More White on White

Letting go of whiteness

means letting go our identity

Maybe not all of who we are

Just the ground on which we stand

We might have to experience

being groundless for a while

Until we see and feel

Who we really are underneath

all that default whiteness

After all this identifying as white

is in our cells

Is in the air we breathe

from the time we’re born 

Hell – even before that!

So it’s going to take 

a kind of rebirth

Not simply a relearning

It won’t be easy going

It will require effort and

supporting one another

to remove this cloak of whiteness 

and reveal who we truly are

Hoping all the while

that we can love what we find underneath.

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Filed under Prose and Poetry

White on White

I searched for poems by white  poets 

on the subject of racism

To close a gathering of white folks who met to talk about race

I found none

All that I found were by Black poets and they were

Tremendously Powerful and Evocative

Why are white folks not expressing such

emotion about our commitment to undo racism

Are we not really committed

Are we expecting Black folks to do all the work

As if racism was their problem and 

They are the ones needing to solve it

Is this another case of having drunk the Koolaid? 

We who identify as white

just don’t see the racism we support

And benefit from 

Every moment 

Of every day

Day 

After day 

After day

We are the ones

who must do the work

and write the poems

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Haiku in the Time of Pandemic

Raindrop sounds strike glass
Outside stillness painted gray
Daffodils bow down


Spring arrives on time
Pandemic spread continues
Housebound all are now


Colored masks appear
Smiles hidden from my view
Passing eyes connect


Tiny sparrow sounds
Hidden in the leafless bush
See me walking by


Wailing ambulance
Chases virus laden souls
Fearful of their lives


Bodies stacked in trucks
Out of reach of families
Mourning absent lives

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The New Normal?

We all have a sense of what is normal, generally in a way that is specific to our experience growing up. Normal is almost always based on past events and relationships. While we may assume that others share our idea of “normal,” as we navigate through life we find that our assumption isn’t quite accurate.

What then when we find that whatever is happening doesn’t fit our idea of Normal? (I’m thinking the word deserves a capital letter since it takes up a lot of space in our current and ongoing news cycle.) We either open to accept the difference into our concept of Normal or reject what doesn’t seem to fit. Of course, mostly the first encounter with an outlier doesn’t simply lead to an embrace – we are generally more skeptical than that. It can take repeated encounters with what’s new or different.

I believe that recognizing a new Normal also involves an attitude of acceptance. We may not like or appreciate the change to which we are adapting, but there is an attitude of taking in and acknowledging that leads us to say “OK, this is where we are now.”

Resistance on the other hand signals a push back often based on what we determine to be threatening to our current sense of Normal. Behind the “I don’t like this” is the fear of a serious challenge to our way of life or our beliefs. Sometimes that fear is real, sometimes not. However, if our emotional response leans into fear, the reality of anticipated threats may be irrelevant.

There are two aspects of our current lives that have earned the label “New Normal.” One is the attitude and behavior of the current president – which is very far out of sync with our previous expectations of what a president says or does. He has been able to create chaos and disruption, constantly capturing the news cycle with a daily barrage of tweets and challenges to the limits of his presidential powers. We have now come to expect this behavior from him as some kind of New Normal. What’s particularly interesting is that this change in expectations has less to do with policy issues than with personal issues. His agenda is personal but since it apparently allows members of his party to push through some of their issues, he has their support. Not to mention the fact that he also threatens and bullies them into remaining loyal to him.

The second New Normal has to do with the changes in climate that are a result of decades of fossil fuel use plus current agricultural methods, and dumping of trash and toxic waste into our water systems. Our dependence on nature’s systems has been ignored. The story we live by has become one largely based on an extractive relationship with natural resources and the environment. Alterations in weather patterns form just the tip of the (melting) iceberg resulting in climate events that are now viewed as the New Normal.

These ways in which our concept of Normal is being challenged don’t have to be accepted as the way things are now. We do have a choice when it comes to what we want our Normal to be moving forward. We can work together to create the New Normal that serves all of us. We can be the immune system that fights for a fair and just government and preserves a healthy planet. Starting now!

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Filed under Evolutionary Activism

Waiting for the Bell to Ring

This phrase came to me recently while sitting in a large room with many other meditation practitioners. Waiting for the bell to ring isn’t simply about sitting on a cushion but applies to pretty much everything we do every day. When you are not being present to what’s happening for you or around you right now, often your attention goes to anticipating what you expect to happen next – with the accompanying sense that what comes next will be better, more interesting, more fulfilling.

I believe there is a deeper issue hidden in this posture of waiting for the bell to ring or for the next moment to capture your attention. I want to understand how it inhibits us, not only from fully inhabiting the present moment, but also how it keeps us from action. Waiting is a practice that holds us back, keeps us from going forward. 

I’m thinking about how we respond to crises in our lives – individually and collectively. I need to know how it keeps us from responding to the biggest crisis affecting us and our planet. Waiting for what happens next is essentially inaction. This current and developing Climate Crisis requires us to do more than wait.

I have an image of the starting gate at a horse race. All animals and jockeys poised and ready for action, waiting for the sound that signals the start. The Climate Crisis, however, is not a horse race – if it were we could burst into action because we would know exactly what to do. We would know what was required of us. Instead we dither about on our cushions waiting for the bell to ring so we can legitimately offer our attention to the next passing thought. Perhaps we look around and see that others are doing the same – waiting for the bell to ring.

So how do we respond when we are not sure what to do – when the expectations are not clear? I believe first is to let go the idea that if those in power, in government, are not charging ahead then the Climate Crisis is not so urgent. Science and the experience of millions all around the world show the opposite is true. Warming oceans, more intense storms, increasing areas of drought and wildfires are all driven by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane that are released into the atmosphere to a greater degree by industrialized countries. We who live in those countries are accustomed to a way of life based on the use of fossil fuels. Our response has to be to change the way we live.

Making this change requires acknowledging that we all must do this together. This is a fact that we should find more comforting than scary. We can take individual steps, but it is collective action and speech that will shore up our courage and lead to the changes we need without leaving anyone behind. 

Do what you can do now without waiting for the bell to ring. That’s all. In reality there is no one at the front of the room holding the bell. It’s our inner knowing that something is terribly wrong that is actually the bell that is ringing loudly. Take a moment to listen deeply, and I’m sure you can hear it.

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Filed under Evolutionary Activism, Meditation

Nothing to Say & the Climate’s in Crisis

After many years of feeling that I had so much to write about, that I had a deep well of something to say and that it was of value, I have come to a point where I’ve got nothing. I actually have a store of half written posts and poems that remain on my notepad and haven’t been published. Reading them over, I see that they are indeed reflections of me but are not what I need to be saying now. So they stay hidden.

If I am to be honest, digging a bit deeper into what I feel, what I come to is that I have too much to say right now. I have a sense of urgency to speak and at the same time am overwhelmed by all that needs to be said. I am awed by the changes in our climate, and struck by the slothful approach to meeting a crisis of this proportion that consumes not only ordinary citizens but also our government. We have all the information we need to understand what’s happening – heating of the atmosphere, trashing our planet with waste that will not degrade, a sixth extinction that is well underway. Actually it seems we have so much information that we cannot reasonably process more than bits, let alone come up with an appropriate response. 

What we face is huge and challenging and yet we are all able to continue our day to day lives in many respects as we have always been doing. Somehow it feels like our individual decisions to change the way we eat, build our houses, travel and accumulate objects are purely elective. Somehow the necessity for altering how we live our lives, especially in industrialized nations, escapes us on a daily basis. We are in a society that is fostering attention deficit disorder in all of us – always and ever is the next email, tweet, call, advertisement in the middle of any attempt to read a serious article online and reminders that you’ve left something in your cart! So easy to get sucked in that we are like the dog in response to a squirrel sighting!

So, today, it’s not that I have nothing to say – I have something to yell, to scream, to rant and rave and hope that someone is listening. This is a time to stop – FULL STOP!

The time has come to decide how we want to live, how it may be possible for future generations to live. The scale of worldwide conflict is rising with increased numbers migrating due to water and food insecurity in combination with the hunkering down of factions whose interest is only in protecting their own and keeping others out.

This is a time for waking up, paying attention, becoming more aware of our choices. And then staying focused on the changes that we as individuals and nations need to make. Because at some point, in the not too distant future, these options will be gone.

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Remembering the Path Ahead on Martin Luther King Jr Day

How do you listen to the one who says Haven’t we moved beyond all this?

What are you thinking when you hear What we really should be talking about are Those White Supremacists? 

How does your face not contort when you hear from that white person’s mouth the words I’m not racist?

The best of course is What are you talking about? I don’t see color.

And you’re dying inside. Or you should be.

Something in you should be rebelling and thinking how are these people my friends.

Do you open your mouth and ask What did you say?

Why is it you can talk to someone who denies human caused climate change? How is that easier than responding to racist attitudes?

You can talk about what a person believes or an idea he has but maybe not about the personhood that a history of privilege has shaped.

Does that feel too personal?

Martin Luther King Jr had much to say about FEAR. If you read his quotes, will that make it easier?

Certainly much of what lies beneath Climate Change denial is FEAR of losing our lifestyle, our comforts and having to CHANGE?

And we’re hard-wired to FEAR what is unfamiliar to us. So maybe that is elemental in RACISM but that’s way too simple an explanation.

The bigger FEAR in racist attitudes is feeling that one’s BEING is threatened by this person in front of me.

The bigger FEAR is that if he is equal to me than I am less than I believe myself to be.

In the comparing of myself to others I must come out on top.

Or I will be less than…

Are we so ungrounded that we must live in a way that supports the core belief that I am better than another?

How do we shift to open hearts and minds?

We must be RADICAL and RELENTLESS!

No one deserves to be treated less than another and no one is better than anyone else.

We are all connected to the best and worst of us.

WE HAVE A LOT OF WORK TO DO.

GET TALKING!



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Widening Circles

Consider the space you inhabit – the area that lies just outside the periphery of your body. My thoughts recently have come up against this sense of space encircling our individual bodies, exploring how this circle expands or contracts as we navigate through life. When we are born and through the early years, our experience of what lies beyond our bodies is quite limited. And our developing knowledge of the world around us is felt as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. As we move through our life experiences, we add stories to what we encounter in our circle of contact. How we judge or interpret the world around us determines many of the choices we make and the directions we take.

As long as these judgments serve us well, moving forward with our lives is enriching and rewarding. But what happens when the stories and interpretations become limiting and keep the circle of contact small and rigidly defined. It might seem that keeping the circle limited to the familiar would assure a certain reliability to one’s life. Maybe provide some sense of comfort and safety.

What I have found is that this perimeter does not remain the same no matter how we strive to keep it that way. It is a living breathing circle of contact and porous in a way that allows experiences to touch us even when we turn away. Trying to hold the line against what may not be familiar or comfortable is like sitting in meditation and trying not to have any thoughts/feelings intrude. It simply cannot be done – eventually they carry you away. Holding a hard line can be akin to a combat situation –  we must not let the enemy cross this line. The intention there is to keep the threat at bay.

But ask yourself – What is it that is threatened? We can easily go through life toughening the circle around ourselves trying to keep the parts of the world that we don’t like, don’t understand, don’t appreciate or fear, from touching us. Or perhaps we can imagine that crossing this line is what we’re meant to do. We cannot have meaningful relationships without widening the circle of contact around us. Nor can we take in the teachings that might be available to us if we don’t create openings. I like to think that we are here to keep our circle growing until it opens to all humanity, setting aside the judgments and seeing what there is to appreciate about what lies beyond. Somehow I feel that where we could end up is becoming a citizen of the world. Wouldn’t that be a benefit to us all?

 

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Filed under Mindfulness

These Are My People

The phrase These are my people has become a mantra of sorts for me. I suppose that it might sound odd, but I find it helps keep my heart open. I first found myself repeating these words during my work with seriously mentally ill individuals. I saw over and over again how the public showed disdain and disrespect for them. Comments and exaggerated looks to convey distance from them – to show that they are different and less than. In many cases this attitude extended to the professionals charged with their care. Somehow the power differential inherent in the treatment relationship can make it easy for some to slip into mocking and belittling behavior.

At some point I found myself saying These are my people – meaning that I felt a connection to them that extended beyond their symptoms and behaviors, relating to the shared humanity between us. I experience this as a form of metta (lovingkindness) practice, maybe a combination of metta and karuna (compassion) – both of which sustain my sense of being grounded in the real world. Without it, I may lean into the judgmental arena where I focus on the differences among us.

We are swimming in a challenging political atmosphere where the door is open to acting out one’s deepest fear and hatred of anyone deemed as “other” and where these actions are encouraged by the leader we would normally look to as an exemplar of moral decency. I’m suggesting that we take a step back to consider the bigger picture of who we are and what connects us. I’m sorry, but the thought of wanting a world where we are all the same color and think the same narrow thoughts is repulsive – not to mention boring. And from what I’ve seen in my life, preserving this sameness and exclusivity doesn’t mean that we live peacefully either. Actually it’s a position that inclines individuals to violence and countries to war, reinforcing a paranoid posture that is constantly fearful of what is designated as “other.”

These are my people is a reminder that what connects us is stronger than what separates us – while respecting and appreciating our different experiences, thoughts and emotions.

These are my people is a reminder to ground yourself not in your thinking mind or reptilian brain but in your open heart.

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World Views

Our World Views are closely tied to our perspective on reality. We really do go through life believing that what we see as “real” is in fact real. That what I see, hear, taste, smell, feel is the same as what you and everyone else sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels. Somehow I think if that were true we wouldn’t be so preoccupied with our differences. We’d probably be much more accepting of each other

Each of us walking around in this shell of human skin. Each struggling to be the person we assume we were born to be. Consider how much time and energy is spent developing the individual personality that we hope will serve us through adulthood. 

It takes a lot of effort to define an identity and to a large extent it is an individual identity. Even if we grow up in a culture with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Within such a system we essentially create boundaries that separate those within from those outside. In that case, the differences of outsiders help solidify the identity of those within. It can be easier to know who you are by comparison to who you are not. 

The clearer the demarcation between me and others not like me, the harder to imagine how it might be to be the other. It’s more comforting to live in the certainty of your own culture or belief or social system. After all, our ancestors’ survival benefited by staying connected to & accepted by the tribe we were born into. No going off on your own in those days – it wasn’t safe.

Fast forward to today. We still seek comfort in being with those who share our world view. This may be family and friends. Or a community sharing religious or political beliefs. Are we more relaxed when interacting with those who see, hear, taste, smell and feel within the same world view? 

Perhaps the most powerful effect of living in this shared view is that it lends itself to a conviction that what “we” are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling is the right or correct view of reality. By definition then those outside my circle of shared perceptions are living with an inaccurate view of reality. It’s not a big leap to go from there to attaching other judgments to those who are outside. They may be viewed as ignorant, stupid, dangerous, evil, deplorable. At the least they are unwelcome.

So here we are. And where do we go from here?

I wonder what it takes to be motivated to reach out beyond our boundaries. Is it necessarily a question of being dissatisfied or restless? Is it having a glimpse of the bigger picture? Or does it require the equivalent of a bolt of lightening to open our hearts to one another? Maybe we need to be more curious to appreciate what lies beneath appearances, but we can only do that if we are willing to expand our world view. How do we come to know that staying within our boundaries is often more of a risk than moving beyond them or allowing the outside in?

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