Am I Complicit?

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Searching My Soul

For a while now I’ve been engaged in some depth work. It’s been triggered by the heartache I feel from the many stories of women who have been victimized, and the African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims and Native Americans who are being targeted. The Las Vegas killing fields only added fuel to my grief, though I must admit that the deepest hurt comes from the personal stories of friends and loved ones who have been on the receiving end of the targeting. And the denial of these realities in the larger community is deeply troubling, especially the vehement reactions and rejections by those who are largely white, many of whom are male, and a large group who are Christian.

The result is that I’ve been searching my soul. It is unpleasant work, but necessary. While I’ve done much shadow work, peering into by insides to ferret out ugliness unseen, it has never become comfortable for me.

By many standards I’m a reasonably upstanding member of this American culture. Yet if I am vulnerably honest with myself, and now with you, as part of the privileged class of white, educated, financially secure people, I am implicated as a member of the culture that allows or perpetuates such destructive actions. 

So first I ask myself if I have been a perpetrator. The answer is mostly reassuring. I have never knowingly acted against women, blacks, Latinos, Muslims, or Native Americans. I’m not guilty of overt acts.

However, when I search deeply, it pains me to acknowledge that there has been much ignorance on my part. Especially this was true when I was younger, coarser, and driven blindly by my ego and by alcoholism. None of which is an excuse, though it does help me to see that I could not see. I did not understand that I had unconscious biases. I was unaware of a deeply ingrained objectification of women. I certainly had no clue of the many ways that fear ruled my actions.

It was only through a series of deliberate searches including disquieting assessments that I began to see my blind spots. Without the help of a handful of teachers and mentors who poked and prodded at my ignorance, I would still be deeply mesmerized by my own deceptions. Were it not for an intriguing mix of courageous people who opened up to me about their experiences, my heart could never have been broken open.

So too do I owe a deep debt to my mother and father. Somehow they inculcated in me an ability to have mutual respect for others, to not believe myself better or worse than others. At a much later time as an adult, I came to see that the root of much animosity comes from seeing others as other, different, less than. I wish my parents were still alive so I could thank them for this great gift, though I suspect they would have been mystified by something they did as part of their nature.

My soul searching forces me to look also to my present reality. Am I supporting or condoning conduct of others that is problematic? Do I speak up when necessary, to call out and engage others? Are my actions consistent with the valuing of others as equals and as humans?

On these last questions, I am thankful that despite a human ego and inner shadows yet unresolved, I provide myself a passing grade. At the same time, self-honesty still shows inner work to be done. I am not yet the change I wish to see in the world, though I have come very far.

Finally I arrive at the hardest question. Is there something more I should do?

With that I begin to cry. I do not know the way.

And a prayer arises spontaneously. Help me.

Seeing True™

Are you already living as the solution? Are you willing to do so? Can you even be willing to be willing?

Seeing True™ in Action

Over and over again I am asked how one can find their own way forward. While I have many thoughts, the experiences I described earlier are my best suggestion.

  • Explore the ways in which we may be in delusion or denial about the real world around us.
  • Take honest stock of where we stand relative to the wrongs of the world. Are we perpetrators? Are we ignorant? Are we complicit?
  • What are we doing to explore our own darkness?
  • Who are we engaging in our growth and development?
  • Are there actions we are already taking? 
  • Is there something we can and should do?
  • Can we allow ourselves to truly feel?

What Can We Do?

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Hope through Cataclysm

A young woman who considers me a teacher and mentor asked me last week how to hold up in the presence of so much disharmony in the world. She’s scared by gun violence, nuclear confrontation, global warming, and social and political strife. She’s also a dark-skinned woman and is afraid to travel outside the city of Atlanta. “There are people out there who hate me and want to hurt me,” she whispered.

Her question involves more than “holding up," she wants to know how to navigate a world that seems increasingly dangerous. And though unspoken, she wants to know what she can do. She believes deeply in Gandhi’s proposition that we need to be the change we wish to see in the world.

I am reminded of the words of King Theoden in the face of the onslaught of the darkness-fueled Uruk-hai as they storm Helm’s Deep in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. “What can one do against such reckless hate?” he asks in a moment of hopelessness and despair.

The heartache I feel on these questions and for many friends who carry such burdens is palpable. Somehow we find ourselves in deeply troubling times.

The programs of recovery have taught me that I cannot speak for others, though I can speak of my own experience, strength and hope.

First and most importantly I must deliberately commit to engaging my fear, pain and grief. For me this is the practice of Seeing True, seeing through and beyond to find another way. Father Richard Rohr has offered great clarity on why this matters.

If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably give up on life and humanity. I am afraid there are bitter and blaming people everywhere … As they go through life, the hurts, disappointments, betrayals, abandonments, and the burden of their own sinfulness and brokenness all pile up, and they do not know how to deal with all this negativity. This is what we need to be ‘saved’ from."

Secondly, I must find a contemplative practice, something that supports me in bridging head to heart and then to Spirit. I cannot find the solution only in my mind and thoughts. What I need is a way to move through the limitations of my thinking. There are so many methods that have been effective for me; and there are many valuable ones to choose from. So I choose a wise path, and then dedicate myself to it.

Third, I must seek out information and people to add information to deepen my understanding. No matter who we may be, an open mind is always limited by the present state of our closed minds. Each of us has deep biases that we do not know or understand. So I must read points of view that run contrary to mine. I must watch and listen to media that challenge my beliefs and certainties. And nothing has broken through my prejudices more effectively than seeking out those who frighten me. Find those with whom we have negative feelings and strike up a real conversation. What we learn will change us.

Fourth, I must extend my practice to those with whom I interact. I must become vulnerable, and open myself outward. There are no solutions for me in isolation. At best, I must try to bring others along with me, or bring me along with others. Joel Goldsmith suggested that we cannot rise to communion without community. Or as I have heard in the rooms of recovery, “It’s a we solution.”

I told my friend these things. It was a long conversation. She asked me how I thought it would all turn out.

“I believe in the power of hitting bottom,” I told her with sorrow. “Recovery has taught me we do not change ourselves or our ways without sufficient cause. Often that means pain and suffering. And sometimes that means some kind of cataclysm, though I hope not.”

She winced as tears came to her eyes. “Oh …”

Then I smiled and shared a favorite quote from recovery. “Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have – the key to life and happiness for others.”

That’s why I believe in hitting bottom. It gets our attention, and galvanizes us into something we would otherwise not have considered. Pain and suffering will likely have to be the way.  Once we are remade by it, we will see through new eyes.

It’s a strange kind of hope, isn’t it?

What Ryan Can Teach Us About What We Can Accomplish

Ryan was very young when he set about to make big changes in the world. And what he accomplished can teach us quite a bit about what we perceive as possible and impossible, and how we use our time getting to possible. Join us for this latest episode of Speaking True!

You can learn more about Ryan's work by clicking here