Writings

Reflections about Identity: The Dangers and Importance of Self-Identities

 A Zen master ringing the bell asks:

“Who hears the bell?

Are you woman or man?

Are you black or white?

Are you rich or poor?

At the moment of hearing -

Just hearing”!

 What is the cause of violence in this world? Looking broadly at both personal and international events, some kind of limited, partial self-identity is at the root of most violence. By identity, I am conflating a broad range of categories: those fixed at birth such as skin color and ethnicity, those imposed by family and culture yet malleable, such as religion, and those more freely chosen like friend groups, social affiliations, etc. In this rendering, identities can also be comprised of self-images and judgments such as smart, stupid, beautiful, ugly, kind, etc. as well as any of the roles that we identify with in life. Even rigidly held opinions, such as progressive or conservative views can become wedded to self-identity in destructive ways. All categories of self-definition are included.

 It is crucial to distinguish between our authentic individuality – True “I-ness” - and our limited self-identities. In the evolution of consciousness, the arising of the capacity for personal self-reflection, to know and know that we know, is a radical happening. This awareness is the basis for creativity and human freedom. To have our own authentic, unique experience of thinking, feeling and sensing and to stand back and reflect upon our own experience is a very high level of development.

 This movement from ancient tribal, collective consciousness into individuality has been a long, arduous journey. As the sense of a separate self developed in consciousness, our ancestors navigated a dreadful sense of separation from collectivity and from Source and created partial identities that offer temporary solace and connectivity. When these identities support our self-expression and are in service to life they can be helpful. When our self-worth is dependent on these partial identities, they often lead to destructive behaviors. We are each a unique expression of universal unfolding. When in harmony with life, we can bring our personal gifts in service to All.  This is our direction: “I” and “We” in service to “All”.

 Is it true that violence, when not in defense of life, only arises when a person or group is defending some kind of limited self-identity?

 Religious crusades, ethnic cleansing, gang warfare, intolerant political ideology and fixed gender identities are obvious examples. Perhaps less obvious are the times when our immutable opinions of right and wrong become justification for casting others out. Standing up for our deep values without explicitly or implicitly, questioning the essential worth of others requires courage and clarity. For example, when witnessing the political discourse in the U.S. and much of the world today, I observe hateful, demeaning and dehumanizing rhetoric from all sides. Those of us who are very troubled by many Trump-ian views and actions need to stand up for our values without demonizing the “others”. This includes surrendering that temporary sense of affirmation and “rightness” that arises when like-minded people confirm our views.

 What would you kill for, other than the protecting of life?

 The whole spiritual path is a movement into broader and broader connectivity until one feels intimately connected to the totality of life. One sees and knows that every life is as important as every other life. In Buddhism, this is the bodhisattva path. In Christianity, it is internalizing the hearts of Jesus or Mary. In secular humanism, it is called Self-actualization. As one feels more authentically secure in self and world, the need for limited self-identities and thus limitations on one’s “field of caring” lessens. As consciousness evolves, one’s wholehearted caring widens and deepens until all of life is included as a part of self.

 Holding Self-Identities Lightly

 For many years, I have been encouraging students and myself to hold ANY self-identities and social roles very lightly. It was clear to me that most of our suffering, along with our violence and judgments toward others, arose from fixed identities. When we perceive self and world through rigid “identity systems”, we evaluate every situation, person and happening through this manufactured filter. Recently, I have been struck by two embarrassing revelations: 1) my blind spots about the potential positive, temporary value of limited self-identities and 2) that my ability to question all of my identities is implicitly connected to the social structures and privileges in which I have lived. More on this later, first a bit of background.

 All self-identities are subsets of True Self thus are smaller and more confining than whom we truly are. For me this means identifying as a white, male, husband, father, 65 year old, wealthy, able-bodied, sexually normative, Jewish/Buddhist, spiritual teacher, Feldenkrais practitioner, etc. become relatively insignificant when seen in the light of awakened consciousness. If these partial identities become essential for my “self-sense”, they become obstacles. Most spiritual traditions point toward freedom from limited self-identities as essential on the path of realization. In fact, true freedom requires the experience: At my core, I am not: this body, this mind, these memories, these plans, this gender, this history, etc. We can summarize this as the True ‘I’ is not this, not that.”

 For example, as much as I enjoy being a father and assuming this role at times, when this becomes central to my self-identity, I notice my voice, attitude and even posture change. I move from freely functioning as a possibly helpful ally for my daughter to being something of a potential tyrant. Similarly, if I need my wife or my friends to see life as I do because I am identified with some point of view then we all lose our freedom and connectedness. This does not mean to cast aside strongly held views or values. Rather that they can be both strongly and lightly held. The same is true for other self-definitions. If I see myself as a “teacher” than I create inner and outer demands that severely limit the relationship with someone who might take the position of a “student”. Held lightly, these roles can be delightful, helpful and fulfilling. Taking all roles, views and limited identities as a kind of “serious play” can be helpful and liberating.

Empowerment by the Dominant Culture

 I have come to realize that this view of identities as obstacles comes implicitly from someone empowered by the dominant culture. This does not mean that the observations about the limiting nature of identifications is wrong, rather that it is disturbingly incomplete and biased. People benefiting from the dominant culture already have our identities woven into society and therefore can have less need for the support of partial identities than other populations. I say, “can have” because these “identity systems” are so potent that letting go of these scaffoldings of self-identity is a great challenge for all of us. Clinging to some form of identity, seeing the clinging clearly and letting it go is like walking through a fire for all of us. Still, because of the implicit weaving into society, holding these images lightly and letting them go can be less threatening for people empowered by the dominant culture.  “To let go of the ego one needs a strong ego”. I am saying that for letting go of non-helpful self-identities, one derives benefit, a bolstering of self-worth, from the messages of the dominant culture.

 As a simple example – growing up I saw many images of white, male, able-bodied men on television as voices of strength, intelligence and worthiness. The textbooks in school and the magazines were framed with people who looked like me as the heroes and creators of destiny. People of color and women were usually given subservient images or not represented at all. Demeaning and oppressive images of what their bodies should look like still oppress girls. Boys have much more latitude for not identifying their self-worth with their physical appearance. The examples are almost endless.

I never seriously considered that my capacity for internalizing teachings about inner freedom and universal love was radically supported by my social position. While women, people of color, those of limited finances, differing physical abilities, etc., have equal internal capacity for self-realization, social structures can create significant obstacles.

 Like the air we breathe, the security that comes from these cultural images, is hard to see. Paradoxically, while this security can give one greater confidence in letting go of these images, the opposite can also be true. People in power rarely give it up willingly. Those benefiting from societal structures can become obsessed in maintaining the positions that come from their self-identities. Sometimes those supported by the intrinsic empowerment are often unaware of benefits derived from the structure and our/their complicity in the devaluing messages given to many others.

A bit of Spiritual Philosophy: Absolute and Relative Truth

 In various traditions, there is a distinction made between absolute and relative truth, though ultimately they are inseparable. From the point of view of Absolute Truth and Non-Duality, distinctions of gender, race etc. are ultimately irrelevant. All of the following: We are all one, ‘I’ am That, we are not bound to our historic self and prior conditioning are genuine realizations that are confirmed through realization experiences.

 From this perspective, our differences are superficial. We all arise from the same source. We all are born and die. We all breathe and eat. All life seeks to minimize pain and find fulfillment. We all depend on everything for everything. We are interdependent with the totality of life – without air there are no lungs, without light no eyes, our bones are made from the elements of the earth and the gravitational pull sustains our form.

Similarly, we form our sense of “self” through personal relationships and an interweaving with social contexts. Thich Nhat Hahn invented the term “inter-being” to convey this truth, in the words of Eugene Gendlin “we are interaction first”, that is, each moment our “self” forms out of interaction. Transcendent awareness brings the authentic experience that there is no fundamentally separate self, it is an illusion. Oneness is not simply a nice idea it is an actual experience. We all are interconnected. We function every moment as “inter-being”. Authentic experience of awakening brings the certainty that we do not exist as separate beings.

Relative Truth emphasizes duality, our differences and our individuality. This is the everyday world of this and that, you and me. As we grow up, we go through many periods of experimenting with our expression in the world; this is how we form our individual selves, our self-identities. Through our individuality, we can bring particular gifts into the world. Appreciating our differences is part of the joy of living and the richness of the human family.

As we individuate, we also develop our capacity for judging, labeling and categorizing others and ourselves. Through pain, fear and insecurity, our struggle for identity can lead to destructive mental habits. Seeing these thought patterns clearly, taking responsibility for them and developing alternatives is a significant part of spiritual growth. As we feel increasingly secure in self and world, we can hold identities and differences more lightly; they become less of a touchstone of “who I am” and more an expression of “how I am” in the world. We can value how lived experience arising from various identities – those that are chosen, those that are imposed and those that are inherent - help to create the diversity that deeply enriches our shared world.

Valuing Partial Self-Identities

As a teacher of awareness and freedom, I have been learning to value and respect the partial self-identities of my students. In the past, I saw these only as obstacles to our open-heartedness and self-realization. Now I can appreciate the need to engage in dialogue and to learn together about the potentially helpful and hurtful aspects of these identities. I am learning how identities impact experience and can, when approached with awareness, actually deepen and expand spiritual understandings. My previous certainty that these identities were obstacles has given way to the insight that learning from these partial identities is deepening for my students and for me. Paradoxically, this in no ways minimizes the necessity for realization of Oneness that transcends all self-identities.

To be clear, I am NOT saying that:

1) People of the dominant culture can easily let go of limiting self-identities, 2) that many actually succeed in freeing themselves from these boxes or 3) that people of marginalized groups are less capable of freedom from limiting identities.

Rather that:

1) A person of the dominant culture has more implicit support and potentially less need for these identities as these are already woven into social norms.

2) People empowered by the system have rewards for holding onto their positions and thus need other kinds of encouragement to see through the negative effects of the power structure and to support those who are not benefiting from the system.

3) Limited self-identities can be both obstacles and helpful on the path toward more universal realization.

4) Sub-group identities can have valuable impact for all of us in expanding our collective experience.

5) Reflecting on one’s own ideas of what behaviors, appearances and self-expressions we consider to be normal or acceptable and questioning their roots in dominance and power structures can be helpful in widening our individual and collective field of care.

Through insight and practice, I can often hold my various identities lightly because these have social currency. As these identities are rarely named due to their normalization, it is essential to intentionally attend to their influence in social situations. Recognizing the negative effects of this empowerment on all of us requires countercultural thinking.

Saying “Yes” and “No” to Self-Identities

Not-knowing is the first truth of Zen. We are reminded over and over to question and keep questioning all conclusions about EVERYTHING. Letting go of certainty is hard work. Similarly, the capacity to tolerate the cognitive dissonance of paradox, “yes” and “no” living simultaneously is essential on the path of freedom. Courage is needed to live in uncertainty.

For me this means to live into the “truth” that limited self-identities are the main cause of violence, as well as the main obstacle to universal peace/love/freedom AND the “truth” that partial self-identities are often essential for growing the inner security to hold these self-definitions lightly. These identities can be both destructive and enrich our human experience. As the great yogi Swami Sivananda said many years ago, it is “Unity in Diversity” that is the direction of consciousness evolution.

May we all distinguish between life-giving ways of holding our self-identities and those that lead us astray.

May we all realize the oneness that transcends all separate identities.

 For a PDF click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Encouragement of Light #2– Revised 2017

Almost ten years ago, I wrote the majority of this article, this is a revised, expanded version. It is long, if you find it interesting, I recommend printing it out for further study. Enjoy!

 “It Felt Love” by Hafiz

 How did the Rose

Ever Open its Heart

And Give to This World

All its Beauty?

 It felt the Encouragement of Light

Toward its Being-

Otherwise

We all remain

Too frightened……….

 

The Light of Awareness

 Hafiz’s phrase “encouragement of light” resonates deeply for me. What is this light?

 We are alive,

Right Now,

AND

When we are aware!

We know, sense, feel, intuit this unique moment…

Love Arises

In the Light -

In THIS very moment!

 

How amazing it is that we are alive and that we know we are alive!  

Life knows Life THROUGH human beings like you and me. From an evolutionary perspective – 1) inert matter became alive, capable of reproducing itself, 2) life became sentient, capable of feeling, 3) sentient life became conscious with beginning capacities for caring and planning, then “suddenly”, after 14 billion years, 4) conscious animals became capable of awareness and self-reflection.

 Meaningfulness and Love – the essence of what makes this often-painful journey of life worth it – blossoms with this capacity. Like a fish experiencing water, it is easy to miss this essential reality. We are Life experiencing itself. Life needs Beings like us, brains like ours, to have a conscious, living, self-reflective, experience of itself.

 I use the term “Light of Awareness” in a specific way. The light has two qualities – clarity and warmth. By clarity, I mean a sense of objectivity, seeing “what is”, this is called “Knowing”. By warmth, I mean unconditional, non-judgmental, caring. This quality is also called Love, when stripped of the personal and romantic notions.

 Perhaps unexpectedly, Awareness, in this sense, is inseparable from the transcendent life-energy called Love. This life force lives both within and beyond the human being. Awakening to this consciousness that is both latent within the human heart and emanates from beyond is the direction of evolving consciousness.  This is the “I”, the “We” and the “All” functioning in harmony. Awareness and Love are ultimately inseparable, awareness makes authentic love possible. In this writing, I will explore my learning about specific steps toward connecting to this light more often.

 In Buddhist tradition, this light of awareness is the integration of wisdom and compassion. Wisdom is seeing ‘what is” and compassion is the warm heart of caring. Christian traditions speak of a loving, “guardian angel” who is lovingly devoted to you for lifetime upon lifetime and sees you clearly, yet cannot directly change your behavior. In more recent metaphor, think of Yoda from “Star Wars”, the wise elder who never judges young Luke yet always sees him clearly and cares deeply for him. In each of these images, one can sense “the encouragement of light” - warm-hearted yet objective caring. This capacity lives within each of us and through practice, we can develop it further.

 

Freedom and Authentic Love Begin with Self-Awareness

 Turning the light around is that important inner move of shining warm-hearted attention on what is alive in our inner life. Rather than looking outward, we allow awareness to orient in an inward direction. For bringing more love into our relationships and to be an effective voice for justice in the world, this step is essential. This non-judgmental, inclusive, warm yet objective light is an expression of our True nature. Buddhists call this “Basic Goodness”. This light of awareness is the sun for our blossoming, encouragement for our soul. This is how both the rose and we open our hearts. As this capacity deepens, caring toward other people naturally emerges. Kindness comes forth in the light of compassionate awareness.

 Often meditation students ask me “what do I do with all these negative, even hostile, thoughts that keep coming up?” The short answer is “love them”.  After a confused look, I hear two genuine questions: “what do you mean and how can I do that”?

 By ‘love them’, I do not mean to “like” them, approve of them or agree with them. Love simply means extending the non-judgmental, warm, clear light of awareness toward them. Said another way, “accept them” with kindness, even the one’s we label negative. We can cultivate a more neutral, objective yet curious relationship toward unpleasant feelings and bodily sensations. Even our anger and hatred can be met with care, not denied or acted upon in destructive ways. Shining this inner light is practice for developing warm-hearted awareness in all our relationships. Although this compassionate awareness can arise spontaneously, a few steps can encourage this light to shine.

 

Step 1- Radical Pause – Presencing through the Physical Body

 One might ask, “If this kind of awareness lives within human beings and is natural to us, how do we get separated from it”? In brief, we get lost in our fear-based, learned, Identity Systems. This narrow self-identity is sustained by our internal dialogue, stories about self and world that become habitual and fixated. These stories are validated by our patterns of attention so that what we experience confirms our worldviews. This is a closed, self-confirming system. How can we be free from this closed loop?

 Stepping back from our ordinary internal dialogue - the chatter and our unexamined stories and coming into presence is the first step. This is the radical pause in which we connect to the present moment through bodily experience. Maintaining our historic self-identity requires an “absencing” from the present moment, “presencing” is the antidote.

 In The Embodied Life, we emphasize bodily experience because physical sensations, especially the more neutral ones, are doorways to presence. While any sensation can be helpful, I suggest orienting around three dominant, relatively neutral experiences (perhaps pause with each suggestion and take a few moments for experiencing this as you read). 

 Start with the ground sensations of weight, substantiality and contact with your support surface. In sitting, sense your bottom on the chair, in standing notice your feet on the floor, etc. At every moment of your life, you are in relation to this gravitational pull - the unconditional support of the earth. Being conscious of this support has the surprisingly powerful effect of “grounding” you. Grounding balances the top heavy, disconnected thoughts, images and feelings that often arise when we are lost in our stories. 

 Add to this grounded-ness, your sense of the space around you. Embodied experience is not just “in” the physical body but also, always, in the larger space in which you are living. We are always in a physical and social environment and these must be included for wholeness to emerge. Our brain constantly maps the spaces that we are living in and we can, even without using vision, sense into these spaces. The sounds that surround you are particularly helpful. Do not be selective; be like a tape recorder taking in all the sounds. The bird chirping and the refrigerator humming are equally welcome. Sense the space around you, as you still connect to the ground sensations. This process is additive and eventually effortless.

 Finally, at every moment, you are in some part of a breathing cycle. You are inhaling, exhaling or pausing. Tuning into this ever-present process is restorative.

 Through the radical pause - through ground, space-sound, and breath - we connect intimately with the moment, just as it is, before our beliefs and reactions. This is the experience of  “I am Here” or “I am”. Our physical body is a doorway to “presencing”.

 

Step 2- Acknowledging and Felt-Sensing

 Now that you are present in the moment, turn your attention toward the specific thoughts and feelings that are alive in that moment - from “I am”, to “how am I”? Label the thoughts and feelings as precisely and objectively as possible, “name them to tame them”. Thoughts include the stories, the narratives that you are telling yourself about yourself, life and other people.

 Once you are grounded in the present moment through your physical body and after acknowledging the thoughts and feeling, you can turn toward the whole sense of that moment - the “felt-sense”.

 Felt-sense is a term created by Eugene Gendlin, the originator of a method of self-inquiry called Focusing, for a holistic way of attending to one’s experience. This way of being with one’s self reliably creates a sense of meaningfulness and inner shifting. Through the study of many people in therapeutic settings, Gendlin found that attending in this way transforms how problems are experienced and deepens an appreciation of being alive.

 A felt-sense is more than just one feeling or emotion. It is the way the entire situation, including the thoughts, concerns, sensations, hopes, images, and emotions are experienced all together. It is both subtle and profound. Through this way of attending, we learn to say “hello” to this dynamic state. Awareness welcomes each voice, each feeling, and each sensation like a gracious host with a guest or a parent with a child.

 If the felt-sense is contracted, stuck or painful, acknowledge it without trying to fix or change it. In a challenging moment, even the voice that just wants it all to be different is seen as one of the guests to whom you are the host. Rather than trying to change, you are letting the light of awareness work on your inner life. You are the welcoming ‘space’ in which all the inner voices can be accepted (remember not “liked” but accepted).

 Meeting the moment with awareness, as a warm-hearted, curious, caring observer, creates a surprisingly potent environment for organic change. Welcoming the moment does not imply being passive or inauthentic. All voices are welcome including those that are struggling, hating or resigned.

 Shining the light in this way reveals what is living, what is true in heart, body, mind and environment in a given moment.  For example:

Sitting here, writing, I notice a background of discomfort in my belly.  What is that………. a kind of tightness, something unsettled, perhaps something about the seminar I am teaching. Pausing in typing, I take a few moments ground in my body and to acknowledge the presence of this tight place, letting “it” know that I know its there- like giving a child or a pet a gentle moment of care. Just that acknowledgment creates a subtle releasing, a sense of “being on the same page” with my inner life. Amazingly, this happens without working on or trying to change it - such is the power of acknowledging.

 

Step 3- Being With

 Learning to ‘be with’ all inner states is remarkably empowering, creating a radically different relationship. I call this quality, in which the “I” is keeping company with whatever is alive in our experience, “presencing”. Surprisingly, this kind of ‘being with’ often leads toward a helpful action or a decision when such is needed.

 Keeping intimate, non-judgmental company with the inner state probably feels strange and awkward at first. Addressing it, “it” being that inner place that is carrying this painful experience, affectionately with something like “dear one, tell me what so difficult” and listening to the response, often creates a powerful inner movement. Resting a hand on the place that hurts can be healing. Always, you are listening to the response of the inner/feeling body. The keys are: 1) not identifying with the state and 2) not controlling the inner life with ordinary, thought-based consciousness. This integrated listening requires slowing down, returning to the “radical pause”, recovering a sense of neutral through the physical body and waiting for the inner world to lead you.

 As I am with the remnants of that tightness in my belly, images of the one student that I am concerned about come to mind. Asking my inner body if the tightness is connected to my concern that the seminar is too demanding for her, I receive an inner “yes”- a bodily confirmation that the contraction is connected to this situation. Even without a solution, my body let’s go further, just knowing that I am listening and hearing the concern. I can now spend some time inviting solutions to the situation. Interestingly, the majority of the relief comes before a solution is found!

 

Step 4- Inquiry

 After welcoming the inner place with the warm light of awareness, we enter the final step called inquiry. These steps are not always sequential and might overlap. Grounded in our bodies, maintaining non-judgmental contact with our inner life, begin to gently ask: “what is the most important thought/belief that is living in me right now”? Or “what makes this so hard”?

 My experience is that there is usually an unexamined, unquestioned “untruth” that is at work, often under the surface. By untruth, I mean unverifiable, exaggerated assertions such as: “no one will ever love me”, “I am a failure”, “I am always so stupid”, “this will never get better”, or “there is no way out”.  These old stories have remarkable power when unacknowledged.

 Holding attention in the present moment, grounded in the physical body, we can turn our light toward any untrue thoughts. Simply naming these thoughts in presence will usually result in a letting go and often a smile. Shining this light of awareness, keep returning with non-judgmental curiosity to the dark place of the ‘untruth’. It cannot survive for long in this light. 

 For my situation in this seminar, a small part of the contraction remains.  As I maintain contact with embodied presence and the subtle tightness, which has moved to my chest, I inquire into any thoughts that are living in the background. Sure enough, I discover a small voice saying something like, “it is my job that everyone get value from and enjoy the seminar. If she is not satisfied I am a failure”.  While I love people to get value and joy from my teaching, clearly this is not my job. I am here to do the best I can at presenting this material and I cannot control others people’s experience. With that awareness, my body gets totally light and free.

 This “turning toward” has the feeling of acknowledging what is true in the moment without fighting, ignoring or resigning. How is it possible not to fight undesirable moments? Imagine an infant waking you up in the middle of the night with loud cries, a snotty face and a full, smelly diaper. While you prefer life to be different, your natural choice is to put your reactions in the background and take care of the baby. Can you imagine a similar response to your own painful thoughts, feelings and even bodily sensations?

 The encouragement of light is the sun-like energy of awareness that allows our inherent wisdom to come forward. Connecting with what is alive in our bodies, hearts and minds, even in difficult moments, invites an opening, a letting go. Feeling connected with Self feels more spacious and truer because these are expressions of our True nature. The tight, pressured, dark places are departures from our deepest connection to Life and, when approached through ‘presencing’, can lead us ‘home’. Even painful moments of loss, grief, injustice, etc. are felt differently. It is not that we try to feel happy, rather, we feel authentically connected to wholeness, to essence.

 Similarly, in pleasant or neutral moments, presencing deepens our appreciation of being alive. Most moments are not either wonderful or terrible. When in presence, even ordinary moments become more fulfilling. This is one of the great gifts of blossoming awareness.

 The encouragement of Light toward your own inner world is an accelerator of our unfolding toward freedom and love. Meeting the moment with a warm, objective, curiosity and care opens our inner knowing. Even our inner critical voices unwind in this presence. We can learn to hear the sometimes helpful messages that these hostile voices are trying to bring, without all the struggle. This presencing is the basis for growing loving relationships. This atmosphere allows an authentic, mature, grounded voice for social justice. To be truly alive and aware in this Light is the greatest gift we can receive from and then give back to our precious Life. What is more important than this? As poet Mary Oliver says at the end of her poem “The Summer Day”:

 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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

 

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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







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