I woke in the middle of the night last night with a stark, shamelessly Zen poem in my head:
At first I had no idea how this might connect into my life right now. But as I lay awake staring at the shapes of trees in the fog, something started to form in my mind.
Over this summer I feel like I have been mirroring ferocity, fear, caring, judgment, guilt, and protectiveness in people I know. I have felt how we draw qualities, that often stay in the shadows, out in one another, when we are open to the complexities of life.
I woke up last night to the almost embarrassingly obvious realization that I feel a sense of compulsion to defend and protect people of color, and colonized peoples, because of my identity as a white American. Perhaps also because of my identity as an Irish-American, feeling that we missed our opportunity to express solidarity and connection with other colonized and oppressed people in this country (unlike the way that so many Jewish leaders took such a public stand against racism during the civil rights era). Because of a sense that many (not all) Irish-Americans chose the path of climbing up and out of their bodies, history, and experience of suffering, in order to leave the sadness and pain of famine and colonization behind. We chose transcendence, and in the process lost a deep connection to soul.
But in the night last night this sense of guilt and protectiveness suddenly felt like it was based on the small “I.”
Instead of acting from a small sense of identity, can I work to shift my intention — through meditation, love, deep listening — to create conditions of awakening for all people, because we all suffer? Can I stop relativizing and personalizing pain? Because suffering is intimate everywhere.
Okay, I want to be on that path, and sometimes I feel that I am. But my heart is still not at ease. Because even if I make space for this bigger intention, it still remains true that social and cultural conditions have set up things called race, called gender, called difference, that have made suffering particularly intense for particular groups of people. Given that I live in this conditioned world, do I have an obligation to work to undo or ease those particular kinds of suffering, the sufferings particular to our world, here and now?
I can see the suffering, the heart, of people with whom I disagree.
I can also see the importance of speaking the truth of particular sufferings out loud. I can choose to say the word nakba — catastrophe (Palestinian) — out loud. To say famine (Irish). To say slavery (African). To say displacement (Cherokee). To say genocide (Jewish). To say oppression (LGBT). And on and on and on… I can choose to go behind the “no trespassing sign,” and speak what I find there.
To say craving. To say ignorance. To say aversion. When I find them in myself.
I think these things need to be said out loud:
That we all suffer equally because we think things are real.
And that things are real.
May these words, somehow, bloom and come to life inside your lives, the way they are trying to bloom inside mine.
Note: This post was originally titled “Late Summer Bloomings.” But it never had quite the right ring.