Racism: changing this river’s course

Forces whose timing and movement we cannot fathom and must act on

Across the globe, a virus we cannot see exerts its gravitational pull towards safety, protection, distancing, isolation. We do not all have the same choice to hunker down.

An equally potent force pulls newly mobilizing white people alongside seasoned activists – to rise and move together with our neighbors – and “strangers” of color. 

(I am painfully aware I might well be marching alongside the same black man who I crossed the street to avoid on a city street at night six months ago.)

Often masked, sometimes social distancing, protesters flow like a river down streets emptied of automobile traffic by Covid-19 even before protests began: to grieve, rage, chant, home-school our children in the streets, make vivid the pain and we-are-doneness in a cultural body that perhaps is on its way to becoming one sensing, healing and awakening body after all. 

Young people lead once again, as they have on environmental justice. Often black youth in the foreground: kids likely to die of racism before Covid-19 threatened them. White children as young as preschool are getting newly inoculated with a race-appropriate version of “the talk” – a talk that has a moral compass.

We may be in a position to watch these events live-streamed…from within our home offices / home schools / home kitchens

or we may be in a position to march….

or to honk our car horns in support…

or, as my sister living in a high-rise for seniors in Berkeley…to light a candle on her 2nd floor balcony that may not actually be visible to anyone.

What is it that is happening on the sidewalks, in the streets?

Sidewalks and streets that have belonged to white people since the early days in America’s history?

How is it that our grief walks the streets, hundreds, thousands together, when we have not been able to gather to sit with our dying family members, bury our dead, witness wedding vows, eat, study?

How is it that strangers have emerged from siloed neighborhoods, the red-lined and the privileged, to walk together?

Washington Post reporter Marissa J. Lang writes

“They didn’t have a plan at first. Five friends determined to join protests over the police killing of George Floyd arrived in downtown Washington on Saturday with one goal: Get to the White House.

As they walked south toward the bright white pillars in the distance, the group began to call out to passersby — people out for walks or jogs, some curiously eyeing the young people brandishing signs and face masks, marching with their fists held high.

“Walk with us,” called Jasmine Grobes, 27. “Come on! Walk with us.”

By the time they reached the metal barricades around Lafayette Square, that group of five had swelled to nearly 50 times that number. “

If you want to move a river, dig a channel…the river will flow into it.

There is movement, a change in choreography: police and protesters reach out to one another in small moments even as tear gas and rubber bullets fly elsewhere. The channel that protesters, and sometimes police officers, are digging reclaims public spaces.

There are stunning and tantalizing examples of a different kind of listening and bridging that is taking place. 

There are messages everywhere: on signs, on fences – most notably on the security fence surrounding the White House.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish.”

“When do I go from cute to dangerous?”

“Racism makes our patients sick.”

“We all bleed the same color.”

“Racism is the pandemic.”

“Why do you hate me?”

“Am I next?”

“Enough.”

We don’t know if we are in Langston Hughes’ Final Curve, as much as we may long for it

When you turn the corner

And you run into yourself

Then you know that you have turned

All the corners that are left.

We cannot foresee the outcome of this moment of letting go and coming in.

This is a mass of “unorganized” humanity beginning to sense itself – what one theory of change says is the key to transforming consciousness. 

In this view we observe, observe, observe. We go to the place of greatest potential to listen with our minds and our hearts wide open.

The place of most potential is our own being - and so we practice

With modest, not grand gestures, we begin to lay a foundation for racial repair and reconciliation.

We recommit to practice, to owning and freeing ourselves from our personal and cultural history.

We wrestle with responsibility, shame, and forgiveness of self and other, one second at a time.

We walk together, dismantle the shared racial structures together.

We make changes of the heart and let them guide changes in the law.

 

This is how we dig the channel to move the river of racism.

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Banner photo by John Salvino

To explore your own stories about race is hard to do alone. If you are ready to let your mind and heart break open into a larger story, let’s talk about how the practices of Radical Inclusion can support you.

White? Get acquainted with visceral awareness

I want to talk about what it means to be a white person “affected” by race

Since we live in a universe that is based on relationships, we are continuously affected by external factors – people and events. And we continuously affect others. In recent days we have been profoundly affected by police brutality and citizen vigilantism against black people live-streamed in real time. Weird camera angles. Anguished voices. Unrestrained brute force. Threatening use of 911.

I know that when I am affected viscerally  I feel it in my gut –  in the internal organs of my body – something that pulls me, pulls at me, pulls me to respond. I was educated, as many of us have been,  to dissociate from such sensations, and not even notice them. To the detriment of my humanity.  It’s not a a comfortable journey to repair the severed gift of sensing the most deeply felt of human connection.

This is what civil rights organizer Ella Baker was talking about when she spoke these words, 56 years before George Floyd died under the knee of a white police officer:

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.

Benjamin Franklin understood that we humans are capable of becoming viscerally affected in this way even when it appears that we are not materially at risk:

Justice will not be served until those unaffected are as outraged as those who are.

White America has largely looked away, oblivious of our skin color except perhaps during tanning season. I first noticed I was white when I began working as a community organizer: a white suburban Jewish chick in a black church-based organization. And like other whites, largely distracted, unrepentant, believing myself to be unaffected by – and somehow both entitled to and innocent of – the inequalities that have been facts of life here for people of color for more than 400 years now. I cared deeply. The work felt intensely personal and my responsibility. I still missed the depths of suffering among my black colleagues. I missed their full humanity and because of that obliviously diminished my own.

If I am I, because you are you, and you are you, because I am I, then I am not I, and you are not you. But if I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you, and we can talk.

American University’s Metropolitan Policy Center recently released a study of DC area residents’ views of aspects of their daily lives: shopping, talking with neighbors, sending kids to after-school programs, dealing with government agencies, encountering police. The Washington Post reported that “the biggest takeaway, and the most surprising finding,” according to the Center’s associate director, was “the rate at which white citizens of the Washington area remain unaffected by issues and concerns that vex other racial groups.”

It is our human pre-occupation with remaining at the center of our lives that keeps us from being viscerally affected and from perceiving the consequences for ourselves and for those around us.

We each look out at the world through our eyes and what we see reinforces this view. For us white Americans, everything about the way we walk through the world reinforces this: as we shop, talk to neighbors, deal with government agencies, and so on. We do not yield that space readily, or even welcome others into it. Meanwhile, our family members, neighbors, colleagues – and strangers, who have pigmented skin have a different experience. Mostly, we don’t notice. For people of color in the United States there is no negotiating civic life from the center, but only from the margins of the circle.

So - where to start, when we feel the urgency to act? And under uncertain pandemic conditions?

  • Be simple. Be ordinary. Listen to yourself. Get to know the parts of yourself. Welcome them in, whether you like them or not. Listen to others’ stories with humility, with an understanding that your version of the world is just that, your version. Some truth, some falsity, some wisdom, some foolishness. 
  • Read history you have not been taught.
  • Take small actions within your daily sphere. Practice, as Gandhi counseled: be the change you want to see in the world. 
  • Pause. Reflect. Choose what matters most. Then do things that matter to you with other people.
  • Be a listener. Listen first to yourself. Which voices are holding forth in your internal monologue? What story are they telling? Who have your inner story-tellers cast as hero, victim or villain? What are the laws of this kingdom? Where did these stories, this plot-line come from? Who taught you – explicitly or by example?  And listen to stories that seem strange and foreign
  • Wherever you are a member – a workplace, a house of worship, a book club, look out for someone who is hurting, or acting out, or looking for a place to contribute. Find small ways to partner with them.

In our privilege, fragility, tears, we white people are neither as good as we idealize ourselves to be, nor as irredeemable as we fear.

And to my black friends, I pray that the intensity of your feelings not consume you, but that you are able to harness them and use them for the good.

Covid-19, anxiety and other contagions

COVID-19, ANXIETY AND OTHER CONTAGIONS

As I wash my hands, I sing “Happy Birthday” to myself twice through – twenty to thirty seconds depending on the tempo. I take this common-sense and now widely-publicized step many times a day since the outbreak of Coronavirus. I do this to protect my personal health and the health of the countless others with whom I may share respiratory space and door knobs over the course of a day.

I notice an unexpected side-effect. When I actually listen as I sing, and take in the words of this common ritual song, I connect to a deep well of teaching from the Jewish tradition: God continually renews the work of Creation. That is, the Creation story as told in the Book of Genesis was not a one-time event, but is sustained by an ongoing Act of Goodness. This is a Goodness that encompasses all the wisdom and the limitations of life as it is, including illness, suffering, and death itself.

As I place “my” birth-day in this Meta-Story, I place myself in a timeless stream of life. Which proves to be an excellent remedy for the contagion of anxiety-triggering urgency. Urgency fed by news clips, shared posts, selectively-emptied store shelves, and a growing list of cancelled events. And by the genuine uncertainties, unpredictabilities, and unknowns of this biological threat.

It is under such a perfect storm of conditions that we find our resilience tested. 

We each have our particular set of challenges to resilience. A baseline of health, perhaps a mix of managed and  unmanaged chronic conditions. A mix different sets of responsibilities for and to others in our families, workplaces, and communities. Different stress loads and capacities to manage ourselves. Different contexts of meaning. Different conscious practices.  Different unconscious practices, aka habits. Different access to material, physical supports.

Family headlines are especially potent…a grandson’s sore throat and fever diagnosed as strep…an aging family member hospitalized overnight with stomach pain and sent home the next day with Tylenol…a daughter who works as a mental health clinician on a college campus that has closed down for the rest of the semester, which goes on into May. They wash through me, waves of disruption.

Yet, as I sing throughout the day, my triggered anxieties are periodically swept up and carried along harmlessly in that same unending stream. I am left relieved and grateful. And so it goes with the hand-washing.

…OTHER CONTAGIONS WE LIVE WITH

I am also left to reflect on how other contagions, barely recognized as such, have faded further into the background. 

I seriously doubt that the disappearance of news stories on harm to women, to trans people, and to people of color reflects an actual drop in incidents. And I see how challenged I am to stay actively and effectively engaged with the race and gender work of my heart. 

I took this challenge to stay focused as a call to poke around in my origin stories of contagion. How was I schooled to see the danger of catching something bad through unwelcome contact?

“Eeeww, cooties!”  Playground words that claimed separate space by taunting. In my kindergarten days that was one arena where gender equality held sway. Girls and boys each adopted the words freely to convey we considered one another dangerous, a source of something mysterious, bad – and contagious. All you had to do was stay with your group and you could avoid “catching” the condition, being cast out and becoming isolated and mocked.

On the playground, those words were an early exercise in solidarity, belonging, safety, superiority, and domination in one sphere or another. The stakes then might have meant hanging onto a patch of blacktop or possession of the monkey bars for the twenty-minute recess.

If you had asked me what was wrong with boys, I can only imagine myself inarticulately wrinkling my nose as if at something dirty and smelly.

That same vague “dirty and smelly” linked poverty and racism in my early childhood

I grew up in a Cleveland suburb, one convenient block from the Lynnfield Rapid Transit stop. A black and white police 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, poverty, 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 construct, her answer.

“Dirty and smelly” also defined the questionable wholesomeness of my female body.

By the time I was an early teen, watching the bodies of some friends developing faster than mine, I was caught between the brief, sterile explanations of female bodies and reproduction and the living realities of dealing with sanitary napkins and tampons. Especially on gym days. My sister called it “the curse,” (which Google informs me is still in common use.) By the time I was pregnant, at age 23, birthing had long been medicalized Nursing was clearly considered less convenient, less taxing, and outdated when compared to bottle-feeding. 

The messages about my own body, about the male gender, about poverty and about dark skin: most forms of contact were dangerous. Observing the norms I was taught about who it was safe to get close would surely protect me from catching…Something Bad.

It has taken a lot of focus and attention to bring these and other biases into my foreground and begin to unlearn them. Thankfully, several generations of scholars have revisited the stories of plain people and activists of the past, writing versions of history that are more complete and truthful than the “Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock” version I was taught.

Last night we had dinner out in our favorite Szechuan restaurant. It was unusually empty for a week-night at seven. Chinese restaurants are among the businesses most frequently cited as suffering from loss of business since the Coronavirus first appeared to jump species in China.

I can start to place my learned history of race and gender in this context: contagion, “harmful or undesirable contact or influence.” And to continue to discern as best I can what is required for my actual safety, and what is required for an imagined safety.

I take to heart the timely fortune that I received at the end of our meal – whatever the contagion – viral or bias-related: face the facts with dignity.

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AND A FEW TIPS FOR SELF-CARE

Deep breaths are to the contagion of anxiety as hand washing is to microbial exposure

– Stay hydrated.

– Do one or two of the many things you already know to manage your stress.

– Say please and thank you.

– Offer a kind word and a smile.

– If you are in a high risk health category, check with your physician about appropriate cautions (yes, there is an assumption about health care access: that’s a whole different post.)

– Seek facts and guidance from trustworthy sources: your local public health officer and the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html

We live in a story deeply tied to our identity

Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for this potent lyric.

We live in a story deeply tied to our sense of self, our identity

Most of us alive in America today have grown up with a single story about race and gender. A single story that features certain people and events and renders others invisible. A single story that seamlessly includes and excludes. A single story deeply tied to our identity and sense of self.

One of the consequences of this is that our stories divide us from ourselves even before they divide us from one another.

Yet there are few avenues where we can explore, or even name the the wisdom and the limitations, the innumerable gifts and wounds of the social and cultural groups to which we belong. That go to the heart of who we believe ourselves to be.

Radical inclusion with A Life of Practice © (RI) applies the power of consciousness skills to the inner work of race and gender, shifts our perceptions of “differences,” and strengthens us to respond rather than react – in our personal lives and to the headlines.

At the heart of the work of Radical Inclusion are fundamental practices for awakening to the fragments of our racial and gender identities that tend to be fixed, and highly resistant to even being seen. These aspects of our identity are often linked to our earliest life attempts to be safe and whole. They maintain stability, consistency, and continuity. They are hidden, and well-protected, out of conscious awareness. Mixed up with our beliefs of what is “good” and “bad.” Guardians of tribal outlook, appearance, and behavior. And these fragments cut us off from the whole, continuously-changing and vibrant fabric of life, from the tender intelligence of the heart, from trustworthy discernment of right action, from freedom, from our full humanity.

I have spent the past four years using and adapting the skillful means of Nondual Kabbalistic Healing© to inquire into my own early influencers and origin stories, the storytellers behind them, and the Master Storyteller, who runs the show of my identity. An archeological dig in which fragments of my racial and gender identities have become visible bit by bit, conscious bit by bit, integrated bit by bit. 

I remain committed to my personal work as an ongoing and holy project to which I see no end. And now I look forward to sharing this work of Radical Inclusion with you, one to one and through a two-hour introductory workshop. In the works are two four-session courses which offer a practical and nourishing immersion with the support of a practice-based community.

Here’s the good and discomforting 21st century news: our single stories are disrupted every day by the telling of versions that are new to many of us and old to many others. 

How we play out these differences will ripple through our family, neighborhood, workplace and civic lives for years to come.

National Museum of African American History and Culture, October 2016

Radical Inclusion brings the power of consciousness skills to these potent flash-points of controversy, confusion, and contentiousness.

Helping professionals can waken to and make a place for self-judgement and shame about our prejudices and implicit biases, our anxieties about offending or re-wounding, our fears of appearing awkward, thoughtless or insensitive. These shifts free the people we work with to more fully presence their own shadowed, gaslighted, injured parts – cultural as well as familial. And those of us who work in institutional settings are better prepared to observe and address language, policies, norms and structures that perpetuate racial and gender harm on our clients, patients and co-workers.

Activists find in RI practical, honest, kind supports to be the change we want to see in the world. RI builds resilience in the face of the frustration, rage, guilt, shame, and self-judgment that can shadow us and hollow us out. Whether fired up and standing strong or worn out with effort, we need nourishment for the stamina needed to keep showing up.

Spiritual seekers wrestle and relax into the Radical Oneness named by many spiritual traditions, poets and scientists, which is the root of RI. The embodied listening aspect of practice plants and nurtures seeds of humility around the racial and gender identities our stories illuminate, so that our words and actions contribute to healing ourselves and the world.

Questioners learn to deeply engage our integrity, power, discomfort with honesty and kindness as we notice the Otherness within, the parts of ourselves we have orphaned, exiled, or reviled and the parts of ourselves who are steeped in preconceived notions of race, gender, and human identity. Our very presence in the world begins to grow and mature into a healing remedy for the differences in gender and race that divide us from one another. 

Radical inclusion is designed for these explorations – to help us awaken and heal. 

To learn and share a community of practice that goes to the very root of what ails us, divisiveness in ourselves first of all, and in our culture, our communities, our public and private dialogues .

And this is where the exploration starts: we look within ourselves, we look at ourselves, we look at how we move through the world, we come into a friendlier relationship with our own wisdom and limitations. 

Freed to offer our own story with awakening consciousness and to receive others’ stories.

Freed to meet the full imperfect humanity of others with our own.

A living remedy for gender and racial ills.

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Does this invitation to look through a different lens as you wrestle with race and gender resonate with you? Are you a member of a group that would welcome a new approach to their struggles? Schedule a 30-minute free consult. Let’s talk.

A radical new foothold since I last wrote

New shoes

I purchased these Relaxed-Fit, Memory-Foam Skechers just a few days after I posted my last blog on New Year’s Eve. I put them aside for spring, figuring the pair I was using to slog through the winter would be ready to be retired by then to use as garden-mudders. Turns out I wore them for the first time just a few days ago, well into summer.

These shoes hug my feet. Each step I take connects firmly with the ground. When I stand, I am fully at the X that marks this particular spot. Je suis arrivée. I have arrived. “The Eagle has landed.” 

The Memory-Foam inner soles are not yet broken in, not yet shaped to my habitual posture or the way my right foot rolls outwards with each step. The outside of the heels are not worn down, so each step lands solidly on the four corners of my feet, something that never failed to challenge me in the years I took yoga classes.

The Memory-Foam has no preconceived notions about whose feet they will carry where, and remind my body that it can actually stand upright in a different way, move through the world in a different way, pivot or leap as needed. 

It’s not confidence, exactly, or assurance.  It’s not connected to the self of self-confidence or self-assurance.

 

 

 

More like a state of feeling the truth of something

A base. A point from which something unimagined might develop or unfold. A center of operations. A location of mills and machinery. A gravity, a force that draws my body to its own center even as it is drawn by the center of the earth.

Freedom. Freedom from habit, from preconception. Freedom to move.

In that December post something in me knew I was entering 2019 with resolve: “no choice but to know intimately, my yearnings, aversions, despairs…instructive, dignifying, and precious…the very features of God’s world and my way home.”

I’d spent the prior three-and-a-half years studying with an inspired group of my healing colleagues,  revisiting the nondual healing curriculum I first traversed from 1996-99,  inquiring ever more deeply into the dynamics of the universe and how they play out in my own body, my family, my cultural groups, and the public arena.

As the work has unfolded in 2019, it has been a means to heal a split that had plagued me between the parts of my life that were contracting in distressing ways, and the parts that were expanding in exciting, creative ways, to settle into the One Single Life with which I have been gifted.

 

 

 

The work of noticing preconceptions

I continued to follow an unfolding passion for justice that had re-ignited with the 2016 election.

I plumbed my relationship with boundaries and how both personal habits and cultural norms shaped how open or closed I am to others and to the flow of life. My relationship with agency and choosing and a peculiar disconnect between cause and effect that kept me from taking responsibility when appropriate and even from drawing nourishment from any “success.” How these same dynamics play out among in and out-groups in our country, all of us white folk in a trance to various romanticized notions of our nation, too often innocently asking wrong-headed questions about what is going on and why.  My relationship with my own desires and yearnings, which I had been schooled to suppress, and the consequences for society of the limited opportunities and dashed hopes and expectations of so many different groups. I struggled with patriarchy, within myself, my marriage, and everywhere I looked.  I struggled with my whiteness, my femaleness, my Jewishness, my aging

I read voraciously about all manner of things gendered and racial.  I revisited my own origin stories of race, gender, and feeling different. Adult experiences working as a middle-class white woman in Baltimore City, and working as a Jewish woman for church-based advocacy and health-care organizations.  

I worked with nondual practices, meditations, exercises, in small groups with my colleagues. I explored the states and shapes of the ever-shifting ego through movement and through playing with pipe-cleaners. I have a notebook full of practices for perceiving and naming parts of me, the “who-ises” that too easily remain in the shadows.

I wrote and wrote and wrote to transform this into teachable, transformative material, practices, exercises. My nondual colleagues helped me hone them.

 

 

 

I  call this work Radical Inclusion © : deeper than the stories that divide us – from ourselves, from one another, from our own and our shared humanity.

This is work that respects and honors our family stories and our tribal stories, even while we are intent on bringing our own preconceptions to light. This work nourishes in us a life-changing humility, a readiness to admit and wrestle with the fact that we each have a partial view of the world, and typically stand invested in partial truths.

 

 

It offers us skillful means to cultivate a new, freeing and creative capacity to listen, take in and value the tough differences.

With honesty and kindness we practice: we include one more piece of life, one more piece of life, one more piece of life. Which allows us to be the size we actually are – neither better and wiser nor smaller and more foolish than we are.

For those of you who have followed my blog, or worked with me one on one or in Bend the Arc online, the NEW here is a healing and awakening Presencing of the cultural alongside the personal, the Human Family alongside our family of origin or adoption or construction.

 

An invitation and an offer:

If you struggle with the state of the world, the chaos and sheer meanness, the unrelenting flow of information and misinformation; with the harsh treatment of immigrants and refugees; with privilege, supremacy, and what does it mean to be white; with a family, a workplace or a place of worship where gender, race or other differences bear down on you.

If you hope for a better world or town or neighborhood and could use support to find your way to help make it so.

If you are a helping professional who needs a place to work out your own stuff so you can better help your clients or patients navigate their worlds.

If you want to step into a new pair of shoes, and stand in your own new place…

… let’s talk about how the work of Radical Inclusion with A Life of Practice can

  • nourish and restore you to yourself
  • wake you up to your preconceptions
  • enliven you with new perceptions
  • strengthen you to stand in your identity as your precious self and as an imperfect human being, and stand in the place you choose
  • soften and fortify you to  engage creatively with people who do not share your identity or your story

 

 

E-MAIL ME at alifeofpractice@gmail.com, using #RadicalInclusion as the subject – and we’ll set up a 30-minute consult to talk about how we can partner in this work to guide and support you.

 

Gratitudes: My heartfelt thanks to my teacher Brenda Blessings: you guided me through 4 years of nondual Teacher Training for the Marketplace and many treacherous waters. To my colleagues Kathy Bernstein and Terry Nathanson, you helped me to hone the material and practices and inspired me with your own specialties. To my poetry and all-around nondual buddy Greg Conderacci for your key insights and word-choices and fellowship. To Evelyn, Laurie, and Schlese for your extended commitment to showing up for one another to help me explore the territories of identity. To Lisa S for your questions and engagement with the ego-states that led me to new insights. To Simona Aronow for inspiring me to bring movement and the spirit of dance into this work.