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.

Ardent reader, Pt 2:  stories & wisdom across cultures

More good stories: from middle America to Africa and the American South

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, Billie Letts (1986). A sweet, quick read that lifts my faith in humanity every time I read it. Caney Paxton is a Vietnam vet who runs an Eastern Oklahoma diner from his wheelchair but hasn’t been outside since the place opened twelve years ago. The diner is peopled by a mash-up of locals who rally to help one another at every turn. Crow Indian woman Vena Takes Horse blows in the door one day with an injured dog in a cardboard box, upsetting the order Molly O has established as her way of watching over Caney and managing life with and without her wild and estranged daughter Brenda. Meanwhile Bui, a homeless Vietnamese immigrant finds a home in the local black church and surreptitiously restores it even beyond its former glory, while working as short-order cook and handyman.

In here he knew what to expect. The smell of hot grease and stale beer, the flicker of red and blue neon, the taste of ketchup on fries, the clink of spoons against coffee cups. Days as predictable as…Suddenly, Caney grabbed the wheels of his chair, gave them a powerful jerk and popped the chair over the threshold. Clearing the door frame, feeling the heat of the sun on his face, he squinted against the glare.

 

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi (2016). When I got to the end of this absorbing novel, I turned right back to the beginning and started over. I can’t say that about any other book. Gyasi’s heroines are half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in different villages in 18th century Ghana. Married off to an Englishman, Effia lives out a European colonial life, one of the many native women the British take as second wives. She does not know that her half-sister Esi is imprisoned in the castle dungeon below her palatial quarters, about to endure the agonizing Middle Passage. In alternating chapters Homegoing then traces the sisters’ parallel stories generation by generation. The unfolding of tribal warfare, control of the slave trade, and colonialization on the one hand. Plantation life in the deep South, the Civil War and Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance on the other. On my second pass, I read Esi’s story straight through, and then Effia’s, and absorbed more details of the finely-rendered characters, times and places.

…two long moans meant the enemy was miles off; three quick shouts meant they were  upon them…Esi did what her father had taught her, grabbing the small knife that her mother used to slice plantains and tucking it into the cloth of her skirt. Maame sat on the edge of her cot. “Come on!” Esi said, but her mother didn’t move…”I can’t do it again,” she whispered.

 

Non-fiction: the power of recognizing yourself in the text

Running on Empty, Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, Jonice Webb, PhD, with Christine Musello, PsyD (2013).  Webb’s book was life-changing for me.  For this book among many things I am ever grateful to my healer Brenda Blessings. In Webb’s cogent analysis I recognized my own life – the way I experienced the world and behaved in response. If anyone had ever asked me straight out if I was emotionally neglected as a child, I would have responded with a puzzled yet definitive “no.”  But Running on Empty helped me to see the relationship among what to me had been unrelated fragments. Feelings of isolation while real life went on in Technicolor on the other side of a barrier I could not breach. A capacity to speak up, and passionately, on behalf of others, but not for myself. A disconnect between “work” and pay, cause and effect. And other mysteries of my life. Five years later, the these fragments have softened and integrated – still around, yet no longer running my psyches and my life. Such as…

Signs and Signals of Alexithymia

–  you have a tendency to be irritable

–  you are seldom aware of having a feeling

–  you are often mystified by others’ behaviors

–  you are often mystified by your own behavior

–  when you do get angry, it tends to  be excessive or explosive

–  sometimes your behavior can seem rash to yourself or to others

–  you feel you are fundamentally different from other people

–  something is missing inside of you

–  your friendships lack depth and substance

 

Inspiration and guidance from many cultures

Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott (1994). I was a fan of Lamott’s from the time I first read Traveling Mercies (1999) – captured by her plain-spoken struggles with faith in daily life. It was many more years before I began to have any thoughts at all of myself as a writer. Writing was just something I did, and loved, whether I was journaling or writing testimony for a legislative hearing. If you think that none of this could apply to you, take my word for it: good writing and a good life both follow the same instructions, as Lamott’s title indicates. She opens and closes Bird by Bird by calling us to truth.

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, but we do…But after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat.

There are so many things I want to tell my students in our last class…Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

 

The World has Changed, Conversations with Alice Walker, edited with an introduction, Rudolf P. Byrd (2010). This volume was a sale-table find at Red Emma’s, where I was browsing while waiting to meet my friend Lisa for lunch. In these nineteen interviews and conversations with Walker from 1973 – 2009, she is often asked the same questions. What changes and what remains a steady thread in her responses is the instructive nourishment of this compilation. Then there is the sheer power and magic of her speaking.

On writing fiction:…there’s that wonderful, playful quality of knowing you have dreamed up people who are walking around and who have opinions…You’re dreaming people, creating people, they do surprising things, but it’s only because you have given them that freedom in creating them.

On Possessing the Secret of Joy: I learned about genital mutilation twenty years ago in Kenya, and it was just so completely beyond my experience at the time…that I didn’t, I literally didn’t understand what they meant…But by the time I actually started [the book] I was in such a state of grief that the only thing that sustained me was that I could go outside and just lie facedown on the earth. And I really understood…that the body of a woman is the body of the earth, and it was the same kind of scarring, mutilation, control. You know, “If you’re gonna have a crop, it’s gonna be my crop.”…And the same where they cut the woman and they sew her up, and they say, “if you’re gonna have children, it’s gonna be my child.”

 

The Book of Joy, Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams (2016) Two of the wisest men on the planet are in conversation, and their love for one another and their warm and playful friendship, displayed in photos and verbal exchanges, bring delight, though Abrams as narrator sometimes got in my way. My friend Greg loaned me this book, accurately sensing that my spirits were sorely in need of upliftment. Joy, in fact, remains somewhat of a mystery to me. Abrams did redeem himself in my eyes by including this definition from Brother Steindl-Rast: “Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens.”

The Dalai Lama: After 9/11 you would have suspected that those who hated America would have been gloating. But there were very, very, very few people gloating, People were deeply, deeply distressed. Had the American President not hit back, we might have had a different world. We will have a different world of course, eventually. But just look at any tragedy…There is compassion that just springs up.

Archbishop Tutu: You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others…God created us and said, Go now, my child. You have freedom. And God has had such incredible reverence for that freedom that God would much rather we freely went to hell than compel us to go to heaven…And God weeps until there are those who say I do want to try to do something.


For Part 1 for Ardent readers:  https://alifeofpractice.com/musings/ardent-reader-pt-1-good-stories-perennial-wisdom/

 

 

What counts, and how we count for the greater good

What counts and how we count: our bodies, our voices, our power to be and do good – are questions that preoccupy me. These days more than ever, when numbers drive “trending” news items and the result of every Google search.

As a woman, these questions also remain very personal, shaped by family dynamics and the post-WW II white assimilating Jewish suburban culture in which I grew up. How to find my place, when and where to speak up, speak out have long preoccupied me.

As a citizen, there are ways that I am counted that have to do with white privilege: freedom from harassment by police, merchants, and voting rights enforcers, access to credit and a good public education. As a citizen, there are ways I do not count that have to do with my gender: physical safety on the street, equal opportunity and pay in the workplace.

It got me to thinking about what my Jewish roots and experience have taught me about counting.

The way Jews count ourselves, we do not count heads:  you, Esther, are one; you, Sam are two; you, Bernie are three; you, Sylvia are four (my mother and her siblings.)

It is from King David that we learn of the danger of counting each head, census-like: he made a fatal choice when he counted heads. In the ensuing plague 70,000 Israelites died. The safe way for us to count is the way God had us do it in the desert: a half-shekel went into the pot for each Israelite, then Moses counted the shekels. Or the way Saul counted a shard of pottery offered up by each warrior to number his army. We are permitted to count on our fingers or toes, or according to the number of words of a verse from Psalms, as long as we do not count individuals. We are also permitted to count this way: not-one, not-two… This is how men make sure there are the required ten for prayer.

It is the collective that is important: ten for prayer, 600,000 souls for revelation at Mt. Sinai, 600,000 letters in the Torah. On Yom Kippur we number our sins, A to Z in the first person plural: we account for the state of our collective soul.

Nor do we count the heads of strangers. Abraham, sitting at the door to his tent, is our ancestral role model: he was on the look-out, so he could welcome them in as soon as possible.

Nor do we afflict or oppress the strangers who do show up at the doors of our tents, as we were strangers in Egypt.

Irony, even death, the way others count us: immigration quotas. Education quotas (my father earned his law degree in such a slot.) Tattooed serial numbers on the left fore-arm. Jews were zeroed out of neighborhoods, along with “dogs” and     “n—–s,”  as neighborhood signs commonly announced.

What our society counts and how have shaped our country

In 2010 I first came across the young field of ecosystems services when I taught a course in Ecobiology and Human Health. A  number of environmental causes began to pick up political steam as dollar values were assigned not just to the value of crops produced on agricultural land or the value of coal or gas extracted, but to life-supporting “ecosystem services.” Purification of air and water. Mitigation of droughts and floods. Pollination. If this last one seems odd, consider that by 2012, apple and pear trees were being hand-pollinated in areas of China due to the decimation of their natural pollinators, bees.* The commodification of nature was not lost on researchers, even as political capital for the environment increased.**

From this perspective, what we care about, we count. What we count, counts.

What we don’t count often remains hidden in plain view. As a society, we do not put a dollar value to us, collectively, of family members who care for their chronically ill, disabled, and dying kin. And so they soldier on without the moral and practical supports they need. And when we fear for what we care about, we turn towards quotas and all manner of exclusionary counting.

From another perspective, we know that societal choices guided by numbers-only bring us a host of plagues, not unlike the one that followed King David’s census: we call them unintended consequences.

This puts us right back in our soft, squishy unquantifiable humanity.

This brings us back to neither counting the heads of strangers, nor afflicting nor oppressing them. To open-hearted and open-handed behaviors.

How we work with the tension of these perspectives has everything to do with our own choices: what we count, how we count, and when we refrain from counting. Each of us. All of us together.


*https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5193-Decline-of-bees-forces-China-s-apple-farmers-to-pollinate-by-hand

**The history of ecosystem services in economic theory and practice: From early notions to markets and payment schemes. Erik Gómez-Baggethun, Rudolf de Groot, Pedro L. Lomas, Carlos Montes. Ecological Economics 69 (2010) 1209–1218 http://www.cepal.org/ilpes/noticias/paginas/7/40547/the_history_of_ecosystem.pdf