That is what I have been doing these past 2 weeks, listening, reading and learning about the injustices that have led to the protests happening now. There is change approaching, and it is time to listen to the people who are leading the way, and to investigate where we personally stand and what action we are willing and able to take to assist that change. I am heartened by the protests and regret I have not been able to attend more of them. There was an absolutely beautiful vigil in Frenchtown this Saturday, hopefully one of many, and if you missed it you can still view it on Facebook.
The Yoga Sutras is always a relevant teacher, and it outlines the way we can approach taking our place in this movement: Effort and discipline, (Tapas) self-study (Swadhyaya) and surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) leads to higher consciousness. (YS 2:1)
We see so much effort going into the protests and demonstrations now, and we need to appreciate and acknowledge the efforts that have been going on by organizations, such as Black Lives Matter, for years. There is a lot of work being done to try to shift broad understanding and educate those in power, while standing strong in the face of oblivion, retaliation, and denial. The practice of looking into my own ignorance falls into the practice of Tapasia (Tapas), because to stay on the course of finding truth rather than default to the answer that keeps things OK and familiar is hard and uncomfortable, and it does take discipline to approach those uncomfortable places again and again. Another discipline is to stay in contact with sources that educate- this takes a surprising amount of time, and it takes time away from things one might rather be doing. It takes discernment to figure out what is education and what is inflammatory. Discernment is an outcome of touching a level of inner quiet that requires quite a lot of practice. Staying current and awake, present and aware, requires discipline and consistent practice over a long period of time (YS 1:12 and 1:14)
Swadhyaya (self-study) has many parts- one of them being to listen to our internal dialogue and the conversations around us. To really listen, without "hearing" what you think should be said, or what you want to have been said is not easy. It is often uncomfortable to hear what people are really saying, especially if we have missed it before. That is how I feel now, uncomfortable because I did not previously "hear" the inequality happening, particularly in regard to law enforcement. Now, after 2 weeks of protests and demonstrations and lists of hashtags dedicated to people who have lost their lives due to their skin color, I can't understand how I missed the injustice, the pain, the anger, the fear and the frustration of so many. Believing myself to be a person who has good intentions and an open mind is just not enough. I have to also recognize and confront the places in me that are similar to the places that are so repugnant in the people and institutions I find unjust. We all have those seeds of hate and cruelty, it comes with a human body. We may not be actively watering them and nurturing them on a large scale, but whenever we feed them, just a tiny bit, we add to the matrix of hate, oppression and fear. And to stay in the place of self-inquiry without going into shame or guilt is important as those two directions are just distractions and will not serve anything other than more self-absorption. So I have to watch that I don't take my discomfort over my blindness and feed it in those directions, (for me it can also easily go to blame). I have to funnel my discomfort, when I see it, towards a more productive outcome. And to do this work, I have to keep looking for it.
Understanding HOW we listen is important too. One person, when challenged about an action they were initiating, responded with "Well, that is what would make me feel good". That is not listening, that is cementing one’s own agenda. It’s true that sometimes the action fits and is right, but it is not a sustainable strategy if one is seeking truth, it is more like playing the odds- sometimes you will hit it but mostly not. A friend of mine who is a POC in LA wrote that her boss, who is white, told her to take the time she needed to grieve. She said it was unexpected and exactly what she needed, and she let him know she respected this immensely and how much it meant to her. I do not think she even knew that is what she needed- but somehow, he did. That is listening. Self-study should both precede and proceed action. We will always make mistakes. Self-study helps us to integrate those mistakes and gives us a broader understanding of how the way we think fits us into the picture we want to see. Sometimes we are right on, sometimes we are far off. Maybe that boss in LA didn't know if what he was about to say was the right thing- but he went forth with it and listened for her response. If we make a mistake and were wrong about an action, and we get called out, we engage in Tapasia again, because it is hard and uncomfortable to be told you were wrong. Tapasia implies heat and, being wrong and admitting it without getting defensive can cause a lot of heat. There is no progression if you can't sit in that place. About 15 years ago, I unintentionally injured someone who meant a great deal to me. Just because it was unintentional doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong. (I think that is very important to highlight). This was a tremendous time of growth for me as the wrong-doing was not completely clear to me. I tried to apologize, but I couldn’t really because I didn’t get the full iimplications of my action. But I really wanted it to be over. (I think we are seeing this with some of the statements company’s are coming out with in the past few weeks, many of which sound meaningless). So I tried over and over again to apologize in all different ways, and over and over again my apology was ignored. It took about a full year of me asking myself for clarity and being coached towards the truth by a friend, (who I begged to tell me what to do and she refused, saying I needed to see it myself or I wouldn’t understand it, and it would have no meaning to the injured person). I began to understand that it was not up to the person I wronged to explain it to me, to try to make me feel better about it, etc. I began to understand this burden I was putting on the injured person was not helping the situation at all, it was only causing more injury. The task was fully up to me to reconcile in myself first and then impart my understanding to the person I injured. I remember, after about a year, a huge wave of surrender to my ignorance came over me, I can't really describe it other than that, and then it was done. Surrender was first, understanding came, and then reconciliation followed.
Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) can mean so many different things (like above)- but what is should not mean is surrender to ignorance or apathy. It is not the surrender that comes from us thinking "Well what can I do anyway? Things have been like this for so long, I am not in power.... “ etc. What are the things that keep us in ignorance? That is what we are trying to get to, and that is what we want to surrender. We see in the fight for racial equality many people don't want to surrender their power and their place in the world to make room at the table for others. In order to give power to others we fear we will lose something. Most likely that is dominance, which is often misunderstood as power. There is a lot of fear in letting go of dominance, after all fear is inherent in dominance- fear gives birth to dominance. When we are truly in power (empowered), we can surrender because we don't know and want to know- we can surrender because we care and we don't know how to show it, we can surrender to the possibility and experience of heartbreak, because we want to act from our heart, not our fear.
I am sure by now you have been flooded with resources on where to give money, where you can get a list of actions to take, who is holding peaceful protests in the area. (If you have not, I would suggest starting with the Black Lives Matter website. It has day by day actions you can take and many other resources if you are interested in educating yourself more about racism and how to be a part of the solution). I am grateful that I am being mentored by a great group of spiritual seekers who have been doing this work for decades, and they are sharing a lot of sources that I feel comfortable trusting. I hope my sharing this writing opens up some conversation with those of you who are reading. If you want me to share some of the resources I have been learning from please feel free to contact me, also with any thoughts you have and anything you would like to share.
Let us move into this journey together, with our eyes wide open and our hearts ready to be broken.