My heart sank and ached … no, please no … not another murder of a black man by police! That night I did not turn away – in guided meditation I sat and held myself in that pain. I put my hand on my chest and heart where the ache was and breathed love into those parts … a breath in – “I see you” … a breath out – “I care” … a breath in – “I see you” … a breath out – “You matter.” After a while as the fierceness of the ache eased I asked the sensations that remained “What do you want me to do?” The immediate response I heard was clear – AND challenging
Keep your heart open …
Of course my keeping my heart open didn’t – couldn’t – change the external reality. That night another family and community was plunged into chaos – yet another killing of a black man by police officers. Nor did it make a difference to what happened a couple nights later in Dallas when at the end of a peaceful BLM protest violence broke out and 12 police officers and 2 civilians were shot, 5 of them dying.
Keeping my heart open with this pain all around meant I needed to be present to more waves of big emotions flowing through me – fierce anger (this is NOT the kind of world I stand for), deep sadness (more of that pain of loss and longing), as well as the understandable fear when life feels uncontrollable and unpredictable.
Image by Fibonacci Blue – licensed under CC by 2.0
We are living in chaotic times. This kind of chaos isn’t new in our world, but until now, many of us haven’t been touched by it, so it’s been easier to distance ourselves – to in one way or another turn away from the uncomfortable scariness of it. The truth is neither turning a blind eye because the violence is happening out there – not to us, nor swirling in anger – scapegoating BLM activists or police – believing they’re the source of everything we think shouldn’t be happening, is going to help.
We are here. Living in this painful and often scary reality. As Alex Haynes – a black activist and radio host reminded us all in a powerful story he shared on his Facebook page Thursday morning
“Keeping quiet is not the answer.”
The next morning after the violence in Dallas, he posted
“It’s TRAGEDY on every side.”
And went on to ask “Can you be against police brutality and against the killing of cops? Can you have one without the other? What do we tell our children? What do we tell our black men?”
Alex’s first two questions seem to me to have pretty straightforward answers – can we be against both police brutality AND the killing of cops? Yes, absolutely. Can we have one without the other? Probably not. His second two – what do we tell our children, and our black men? Don’t have such clear or easy answers.
What’s true is that with social media today, one voice can change things in our world – for good or ill. So what is it that’s getting in the way of our being truly present to what’s happening and considering these more challenging questions?
For me it wasn’t until I was a young adult living in Canada that a friend shared with me her experience of the pain of being excluded from social activities because of her brown skin. These were exclusions I’d been totally oblivious to – I’d simply assumed she’d chosen not to come. That moment of recognition of how blind I’d been to the privilege I’d experienced growing up as a white child on the small West Indian island of Barbados that she, as a brown child, didn’t have access to, was a stunning and painful one. But I’ve always remembered with deep appreciation the way my friend’s courageous speaking opened my eyes to how easy it was for me to not see the experiences of others. Though our unconsciousness can be understandable (it’s sometimes hard to see the water we’re swimming in) this new awareness prompted a whole lot of soul-searching reflection on my part.
Whether it’s unconscious privilege, a distancing because we feel unaffected, feeling overwhelmed or paralyzed by emotion, or any other reason, I believe as we learn to
we will experience transformation in ourselves and our world. So what does this mean? How do we make this honouring real? How do we build this capacity respectfully – first in ourselves, and also supporting it in others? How do we live, give voice to, and add our part to the co-creation of the world we envision? And how do we powerfully respond to the challenges around and before us?
The feeling of being ‘beside ourselves’ …
One place to start is by learning about what’s going on inside us – in our brains and physiology – when we feel the very human response of being caught up in the swirl of our emotions. It’s an important part of being able to notice when we’re ‘in our right minds’, and when we’re ‘beside ourselves’! And it’s a crucial component when it comes to nurturing our capacity for presence and choice. You can read more about cultivating this kind of grounded presence and powerful actionin a piece I explored earlier this year.
Do we need to keep quiet and not take action until we have all this down perfectly? Of course not! Another topic I wrote about recently I called nurturing our resilience, and expanding our capacity for kicking logistical butt – even when we’re feeling emotionally wobbly. Remember, building resilience is something we practice over time, and if you’re wondering what I mean, here’s where I share a version of that practice.
One other capacity – one that continues to be my growing edge – is remembering the whole picture. Jack Gilbert reminds us that even “in the ruthless furnace of this world”, “We must risk delight.” In the guided meditation I spoke of at the beginning of this piece, it took a while of holding and breathing into the parts of me that were feeling so much pain before I could re-member (feel in my body) a recent moment of wry humour. And even longer before the memory of the unabashed aliveness and delight of a small child I’d enjoyed recently came to me. I’m not talking about using this as a way of distancing or escaping or distracting ourselves from pain. This is another practice of respectfully expanding our capacity to have both realities co-exist.
As we expand our capacity to keep our hearts open while not turning away from the tragedy of what is, and acknowledge our human responses while expanding our capacity for presence, what’s available to us is an increasing sense of sovereignty, and possibility – even when so many things are outside our control. Yes, there are times when we feel we’ll never get it! And …
“When the power of love replaces the love of power the world will flourish – and that’s our job.”
When we remember these words of Lynne Twist, it’s easier to allow the circumstances we’re living in to call our greatness out of us. Day to day we can offer hospice care to the old structures and systems that no longer serve us. At the same time we can feel the quickening of greater clarity, aliveness, freedom, and confidence as we midwife the birthing of new structures and systems that will serve humanity, and the future of life in our world.