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: http://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:

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

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

The power of seeing exactly what is in front of you

There are consequences to not seeing exactly what is in front of me, whether it’s invasive bamboo or human need.

Bamboo-sprouting season has arrived. Practically-speaking, this involves a daily excursion to the rear of our property, Felco pruner in hand, to snip each new shoot flush with the ground. At the peak, I’ll find fifteen or twenty. If I miss a day, the next morning the garden will host a handful of 3-foot “sprouts.” If I miss the next day too, the shoots will have gone from soft to hard – hard enough to require a chain saw to take them down.

The idea here is to hold the line on the advancing edge of this highly invasive bamboo grove, which starts three houses down the block from us, to limit this grass to the helpful windbreak that it offers against storms that most frequently blow in from the northwest.

 

AT TIMES I can look right at a rising stalk of bamboo and miss seeing it, in spite of its distinctive shape and its reddish-brown color standing out among all the shades of spring green.

SOMETIMES we can become so accustomed to a chronic symptom that it disappears from view. It becomes the norm. The way we “normally” feel.

MANY TIMES we can live so deeply from within our own story that we forget it is merely our own way of making order and finding meaning in our lives. We just think: this is the way the world is, the way our life is.

MOST TIMES we forget that what we see through our near-sighted, far-sighted, or color-blind sight is a matter of our own limited vision. We mistake this limited vision for the way the world looks.

AND MOST TIMES we live in a trance of shifting identities. Practice is a means to proactively invite in awakening from this trance. Here are a members of the cast of characters who showed up this week as I practiced inviting in the parts of me that showed up. The lapsed calligrapher and the lapsed dancer. The one who mourns the lapsed dancer. The boundary-crosser. The hit-and-runner. The Wandering Jew. The one who is certain she eats to live and does NOT live to eat. I may instinctively reach for the psycho-spiritual equivalent of my Velcro pruner, but no: every part of me, attractive or no, annoying or no, is invited in to take its place among the whole of me.

Other awakening moments come by grace, gently or fiercely. Life shakes me gently awake with its beauty or poignance. Or my eyes fly open when life hauls me up short or shakes me by the scruff of the neck. Then I remember to question my own narrative so that I can see what is right there – whether it is a fresh bamboo stalk, a skinned knee, my own bogus identity, or a look on the face of a loved one I have failed to meet.

I am needed for bamboo patrol for only three-four weeks. Questioning the ways I impose my story on the world, so that I can tend properly to what is before me: that’s year-round and life-long.