The Gentle Hands of Change
I dreamt about Obama last night. A good bye dream. It was a happy dream; somebody's birthday. But it was me mourning him. We have our disagreements, he and I (fracking and defense related) but man, I do love him today. I didn't love everything he did, but I loved HIM. He was a man I was proud to call president.
For as many of us that love Obama, the world was also full of hate for him. Not just political disagreement. But Hatred. Many loved to hate him, and racism was a part of that; in manny cases under the level of consciousness. They are ignorant of the poison that their hatred was, ignorant of how insidious racism is. Because we generally are.
So many of us are angry today, and in despair. And we have to somehow get through our days now with that despair in us.
Yesterday I went through an incredible labyrinth of emotions. I went beyond shock and disbelief, to mostly depressed, and then to committed. I became committed to the work ahead. But it was a righteous sort of committed, fueled by my diet of social media.
In my meditation this morning I finally had a little glimpse of the path forward.
We need to SIT DOWN. And then we need to STAND UP.
Victor Dubin posted the sequence of his practice on November 9, commenting, "same as November 8." He was understated in his delivery, but his point was extremely poignant. If you have been doing this work, not just the inner work but the work of being active, changing communities, building tolerance, planting the seeds of love, then your work today is the same as it was yesterday. Victor has been a warrior for peace for a long time. He does his practice, and then he steps out into the world doing the work of social change. One defeat does not change his path forward. Just get up, and do the same thing you have been doing. And keep sitting down, on your cushion, and doing the inner work. Because it will fuel you for the long road ahead. You cannot afford to be on an emotional roller coaster. You will burn out too soon. You will not be clear. You will get overwhelmed and then you will just want to shut down. You have to sit down and dig deep for this effort.
If, however, you have not been working every day towards a more just world, if you have been hanging out in a silo, loving equality and freedom, but just believing that everything is going to be ok, then we need you on board now. We need your energy. We need you to pay attention, to find your cause and plug away, to step out of the comfortable route you navigate in your everyday life. We need you to speak up.
When Victor posted yesterday, it struck me. It was the one post in a thousand that really got in. I got it. Point well taken, I responded. But I realized this morning that I was getting it at an intellectual level.
In meditation, it sank in at a different level, because some insights came through that knit it all together.
This happens a lot in meditation, by the way. Something is percolating, and then I sit, and some memory or insight comes through, really like a messenger, that knits it all together.
I started with just breathing. But in a flash a body memory came through of me at 14 years old, when my mom came out. I remembered the 3 years that it took me to tell my friends that my mom was gay. 3 years of silent inner scrambling. My own homophobia was thick. My shame got triggered. I was 14. My desire to be accepted by my peers was more important than the total truth. So I just kept it undercover, for 3 long years. 3 years later when I changed schools I showed up on day one with a gay mom, and everything was fine. But I did not know that when I was 14. It took a while to undo the damage that homophobia had done.
That was in my past but I have to remember: that lack of tolerance was put into me as a child. Not by my family, but by the deep voices of our culture, even in the relatively liberal community in Colorado that I lived in.
I consider myself madly blessed to have a mom who was brave enough to find herself. The conditions of her life did not support her coming out. When she did, her family flew her to Iowa to talk about it and tried to get her into some conversion counseling.
Because she had found her way through her own internalized homophobia, and took a stand for her own life, she modeled that for me. I was contracted into my own little clamshell for a while, but once I got through adolescence and the need for people to like me I embraced her and little by little came to tolerance and then fondness and then adoration for gay people. I frickin' love my gay people. They rule.
But somewhere inside me I can still sense what that little girl felt - the shame of association with something she had been trained to fear, something not socially acceptable. The inner work of her development was not overnight. She -- I -- came to tolerance because there was enough love around me and enough authentic being, in my mother, that I figured out how to be real and slough off the layers of shame and intolerance that I'd been taught by the insidious and pervasive messaging of our culture. And that was just one part of the healing that I needed to do, because the culture I grew up in never taught me to love myself, and it wasn't until I loved myself that I could live this truth.
Racism is maybe more insidious and dangerous than homophobia. Maybe. Hard to say. Misogyny is it's own sneaky, unconscious monster. The faces of oppression are many. But the body of that oppression is one. It is the tendency to abandon oneself and look outside oneself, to the dominant cultural ideology, for knowing. It is that vague, diaphanous, niggling anxiety that "I" am somehow not quite right, that I am the wrong person, that tension at the deepest self, that keeps us very vulnerable to tendency to 'other-ize' - to build walls between us. And then powerful forces capitalize on our divisions.
My point it; it is not easy to peel these layers away. It takes just the right cocktail of outer circumstances (luck) and inner willingness (pluck). The inner work is critical. The unfurling of our past contractions into fear and shame and intolerance can only be done by our own gentle hands. And then with those gentle hands we bring the work to others. And those gentle hands get up every fucking day, ready to do serious work. Loving work.
We cannot hate other people into changing. They will just dig in their heels. We have to speak for what is right, and love change into being.
Rita Shimmin said, "We are not taught to love ourselves. And from that place we are easily manipulated."
May we have energy for the long haul.
“Let us pause and listen and gather our strength with grace and move forward like water in all its manifestation: flat water, white water, rapids and eddies, and flood this country with an integrity of purpose and patience and persistence capable of cracking stone.”
Terry Tempest Williams