How a seeker of justice weds the troubled human

How can we each use our life of practice to wed the seeker of justice with the troubled and imperfect humans we are: healed and healing, awakened and awakening?

This is tricky territory. On the one hand, we want to serve the world, not serve our wounding or neuroses. This requires us to turn deeply inward to inquire into our personal reality and the origins of our motivation. On the other hand we want to engage deeply with the world: if we wait until we are completely pure of heart before we act, we will remain forever immobile – and useless.

We do our best to run and return between the inward and outward journeys, bringing the wisdom of each to the other, and wrestling with the limitations of each. We could say we engage in each aspect of this work for the sake of the other.

From the front lines of this tricky territory

This week, I find myself in a passel of trouble. Troubled by one violent act upon another. Troubled by my own reactions. Broken-hearted  over the killing of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl, as she was walking in the neighborhood near her mosque in Reston, Virginia. The man under arrest for the killing is only five years older, barely an adult himself. From El Salvador. Did he flee gang violence there?

Broken-hearted, yet I have trouble remembering her name. If I am so heartbroken, why hasn’t her name engraved itself on my memory? But I look up the meaning of Nabra, and listen to the pronunciation, “Nehbarrah.” Google translates it as “tone.” I wonder about the Arabic nuances, and what her family was intending when they gave her this name. Last night I dreamed that she and I were talking quietly and intimately in the corner of a room – or maybe it was one of her three younger sisters.

What is it about Nabra among all the others murdered or maimed? Innocence? Sacrilege? Is it that she is the same age as my grandson, who was raised mostly ignorant of his Jewishness and is about to go off to college where others may see him only as a Jew?  A news article reported that Nabra had tripped over her abaya, a garment she had borrowed for the late-night Ramadan prayers because she rarely wore one.

I am equally troubled by the stark contrast with my response to the shooting of Republican congressmen just a few days before. I am more shocked at myself  than at the event. I am sanguine, cold: well-what-did-you-expect, well-now-you-know, well-y’all-invited-it. I am ashamed that my emotional reaction insists on being what it is.

Inquiring within

I do recognize this pattern in myself, how I am drawn to the protection, the defense of those who have no voice, no place, how I am repelled by the mis-uses and abuses of power. And how that is mixed up with  my own neuroses/wounding. I have, over the years, untangled many knotty threads to begin to claim my own voice and my own place. Enough so that I can sigh and say, well, there it is again. Enough so that I can begin serving more than my own wounding.

Then I have to remember another potent pattern that is active here – a certain way that I steel myself, withhold myself from life, from the moments that are especially dicey, aka life-threatening for me. I wrote about this “held-back goodness of the heart” some months ago, about the nuances to my withholding, each supported by a faulty assumption. Meanwhile, I remind myself here again. Goodness – goodness itself is unchanging. It doesn’t vary in quality or go bad, like those food storage experiments lingering at the back of the fridge. It’s not “my” goodness, but the Goodness of Reality of which I partake, of which I am made. The Goodness of which Nabra was made. The Goodness of which even her killer is made. The Goodness of which even congressmen whose behavior I abhor are made.

Saving my sanity

It is only throwing all this up against the Radical Oneness that saves my sanity and gifts me with clearer seeing, a bit more choice and courage. A bit more capacity to be in relationship with what is – so I am less and less trying to save myself from my own terrors and actually capable of serving.

By naming my feelings, even the shameful ones, I have given them a place. This does not mean that I have either solved or dissolved my conflicting feelings. Nor am I absolved from acting. I can and must choose from the abundant opportunities life offers me to show up, to protest, to act locally, to pray globally.

It is a great goodness to allow myself to sorrow still for my own childhood difficulties even as I sorrow for Nabra, even as I work to separate out these streams of sorrow.

And I must continue to wrestle with my own privilege – the privilege of a material security in which I can fall prey to the terrors of psychological life-threat, when so many humans are in urgent, immanent, physical danger of violence and death.

Pragmatically, materially speaking, we need all the wisdom we can access, and all the wholeness we can muster, to meet life.

From a spiritual standpoint, we each are born into this world to bend the arc in a particular way: that particular way of bending that we are born for, born to, heals our soul, and heals the world. Inseparably. Simultaneously. The very same life.

May we each succeed gloriously: for the sake of our loved ones, for the sake of those we serve in our personal and professional lives, for the sake of the civic body and our common good, for the sake of the earth.

2017: the power to act weds healing and awakening

It’s 2017 and I’m determined to see that the power to act weds nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for my individual clients,  for the civic body, for the common good.

I was a reluctant student of power. And in my efforts to exercise power and speak truth to power, I burned out as a non-profit professional by the mid ’90s.

My life took a different turn. I learned about other kinds of power: the power of the body to heal itself, the powers of the plants, the transformative power of embodying the nondual. I grew into a healer and an herbalist. The social activist entered a long sleep even as other parts of me were awakening.  

Still, my years as a community organizer taught me to listen to my clients’ stories, to listen not only for the impact of their family life, but the impact of skin color, wealth, opportunity, gender, sexual identity, and the other societal constructs that shape us.

The Baltimore Uprising in April, 2015 woke up that sleeping seeker of justice. The November election energized me.

2017 promises me ample opportunities to explore the relationship between healing and empowerment, to marry the seeker of justice with the healer, to explore ways to heal our civic body.
What could that look like? How about we figure this out together?

 

Here’s my back story,  with a deep bow to remarkable teachers of mine.

I was a reluctant student of power.

Charm and subtle manipulation served me so effectively for so many years in the daughter-mother-wife-entrepreneur roles. And when my few strategies failed me, I had learned to simply withdraw. I was 36 and recently separated when I was hired by the Northeast Community Organization and underwent a week-end church-basement training in Alinsky-style organizing. Among other things, I learned that those who have not amassed wealth to spread their influence around had better learn to amass a lot of human bodies. Also that an opponent, aka enemy on one issue might well become a bedfellow on the next.

Over the next fifteen years, two black professionals tutored me in different aspects of power. I inherited Organizational Psychologist Michael F. Broom, Ph.D. as my mentor when I took over as Director of The Maryland Food Committee, a statewide anti-hunger organization where I’d been working for five years. He was the first person – yes, really – to talk with me about “use of self”: actual skills for becoming aware of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and using intention to choose behaviors that would optimize getting desired results and minimize or at least manage difficulties along the way.

A few months into working with me, Michael cut through my foggy persona like a knife through butter with five words: You’re not helpless, you know.

I certainly had been helpless up to that moment, given how unconscious I was about my – um thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

I went on to learn an enormous amount from Michael and his colleagues Edie and Charlie Seashore, deans in the field of organizational development. How to participate in and then facilitate race and gender conversations in organization settings. How to run multi-day large-group consensus-building processes to address social problems.

But to learn play in the political arena, I needed more street smarts than my tidy upbringing could ever have imagined. My tutor and role-model was Reverend (now Bishop) Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church. Doug also headed Baltimore United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church and neighborhood-based organization affiliated with Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). He picked up with me where the church-based week-end had left off. No, I never set out to learn how to preach from this master of conscience, nor inspire crowds to action as he did.

Doug taught me about the importance of relationships built on trust, and the time, skill and heart needed to develop them.

He taught me about the courage and inner strength human beings draw from standing together, walking a street together, powering a meeting together. About the importance of everyone being crystal clear about the goal and the negotiating position.

Twenty years later

When I left social justice work, my colleagues and I had made some inroads in opening up what we thought of as the real conversation: the poverty that fostered hunger and birthed hundreds of food pantries and dozens of soup kitchens. The resistance to naming and delving into next level of reality, the institutional racism that drove poverty that drove hunger – that resistance was fierce.

Now racism, and all its kin are the stuff of daily conversation, from the raw to the scholarly. The lid is off and #this is our history, #this is who we are. What are we – together – going to do about it?

I am determined to figure out how you and I can each use our life of practice to see that we wed the power to act to nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for our individual clients,  for the civic body, for the common good.

How can we open up meaningful conversations across the divides in our families and communities, make life-changing strides for our hurting kin, all while being our wise and foolish human selves?

Here’s my invitation:  Join me via Zoom, Tuesday, January 17, 7:30-8:30 pm EST

in observing Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

Let’s mobilize our yearning and our practice to bend the long arc towards justice.

TO REGISTER: email me at alifeofpractice@gmail.com

Please make Subject line BEND THE ARC