“Good questions” can clear a path through incivility

We are desperately in need of good questions to draw us out of our silos, to connect us as human beings during these divisive and acrimonious times.

Good questions can clear a path through half-truths, lies, justifications, insults, declarations, vilifications, clarifications, obfuscations, rationalizations, denials.

Good questions invite us to drop our personas, masks, even the half-truths we tell ourselves.

Good questions open up possibilities.

They have many answers.

They are even likely to have different answers at different times.

 

Here are the most relevant “good questions” I have heard in months.

English teacher Laurel Taylor recently challenged her 12th grade students to sit down and talk with someone with whom they disagreed on a foundational issue, such abortion, or who they supported in the presidential election. The students were to ask the following:

What is it like to be you?

What is your life like?

What is it like to be known and by who are you known?

The students learned something of what shaped the “other,” discovered common ground as well as differences that were not resolved. Built relationships.

They went on to each answer the same questions for themselves, and share with their class-mates. More surprises: discovering they were not as alone and exceptional as they believed as they encountered the many challenges of adolescence.

 

These questions inspire me in their simplicity, plainness, and directness. They say, “I really want to know who you are, what it’s like for you to make your way through daily life.”

When we ask “good” questions we make space for surprise, the unexpected, revelation, AHAs. Space for other questions to arise. For more information to come in. More insight. Also mystery, doubt, vulnerability, confusion.  Also awe, joy, pleasure.

As these students learned, when we are able to let in what shows up, what is actually present and real for us, our capacity for compassion grows, even compassion for ourselves.

 

Invitation to practice:

You may share the same reluctance and discomfort these students did, but risk asking someone these questions, then answer them for yourself.

And please share your own “good questions” with us here.

 


For the full story: In a time of divisiveness, lessons on listening at a Virginia school, by Debbie Truong,  Washington Post, February 26, 2018.

Love in action on Valentine’s Day: not about romance

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Valentine’s Day: reframing the irritating task in front of me as love in action made my day

Attention to ordered and effective detail comes naturally when I am writing poetry. It’s a matter of scale: a limited number of words and lines on a simple white background. Small enough that my eyes can take in the parts and the whole at the same time.

But what was in front of me this morning was something else. The day began as I chaired an online meeting of an all-volunteer committee. A key agenda item was the need for a leave of absence policy. The issues proved more complex than they originally appeared. We agreed and voted on a general direction. One member – a careful listener with a good memory – agreed to take on the word-smithing after we adjourned. We signed off.

Over the next few hours twenty emails flew back and forth on this thread. Twenty. Including a new voice that was not part of the online discussion but is vital to include. Half a dozen additional considerations raised. Lots of parts. Moving parts.

My irritation rose. I was losing sight of the whole. And losing touch with impeccability: in this instance, our collective intention to craft a policy that would bring clarity, closure where necessary, and serve both the individual volunteers and the work of community-building that is our passion.

Pause.

Reframe.

This is Valentine’s Day.

What better day for love in action?

Impeccability is not about writing the perfect leave of absence policy that will fit every circumstance like a glove. It’s about patience with the words, the people, the incremental steps, the revisions. It will take more thought, a few more days. A bunch more emails. And we’ll arrive at a policy that is seated in our values and does the job. We’ll nudge the necessary details  into place.

The gift – for myself and those on the receiving end of my emails: letting go of the urgency, I relaxed and went on with my day, which also included dark chocolate and red roses.

In good hands with Healing Presence

Recent weeks have been a strange and compelling time for me. I have been called on to think deeply about behaviors that contribute to Healing Presence. At the same time to ever more deeply explore early childhood experiences of emotional absence. This dual preoccupation has freshly illuminated the gift in the wound that is my calling in life.

 

Putting myself in good hands

I can see now that I have devoted myself professionally to being “the good hands” in which I want to place myself whenever I seek health care or disease (medical) care. Being those “good hands” comes down to a felt quality of relationship that engenders trust and a sense of being met, seen, and cared for.

 

This is how I define Healing Presence, a particular application of living life as an imperfect and vulnerable human being. 

Healing Presence looms large in my professional foreground. Peer into my personal background and I find a profound absence of being  met, seen, and emotionally cared for early in  life.  The gift in the wound. The lotus rising from the mud. A calling. Or, as the Jewish sages have taught, God has created the cure even before the disease.

Countless times I have sat with a client holding for her the foreground and background of her life work that she cannot yet see, as she heartfully yearns to be able to grasp what is just inside and right in front of her.

Just as I could not see that while I was trying to salve, and solve, my early life difficulties with emotional absence, I was in the same moments perpetuating it. There are large swaths of my life where I have been in absentia. In vain my daughters have asked me about certain family events of life-altering significance to them: I have no memory to illumine their own search for meaning or understanding.

 

Healing Presence in the face of absence from life

Until very recently, I could not answer my own question: Where was I at those moments? Now I understand that my attention was focused not on what was in front of me – and them. I was, unawares, scanning entire universes for danger, mustering and deploying armies of defenders, all skills I began to apprentice before I had even the earliest language skills. Developmentally, a supremely young part of me was in charge.

The ongoing psycho-spiritual work of allowing these patterns to appear, of feeling utter loneliness, and unwinding embedded physiological patterns brings me back to Healing Presence. Because I do not entrust myself and this work lightly to anyone. And I have been fortunate to have been in the best of hands with friends, role models, teachers, and practitioners who have helped me to heal and awaken.

 

Here are some of the qualities and behaviors of Healing Presence I look for in the company I keep – in life and in the treatment room

We click. I have been met, seen, cared for unconditionally enough, if imperfectly. I feel a quality of relationship that engenders my trust. I sense that we can develop a partnership that serves my needs and desires and honors her expertise and viewpoint. So if a conflict develops around a course of action or treatment, it can be a productive one.

Each of my professional helpers…

  • listens to me deeply, non-judgmentally, with curiosity and nuance.
  • trusts that I am an expert on my own life.
  • trusts my body-mind-spirit’s innate wisdom, uniqueness, and capacity to heal.
  • accepts and responds to my story, language, and emotions (or lack thereof) as the foundation for our work. She is then free to validate, encourage, reframe, educate, or challenge me. To articulate, clarify, question, counsel, and illuminate. To partner, lead, or follow willingly as appropriate.
  • is comfortable with silence, tears, guffaws.
  • presents herself as a professional, grounded in ethics and respect for the limits of her scope of practice.
  • offers a fertile mix of critical thinking and humility, which discourages her from coming to premature conclusions, and encourages her to make good use of her knowledge and to embrace what cannot be known.

I take these qualities and behaviors as the fruits of  my practitioner’s own life of practice. Most often her practice is not going to be precisely my practice, and that does not matter. I may or may not learn deeply about or embrace the language or practices of her path or discipline over the time we work together towards my healing and awakening.

That we can walk together is essential, each of us knowledgable, wise and limited in our own ways: gifted by our own wounds, answering our respective callings. This is when I know I am in good hands.

These are the good hands I aspire to be.

 


AN INVITATION:

If you are looking to place yourself in good hands, in a partnership dedicated to your healing and awakening…

OR if you are a practitioner who wants to explore and deepen your own Healing Presence with your clients or patients…

LET’S TALK…. be in touch.

We can schedule a half-hour conversation (no charge)


IF you are interested in a peer-reviewed article on Healing Presence, this is a good place to start.


Banner photo: original painting by Sheri Hoeger, A Touch of Hands

 

Rhythms disrupted settle in the arms of Mother Nature

Rhythms disrupted.

As I began to write this morning, my MAC’s little rainbow wheel kept spinning, yielding up one letter or three or four at a time. Pretty much how I feel in week five of “recovery” from the flu. Not sure when I respond to a question, a directive, an email what might come out by way of wisdom or irrelevancy. As a human I am a creature of rhythm. My rhythms have been wildly disrupted between ragged breathing, coughing, and no routine. I have felt out of sorts.

 

Then last night I stumbled into a wonderful antidote: reflections on the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature.

I sat down to leaf through two photo albums I had put together during my second year as an herbal medicine student. Our assignment had been to spend a full year exploring some aspect of “People, Plants, and Seasons,” and present our learning to our classmates in some material form. As I began to work on the project in the spring of that year, I had a fundamental question. What is the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature? Between the patterns, cycles, behaviors of humans and other living creatures and the whole messy collective that we are?

Over the course of that year I filled three sketchbooks with field drawings, botanical and medicinal information, and personal reflections. I took photos, pressed plant material, tucked away quotes that touched me. I lived life, became a grandmother for the second time, and tended my mother through what turned out to be the final three months of her life.

As the project due date approached, I spent several weeks sifting, sorting and ordering images and words, and they took on a life of their own. I remember sitting on the floor, surrounded by scraps of paper, photos, dried plants and glue sticks. The process of cutting and pasting and arranging to making a meaningful whole of all those moments. How absorbed I was in making meaning, in finding the story that was mine to tell about people, especially my people, my plants. my seasons. How much room there was for the fresh grief of my mother’s death, the joys of grandmothering and the wonders of the green world. How healing it was to assemble and offer this story to my classmates, and be fully received.

 

The unsettling and awe-filed potency of birth and death, the generational shifts, full of feeling and poignancy: the relationship between human and Mother Nature revealed through the seasons. 

What astonished me last night as I paged through the albums was how the whole experience sprang fully to life. The observing and recording. Aromas and sounds and places. Voices of teachers and classmates. The excitement of discovery. Sorrow and delight.

 

 

IMG_3043 photo                    IMG_3047 photo 1

SPRING: Andre’s birth and garlic mustard                      SUMMER: nettles and St. John’s Wort

 

IMG_3048 photo 5                     photo 4IMG_3050

FALL: Ginkgo leaves, and fall too and fruit harvest        WINTER: Seasonal forms and light

 

Sometimes life says, “you’re on”  when I am “not ready,”  and I am reluctant to act in the face of unknowns. Other times life gives me room to recover and shift in ways that feel natural to me – breath, pulse, night and day, work and play, season, giving and receiving. Change of viewpoint, change of heart. Refreshed rhythms.

As drawings and photos and words transported me back to my true place in the large scheme of things, there was a place even for being out of rhythm and cranky. And then I had a change of heart.


 

Invitation to practice:

Pick an outdoor location that you regularly pass through and that draws your attention.

It can be as simple as a square foot or two of ground.

Or a place where you stand and slowly turn in a full circle, taking in the unique features of this place and your viewpoint.

Revisit it regularly as the seasons unfold. Observe. Sense. Notice changes.

Notice colors,  smells, textures, light and shadows, sky and clouds, effects of rain or snow,  evidence of insect or bird or animal life.

Notice changes in your relationship to this place, your relationship to yourself.

 

Keeping a simple log of your observations, taking photos, drawing are icing that will enrich the experience, but there is plenty of cake in the practice itself.

And let me know how it goes!

 

 

 

 

 

Getting into trouble: grumpy, life-enhancing work

A life of practice can be grumpy and life-enhancing work. It does not keep us from getting into trouble. Or end our troubles.

It does help us to notice when we are in trouble. Sometimes that noticing slows us down enough to turn directly into the trouble and work with it.

 

Here’s an example of what my friend Carol calls the “grumpy work” of waking up.

My husband Gideon and I had been preparing for a major interior painting and floor-refinishing after 30+ years in our home. This involved months of sorting and packing and discarding and giving away STUFF. This definitely left us each grumpy, and weary, from time to time.

Finally our movers arrived one morning to do a walk-through. We needed to make a more or less final plan for how they would pack up and move our belongings around the house without putting anything into storage. I’ll leave the details of our respective reactions to this whole undertaking to  your imagination. Suffice it to say that Gideon and I each had our own version of overwhelm on display that morning, and didn’t fully appreciate one another’s concerns.

Shortly afterwards I left for a dentist appointment, grumpy and breathing heavily.

I thought to myself: this state of mind is not going to mix well with dental work.

 

On the 40-minute drive I turned directly into what was going on inside of me – a well-worn old program of assuming the whole burden of whatever needed to be done.

I repeated to myself: Take it back in. Take it back in.

Then:  Take responsibility. Take responsibility.

Then: Be responsible. Be responsible.

Then: Sara, rely on your own goodness, which is not personally-owned.

Rely on Gideon’s goodness, which is not personally owned.

Don’t rely on his neuroses.

Or on your own.

Do/be what you can. Trust that Goodness, Godness, Reality has my back, not in any small ego sense.

I am not alone in this.

As I went through this process, I was able to invite in the  thoughts and feelings that were present within me. I was also able to choose which thoughts and feelings I wanted to dominate – not something I can often do.

During each step in this process I was inviting in my limitations. My desire to let myself off the hook. My tendency to see the negative in myself, in Gideon, in the whole situation. My deep belief that whatever is going on in life, I carry the sole burden for figuring it out. For getting it done. Nested with each limitation is some wisdom, some intelligence: responsibility, goodness, the actual availability of help and support.

 

I call this kind of inquiry getting into life-giving, nourishing trouble.

This is not a linguistic or psychological sleight-of hand, not a formula for processing difficulties. No such formula exists. The language came to me fresh and alive in the moment, and it came from turning directly into my discomfort and my limitations.

By the time I arrived at the dentist, I was breathing normally, no longer grumpy.

This was a relief. But I warn you, this practice does not reliably bring relief from suffering. Sometimes it brings us through a kind of false suffering, like self-righteousness, into a place of true or primary suffering: fear for our safety, or a deep unsatisfied yearning to be met by the world.

 

Relief from suffering or no, it brings us to the truth of who we are in the moment. 

That is the true grace and fruit of practice.  It does bring us into relationship with what is going on inside ourselves and in the world.  

You’ll have to decide if it is safe for you to do this while you are behind the wheel.

Back to basics: inclusion from the nondual perspective

Back to basics: I appear to need a good talking-to at the head of this year. Even as I seek to bring kindness, respect, and truthfulness alive in my relationships and work, I see with fresh eyes in how many ways I have twisted myself around and inside out to stay safe.

So I need to remind myself what I’m about at my most sane, and it starts with including the gnarly parts of myself.

So, a few words about inclusion from a nondual perspective: about its origins and power in what I call the Radical Oneness of existence, or the universe, or reality.

Many spiritual traditions view the world in this way. My roots are in Kabbalah, the Jewish wisdom tradition. You could call this Oneness God, the One who Holds (as in He’s got the whole world in His hands), Reality, The Buddha-Nature, Isness, The Great Kindness, The Garment of Destiny, the Quantum Field. One of the Hebrew names used is The Place, Makom.

This is a Oneness so great that it holds every distinction, separation, split, pair  of opposites, conflict, suffering, goodness, and every known and unknown. This is a world that is One not because it is has not shattered, but because it includes every shattering and every shard and sliver.

 

We humans, on the other hand, split the world. It is our nature. Hard-wired. For our survival.

We make distinctions: this/that, urban/rural, fashionable/out of style, essential/frivolous, normal, i.e.the norm/deviant. Then we go on to label them as “good” or “bad” and attempt to be/do/associate with the good-only. Or we inappropriately ride over, transcend, or erase differences, as in the view that we are a “post-racial” nation.

 

We do this splitting as we look out at the world. And we do this splitting as we look inward at ourselves.

We tend to include the parts of ourselves that we like – that are up to our standards of behavior or performance or skill or kindness or morality. And to exclude other parts we don’t like. For some of us, it’s the “good” parts we have trouble including, so we deny or minimize – that thing that I do, it’s not such a big deal.  Or diminish ourselves in comparison to someone “better.” Or fall into the mantra, “not good enough, not good enough,not good enough.”

The inner critic manages to keep close track of these. So does the task-master. So does the one intent on personal or spiritual growth, who often teams up with the critic/taskmaster on one of the following strategies:

– trying to wheedle, charm, or ring self-acceptance out of us

– turning us into an un-ending self-improvement project by means of “letting go of” or “purifying” or “transcending” or “seeing as illusion”or otherwise getting rid/killing off the parts of ourselves we don’t like.

– shame: that is a category all its own.

Living in this gap between our idealized and our real self is a high-maintenance and exhausting job, all the more-so when we aren’t awake to it.

 

Nondual practice – rooted in Radical Oneness, turns our attention towards forging a path of deep self-acceptance and dedication to staying at our working edge. We do our best to listen to the intelligence of our strengths and limitations, the parts of ourselves that we like, the parts we hate or despair of, the parts we deny or minimize.

The more we can do this, include each of these parts, come into relationship with them, give them a place, the more wisdom we have access to, and the less our limitations are obstacles in our path.

The more we can do this, the more we live in the world as the size we actually are, neither inflating ourselves nor shrinking away from life. The more we can do this, the more we can be intelligent companions to all kinds of people, even those who who appear most different from us.

As we include our own gnarly differences, the ones so hard for us to tolerate, the more capable we are of creating a world hospitable and nourishing to all the varieties of humanity.

 

Inspired to explore further? Be in touch to schedule a 30-minute complementary conversation.

 


Banner photo: photo taken at exhibit of Chihuly Venetians from the George F. Stroemple Collection, Alamance Arts, Alamance, North Carolina

 

Stand by the door: bless a year of taking stuff apart

What does it mean to bless? my friend Howard asked Reb Zalman. By way of response, Zalman posted Howard by the door to the retreat space as we returned from lunch, with no more directive than that.

 

It is in this spirit that I stand by the door of the year and consider the personal and public events of 2017, marked by disruption, interruption, dismantling.

On the personal side, I initiated significant disruption: after 35 years in our house, a project to re-do our sad-looking wood floors and repaint much of the first floor of our home. The domino effect, which I intended but couldn’t exactly plan, meant moving a lot of stuff around, getting into corners of accumulation, runs for empty beer and liquor boxes, hours of sorting and letting go. The physical and psychological labor was intense over a four-month period. A blockbuster approach to nostalgia, values clarification, and the great American dilemma of too-much-stuff. The process had its disruptive effects on my relationship with virtually every part of my identity, my family and my professional life. What does it all come down to? What, indeed. The outer rearrangements and lightening-up are settling in, the inner rearrangements and lightening up, still a work in progress.

 

But if a life of practice is about anything, it is about being a disruptor of habit and denial. And that commonly comes wrapped in discomfort.

There is more work to follow to get our house in order, going beyond nostalgia into territory such as: how long shall we assume we are going to live? how well-prepared are we financially? How well-prepared to assume care-taking roles for one another? what legacies are important to us, may someday help our children and grand-kids?

On the public side, I am horrified and terrified to live under an elected leader who governs by chaos and divisiveness and who cannot distinguish allies from enemies. Nostalgia makes for poor public and foreign policy. Values clarification? Many of us have caught fire with a new sense of urgency, commitment, skill and solidarity. We are paying attention. Our nation too has its ugly accumulation of dirt that now sees the light of day. Thousands of us are engaged daily to disrupt denial: the forces of habit of power-holders are formidable – whether in government, or in the home.

 

What does it even mean to be willing to bless such events?

May we each stand at the door of the year to bless as we can, looking first back, then ahead:

  • to look life straight in the eyes, to see who/what is before you and what is needed
  • to hold a profound intention for goodness
  • to take personal responsibility for guarding the threshold of the year
  • to join our volition with the volition of the universe that has our back

 

May we offer one another honesty suffused with kindness.

May we offer one another refuge from the wild elements within and without.

And please, share your blessings for the

outgoing and incoming years

 in the comments section.

Four hymns to Thanksgiving practice

Hymn to a room of my own

The room where I sit to write is a room of my own, the first I have had since I was a child. It is filled with images of strong women on whose shoulders I stand: family, healers, spiritual masters, goddesses. Filled with books overflowing with both knowledge and questions. Decades of journals. Artwork of family, friends, my own. Lilah is stretched out on the healing table for her extended morning nap.

Here I exhale. Here I feel myself. Here I meet with other women who are in pain. Here I plug into Zoom and meet with colleagues across the country and across the ocean. Here I watch a strong wind speed clouds towards the southeast. Solitude and connection.

 

Hymn to writing 

I have been blogging weekly now for fifteen months. As with any practice, sometimes I am inspired, and other times it’s a slog. Always, the practice demands honesty, the most impeccable discernment I can muster. And it hews me to conventions of language and grammar and a willingness to break with them for good reason. Drop the subject from a sentence. Run on like a Proustian paragraph. Give up on narrative altogether and turn to poetry.

Poetry – here too I exhale. I trust sound and line length and white space. A period: ●  Or its absence. When a Hebrew word לְדַבֵּר speaks or detracts. This is my brief hymn of Thanksgiving to punctuation.

 

Hymn to gifts received

A life that is more stable than most. A body with some growing limitations that still allows me to move around the world in the ways I treasure. A mind that is wedded to one passionate inquiry after another. Currently: bringing the wisdom of nondual practice to working with social identities; and the Hebrew letter Gimel, which is said to personify Giving and also has a numerical value of 3. A husband who silently recites his wedding vows to me every Friday evening at the Shabbos table as he slips the wedding band on my finger. Daughters who continue to teach and inspire me through shring books, moveies, and their own  life lessons. Friends who loaned us their condo for a month while we had work done on our house. A colleague who takes so much responsibility for her opinions and actions that I am actually learning as we work together how to be in conflict, even disconnection, and stay in relationship. A richness of communities and colleagues – of healing, of inquiry, of writing, of practice, of vision and action, of readers.

 

Hymn to the Thanksgiving Table

This year I come to the table as a guest, in a tradition-breaking and welcome change, the table….

….. as a gathering of aromas and flavors and recipes to be exchanged

….. as a an invitation to listening and sharing and rewriting stories

….. as a privileged place of safety in a world where legions of humanity are without roof, walls, table and food

….. as an altar and a focal point of ceremony and ritual

….. as a place of healing, where each guest may take in nourishment she needs to come  home  to  herself

May we each be inspired to work in our own way

to bring about food, table, walls, roof, a place to exhale,

for every human being.

We cannot “#metoo” and leave our weeping behind

Which comes first, the weeping or the story?

#metoo has me asking: where do we bring our stories of misogyny into the daylight?  On social media? by filing legal charges? testifying in a court of law or a legislative hearing? sitting with a therapist, a friend over coffee, strangers (but not) in a support group? via text message, Facebook post, letter to the editor?

And how do we bring our stories out, pull the words up from our guts and out of our mouths? dry-eyed and reportorially? in a whisper? with weeping and railing? with what combination of anger and anguish?

I have thought a lot about modesty over the years – what gets exposed where, whether it’s a woman’s skin, a woman’s heart, a woman’s pain. Truths are being exposed. Must they also be an exposé?

Women are blowing the lid off generations of stories of suffering at the hands of a certain class of abusers of power. Frat boys. Good ‘ol boys. Locker-room buddies. Rich guys. Formerly adulated “stars” of screen and turf. A friend and I concluded ruefully that the US economy would tank if every guy who had sexually harassed, stalked, cornered, or violated women were fired from their jobs.

The public naming/shaming of these men is a lurid shadow of the shame that reinforced women’s silence. Condemnation by other men – the public distancing from the contaminated, is a lurid shadow of the isolation of every woman who bears her story, told or untold.

There are many possible outcomes of the above strategies. A woman might garner some mix of relief, validation, the protection of other women, closure, shaming, revenge.

 

But how do we heal?

How do we consecrate these stories, these bodies and psyches, these women, our sisters, holy each and every one?

For me it starts with weeping, weeping together as we women encircle one another with kindness and every bruise-healing balm we can muster.

 

And here lies a brutal challenge to my full humanity.

Can I –  who was raised to consider men irrelevant at best and fools at worst – loosen the bonds of my own identity just a bit?

Can I lay down my sword and shield for a sacrosanct second or two?

Can I weep for the offending men too, my brothers, who are so lost to themselves?

I think I could get there if the men in my life were ready to ready to weep with me.

And that is my human imperfection, not theirs.

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