an absolute certainty that personal calamity would result from not knowing. My very existence depended on knowing. Knowing what was in family members’ minds and hearts but was taboo to speak. Knowing when I was needed where and for what without being told. Knowing the right answer. Knowing with precision. Anticipating what I needed to know and maintaining a constant state of readiness. Exhausting. No wonder I had bags under my eyes even as a kid.

Eventually I found that when I could let go of the certainty of calamity, I was not an irredeemable failure. Instead I might learn something about myself, another human being, or the world. Being open to learning and possibility sometimes serves me as inspiration, other times as aspiration. It is a practice that I have at different times pursued cheerfully, doggedly, grumbling to myself.

And if I don’t garner new information, I have the chance to practice something else: patience, and humility.

 

The life-stopping I don’t know 

Being recalled for a mammogram. Knowing a loved one is in harm’s way. A sudden loss of security, health, relationship, function. I find this I don’t know mixed with bargaining prayers, grief, courage, urgency, helplessness, trust, terror. The very quality of time and space shifts. It seems odd if the sun is shining and the weather perfect.

I may have to mobilize my inner resources and outer supports. I may spend a lot of my energies figuring out what is the next right thing to do. I may need to weep or howl or break plates.

Yet somehow the quality of persistence pervades such times. The persistence of sunrise and sunset, sleeping and waking, breath.

 

…somehow becomes the life-giving I don’t know

The small I don’t knows have been swallowed by the mother of “I Don’t Knows” – which I can only call Mystery. I can make no sense of my life, of the world, of Life. My sense-making mechanisms don’t function normally. It’s not exactly that I lose my senses, my mind, and the defenses that I built upon them.

They are just not the right tool for this I Don’t Know.

 

What does seem to work is this: I rest my head up against the unknown

This unknown is so solid that as I do this, I can actually rest. I am comforted. I relax, physically. There is nothing for me to figure out. I do not need to listen in the way I’ve thought of listening. I do not need to open my heart or even be concerned about whether it is open or closed. There is neither pattern nor meaning to seek out. An open mouth. No words. Neither are words precluded nor actions hindered. Just my head resting up against the unknown, on the shoulder of a rock-solid friendship.

Consequences: how our actions build character

The consequences of some actions are clear.

I drop a glass on the tile floor, and the glass shatters.

I turn away from someone who is talking to me, and something in the relationship shatters – in a small or a big way.

Over the span of a year, a decade, a lifetime – cause and effect tend to be less clear to us. How have our actions and their consequences added up over time? How have we built our character? Out of what have we built our character?

All of which makes me deeply grateful for the Jewish cycle of Holy Days, which are heading toward their annual high point.

It is said that on the Jewish New Year, our names are inscribed in the Book of Judgment. Who will live and who will die. Who will live in peace and who in anxiety.

It is said that ten days later – on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – that Book, and our destiny for the year, are sealed.

During the in between days we are both cautioned and encouraged to engage in three sorts of actions that can assure us of being inscribed and sealed for a good year. (Interestingly enough, the seeking and granting of forgiveness with our fellow humans, a main focus of the whole period of time, is not among the three actions that can “avert the decree” of misery or death.)

Turning, or returning (in Hebrew, teshuvah), which involves heartful remorse, actions to repair or provide restitution for harm done, and resolve to refrain from repeating the behavior.

Prayer (in Hebrew, tefilah), an introspective and simultaneously connecting effort. The Hebrew root connotes both a discerning evaluation of oneself and a strengthening of ourattachment to God. This attachment exists as a matter of the nature of Reality, regardless of whether we feel “close” to God or not.)

Material acts of justice (in Hebrew, tzedakah), commonly understood to be an obligation to give charity, but which can be understood more broadly as acts that redress wrongs to individuals or to social groups.

There is a growing urgency as we near the end of our 26+ hour fast on Yom Kippur, our destiny all but sealed, yet even then our tears are said to be a gateway that remains open.

And the turning and re-turning, the discerning and attachment, the material acts of justice? On we go with these companions, day by day until the year turns once more, as we pause again to face the Character in the mirror.

Rumi-nating on the New Year and sharp knives

First I have to notice.

The month before Rosh Hashonah is devoted to reviewing one’s accounts, seeing what is in need of repair – how my ways of doing and being have uplifted or downtrodden, made whole or split, brought solace or suffering. So first comes noticing.

Some years that is all I can do, and then my resolve to repair, restore, make whole does not have much flesh and bone behind it.

This year I have been blessedly hit with insights into very fundamental dynamics about how I live my life and move through the world, so much so that I can quite literally feel my body moving through space made solid. I can feel with my senses the effects as I move through the world unaware, in self-protective mode, how one “no” after another leaves the world around me roughed up and distressed. And how different the effects when I am awake to my full and imperfect humanity. Then even the “no” changes meaning and claims its actual power.

As I enter this New Year, I am deeply resolved to notice, and to choose the sharp blade as a kindness to myself and the world.

May you be blessed to be a blessing to your dear ones and to the world in the year 5778.

 

Rumi-nating

by Sara Eisenberg

 

I would say yes quickly if

I could, Master Rumi, if

I would.

 

Drowsing or distracted I am clumsy and

ragged, no

less nor more than any

one, propelled through

space thick with love

that I take for wood or

ice that needs a

roughly-handled

saw, a NO that is my first

response.

 

There is nothing for it.

Once born, I am skin and mind-

bound.

 

Then I remember God said and it was

very good.

 

How I would be

fresh from the water stone,

a keen blade slicing through

life, leaving no jagged open

seeping wound.

 

You would only feel the lightest

caress on your bare

skin, met, set

apart from all creation by your precious

unequalled existence.

 


The following came to me some time after I wrote this poem: while I do not keep kosher, I know that to minimize suffering to a permitted animal, a knife used for slaughtering must be extremely sharp,  is inspected both before and after the  slaughter, and must be applied in a single uninterrupted movement that does not tear tissues.

In practice: the medium is the message

Dear Friends,

Today I celebrate a full year of showing up with a weekly post about some aspect of living A Life of Practice.

The medium has been the message: this blog has been a promise to myself to keep showing up, sharing my sometimes rough growing edges, my ongoing questions, and my occasional revelations. In other words, it has proved a powerful way for me to remain in practice.

Your comments and personal emails to me about the ways you have resonated with my words, and been encouraged and inspired in your own life, have been a joy and ongoing inspiration to receive.

So a gift and a request for you, my subscribers ….

The gift: an opportunity to explore a personal question about practice in your life in a thirty minute conversation – to the first five subscribers who respond.  Just cut and paste “personal question about practice”  in the message box linked here and I’ll be in touch to schedule.

The request: however A Life of Practice has captured your interest, please send this post on to 3 friends with a few words about what nourishes you here, and invite them to subscribe here.

With blessings for all you need to arrive at the life of practice that nourishes you.

May your life in practice bring you home to the uniquely wise and imperfect human you are.

With gratitude,

Sara

_______________________________________________________________
I am including links to a selection of posts that provoked a chain of thoughtful responses:

Nothing is as you left it? Walking into Walls?
https://alifeofpractice.com/…/transition-and-mischief-m…/

Make Yourself Useful
https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-…/make-yourself-useful/

Listen to Your Body, it speaks truth
https://alifeofpractice.com/…/listen-to-your-body-it-sp…/

The Morning After: a 21st Century Creation Story
https://alifeofpractice.com/…/morning-after-the-election/

How to sit in the dark
https://alifeofpractice.com/dail…/how-to-sit-in-the-dark/

Thank you to my women friends, who come bearing gifts
https://alifeofpractice.com/…/women-friends-come-bearin…/

Your motive question: What is it you are trying to solve?

The power of a motive question

I have been asked from time to time in my nondual healing studies – usually as I try to avoid one of my personal demons by pinning down some new piece of understanding, knowledge or skill:  “What is it you are trying to solve?”

The “answer” to this question is not a statement, but another question – what I call a motive question, because it is one that moves us powerfully – and unconsciously – into action over and over again throughout our lives.

A motive question makes its presence known in our lives as we repeatedly circle around frustrations, guilts, and disappointments. It dogs us through serial (if monogamous) relationships, work lives, creative endeavors, week-end workshops, pilgrimages, marches.

In the past few days, inspired by the courage and vulnerability of my healing colleagues, I have once again taken up that question: What am I trying to solve as I live my life?  It has ushered me deep into weeping with loneliness. I have explored this loneliness before through poetry about my very early life, but I rarely allow it to arrive so fully in my consciousness or my body.

I could say that my motive question is: How can I live so that I avoid feeling this loneliness? Many other voices and opinions chime in. Some sow delight in my being, others plague. I write down what each has to say. Eventually they drop into song together, a refrain of yearning and commitment, a truth-filled response to my motive question:

I can bear to show up and be seen

I can bear to speak and be heard

I can bear to touch and be touched

I can bear to hold and be held

as the woman I am

as the Jew I am

in all my whiteness

not only for the sake of others

but for my own sake.

Perhaps this is the right timing for you to begin to inquire into your own motive question.

There is no more holy work. It solves nothing. Yet it brings healing and awakening to your soul and to the world.

 

 

Holy work

by Sara Eisenberg

 

As I sit to

engage in this holy reckoning,

the Corn Maiden is not her erect

sun-reaching self.

 

Instead her head rests against the flank

of the Blue Deer,

whose song calls her into existence,

sings to her: “multiply and feed,” and

settles each and every god into

her role.

 

And so chaos yields to One, separation

after another,

glistening particulars across all

firmaments, oceans, marshes, deserts,

across all concepts, beliefs, borders, memes.

 

The body of the world is all hands and eyes, they

touch and bless each

shape and texture as it comes into

life, catches vivid fire, warms and burns,

 

touch and bless each

small death-into-life before the body wearies

altogether,

 

touch and bless,

clapping and

shining with tears

of a joy so great

even sorrow

finds lodging.