Writings

ACKNOWLEDGING AND EXPLORING PRIVILEGE

Over the last few years my daughter Liliana, who works in the field of social justice and diversity, has been helping me to deepen my understanding of the systemic societal inequities in which we are immersed. Becoming conscious of the inherent privileges that are sewn into the fabric of my social world is an essential step in being less contributory to the unfairness of the system. In a fair social system, the privilege of the few would become the rights of all.

As a student and teacher of awareness for many years, my focus has been on growing our individual capacity for awakened consciousness of our bodies, feelings, thoughts, relationships and environment. Only recently have I been attending more consciously to the ways our cultural biases impact these abilities. I believe that the road toward individual and collective freedom is paved with awareness. This road must include becoming more conscious of assumed rights that are implicit for the dominant cultural groups (e.g. white, male, heterosexual, upper and middle-class) and how this is radically different for non-dominant groups. These assumed rights are the territory of “privilege”.

We live in unfair social systems, which have deeply imbedded biases. The cultural euphemism that says we are all free to create our own destiny, while true in an absolute sense, ignores how the playing field is not level from the beginning.

I notice that many people find the concept of inherent privilege unhelpful, in that it implies an elimination of personal responsibility for the choices one makes in life. They accurately point out that we all have advantages and disadvantages based on our genetics, family systems, place of birth, etc. and it is our personal task in life to transform our situation into “the unlimited potential of the future”. Privilege is also derided as a “guilt trip” assumed by liberally oriented people in response to accusations directed by marginalized populations. 

I feel it is essential that we differentiate “advantages” from “privilege”.  While having cultural privilege has many advantages, not all advantages require privilege. Having literate parents, books in the home, conversation around the dinner table are advantages. Having a superior school down the street because of one’s economic status is an example of privilege. Having a healthy, mobile body is an advantage, having easy accessibility to most public environments is privilege. Experiencing a safe home environment is an advantage, experiencing the presence of a police officer as an obvious sign of protection and safety is an expression of privilege.

Again, in my opinion, for society to become “just”, the naturally assumed privilege of the few must become the rights and, therefore, the privilege, of the many. These distinctions are difficult to define yet very important. In acknowledging privilege, I am neither diminishing our individual capacity for transcending life situations nor am I imagining a world in which we all have the same advantages. Rather, I am pointing toward an obvious truth: societies have unacknowledged, unspoken and denied biases.

In responding effectively to some of the cultural and political movements alive in the world today, it is essential that we acknowledge the institutional, cultural, and personal/interpersonal racism, sexism, classism and other “isms”, in which we are living. Without this acknowledgement and a creative response to the systemic (meaning of a system) oppression, we will perpetuate these cultural wars for generations to come. Also, as I will describe later, this acknowledgement is as helpful, essential, and life transforming for those in positions of dominance as for the oppressed.

Definitions of Privilege:

Restricted right or benefit:
- A right or benefit that is not available to everyone

Rights and advantages enjoyed by elite
- The rights and advantages enjoyed by a relatively small group of people usually as a result of wealth or social status
-Systematic favoring, enriching, valuing, validating, and including of certain social identities over others. Individuals cannot “opt out” of systems of privilege; rather these systems are inherent to the society in which they live

I have many unearned privileges:

I have white skin, which in offers me special status in my country of origin and in much of the world. When I enter a restaurant or place of business, I assume that I am welcome. People of other skin colors are often viewed with suspicion or even hostility. When I see a person in a police uniform walking down the street, I do not feel endangered or suspect.

I have a male body, which in primate evolutionary history affords me more power and greater access to resources than my female counterparts.  I have never been threatened with sexual violence or treated uncomfortably as a sexual object. I have never been told overtly or covertly that any position in society was unattainable to me.

I have a heterosexual identity, which means my sexual orientation has never been questioned or devalued.  I have never felt threatened by the way I walk, talk or dress  or by expressing affection in public.  I do not experience people looking at me with derision or questioning my moral character based on my sexual orientation.

I was born into a middle-class family, which afforded me consistent access to food, shelter, quality education and protection from hostile environments. I never had to go to school hungry or worry about the quality of my drinking water or about being attacked by neighborhood gangs. I also grew up with the explicit and implicit implication that my standing in the world, economically and socially, could and would improve.

I have a healthy body, without obvious disability, which means I never had to confront being unable to enter a building due to inaccessibility. My capacity to move easily through life situations has always been assumed. When I want to meet with someone, either socially or for my occupation, I know that I can gain access to our meeting place. This implicit accessibility contributed to the sense that I could go anywhere and be almost anything.

As a relatively rich, well-educated, healthy, heterosexual, white, male, my path in life has been easier than many others. It is true that I have worked diligently for many of the gifts in my current life; still it is important that my inherent privileges not be overlooked. Through the media, I grew up with many images of success and possibility that looked like me. The messages “you can be what you want to be”, “if you can dream it you can be it”, and “the sky is the limit” were consistently given to me.

Imaginative Exercise

Imagine that there are basketball hoops lining a wall of a gym. These hoops represent fulfilling your dreams or success in various areas of life. Imagine that fifty people of different cultural, racial and economic backgrounds and sexual identities are standing at mid-court facing the baskets. We are then asked to:

- Take one step forward if you have felt welcomed in most social and business environments and one step back if not (don’t move either way if neutral for this and all the following).

- Take one step forward if you had good teachers and access to quality learning materials in most of your schooling and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you lived in basically safe, secure environments growing up and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you have felt safe sexually almost all of the time and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you received messages and saw many role models suggesting that you could be anything that you chose to be and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you were encouraged and supported by the people outside your family toward a successful life and one step back if not.

- Take one step forward if you had access to financial support when needed and one step back if not.

You see where this is going and can imagine your own examples. You are then given a ball and asked to shoot for your dreams, for success. I am standing right in front of the basket; my female friends of color who were born into poor homes are at the other end of the gym. Others are some place in between us. We all shoot the ball. We are all told that everyone has the right and opportunity to make a basket.

This is called privilege.

I believe it is healthy and respectful to assume an attitude of self-responsibility in this life. Blaming others for our difficulties is inherently disempowering.

AND

It is essential that we acknowledge the uneven playing field and take actions to minimize the effects of social injustice. In addition to laws that prevent overt bias, we can individually and collectively keep attuned to the systemic biases that infect our cultural life. This is a big task.

Our biases are built into our biology, our neural networks. From pre-human primate bands, to hunter-gathering groups, to tribes, to nations and seek dominance in terms of access to resources, which includes food, shelter, procreative potential, and anything that is collectively valued. We are also designed to see those outside our tribal/national group, any “other”, as threatening and alien.  While the impulse toward cooperation is also part of our DNA, this is usually limited by very specific boundaries. Some cultural systems tend to encourage these biases more than others, for example, the rise of capitalism in the United States required white supremacy as justification for the destruction of Native Americans and for slavery.

Still, biology is NOT destiny. Those of us in positions of social dominance – white males in particular – have a strong responsibility to acknowledge and do our best not to support or ignore (ignoring is supporting!) the systems of injustice that surround us. Whether it is the devaluing of women and femininity, jokes about “LGBTQ people” people or assumptions about people with skin colors that differ from our own, we need to be on the front lines of standing up for the respect of all beings. At a minimum, this asks us to engage in the uncomfortable task of noticing our own biases, speaking of them openly and calling attention to any expressions of pre-judging in our social groups. This means ALL pre-judging. In my circles, this means to say something when people assume that all Trump supporters are ignorant or racist.

One of the most important learning’s for me in my “street retreat” with the ZenPeacemakers in which we lived and slept on the streets of San Francisco without any money was to see my assumptions about the “street people”. I carried a lot of fear and disrespect in my mind that dissolved through genuine interaction. People living on the street are as diverse as people anywhere; they are not of one type. This is obvious theoretically, yet I needed to experience this truth to overcome my prejudice.

In addition, while humor is a helpful tool in unmasking these systemic patterns, often unconscious attitudes of superiority are expressed through jokes. People of privilege need to be more observant and circumspect than those from more marginalized groups. I used to say “well aren’t we all equally entitled to speak freely?”. For example, if an African-American comedian can make jokes about white people, can’t a white comedian, just as readily, make jokes about black people?  Well, “no”. In my opinion, by observing the implicit power differentials, those in positions of power need to be both more circumspect and more humble.

None of us will ever be safe and at home in our cultures until ALL human beings feel valued implicitly. Those of us who seem to “gain” from the biases need to see that much of our social fear and anxiety arises from these imbalances.

While we must hold people responsible for their actions, we can also stand up for injustices base on systemic patterns of devaluation and oppression.
The task of awakening beings is to transcend and transmute the biological tendencies and tribal biases of our forbearers. For life on earth to thrive, a critical mass of us need to make an evolutionary leap into inclusion of ALL life as part of “US”.

White, male privilege is real and needs to be acknowledged. We also need to be mindful of the potential for the disrespect in lowering expectations for people who have been treated inequitably. When teachers expect less from African-American children, we all lose. There truly is a “tyranny of lowered expectations” that we do not want to support.  In my opinion, this is another form of disrespect and discrimination.  Taking white, male privilege seriously, means to recognize the systemic effects of discrimination over many generations while still holding true to our commitment to the unique creative potentials in each individual.  Creating equal opportunity requires us to look toward how to make opportunity equitable until it can truly be equal.

My responsibility is to use my privilege to help educate and bring into dialogue others who are not acknowledging their privileged status. In addition, I am committed to actively support those in my community who are more vulnerable than I am. We can influence the system through our words and our actions. Even small acts in daily life can be helpful. As we move through our worlds, we can be more aware of those who might need a little bit more of our care to feel truly safe and truly welcome in a social situation. Some call this “reverse racism or sexism”; I call it “taking care of life”.

Having been raised in a socially liberal household where the valuing of all human beings was encouraged, I never saw the more subtle and nefarious ways that systemic oppression and white, male privilege supported me and “my kind”. I always saw myself as one of the “good-guys”, on the side of the fair and good. Still, the social ground on which I walked and the social air I breathed gave me privileges that were more pervasive than I had realized. I am very grateful to my daughter whose life and occupational passions have brought these issues more into foreground for me and now, hopefully, for you.

I would be delighted to hear your responses, whether you agree, disagree or simply want to take these issues further. The Embodied Life™ School, through this forum, will seek to further this exploration.

For a PDF click here


Understanding the connection between The Embodied Life™ and The Feldenkrais Method

When Rabbi Mordechai’s son Rabbi Noah took over after his death, the disciples noticed that he did many little things differently.  When asked about this Rabbi Noah said, I do things just as my father did, he did not imitate and I do not imitate”.

From Moshe I received many blessings for which I am eternally grateful, two of the most important are: commitment to the process of awareness and valuing my unique ‘handwriting’.

Prior to meeting Moshe, I was devoted to a practice of Zen meditation.  My initial insight “on the cushion” revolved around the central importance of being awake in the present moment.  In addition, because Zen is above all an embodied practice, I saw how our embodiment could be a great ally in the process of awakening.

Early in my training, ATM’s became a laboratory for exploring embodied presence. Before, during and after the training, I was also investigating present moment awareness (is there any other kind?) in the realm of feelings/emotions through Gestalt Therapy, various awareness practices and other approaches to somatic-based psychology.

My professional identity from 1975 onward has been as a Feldenkrais teacher and trainer.  In addition, for about 25 years, I also have conducted retreats and seminars, which integrate meditation and “guided inquiry” (an original system for investigating thinking, feeling, communication and relationship patterns) with the teachings of Moshe. 

About 15 years ago, while in a time of deep self-reflection, I investigated the question, “if had 5 years left to live what would I do?” The clear and unmistakable answer was that I would devote myself to teaching the most direct and complete path to inner freedom that I could. This questioning led to the creation of “The Embodied Life™” as a mentorship program in which I would guide people in the practices that have been of most importance to me.

3 Main Practices: Meditation, Guided Inquiry, Movement Lessons of Moshe Feldenkrais

All of these practices include the same inner attitude of curiosity, warm-heartedness and spaciousness applied in slightly different ways. 

The meditation we practice is a direct, bare-bones approach to experiencing our mind/body ‘as-it-is’; this is the basis for being at home in ourselves.   Beyond ideology, it directly addresses the question: can I be at ease within my own self-created mental stories?  Rather than offering mantras, pictures or other forms of “distraction”, we practice becoming friendly with the present moment.

Guided Inquiry includes a variety of awareness experiments based in the Focusing method of Eugene Gendlin.  I have been developing these experiments for more than 30 years.  Learning to bring a warm, caring, curious yet objective presence to our feelings/emotions/situations is transformative.  Becoming skillful with both inner and outer communication is part of this study. We also use modern neurological understanding to grow “resource states” in which we practice growing “life-giving neural networks” based in our own experiential history.

As you know, the movement lessons of Moshe Feldenkrais are perhaps the most neurologically sophisticated ways of transforming our motor patterns and self-image.  In this program we focus in-depth on 5 essential embodied qualities: grounding, centering, breathing, lengthening (lightness) and spatial awareness (inner sand outer space).  The lessons are specifically chosen to invite a softening of the infrastructure of our learned self-limiting identity. In addition, I have developed “standing gestures” that embody the most important human qualities such as: dignity, humility, courage, grounded-ness, open-heartedness and presence.

Transformation and Integration 

The integration of these modalities is profound and unique.  Working with mental/emotional habits, while simultaneously exploring the underlying physical patterns- all from the same perspective- potentiates each approach exponentially. Finally, the power of a committed, compassionate group of people often from various countries doing these practices over a period of time creates an unexpected support for inner transformation.

“I believe we are in a historically brief transition period that heralds the emergence of the truly human man.”
(Moshe Feldenkrais,  “Awareness Through Movement”, p.48)

“The Embodied Life” is directly oriented toward Moshe’s vision of the integrated human being in whom sensing, moving, feeling, and thinking function as an integrated whole.  Moshe predicted that this integration would be spontaneous when the movement patterns were no longer compulsive.  When I shared with him my observation that sometimes people generalize their learning and often they did not, he said, “it is the greatest disappointment of my life”.

We are living in a time a great transformation and evolution of consciousness.  I encourage those attracted to the ideas presented here to check out the writings on my website at www.russelldelman.com and to consider coming to an Embodied Life retreat.  Wishing us all many blessings on the path of awakening.

 “In those moments when awareness succeeds in being at one with feeling, senses, movement and thought, the carriage will speed along on the right road. Then man can make discoveries, invent create, innovate and ‘know’. He grasps that his small world and the great world around are but one and that in this unity he is no longer alone.”               
Moshe Feldenkrais, “Awareness Through Movement”, p.54

QUESTIONS FROM FELDENKRAIS PRACTITIONERS

Is this a personal or professional training?

People come with different intentions: 1) Everybody who attends is interested in self-transformation.  2) Many of the people are active teachers, Feldenkrais practitioners, meditation teachers and therapists who want to expand and deepen their work.  3) Some of the people want to become “Embodied Life” guides.

Do you certify people at the end of the 6 meetings?

Not necessarily. There are at least three major areas of study, though we approach them from the same perspective. The first is meditation, the second movement awareness and the third is the group of practices called Guided Inquiry.  Depending on their history and skill sets people develop in these areas at differing rates. My encouragement to teach the work is based on our personal relationship and the dialogue that I maintain with each participant. There are now numerous Embodied Life groups meeting throughout the world. We have approximately the same number of Embodied Life graduates in Europe as in the U.S. The 14th program will begin this year, with approximately 250 people having participated in the whole program.

Are all participants Feldenkrais Practitioners?

No.  I really value and enjoy a diversity of backgrounds.  All participants have been on the road of awareness in some form.  For example there are Zen monks, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, social workers, artists, film makers and people with many other areas of expertise enrolled in the current courses. This makes for a very rich atmosphere.

Is there homework between the weeks?

A basic law of “spiritual” or inner development is that all tasks or assignments must be done in freedom. This means that I make suggestions for people’s development and the decision to follow through is up to each individual. There are no requirements, yet, almost everyone in the current courses maintains a daily meditation practice and at least once a week they explore some other aspect of the teaching.  Each training week is digitally recorded and this is sent to each participant so many people use the interim to review the previous session.  Each year there are approximately three recommended readings.

I already have a teacher, do I need to see you as my new teacher?

Not at all.  As part of the course, I offer to be in relationship with each participant.  Most of the contact is via email.  Some people contact me fairly regularly, some never connect with me between sessions.  You determine the type of connection that serves your development.

How can I apply?

First go to the website www.russelldelman.com to fill out an application.  I request that each person applying come to at least one retreat before the program so that we can have experience working in these forms together.

How can I ask further questions?

For logistical questions contact my administrator, Nancy Fleming, at office@russelldelman.com  and for questions related to content or personal issues contact me at Russell@russelldelman.com.

For a PDF version click here












Polishing the Diamond: The Embodied Life™ as a Path
Toward Love and Freedom



“Polishing the Diamond” Russell Delman

Yesterday,
in a time out of time,
sitting on my meditation cushion:
moments come and go effortlessly
breathing comes and goes yet no one is breathing
noticing occurs without anyone noticing
awareness functions by itself
only spaciousness and the light of perception remain
Diamond–like luminosity is the “I” without content

Today,
In and out of time
Thoughts come and go
There is going away and coming back
Returning over and over with a warm heart
Polishing the Diamond

I find the phrase “polishing the diamond”, can help us to recall the diamond-like clarity of our nature. We also are acknowledging that while this pure, natural quality of Being can never be destroyed or defiled by our confusion, fears and egotism, it can become obscured by certain conditioned patterns of thoughts and feelings. “Polishing” implies the need to have practices that help us to remember our true nature as we work to listen to, learn from and neutralize any unhelpful patterns. Freedom requires that we are not lost in old habitual states.

From the Embodied Life point of view, everything, even our most compulsive, painful habits are a doorway for learning and awakening. As Zen master Dogen said, “We become enlightened through our delusion”. An important aspect of unconditional love is learning to bring our care to these unhelpful patterns. This warm-hearted kindness toward our own difficult inner states is an essential part of learning to love.

Those of us who are privileged enough to be on a path of awakening and to experience authentic, reliable teachings often ask, “with all the possibilities, what is the most important thing to focus on”. Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said, in a typically Zen way: “the most important thing is to find the most important thing”.

What is most important? There are many excellent answers to this question, for me the focus is on Love and Freedom as the center of my life.

By Love in this context, I am speaking very inclusively of the profoundly positive impulse for all of life to flourish, to blossom, to thrive.  This basic warmth toward life includes, but goes much further than, personal needs or wants. I believe this caring impulse is spontaneous and natural for human beings when not confused by our own suffering. Contrary to the frequent image that suggests we are fundamentally egocentric, I agree with the Buddhist picture of “Basic Goodness”, as a more accurate depiction of our true nature.

Even further, as we are made from the same elements as the earth and from stardust itself, our oneness with the essence of life is indisputable. It is said in the Christian tradition, as I have learned from my wife, that we are made in both the image and likeness of God. As I understand it, the image means that we are ONE with God, we are a ray of the sun. This is our diamond-like nature whereas the likeness suggests our need to work daily to realize our potential, this is polishing the diamond. Seeing in this light uplifts our humanity into the sacred.

Freedom to me means not being bound to the unhelpful or life defeating conditioning from the past. The ability to choose new responses in our life situations implies freedom and is a fundamental requirement for freedom.  Suffering is connected to our habitual reactivity, based in fear and aggression. By definition, freedom means that we can have new choices in our behavior. Without this possibility, we are bound to repeat the past.

Awareness is the key to freedom, without awareness, our brains will recreate our conditioned patterns. The great gift of the human brain is our capacity for learning. Most animals, even intelligent ones, have a limited capacity for uniquely creative responses to life. Humans have a seemingly unlimited capacity for new learning and novel behavior.  Freedom is at our core.

From my view, our True nature, the core of our Being, is both loving and free. I hope that we can see with humility and some humor, rather than self-incrimination, how far we stray from this truth every day! On this path, we are constantly realigning our patterns of thinking, feeling, speaking and acting with our essential nature. Over and over and over, we get lost in old stories about ourselves and life and then, thankfully through grace and practice, we remember to return to the practice of polishing the diamond. This is the thrilling and harrowing path of awakening.

For me it is enormously helpful and encouraging to remember that we do not need to find the jewel, it is already here! Remembering this is invites hopefulness as well as the courage to persist on the path.  Having validated, through practice, the ever-present nature of the diamond, we feel less desperate when in a challenging life moment. Difficult situations still feel unpleasant but not threatening. They begin to feel “workable”.

Our closest personal relationships are often “graduate school” for this learning. After 43 years of relationship with my wife I can attest to both the naturalness and ease that unfolds as well as the continuous process of sometimes-arduous learning. It seems that the only thing stronger than the strength of our conditioning is the potency of this love-filled awareness. Returning to the diamond-like clarity of our Being in our relationships is essential for freedom from the entanglements that can ensnare us. 

Remembering the true nature living inside of everyone, even our apparent enemies, is essential for our collective liberation. I cannot imagine how the social situations around the world that we have created together will change without awareness of the diamond-like core of Being that we share. I believe that those of us with the privilege to learn practices for “polishing the diamond” have a great responsibility at this time.

Looking at our current cultural challenges, I feel a kind of delicate shame for our collective level of discourse and behavior, while at the same time writing about these glorious core qualities. We seem so far from them as a society. Since we are all in this boat together, I have a deep sense of responsibility for our hateful and compulsive rhetoric and actions.  To see the rudiments of these in myself is painful. To see all of us as having a shared core that is essentially good, that has the capacity for loving action, and the capacity for learning new behavior gives me hope. Having practices that guide others and me gently and reliably in these directions brings great gratitude.

A Story

A beggar had been sitting by the side of the road for thirty years.
One day a stranger walked by.
 
"Spare some change?" mumbled the beggar.
"I have nothing to give you," said the stranger. Then he asked: "What's that you're sitting on?"

"Nothing, " replied the beggar. "Just an old box my father gave me, he sat on it, as did my grandfather so we can sit more comfortably. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.

"Ever look inside?" asked the stranger.
 
"No," said the beggar. "What's the point, there's nothing in there."

"Have a look inside," insisted the stranger. The beggar, reluctantly, managed to pry open the lid.  With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw a bright, large, radiant diamond in the old box.

Ancient Hindu Story
Anonymous

 

For a PDF click here







“The Fierce Urgency of NOW”
 (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “March on Washington”, 1963)

Having Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday celebration, the same week as Donald Trump’s inauguration was a head spinner and a wake-up call.  The contrast between these two men could not be greater. As MLK says in another context when speaking about human values and the tenuous morality in the western world, during his fight for social justice: “when scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men”.  (“The World House”, 1967) As with so many of his sentences, this seems as pertinent today as in his time.


The electric and soaring oratory of Dr. King has been filling me with fortitude for many weeks. As his language is so powerful and evocative, this writing is constructed around a few of MLK’s dynamic phrases.  When he speaks of “ the beloved community”, “the world house”, the human family” or  “the world-wide neighborhood”, I feel the encapsulating web of interconnectivity that is so central for our thriving and, even surviving, together on this small planet. As he says, “together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools” (“The World House”, 1967).

On the day of the inauguration, I was delivering a talk in Bend, Oregon to begin a weekend seminar. The words that had been so uplifting for me became guidance for my teachings. Both a healing balm and a stimulant for action, his words inspired the whole group in powerful ways.

“The Fierce Urgency of Now” resonated deeply in the bones. Here is a man whose core message was centered on Love and Freedom, igniting the deep marrow with words like “fierce” and “urgency”, bringing even more poignancy to NOW than most of us had formally felt.  My life and teaching focuses on the centrality of “awareness in the present moment” for the prospering of both love and freedom.  Early in my life journey, I saw that our capacity for presence in this moment was the key for overcoming our self-limiting, fear-based habits of survival. 

Still, we cannot allow the primacy of NOW to negate the necessity of standing up for our collective future. With the great privilege of awareness comes an inherent responsibility. A moral imperative asks us to take action upon seeing an injustice in our “world-wide neighborhood”. I am moved by MLK’s statement, first in 1954 then again in his 1964 Nobel acceptance speech: “never confuse the ‘isness’ of an old order with the ‘oughtness’ of a new order”.  We must work with the challenge of both: 1) deeply honoring THIS living moment with our devoted presence as we also 2) direct our intentions and actions toward the destiny of our potentialities.

From a Zen point of view, THIS moment always has a sense of urgency, yet it is usually enfolded within qualities of equanimity, spaciousness and restful repose. Adding the evocative “fierce” to the immediacy of “urgent” and “now”, brings a kind of “hair on fire” feeling. I am still sorting out the specific actions that this urgency demands. There is something about MLK’s perceptions that are speaking directly to us now.
 
In a 1964 address to the European Baptist Assembly in Amsterdam, he wrote these prescient words, speaking at the time of conservative Republican Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater:

“But in spite of the masses who gather each Sunday, there is the constant deterioration of community and family life and the corruption of our national life as evidenced by the popularity of a presidential candidate who promises to return the nation to a world of the past, where there will be no taxes, foreign aid, no social security, and no problems that can’t be solved by nuclear power. And the very people who are making this candidate so popular are the people who fill our churches in the Midwestern and southern states”.

How staggering is that paragraph 53 years later! Our attention is being called forth to profoundly question, how did we get here.  By all measures, the issues of injustice that MLK focused on have made significant progress yet there is so far to go.  The battle between fear and love as OUR dominant operating principle is just as raw, perilous and pronounced!

To see this as an “us vs. them” conversation is to miss the deeper message. The people alluded to in the quote above, indeed all people, have deep wounds, needs and confusion. Our task is to stand up, with both dignified power and love, for the genuine needs of all. To emphasize love for all and our inherent interconnectivity is NOT to water down our potency or our commitment to social change and justice.

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.
Tied together in a single garment of destiny”
(“Letter from the Birmingham Jail”, 1963)

We are all in this together. No aspect of our “network of mutuality”, whether human, animal or the earth itself, can be exiled from our love.  We can and will disagree about strategy and effective means. The greatest challenge is to stand FOR Love, Life and Liberty without casting out those who see life differently.  We need what MLK called in 1954, our “divine discontent”, without living in anger. Though our anger can be helpful to mobilize action, protectiveness and courage, it becomes very destructive when eaten as a steady diet.

“Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: ‘A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together’. This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’, in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim ad Hindu – a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace”.
(“The World House” 1967)

For me, MLK is a model for strength, dignity and love - NOT cowering in the face of violent hatred, yet also NOT reacting in kind. I have a long way to go on this path and, everyday, I am working to grow my inner strength, grounded-ness and presence, as I also grow my capacity for unconditional love. I see my own fears and conditioned biases. This learning is a daily investigation of my thoughts, feelings, actions and internalized systems of oppression, directed toward others or toward myself. Sometimes this appears as a fleeting thought of superiority and sometimes as a self-judgment of inadequacy. All instances of “casting out” need to be interrogated with kindness and diligence.
 
We are living in a powerful international moment. In the “fierce urgency of now”, there is an opening in our individual and collective consciousness. Similar to 1964, with the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam and the women’s movement, we are in a rare moment of transformational possibility for the awakening of (our) humanity.


“Darkness can not drive out darkness, only Light can do that
Hatred can not drive out hatred, only Love can do that”
(“Strength to Love”, 1963)

For a PDF click here

PART 2 – Reflections on Meditations for World Peace and Social Justice – THE DEDICATIONS  

In Part 1 of this writing about the all-day Meditation for World Peace and Social Justice, I focused on the structure of the day, the general intention, and some of my learning. In this writing, I will focus on the Dedications that are read each hour and their deeper meaning for me.

Vision

An enlightened vision for humanity – whether from the East, with images of liberation from suffering or from the West, with a democratic image of equal rights for all – implies social structures that support the realization of these potentialities. While human ideals cannot be bestowed by a society, clearly certain forms of injustice create roadblocks for many people.

The following dedications are inspired by a vision of a world in which these roadblocks are absent, not primarily through laws, but because of a transformation in consciousness that will make these forms of violence unthinkable. This is a world in which LOVE would be the guiding principle. You and I can start holding this vision NOW as a template for the future human being. Moving from an us/them, dominate or be dominated mentality IS the current living edge for the evolution of our species. The very survival of life as we know it is likely dependent on this radical shift.

Each of the Dedications invites us to focus on a particular domain of Social Justice. To fulfill the idealistic picture of ALL life being valued, this kind of specificity is required.  Importantly, we acknowledge that each of these discriminations arises from the same DOMINATION mindset. The greatest blind spot of perpetrators is not seeing the gilded cage they create for themselves. How obvious, yet rarely seen that pain and limitation inflicted on another has the same effect on oneself.

Oppression of others in any form comes from a superior/inferior, us/them paradigm. Acknowledging this impulse in ourselves and in our cultures is an important step.  As a white, male, heterosexual, upper middle class, able-bodied, American, I am implicitly part of a dominator culture. The privileges that arise from that culture create a responsibility for me to both identify and change the prejudice that sustains the inequitable situations in my world. One important intention of the all-day sittings is to shine a light on these matters. The overall and greatest goal is to grow our capacity for Love and Freedom.

Dedications

Each dedication is the focus of one hour of meditation (50 minutes sitting and 10 minutes walking).

6:00am–7:00 – All suffering connected to homelessness – May all people find safe homes. When I say these words, I see refugees around the world, particularly parents. I notice that children usually adapt remarkably well to their circumstances, their caregivers tend to suffer most. I also pray that people living on the streets throughout the world can be safe, warm and seen. This reading ends with: we are envisioning a world in which safe, warm homes are universal.

7:00-8:00 – All suffering connected to racial discrimination – May people of all races be treated equitably and value each other. It astounds me that throughout our world, people are still judged by the color of their skin. This is truly unfathomable. I can imagine a time when people will look at this fact with utter disbelief. As a member of the currently dominant racial category, I acknowledge the privilege that comes through white supremacy and the many benefits that have come from the color of my skin. This reading ends with: we are envisioning a world in which people of all skin colors are equally respected and valued.

8:00-9:00 – All suffering connected to sexual violence and sexual identity – May the boundaries of each person’s body and their individuality be universally respected. I am astounded that almost everyday I read a story of a culture or country in which sexual violence is commonplace.  When I read this dedication, various people who have shared their stories of abuse flash to my mind and heart. Although women and girls have suffered most, it is now becoming more known that boys and men experience sexual violence in shocking frequency. That our bodily boundaries are respected seems an obvious necessary step for human evolution.
From a larger view, this respect includes more than the acts of sexual violence but also all ways in which people are not granted autonomy and agency in their physical bodies. Narrow societal images of beauty, gender binary, stronger bodies controlling weaker bodies, all fit into this domination picture. This reading ends with: we are envisioning a world in which transgression of another person’s body is unimaginable.

9:00-10:00 – All suffering connected to religious intolerance – May all faiths be honored.  How can the name of God, or whatever one calls the highest and deepest, be used to justify violence? Yet, this has been a dominant theme in our world history.  In addition, religious people often hold atheists in contempt and vice versa. As humanity evolves, we will no longer feel threatened when disparate views of the divine are expressed. In the future, people will look back on the intolerance in our world as a dark age of human thought. This reading ends with: we are envisioning a world in which the acceptance of all faiths is unquestionably assumed.

11:00-1:00 PAUSE

1:00pm-2:00 All suffering connected to economic and class violence – May all people be paid a fair and just wage and be valued for the work that they do.  When I read this dedication, I imagine people, particularly parents, working hard and still not being able to meet their basic needs. I also think of people who cannot find work or are laboring in disrespectful or abusive environments. It seems obvious to me that in a just society, people dedicating their labors to constructive work must, at a minimum, have their basic needs for food, housing, health care, clothing and respect met. People need to be valued for any work that contributes to our collective life. I am not arguing for a particular economic system, I am pointing to a systemic problem. I also acknowledge how classism, with its often-unacknowledged judgments, creates a painful split in humanity. This reading ends with:  we are envisioning a world in which people will be valued with just wages for their work and respected for their contribution to society.

2:00-3:00 All suffering connected to ageism – May the young and old be protected, honored and valued in their capacities and differences. When reading this dedication, images come to me of child soldiers and child laborers who are not allowed to have a real childhood. At the other end of the spectrum, I see elders being treated disrespectfully, without a chance to live out their days with dignity and often treated as if they are valueless. Society benefits when opportunities exist for elders to share their accumulated wisdom. This reading ends with:  we are envisioning a world in which all children can play in freedom and both children and elders are honored and valued.

3:00-4:00 All suffering connected to tribal, regional, and nationalistic identities – May the value of each “other” be inviolable. Our collective history grew out of clans and tribes in which people from other groups were seen as dangerous and could not be trusted- they were “other”. When a cultural identity is central to one’s self-image, violence arises. If being a “Southerner”, a “Hutu”, a “ Nazi”, an “American” or, even identifying with a sports team, becomes central to one’s self-identity, aggression often results. While identities held lightly and consciously can be connecting and fulfilling, evolving humans cannot hold these as central to their self-worth.  Ending with: we are envisioning a world in which people will be free from unhelpful and unhealthy group identifications.

4:00-5:00 All suffering connected to discrimination against those with mental or physical disabilities* – May all beings be honored in their uniqueness. Throughout much of my life, I have worked with people who have disabilities when compared to the norm. Invariably, I have discovered that each of these people has an unexpected gift to bring to their families and society. When I read this dedication I think of the people with obvious disabilities that I have known who have brought a unique offering to the world as well as those who been taunted or devalued because of their physical or mental challenges.  This reading ends with: we are envisioning a world in which people are valued for their particularity and in which the social environment supports their participation in life.

5:00-6:00 All suffering connected to human caused environmental destruction – May all beings live in healthy environments. When I speak this out, my thoughts go beyond humans to include all creatures on our planet, as well as the planet itself. Children breathing thick, smoggy air or polar bears floating on small pieces of ice because of human behavior must become a thing of the past. This reading ends with: we are envisioning a thriving, healthy planet in which human beings deeply consider the body of the earth as sacred.

In writing these reflections, I am truly dumbfounded that we live in a world that carries all of this injustice and that I am just now learning to bear witness to its many appearances and disguises. Holding the picture of a world full of justice and therefore, love, fills me with hope, determination and a subtle kind of joy, within the suffering. For me it is eye opening to acknowledge my complicity in perpetuating the dominance system.

There is a paradoxical irony in connecting social justice, activism and “just sitting”.  Shouldn’t activism be, well, more active? I believe that sitting with these visions and sharing them with each other raises and transforms consciousness, as we shine a non-violent light on their roots. I believe that these practices are a drop in the bucket on the road to a more loving world.  I hope you will join The Embodied Life School and other groups throughout the year in these “Meditations for World Peace and Social Justice”.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public”
- Cornel West

* I know some people do not like the word disability and prefer the use of the term “other abled”. Although I appreciate the intention, overall I find this language cumbersome and not helpful.

Click here for a PDF version

REFLECTIONS ON JANUARY 1, 2017
“MEDITATION FOR WORLD PEACE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE”
(Part 1)

Meditating for 10 hours in a day is challenging, exhilarating, boring and fulfilling. Some moments flow and some create discomfort, and like most other people, I sometimes experience unpleasant bodily sensations, random thoughts and a variety of feelings.  In this writing, I will share some of my learning and reflections from this practice.

Gratitude for Interconnectivity

Before the day started, I heard from numerous friends and students living in more than ten different countries that they would be joining for parts of the day. As this is the sixth year of these day-long meditations, there has been time for the interest to spread. Knowing that other people are sitting at the same time brings a surprising sense of connectedness and support. I actually sense a living thread running through us. This touches my heart deeply and I am very grateful.

As I sit for the day, people come and go into “Sophia’s Sanctuary”, the retreat center created by my wife Linda and I in Sebastopol, California. Again the presence of others has a potent effect on my meditation and my sense of being part of a larger community holding these intentions.

Reading the Dedications to Social Justice also ignites a strong connectedness to living beings throughout the world and the human-created forms of suffering that I see. Bearing witness to these social injustices and speaking them out heightens consciousness. Even more, as a person of privilege who benefits from the currently dominant culture and unintentionally participates in some of these forms of bias, these days include a sense of acknowledgement to all marginalized people in our shared world. With great privilege comes great responsibility. Each day-long meditation brings a growing sense of my authentically felt field of care. As none of us can be free until all of us are free, I am grateful for this.

Background

The Embodied Life School hosts these days of meditation about every other month. Each day is divided into two, five hour periods. Fifty minutes of sitting (with a soft bell for those who want to stretch after 25 minutes), followed by ten minutes of walking meditation, repeated ten times during the day. We begin each hour by reading a short “Dedication” to a particular aspect of social justice. {In part 2 of this writing, I will share each of these, along with some commentary}.

Reading the Dedications

This reading frames the hour and instantly connects us with those who are experiencing the effects of that particular injustice. Each dedication is also repeated at the beginning of the walking meditation. We always end the reading with a positive image of a future in which, due to the changes in human consciousness, this form of suffering no longer exists.

I notice that reading these dedications inspires my practice. I am no longer sitting for myself only, I am holding in my heart: 1) people who are suffering in these ways, which includes both the perpetrators and victims and 2) my participation in the systemic structures that perpetuate this reality.  It is humbling to acknowledge that many of the advantages I have experienced in this life arise from historic biases that make the same possibilities more difficult for others. The practice is to acknowledge it, feel it and let it go – returning to the physical reality of the present moment.
The letting go is connected to the meditation practice, later one might initiate action based on their insights.

Embodied Meditation

In “Embodied Meditation”, we focus on the present moment by continually grounding ourselves in physical reality. The sense of weight and breathing are the center, along with the sounds, sights, (our eyes are a little open) and other body sensations. We also notice the thoughts and feelings that arise.

There is a subtle, important difference in this practice during these all-day meditations as compared to our daily meditation. Here, in the moment of noticing any “absencing”, we briefly recall the particular aspect of social justice that we are holding in our hearts. This remembrance is followed by returning to the next breath. I notice that including the suffering of others in this way potentiates my practice, my compassion and my commitment. It is as if I am sitting FOR and WITH the people both now and throughout history who have suffered from this transgression, as well as including my unintended collusion, in its occurrence. Over and over we do this dance – resting in presence, noticing our “absencing”, briefly recalling the particular domain of social justice, letting go into presence by sensing the next breath…

A few further observations:

* Stillness is a great gift. It begins with quieting the physical body, creating space for subtle phenomena to emerge with clarity. In moments of silence, in impactful yet simple ways, the ordinary becomes deeply satisfying. THIS breath, THAT chirping of a bird, THE light on the carpet can become profoundly fulfilling. There is a completeness, a sense of “enough-ness” in the ordinary. Great gratitude arises in these moments.

* At other times, the ordinary evokes something like “is that all there is”, a kind of bored, sad, empty feeling. We all carry something like a “sacred wound” from our basic separation from “all”, that occurs at birth.  In Embodied Meditation, our practice is to enter into the direct experience of “the wound” when it appears, feel it and then return to the following breath.

Again, before coming back to the breathing, we include the aspect of social justice that is our focus for that hour. Importantly, we can see that each of these forms of injustice creates more separation for the oppressor as well as the oppressed, thus adding to the wounded-ness of everyone. Including the suffering created by the dominant ones on themselves helps to remind us that this change of consciousness is not top-down. Recognizing that the oppressor is also deeply hurt by the act of oppression, while not equivalent, seems essential to me.

* A beautiful image came to me numerous times during this day and emerges even as I write this now. Three times after reading a dedication, I experienced something like a blue cape or shawl coming out of each of my sides, enfolding suffering beings throughout the world in this field of care. I too, was enclosed within the warmth of this vast fabric. This is the first time I have experienced this spontaneous image.

* One final comment - almost all my moments in meditation can be described in three categories: 1) satisfying, often deeply fulfilling, simple experiences of being alive, 2) inner resistance or struggle while still present to the moment, and 3) absencing into a kind of virtual reality, often through a fantasy about the future. The latter arises out of inner resistance to just being alive in the moment. This, for me, is the edge of sitting practice.

When committed to returning to the present moment without judgments or aggression and choosing presence over even entertaining fantasies, we enhance our capacity for authentic living. Sitting through uncomfortable “wounds” is as important as the delightful moments, maybe more so. 

Further, when our struggles are no longer creating separation between ourselves and others, our humanity deepens. This is one of the surprising gifts of the all-day meditations. I notice that often, in the past, my pain was a source of isolation not connection. Connecting personal struggles to the suffering of other people, we are no longer alone. This opens an unexpected doorway to our generous and tender heart.

Meditating many hours in a day is richly fulfilling and challenging. I have a sense that I am entering into the heart of humanity as my personal heart opens further. My gratitude for this open door is great, deep and wide. In part 2 of this writing, I will explore each of the dedications and how they are unfolding for me.

For a PDF version click here


FOR CHRISTMAS 2016   

Asking: The Most Important Questions to Keep the World Turning

In his famous, endearing story, “The Emperor’s Three Questions”, Leo Tolstoy brought a poignant teaching about the most important questions to ask for effectively engaging in any situation. These questions were: “What is the best time to do each thing?” 2) “Who are the most important people to work with?” and 3) “What is the most important thing to do at all times?” After receiving a variety of unsatisfying answers, the Emperor goes on a quest to speak with an enlightened hermit. The story unfolds through their dialogue (the answers appear at the end of this writing).

Finding Your Questions

For now, rather than looking at his answers, we can focus on: what are the most important questions to have at our fingertips as we traverse our everyday life? What questions can guide us? We all likely have differing conclusions. Let’s look deeply for the two questions that might be most essential for our shared world to keep turning and our lives to prosper in meaningful ways. How would you answer?

Some might think of ecological issues like climate change and preserving the planet. Without our precious planet, we would certainly perish. For example, “How can I save the planet and how can I engage others in this mission?” might, with good reason, be their most important questions.

Some might think of the social issues that plague us and wonder, “How can I stand for social justice and help others to create a just world?” Again, this is a worthy place to focus one’s life energy.

Another thoughtful person might focus on the fundamental capacity for love that human beings share as the essence of our purpose in life and ask, “How can I love more and help others to love?”

Still another caring person who values the unique individuality of each human soul might center their life on the questions, “how can I bring my unique gifts to fruition in the world and help others to do the same?”

Each one of these questions is worthy as a guiding principle. Still, in my proposed thought experiment, none of these questions is the most important; rather they are derived from the most important. So what, in my opinion, are the two most important questions?





Question 1 - “How Can I Help?”

The first, which can appear in a rich variety of forms, is “How can I help?” This is the essence of: “what is needed right now?”, “what is troubling you?”, “how can I serve” or, as in the famous German Grail story, Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, “what ails thee?”.

Parzival tells of a chivalrous quest, a hero’s journey, emphasizing humility, compassion and serving a larger purpose. A key part of the story is the encounter between the young knight Parzival and the king Amfortas. The king is dying, in terrible pain and, as his light is extinguishing, so is the light in his mystical kingdom. The secret for his healing and the healing of his world is for the innocent Parzival, to ask the question, “What ails thee?” The young knight had been taught that it is not polite to ask personal questions so he never asks (how many of us fall into this quandary?). As the story unfolds, Parzival goes on a harrowing spiritual quest seeking his true life’s purpose. In the denouement, Parzival returns to the castle and this time asks the question, “What ails thee?”, the king is miraculously healed and the kingdom saved.

Healing comes from asking the question! To my mind, this is the purpose of the story, to invite us, no, to implore us, to ask this question in whatever form accurately fits our situation, “how can I be helpful here?” or “what is needed to support life in this moment?” In some situations, it is not appropriate to ask the question verbally, still circulating internally in our hearts can be: “What ails thee?”

Our Ever-Widening Circle of Care

The world turns on the human impulse to care for others. The evolving of consciousness IS the evolving of the human heart toward Love. Our ever-widening circle of care defines this capacity until ALL life is included. Just as we are currently deeply caring toward a few special people, places and/or animals, our collective direction is to feel this way toward all beings.

Surprisingly, for “what ails thee?” to be truly whole and life-giving, it must include asking our own inner world, “What is needed?” Ignoring one’s own needs in the service of others is not healthy or sustainable.  People who adopt this strategy often burn out, become resentful and, in the end, life is not served. The impossible calculus of any moment is the attempt to surmise “how can I serve life most effectively in this situation?” In this equation, the needs of all, including the one asking, must be included. Growing the self-reflective capacity to sense within oneself, “in there”, is essential for life to flow forward in healthy ways. The pattern of attending to others at the expense of one’s own life-force can be balanced by the second question.

Question 2 - “Would You Help Me, Please?”

The moment we ask for help or even are receptive to help from others, we are acknowledging our interconnectivity. In the Eastern traditions, this is the function of begging. When human beings find the humility to acknowledge our needs and ask for support, we are also offering a fundamental gift to the world. Giving others the opportunity to take care of us balances the fundamental equation of life in which all of us are giving and receiving to the best of our ability.

Giving and Receiving

When one “giver” dominates any relationship, the power imbalance thwarts the development of both people as well as the relationship itself. The willingness to both give and receive is the lifeblood of human relatedness. In a mysterious way, it is a spiritual transgression when one rejects the care that this offered by others. Many of us are so afraid of being perceived as needy that we will not ask. We cultivate a false identity based around not having needs. Having needs, which all humans do, and being needy, are not the same. Of course, some people have developed a life strategy of helplessness and foregoing self-responsibility. I am not encouraging this kind of “neediness”.

One of the fundamental errors on a path of Awakening is to be trapped in the illusion of a separate self, a false sense of independence that belies the reality of our lives as interdependent beings. Just as we are dependent on the air, water and food of the planet, we are also sustained by the goodness and efforts of others. To deny this or push it away is a profound error and often has unfortunate consequences.

Let me repeat - asking for help and being receptive acknowledges that we can not live this life, we can not survive, without the help of others. Stepping out of the narcissistic illusion that “I can do it myself, I don’t need help from anyone” implicitly places us back in the stream of giving and receiving that sustains life. Humility softens the heart and creates an atmosphere of mutuality. This breaks down the oppressive illusions of savior and victim, of superiority and inferiority. So often “good” people become the helpers, the saviors and unintentionally infantilize and thwart the development of the people they are supposedly helping. This kind of helping is not helpful.

Asking and Vulnerability

Over many years of teaching, I have heard from people, usually women, about how they feel shutout by their mate’s unwillingness to allow the vulnerability of asking for help. This inauthentic masculinity is a major obstacle to intimacy. As a man, I was raised to place a great value on self-sufficiency and learned to ask others only when desperate. I still need to remind myself to allow others to take care of me and to feel good about it. Much of my gratitude each day now comes from asking for and welcoming the support of others.

In addition to asking for help from other people, we can also ask for help from the transcendent. By this, I mean whatever is the highest and deepest from one’s point of view. Some people can easily ask G-d for help in the form of prayer. Even those who are atheists have some way of opening to and speaking to something larger than “I”. When something wonderful happens and we spontaneously say “thank you”, who or what are we addressing?. Whether we call it: Life, G-d, All, Self, Spiritual world, Great Being or Source, we are opening to that which is larger than both the separate self and other people. Every day, after my morning meditation, I ask for guidance to live this day guided by love and clarity. I sense deeply in my bones that this prayer, this intention, is heard; yet I do not know how or carry any image of whom I am asking.

When we can say from our hearts, “I feel lost, please show me the way, please help me”, we enter the realm of prayer. Even the non-religious can feel drawn toward the unnamable when feeling overwhelmed by life. This basic impulse lives in the heart of human beings and invites intimate connection to the transcendent. Asking for help implicitly means that somehow, we KNOW that we are not alone. This is healing in itself. We do not need to know WHOM we are asking, the act of asking itself, connects us back into the river of life. The key ingredient is the sense of asking for help from something larger.

When we take care of life through the question: “what is needed from me at this moment?” we become an instrument of love, justice and healing for the world. When we practice the humility of asking for and opening to support, we complete the equation of human inter-being that allows life to flow and the world to blossom. I sometimes forget both of these questions and when I can remember them, Life invariably flows in more fulfilling ways. I invite you to reflect on these questions AND on what are your most important questions for living this life?

And, now, back to the Emperor’s three questions presented by Tolstoy

“What is the best time to do each thing?”
“Remember that there is only one important time and that is NOW”.

“Who are the most important people to work with?”
“The most important person or people are those with you right now, the one who is right before you.”

“What is the most important thing to do at all times?”
“The most important pursuit is to help make the person standing in front of you happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS

BLESS US ALL

LOVE……...RUSSELL

 

For a PDF click here








Manifesting Authentic Positivity: A MAP for a Happy Thanksgiving


Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself,
I am large, I contain multitudes
Walt Whitman

We are a multitude, our inner world is vast. Consciousness is not flat, it is deep. This is important to know because it means we are capable of numerous states, feelings, emotions and attitudes, all at the same time.  One can feel upset and grateful, joyful and fearful, angry and loving, all simultaneously and authentically. During challenging personal and social times, remembering this can allow us to experience positive inner states even as we are also experiencing other, gnawing feelings.

The complexity of a human being also means we are not reducible to singular qualities or unitary identities. Often, when in conflict with another, we narrow our focus to certain traits that we find intolerable or unacceptable. We then can not see the intricate human being in front of us. Labeling people according to their worst or best qualities dehumanizes both people.  “You ARE a racist! I AM open-minded!” These might be attitudes that a person has much of the time and they are not complete definitions of their personhood. One key to harmonious relationships is consciously choosing not to reduce people to singular qualities. This does not require ignoring or denying the behaviors, attitudes and words that disturb you. We are a multitude!

FIVE HELPFUL REMINDERS

Looking for the Good

Focusing on the qualities you can appreciate in others is especially life-giving during these times. Again, this does not require ignoring your values or opinions. It means that out of the multitude of qualities living in each person, you can, as a free human being, choose to bring into the foreground the best in other people.




Don’t Be Mean- Fight Fair

Sometimes it feels essential to our dignity to stand-up for our opinions and values. When expressing our views turns into dehumanizing the other through labels or devaluing their humanity, we all lose. Meeting anger with anger or meanness with meanness, solidifies the divisions. Temporarily winning an argument rarely brings lasting positivity. When we can speak from our hearts, from our genuine feelings and needs, without focusing on the other, our comments have a better chance of being heard.

Breathing in the Beautiful

The quality of our experience in a given moment is largely dependent on how we pay attention. Again, this is human freedom - the moment is complex and by shifting our attention, a new and more satisfying experience can unfold. Is it true that there is always something beautiful in the world at any moment? It might be as simple as a color, a flavor, a flower or the look on someone’s face. We can choose beauty. Then, if we linger briefly, breathing in the beauty for five - ten seconds something will deepen and touch our heart. Human beings have a deep resonance for the beautiful and, remarkably, there is always something of the beautiful in each moment.

Choosing Joy

As I have written before, I am indebted to the Congolese woman I met from City of Joy. This place was created by women who were severely abused by the military during the Rwandan genocide. She said, “they have the power to dominate my body but they can not have my joy or dignity unless I give it to them”. She is a hero and role model, reminding me that we are deep, and vast, capable of many feelings at the same time. To choose joy, when possible, is extremely life-giving. This is sacred joy - a joy that is living in the fabric of our being.

Being Grateful

On this Thanks-giving Day, I encourage all of us to orient toward the many aspects of our lives that we appreciate. I think of three very simple categories:

1) Taking in and valuing the little gifts that appear today is one ever present doorway to gratitude. Just as with beauty, there are ALWAYS small blessings coming to us everyday. Giving more attention to these “little” gifts, grows their impact on our inner life. Warm water in the shower, the first sip of coffee, the warmth of home on a cold day - we are showered with blessings, when we remember to take them in.

2) Bringing attention to the larger blessings in our world is a second doorway. Simply thinking about the people or life circumstances and situations that we would deeply miss if they were no longer present opens the heart to a deep feeling of gratitude.

3) Gratitude for life itself is the most poignant and hardest to describe doorway. This is the inverse of our desire not to die - life seeks life. To feel gratitude for “just being alive” is a most fundamental gift.

Reminding ourselves of our depth, our capacity for many feelings simultaneously, is liberating.  Taking responsibility for our attention, as well as our words and actions, will create more and more positivity in our inner and outer world. Seeking the good, the beautiful, choosing joy and cultivating gratitude each day is a significant part of changing our world for the better. Of course, there is much more work to do in transforming our social systems so that there is justice and opportunity for all AND during this Thanksgiving, I encourage us all to grow life-giving experiences.

I wish you a joyful, fulfilling and authentically fulfilling holiday season.

i thank You God most for this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is Yes....

                                         ~ ee Cummings







Finding our Best Self in Troubled Times
Russell Delman     November 2016

Dear Fellow Travelers,

The election of Donald Trump has sent shock waves through many communities, The Embodied Life School included. My friends in Europe  are expressing deep concern about this election, its potential international effects and the similar political issues arising in their lands. My intention here is not to offer political strategy but to share ideas for finding our best selves in these times.  I am focusing on three main places: connected community, grounded presence and right speech.

First, I need to acknowledge my position of privilege in that I am not in immediate danger due to the hateful rhetoric we have been hearing. As a relatively rich, heterosexual, able-bodied, white male, I live every day inoculated against actions stimulated by the language of our president-elect.

Because of this place of relative safety, some might suggest that I cannot really understand the level of fear and potential danger that is the realistic response for people. I can say that people who are in privileged positions MUST speak out, even if our voices are somewhat marginalized by a perceived lack of credibility. With uncertainty, I do my best to walk in the shoes of others. Here are some of my hopes and observations.

Connected Community: Coming Home Together

Our support for each other is essential. Many of us are raw, reactive and feeling angry, fearful and lost. We need time to process our grief. It is important to know that you are not alone. Please be gentle with yourself and others, especially during these next potent weeks. Listening well to our inner voices and to each other is a key. Helping others to feel seen and heard is healing for all. More than ever, people of color, women, the poor and those wearing hijab’s need to feel our care, they need to feel seen, safe and welcome.

A community of fellow seekers who are working to uncover our best selves is a true jewel. The Embodied Life School supports and encourages each other through our practices of grounded presence, embodiment, good listening and clear speech. Intensifying any practices that support these qualities is helpful at this time. Creating or joining “listening circles” where listening and speaking from the heart is encouraged and where people can feel heard without judgment invites healing.

We have models in the world of how to deal with difficult situations. I think of the Dalai Lama who has lived through such suffering and maintains humor and joy as his ground of being.  He allows himself to feel anger toward the Chinese as he also cultivates forgiveness and well-wishes toward those who have been violent to his people. In addition there are more ordinary people, like you and me, who manage to find their larger view in challenging times. Our practices are tested by troubled times, in a sense, we practice FOR troubled times.

Pausing and Presencing: Coming Home

The Embodied Life teachings grow from a basic practice of PAUSING from our train of thought, dropping attention down into our bodies so that we can freshly perceive the sensations, feelings, thoughts and external situation in which we are living. Without this pause, we are locked into old habits of reactivity. It is important to differentiate responsiveness from reactivity. To respond requires that we first “empty the cup” of reactivity. Acknowledging the reactions without being controlled by them is a key.  This takes time and patience. It is one of the purposes and benefits of Embodied Meditation. In Zen, this is called “Don’t Know Mind”. We pause, holding our thoughts and feelings with care, without certainty. We can remember that we do not know the future. Our ideas are guesses and are often wrong, we can rest in what is true, the actuality of this moment.

Out of the pause comes the practice of PRESENCING, the intention to be with whatever is alive in us. Holding presence for our fear and anger is healing. This is different from either falling into these emotions or pushing them away, it is a transformative process of being present for and with the moment that creates an organic shift.

The actions we take from this grounded presence are likely to be more whole than those taken when strong emotions dominate. Our practice is not to eliminate feelings but, whenever possible, to be present for them in warm-hearted ways. Sometimes this statement is misinterpreted, as “there is no space for my strong emotions”.  In my opinion, there needs to be room to simply yell or sob or let the fear move through our bodies without judgment. As soon as possible, we return to “presencing”. When we are present in this way, grounded and breathing, there is an inner sense of coming home. Being grounded in our bodies creates a reliable, steady, home-base from which to function in the world.

Right Speech: Words Matter

Our practice also needs to include awareness of our speech- both our inner speech, how we talk to ourselves and outer, how we speak to others.

Human beings live in linguistic environments. Words are essential to human life. They are the air of social discourse. Words shape thinking and actions. One of the best comments about the election that I heard is that “those against Trump took his words literally but not seriously, whereas Trump supporters took his words seriously but not literally”. I hear people arguing “he won’t be that bad”, “he did not mean all those things literally”, “he was playing to his audience”, “he will be different as president, “they were ‘just words’”, etc.

I notice a powerful anger grows in my belly when I hear these excuses. Words matter, words have effects. People choose actions based on the words of others. Hate-filled words paved the way to Auschwitz. We are already living in the putrid air of hatred and divisiveness. Racist and misogynistic words permeate the air that we collectively breathe.

Labeling as Dehumanization

I remember hearing Marshall Rosenberg, the originator of “Non-Violent Communication” say that, as a psychologist, he realized that labeling people into diagnostic categories destroyed the possibility for human relationship. I found this comment both powerful and difficult to understand. Over time, I began to see the radical difference between saying someone “IS a schizophrenic” from describing their schizophrenic behaviors. Labels can be effective as a kind of shorthand, as long as we are diligent in erasing them when connecting with the actual person.

As a Feldenkrais practitioner, I saw that when I related to someone as a quadriplegic rather than as a person who could not use their arms and legs fully, I missed the human being. Moshe Feldenkrais was diligent about this point, encouraging us to drop the labels and diagnosis (or at least put them in the background) and meet the person.

I hear many of the people most upset by this election, using dehumanizing language to delegitimize the concerns of people who supported Trump.  We must be very careful here because this labeling sustains the divisions and builds walls between us. Remember, divide and conquer is the dominant strategy of oppressive forces. We do not want to fall into this trap.

When we call someone a “racist” or a “misogynist”, we take away their humanity. Here is the difficult challenge- we need to stand strongly against racist or misogynistic behaviors and words without reducing that entire human being to that label.

This is more than just words!  When we use labels, the “other” loses all moral validity and therefore we delegitimize their humanity. When our anger dehumanizes the other, we all lose. Again, this is a very challenging step for us to make.  It takes great courage not to respond to hatred with hatred, not to violently attack or passively withdraw but to Stand Up. This standing-up is what I call finding our best selves in troubled times. In our meditation, we develop our capacity to sit through difficult moments so that we can bring that equanimity into everyday life. This is our work and our path. This equanimity is not a passive withdrawal but an active engagement with our world.

Finding our Best Selves

Within the inclusive atmosphere of accepting our various states, we can form the intention of being a “lighthouse in the storm” for our friends and our “enemies”. The lighthouse gives its light to all.  To find our grounded presence, to be a welcoming field of good listening to those with other views is our direction. We need to tread mindfully, without judgments for our failures. When we have enough grounded presence- we can seek to understand before being understood. As some of us go home for Thanksgiving this is a very, very helpful mantra.

Thoughtful, kind and honest speech, as well as courageous action is essential. We will forget, fall down and then stand up again. We just do our best. It is not easy to be magnanimous AND actively stand up to these divisive forces. This is our time to deepen our resolve and stand up WITH each other and FOR each other. This is the time to find our best selves over and over.





“What Remains”: Final letter from Auschwitz


In English,  "the remains", when used as a noun, refers to a body after death. What is left over when life leaves the body? As a verb, “to remain” means  “to stay behind” or “what stays” or “to stay after something is complete”. In this letter, I am asking the question, what remains or lives on from this journey to Auschwitz?

Sometimes when walking around the grounds of the immense Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau), one finds bits of bone, the literal remains of a person. One also walks by fields in which the ashes of people have become the fertilizer for a forest of trees.  How strange to see these beautiful, majestic trees growing from these ashes.

What else remains, both culturally and personally, from the experience of Auschwitz?
As described in the first of these letters, the most accurate answer is "I don't know". It will take time to observe the lasting effects in my body, feelings, thoughts and actions.  At the beginning of this retreat, I was asking, who would I be, how would I act, if I was here in 1943, as a guard or prisoner? I thought that answering this question might be my intention in coming here. I now see  that this is an impossible and false question. The person sitting here writing comfortably in California is not the same person as the one who would be shivering and hungry in the camp. We are connected yet undeniably separate. Until pushed to such extremes, I cannot know “which of the me’s” would show up.

What I can say in this moment is that I see three dominant, interconnected areas of profound learning alive in me:

1) Each and Every Child: the Radical importance of One

Standing in the children's barracks, I am struck by the serene pictures drawn on the walls, a kind-hearted attempt by an adult prisoner to add warmth to this insanely cold situation. From the remembrance of the few survivors, we are told stories of how the elder children took care of the younger, how the adults would try to set up a school with singing and learning, knowing that death was coming soon.

In the retreat, we all sat together and began to sing lullabies in many languages. We were haunted, disturbed by the place yet also warmed by our presence together. I began to feel, not the presence of "children", but of each child. I saw THAT hungry child and THIS cold infant and I shuddered as I realized that they are alive in the world today. Sometimes it is a literal child, perhaps a refugee, and, at other times, I see the child in me and in each of us who is desperately longing for care, comfort, life and, ultimately, for love.

"Don't turn away" is the call.
"I can't save them all' is the response.
"Just one, THIS one who is in your path today" is the reply.

In this sense, each child means "THIS one, THIS moment", THIS interaction, THIS situation.  Sometimes we can come to the aid of an actual child. Sometimes the “child” is our own need in that moment. Sometimes it is caring for the needs of others. Our basic goodness asks us to care for life, to stand up for life as best we can, not more and not less. Without guilt or shame, we VOW to do our best.  For some of us it is to work with refugees, the hungry, the dying or the homeless. For others it is to devote ourselves to the beings living in our house and to be a loving source of light for our friends.

In the children’s barracks, I sense how often I ignore the child within myself, the small voice that needs my care and how often I overlook that voice in others.  People in adult bodies seem so competent that we can easily have the judgment that they “should” be able to handle their life and we forget the vulnerable child living in there also.

One step for me is letting go of the the idea of helping “everybody” and moving toward taking care of some particular, authentic need that arises in my world. Sometimes that need appears in the form of “other” and sometimes in the form of “me”. IF I notice that the “me” is getting most of the attention, it is helpful to change the focus on whatever “other” is in my world and if the “others” get most of my attention to my detriment perhaps a new orientation is helpful. ANY act of goodness, of love, tilts the scales in the direction of LIFE. Each individual is precious, each sacred. We cannot save the world or all beings YET in saving one we do save all. A strange calculus, I know, yet in the one is the many, as in the many there is each one.

I notice how often I have felt paralyzed by all the needs that I see in the world. There are many needs in our immediate circles of self, family and close friends. Then there is the larger circle of our community- homelessness, environmental degradation, domestic violence, hunger, etc. Then, through modern technology, we can witness the needs of our entire planet. It is natural to want to withdraw, close one’s eyes and hide, as we cannot effectively embrace all these needs. Still, we can focus on the one being or one situation that we can help today. The particular form of suffering that calls to us. The “one” is more important in the sense of being more workable, more possible, than the “many”.

2) Auschwitz as metaphor, Auschwitz as Warning

The extreme violence and degradation of life witnessed here is an exaggeration of our everyday world. Most of us have internalized voices of disparaging judgments and meanness that we direct toward ourselves and others, there is a Nazi prison guard and a concentration camp prisoner living in each of us. This metaphor, like effective theater, is hyperbolic - it makes the case in an extreme way to get our attention. Can we listen to the message? Can we honor the lives that suffered here by becoming sanctuaries of kindness toward all beings? When we can’t, is there a way that the metaphor of Auschwitz can remind us to turn toward the light?

And what is the warning in the horror here? Fascism is alive in our world today. The historical pattern and “rule” of fascism requires that the leader appear strong through lies and exaggerations about the “other”, the one who is responsible for the suffering. Oppressed, disheartened people seek the strength that emanates from the mouth of the apparent savior. Of course, it is all backwards, this is the evil. People are suffering, they are truly feeling oppressed and the new leader loudly and boldly declares that they alone can change the system that created the problem. We see this old strategy all over the world today.

We need to see the cold calculation of it all, how the ideology of the “others” who are less human, less worthy AND the cause of our problems justifies the “final solution”. Auschwitz teaches us about the potential freezing of the human heart, the Ahrimanic forces that can overtake human beings. It says to us, “do not close your eyes, these forces are in the world today”. Whereas Rwanda was an example of hot blooded killing, here we witness the cold elimination of feeling, a brain disconnected from a heart. Whether hot blooded or cold blooded, always the “other” is demeaned, labeled and dehumanized in ways that makes the unimaginable seem natural.

3) Dehumanization- Standing Up for Life

My essential learning here, the gift within the curse of Auschwitz: we must stand up for life, we must become True Human Beings.

“Evil” is “live” spelled backwards. Forces of darkness, of evil, seek to destroy life. They do this through a process of dehumanization. At Birkenau, in a building called “Central Sauna”, prisoners were processed through steps: stripped, shaved, deloused and then tattooed - their name was taken away. They became a number.  Names are important. In Rwanda, the Tutsi’s were called cockroaches, in Vietnam the enemy were gooks, in Auschwitz they became numbers. To dehumanize the other we must remove their human name. They become inhuman to us.

When we humanize ourselves in all relationships-including our relationships with the voices in our inner world as well as with the “enemies” on the outside, we bring a living humanity into the world. In our everyday actions we can "vote" for kindness and goodness and thus earn the profound name "Human Being". Fighting against ignorance, oppression and inhumanity requires that we do not get lost in the cultural habit of "us and them". We are all “us”’, no one is cast out. Can ordinary people like us actually love the sinner, the perceived enemy, while standing up against any dehumanizing actions?

Standing up for life is not a naïve openness or softness. Rather it is standing up in human ways for humanity. The odd, English expression, "kill them with kindness" means to me to help eliminate the forces of malevolence that arise in this world and to see our own meanness and self-absorption with both clarity and warmth. Clarity and warmth are two essential qualities of light. We become light-filled when we see clearly with the warmth of Love. We can then stand up and say "NO" without adding negativity to the world.

I think of the story I heard from an Aikido master, "imagine that your grandmother went crazy and began attacking with a knife. Of course you must do whatever is necessary to protect your life, her life and all other lives. But, and this is the most important  - you do not harm her out of anger or fear. You do not do more than what is needed and as soon as possible you get her the help that she obviously needs. Imagine if we could approach our "enemies” with this clarity and warmth.

Humanity and Technology

In an often unseen, underappreciated way, our children and many of us adults are falling under the spell of the remarkably powerful, dehumanizing impact of misused technology. Our children are learning to be more comforted by images on screens than by flesh and blood. Cold replaces warmth as the homey hearth of humanity and cool logic becomes divorced from the helpful influence of “heart thinking”. A steady diet of screen images and of virtual reality makes us susceptible to a devaluing of life. The virtual becomes more appealing than the real. We can see this in the nefarious influence of pornography on the brain. Similarly, imagine the effect of drone warfare on the warriors sitting at desks thousands of miles away from the effects of their missiles.
 
The problem is not the technology, it is the way our brains are vulnerable to the seductive, mechanical forces that overtake us. I can sense it in myself with checking my email, if I am not careful. Does it seem strange to speak about technology in the same breath as Auschwitz, dehumanization and forces of evil?  I sense an important connection. We are in a battle for the True Human Being and this is one of the places that the loss of humanity is occurring. It is up to us, you and me, to stand up for the re-humanization of our world.

Genocide is implicitly inhuman. The desire to destroy a people requires an objectification of all people. In objectifying others, we objectify ourselves.  It is shocking to realize that the Nazi’s were so icily efficient that they realized more than half their nightmarish dream: of the estimated 11 million Jews in Central Europe, 6 million were killed! Seeing this potential in people who, at the core, are just like you and me demands from us a vigilance, a deep commitment, a VOW to stand up for life. The famous statement by George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is deeply with me.


Authenticating Human Experience: a Conversation with Gene Gendlin

The lessons living in me at this moment will likely continue to grow. I keep listening deeply to the “voices of the soil” and how they live in my heart, my mind, my belly, and my connections with the outer world.  I am grateful to the Zen Peacemakers and to Bernie Glassman for creating this opportunity. Without the community of like-minded seekers, my experience would be impossible. We need each other to go deeply into our human experience of being alive.

My first day home I called my good friend Gene Gendlin. Gene, psychotherapist, philosopher and developer of “Focusing” is 89 and as a child was forced to leave his home in Vienna by the Nazi’s. His family narrowly escaped from Austria, eventually coming to the United States. This portion of my dialogue with Gene is important for  “what remains”.

Gene: “I do not understand why you would go there deliberately, I never would”

Me: “I think my life has been so easy compared to yours. You already experienced this horror by neccessity, I needed to experience it by choice.

Gene: “I still don’t understand.”

Me: “There is something about the inhumanity, the coldness….. something about this seems central to my whole purpose in being alive and in being here at Auschwitz …… This inhumanity, this desire to destroy life….. I need to understand this, to somehow relate to it…… To find room in my heart for all this seems very important, even essential….. I don’t know why yet but it seems absolutely true (a big breath).

Gene: (taking time)- “I can see that but I am still a step away from choosing to go there”.

Me: (long pause): “there is something in me that fights against the concept of evil….. I know that hurting people often hurt others, that most child molesters were molested. This is clear. I usually can understand how individual pain leads to harmful actions…… It is the systemic dehumanization, that part of us that relishes in the killing and causing pain that does not  compute.…… I need a moment to feel into this….. wait a minute…… my stomach tightens, a real sickening sensation……. Wait….. I get it intellectually I just cannot really “get it” in my guts, no, no,  it is reversed, I get it in my belly but can not understand it……yes that is more right……. I am just starting to get, to sense into the evil of it all…..this incomprehensible yet real desire to destroy humanity, I can sense it even as I cannot understand it…... I needed to be in the environment to start to really take it in, to feel personally connected to it….. This is the truth, going there helps me to get that this evil is a real force, though perhaps an incomprehensible one that is living in us and around us…….there that’s it” (my belly releases).

Gene: “so being there you could really feel it. That makes sense to me, still to put yourself through that…..”

Me: “Gene, I see it clearly now- the essence of the gift you bring into this world with Focusing and felt sensing AND the center of my life through The Embodied Life teachings are an antidote to this dehumanization. That is it. That is the center. This is the larger purpose of our work. We are both devoted to validating the authentically felt human experience of being alive and to affirming the bodily-felt reality of life as it is experienced on the inside of flesh and blood human beings. This is re-humanization and is the opposite of dehumanization! It comes from our hearts and bellies and heads all working together in connection with other beings. When this gets lost, we are finished on this planet”.

Gene: “Amen”.

For a PDF click here

Pages