“It is the willingness to offer our best, claim responsibility for our worst, and fold it into the continuous moment-to-moment practice of simply being present to what is that promises to deliver our future.”
Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Radical Dharma
Picking up my phone to read the news the other day, the stories that greeted me were grim. The US deaths due to Covid-19 had tipped over 100,000. There was more political strife and posturing from those that should have our best interests in mind that don’t seem to. And in particular, news was flooding the airwaves of the protesting and conflict in Minneapolis as people rise in solidarity and protest of the death of George Floyd – a black man killed by white police officers, something seen again and again in our country, captured on video and shared millions of times around the world. As I write this now, there are protests erupting in many cities around the country including our own. Peaceful protests, violent riots, and everything in between. It feels like a tipping point of rage, unheard voices screaming to be listened to.
Before I continue, I would like to express my deep sorrow for George Floyd’s family and community. The heart of the world breaks for your loss and the loss of so many black men and women in this country due to police brutality in an oppressive system.
My heart is heavy. And, at the same time, I know that my sadness, my suffering, is felt from a place of safety. I am a white, middle class, college educated woman. I can watch from afar, knowing that I am not personally threatened by the daily onslaught of systemic racism.
If you are a person of color, I know that this is nothing new. That you have been fighting this fight for a long time. And for the students of color that come and practice at Source Yoga, I want to acknowledge humbly that it may take something I can’t deeply know to come into the yoga studio, with predominately white students and staff, to walk through the doors to the refuge of your practice and not see many people that look like you. The depth of sorrow of this time for you must be immense.
As I keep coming back to my practice, I turn to sitting in silence and letting in the fear, the anger, the heartbreak of this ugliness, knowing this pain is nothing new for many in our country. I let myself feel the despair. In this time, I have been turning to a Tibetan Buddhist practice that you may find helpful too. I’ll share more about that below.
Let me take a moment to say something – sitting in meditation is no substitute for action. I am not saying we can send our love and peace (somehow this sounds a little like thoughts and prayers, woefully inadequate), and pat ourselves on our back for being a good spiritual person, putting light and hope into the world. But sitting with the despair that the world is experiencing, not turning away from it, this is important work too. It is the precursor to compassionate action, or perhaps it goes hand in hand with actions that step us toward a more just world.
As a white person, it’s far too easy for me to turn away, turn off the news, skim over the Facebook posts, turn on a Netflix show, retreat into a place of comfort. I am not saying that being selective about what we are taking in is always a bad thing, but if I have the ability to do that when it comes to systemic racism in 2020, I live in relative safety because of my skin tone and I have a responsibility to be more discerning and more conscious. Can I acknowledge that without pulling away from the discomfort of it?
The meditation practice I have been turning to this week has been Tibetan Buddhist practice of Tonglen – sometimes called sending and receiving. Breathing in the difficulty, the suffering in the world, breathing out peace, spaciousness, compassion. Taking in pain, sending out relief. For me, in the moment, breathing with this practice is both a way to steady myself, and a way to not turn away from this horrible reality, but to let it in – to let it touch me deeply.
This is uncomfortable. It is painful. Even though I can’t fully experience another’s pain, I can hold the space of my heart open the best that I am able.
As a white person, if I don’t face this discomfort, nothing changes. Perhaps my first responsibility is to not look away. To be with the pain. That’s what mindfulness practice teaches us how to do – be with uncomfortable sensations, thoughts, feelings, and experiences, without pushing them away, knee-jerk reacting to them, or numbing ourselves out.
There are lots of reasons we might feel the pull to turn away. We might experience a sense of hopelessness as we witness what is happening to black and other marginalized people in our country. What can I do? What can possibly make a difference in this world where injustice and racism is structurally ingrained in our culture so deeply that many of us don’t let it in until it is so obvious, so violent, so horrific that we can’t help but see. Until it is projected onto the screens in front of us in our comfortable homes, so pervasive that we can’t turn away and not notice.
As white people, there might also be shame that arises as we begin to recognize the depth of the systems of racism that we have culturally benefitted from. I know from experience that when shame arises, my first inclination is to shut it out. Can I let in these uncomfortable feelings of hopelessness and shame, not push them away either? Feel the hollowness and the deep sadness of it, and also notice the urge to suppress it. Can we hold that too, without it taking us out of the conversation?
I breathe in pain, I breath out peace.
In times of difficulty, it’s important to attend to our hearts. Skillful self-care is important. Can we tend to ourselves with care without tuning out the pain outside? Can we keep our eyes open? Can we care deeply for ourselves so that we can also hold another’s suffering, so we can be with the suffering of the world? Can we come to our practice as a refuge, can we take care of ourselves, so we have the strength, the resiliency, the steadiness to take compassionate action? So that we can care for our community, so we can care for our world.
I don’t know the best actions to take right now. What I do know is to that I can’t let myself freeze up from taking any action at all. Where I know to begin is to keep my eyes open. To look inside, acknowledge the ways I’m allowing myself to benefit from unearned privileges.
I breathe in. I breathe out. I breathe in fear, I breathe out steadiness.
My action this week has looked like pushing myself to do my best to courageously talk to my kids about race and the world that they live in, to work with them to hold space for their discomfort too, and inquire with them how we can stand up for everyone to be heard.
I am reading. I am listening to voices of people of color. I am looking at what I can do as an individual and what Source Yoga can do as a community to grow toward a more just world. I don’t have the answers. But I am taking one step I know to take at a time.
This is a time to listen. To listen deeply to black voices. It is time for these voices to be heard.
For the people of color in my community, I hope that your practice can indeed be a refuge and a time for rest and healing during this time.
As white people, we can learn. As white people, we can look at ourselves deeply. We can teach our children. We can stand up and speak up. We can let in the pain. We can navigate this world with our eyes and our hearts open. We can do our best, make mistakes, then take responsibility for our mistakes. We can forgive ourselves and we can ask forgiveness. We can keep breathing. We can keep taking in pain and sending out ease. We can ask what is the next right action that makes a difference and then take that one step. And then the next. And the one after that.
I can keep claiming responsibility for my worst, I can be willing to offer my best. I can keep being present to what is. And I can keep learning.
With peace, Erin Joosse; Source Yoga Studio Director
As a white business owner, I am committing to keep learning about how to better create a yoga space where anyone can feel welcome. This takes work inside myself, this takes internal work within our staff, this takes this work with the community of students who come to Source Yoga, and work in our greater community. Here are some resources I am looking at to educate myself so I can better serve the Source Yoga Community and our community beyond. You might find them useful.
Resources for education:
Resources for working with kids and having courageous conversations about race: https://www.embracerace.org/
Social justice activist, anti-racism trainer, author and yoga teacher: www.michellecjohnson.com
Looking at Racism in spiritual communities: Author, spiritual teacher, and founder of Center for Transformative Change: https://angelkyodowilliams.com/
National Museum of African American History and Culture recently released “Talking About Race” Web Portal: https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race
Actions of support:
Support Black-owned businesses in Pierce County: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/05/31/supporting-black-owned-businesses-in-pierce-county-a-group-project/
Make a donation to The Tacoma Urban League – their mission is to assist African Americans and other underserved urban residents in the achievement of social equality and economic independence: https://thetacomaurbanleague.org/
Donate, listen and learn from Color of Change. They design campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champion solutions that move us all forward: https://colorofchange.org/