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A dream, deferred

It is normal for empathic people to feel emotional fatigue when reading the daily news cycle, or seeing video after video in our social media feed displaying global violence and chaos. Even more, for those who are among the populations who’ve consistently been targets of hate and rage, they may experience vicarious trauma and added fear for their safety in moving around the world. This can take a physical and psychological toll.

Even if we are not in a time of unprecedented violence, as some social historians argue, it sure can feel this way because our exposure to trauma occurs more rapidly and constantly.

girlOne piece of this is attending to the care of our souls and knowing when to take a break from technology and cynicism.

The other truth is somewhat paradoxical to the research that shows that today, more than ever before, we live in safer and more peaceful times overall, as a human community. There, at the same time, *is* a breaking point we are reaching. Someone in my Facebook feed posted this morning’s latest headline of Baton Rouge’s police killing with a comment that “this summer is filled with tragedy.” Tragedy, to be sure. But my first reaction was: No, this summer is filled with neglect. This is what happens when we do not respond to tragedy appropriately.

The Langston Hughes poem came to mind:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

 Or does it explode?

The first instance of neglect comes from the residual economic inequality left over after the Civil Rights Movement’s many successes in extending voting rights and desegregating public spaces and schools. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw that his aims for true equality would not be realized until economic injustice was addressed–it was a campaign against poverty that Dr. King was devoting his life to when assassinated. We’ve chosen to memorialize his dream without ever achieving it. We’ve let his dream fester and sag even while posting inspirational memes with his face all over social media on January 16th, or as a retort to present-day activists.

Secondly, we have never collectively faced our history as a nation. Just as in spirituality, bypassing over pain to get to bliss does not work. We keep thinking we can skip over acknowledgment, apology, and reparations by telling people to “get over” something that has never truly ended or been redressed. Slavery took on more protean forms in the carceral system and engineered ghettoization in our American cities and endemic poverty in rural areas. We need truth and reconciliation. We have to move through the worst of our legacy to get to our best. We cannot keep trying to preserve an image of ourselves as liberal do-gooders or colorblind soldiers of love without facing the reality of the racist and classist systems of power and knowledge that we inherited.

The third act of neglect is when murder after murder is captured on video and nobody is held accountable–no individual, no system, no society.

The final form of neglect I want to address is that we neglect each other, our most powerless here and abroad, when we over-fund the military and under-fund education, healthcare, and education. When our politicians more vociferously protect gun ownership than they do safety and civil rights of the vulnerable, that is neglect.

Terribly, 3 police officers were killed today. (Did your hearts sink so much when, in one July weekend in Chicago, 60 people were shot?). This violence was not promoted, not sanctioned, not perpetuated by activists like Black Lives Matter, despite what the media wants to insinuate. But you know who does promote, sanction, and perpetrate such violence? We ALL do, all of us who choose separation over love, who want to be right more than we want understanding. We ALL do, who allow the structural violence and the unrelenting brutality of poverty and racism to continue without taking a stand for those living in such conditions, and without taking responsibility for helping to create those conditions.

When we show up, valuing all lives–not just the white or the wealthy or the powerful, but the black and brown and poor and disaffected–home by home, neighborhood by neighborhood, then the culture may change. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other.

meditationtUntil then, it may not be so surprising that the dream, deferred, will explode.

I want to end this post with 2 pieces you can practice:

1. Tonglen–breathe in the world’s suffering (grief, fear, pain, stress)–on behalf of those hurting, take it on with a deep inhale, breathe out fierce love and compassion and relief to all in pain. Keep going…any positive return you receive from this meditation, breathe it right back out to those who need it, while continuing to breathe in all remaining pain.

2. Show up fully to every interaction with empathy on full-blast, looking out for opportunities to serve and be present for those in need, even in the smallest ways. When things are quiet and you are alone at home–turn that empathy inward, on yourself. Do tears come up? Sadness? Allow life to flow through you while loving all of it, all of you.

Awareness of Sensation, Compassion, Curiosity, Freedom, Healing, Life Coaching, Love, Love is Space, Mindfulness, Open, Power Within, Spirituality, Suffering, Tonglen, Transformation, Wisdom

why lovingkindness

A few days ago I came across a promotion for a self-care program that had among its marketing messages, a quotation attributed to Buddha. It urged: “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

This adage stood out to me because I knew this had to be a fake Buddha quote–that is, one of the many memes on the internet that go around with a message that sounds nice but that doesn’t really sound very Buddhist, and when we search his works, we find he actually never said.

Buddha never said such a thing because he didn’t have to.

lovesignIn Buddhism lovingkindness means extending the compassion we have towards ourselves out to the entire universe. It takes for granted that we accept ourselves and regard ourselves with kindness and warmth and asks us to share this with the people we know, people we don’t know, even people we feel most challenged and offended by, and then, too, to all beings.

This is not to deny the importance of the prescription to love ourselves first. When the US psychologist and meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg asked the Dalai Lama to speak to the issue of “self-hatred” at a small gathering in 1990, he was utterly baffled and confused by her question, and repeatedly asked the translator for help, convinced he couldn’t be hearing correctly. Through their discussion in which he asked her to explain the thoughts and behavior of the self-hating, it became apparent that what is a rampant affliction in the West has little hold in the East.

So even if the Buddha never uttered these words as it wasn’t part of the culture, it seems like those of us in the modern West are desperately in need of its message. Lovingkindness, however, isn’t just love and affection. It’s not about feeling sentimental, sweet, and gooey towards ourselves and the whole of humankind. Lovingkindness is as much about absence as it is about presence. It is about the absence of suffering.

As a coach, I see it everywhere: “Self-care, self-care, self-care.” I am not convinced that this is what we most need. For in most people’s minds self-care is additive. If we continue our pace of life, continue to rush around and set goals for ourselves in work and relationship based on societal standards, continue to identify with our thoughts, continue to believe in the many lies of a culture that sells us our identities and sense of success on the backs of others, continue to get hooked by our fears, and continue to believe our stories about who we are and how we are limited in life and happiness, but then add some bubble baths, green smoothies, yoga or 10 minutes of daily meditation, then we still suffer. We might be adding some comfort but we are not taking away the root causes of suffering.

So if we start with self, and we must, in order to share with others, this needs to go beyond just feeling warmth and affection or celebrating our positive attributes. True compassion means freedom from suffering.

flowers

This is where self-care collapses in on itself and the paradox of self/other as one is revealed. We free ourselves from suffering, in part, by wishing others free, by seeing others having what we have, by wanting for others what we want. We free ourselves when we see the fate of others bound up in our own, and contribute to the health and care of ourselves so that we may show up fully for others. We question the thoughts that cause our suffering and see how our beliefs and habitual behaviors create pain in our lives and in the lives of others. Without judging ourselves or beating ourselves up–just with the recognition, an “Oh, i see that!” and choosing something different next time.

What if we didn’t believe the voices that tell us we are not worthy or enough? What if we all were to start from the same place of knowing our true nature, and that of all beings, is what wants to be expressed through us? What if we knew that true nature is love-filled, clear, open, pure, and generous?

What if when an inner voice cuts us down or tells us we failed, it is put in its place, immediately, as an untrue thought that is trying to pull us out of our power, beauty, and sense of well-being out of fear? What if we were to feel that fear without getting trapped in its stories about what it means, and to wish for ourselves, in that moment of shakiness, freedom from suffering? What if, when we get hooked or pulled into engaging with such thoughts, we noticed the sensations in our body, nurtured the wounds that weep these old hurts and insecurities, and then moved forward from a place of profound knowledge of our passion, purpose, and goodness?

How much more effective would we be in assisting and giving to others from this place of confidence in our own loving nature?

This is the work I do with my clients. For me, coaching is less about self-care and more about self-aware. Aware of self, we are awake to life and continually learning to relate to ourselves & others in a completely new way. We channel the power of the whole universe through our body, breath, being, for our unique purpose and path, motivated by an intention to share our best and express our individual talents & gifts.

In the ultimate view, the Buddha would say that the question of self-care isn’t relevant…our true nature points to an illusion of a separate self. I care for me means I care for you because we are the same, living out soul and spirit in our amazingly singular spectacular expression.

Don’t let society dampen you down or tell you who you should be or how you should live. Don’t believe the messages about what it is to be selfless, responsible, or successful unless it truly resonates with your soul.

Start here, with lovingkindness

And end? There is no end.

Just continue to practice lovingkindness. Breath by breath.

All else is illusion.

 

Compassion, Discernment, Healing, Love, Nonviolent Communication, Power Within, Radical Acceptance, Sacred justice, Spiritual Activism, Suffering, Tonglen, Transformation

what to do when we don’t know what to do

i want to talk about Baltimore. more.

after police have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray, many are feeling temporary relief and hope. only the first step in a long road towards justice, how do we stay sane and centered along the way? and how can we respond to the suffering that is still a reality in Baltimore and across the US, where black women and men disproportionately face poverty, imprisonment, and state violence?

when we really grasp the history of our nation and understand just how entrenched institutional racism is, it can be easy to feel discouraged and powerless. while i don’t have some magic formula for creating real change, i offer here practices, tips, and contemplation for when we don’t know what to do in the face of so much suffering.

LoveandJustice

1. turn off the the radio and tv news. limit online article intake.

wha?? why would we do this? don’t we want to stay engaged with what’s happening? well…is the news really what is happening? No. does revisiting the trauma repeatedly help to undo its horror and tragedy? No. once we learn the facts there are to know, maybe it’s time to step back and breathe.

i noticed on day 3 that letting skewed media reportage set the tone for my day with my morning alarm set to NPR was sending my nervous system into a tizzy.

signs to watch for: tension in the body and tightness in head, jaw, neck, shoulders, shallow, fast breathing, a general unsettled feeling and despair or gloom.

i decided to turn it off.

it may be a privilege of being one state + one district removed from events to choose to not take in media coverage of what’s unfolding in Baltimore. and certainly some do not have the luxury of an off switch when it comes to living in a hostile or oppressive environment. but feeling stress in our bodies will not relieve anybody else of their stress. being miserable does not free anyone else.

so shut it off, take a break. underwhelm yourself.

instead of adding more suffering to the planet, focus on peace. outer peace will require bold change and great patience. so what can we do to bring ourselves into an inner sense of calm? not to deny what is happening, but to be able to act instead of react. to know it is us, our own clear minds and wise hearts, responding, and not layers of stress and media-induced despair causing us to act out, and likely, be ineffective.

get quiet. settle into yourself. respond from who you are, not what others are doing.

which leads me into step 2…

2. know who you BE. then act.

i once went to graduation festivities for a community organizing institute a friend did with Oakland’s Applied Research Center–what’s now known as Race Forward. this was in my Bay Area living days, early aughts when i worked at a local Planned Parenthood. i believed vigorously in the power of community organizing, but after a semester internship with Chicago’s ONE, i came to terms that i didn’t have what it takes to be an effective organizer myself. i lamented to the then leader of this organizing institute that i felt i wasn’t doing enough and wish i had it in me to do this essential work. she came back at me with: “We need revolutionaries in every field. We need revolutionary teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists…” & she listed off various careers I can’t recall 15 years later. the sentiment has stayed with me, though. we need revolutionary life coaches. and we need you to be who you are. when we see thousands in the streets, it is inspiring, it is necessary, and it is not everyone’s calling.

beyou

knowing who we are means action happens as a natural and spontaneous expression of life moving through us. when we allow ourselves to be moved, and where we go is to protest: great. if we are forcing ourselves to show up against what our bodies and intuition tell us, we suffer. not feeling the call doesn’t mean we are lazy or not willing to participate in change. change needs to happen in so many ways and in so many places. go where you are truly called. be the change.

here are some ways that may or may not resonate, to show up for others’ suffering. know who you BE. move from that awareness.

practice power with

try donating! and more donating!

try showing up! across the US or in North Carolina.

try writing a letter to the editor!

for white folks, try speaking up! to other white folks in your community.

practice power within

try tonglen! this is a Buddhist lovingkindness practice that is my go-to for when i am facing difficult emotions, and is a powerful way to both heal ourselves and tap into our compassion for others. keep the flame of compassion burning bright even when the media moves on.

try empathy! as much of a stretch as it might be, we must remember that everyone is suffering and that, oftentimes, the biggest challenge can be extending compassion to those with whom we don’t sympathize, those whose actions we abhor. why would we let them into our hearts? for me, those who commit murder, who trample on the rights of the historically disenfranchised, who unconsciously replicate the implicit biases and blindness of a system in which they were raised are suffering from ignorance–of not knowing themselves, of lacking discernment, of not being connected to their own humanity, of being filled with rage, judgement or hate. if i wish to see them free of suffering, it means i wish for them to know who they are, to claim their humanity, to be humble, open, and surrendered to a power greater than their egos. if i take on the same rage, judgement or hate, even if on the side of morality and justice, i end up suffering, and not being so unlike those whose actions i condemn.

try meditation! this is a quiet way to feel the power that can never be bound, locked up, or stripped away from us. few of us ever face conditions that really test our spirits and force us to cultivate the kind of inner fortitude and self-connection that triumphs over our own personal and external limitations. all of us can access the transpersonal, though, and can sense the space and compassion it opens up for us and for all beings.

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering,
May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.