Radical healing, or a room with no doors

Reposted from the Global Spiritual Life tumblr.

The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The black goddess within each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.

I remember the first time I ever read these words in my tattered library copy of Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde. It was the summer of 2015, and I had just graduated from college. I was back home in Colorado, going through a break-up, counting the days until I boarded a plane and moved to New York City. On my bedside table were two stacks of books. I can still see them in my mind’s eye, their fat and thin bindings creating a tapestry of colors, embroidered with words.

I feel, therefore I can be free, I said aloud to myself, over and over again. I feel, therefore I can be free.

I carried these words around like a mantra, thinking that maybe if I said them enough, I could make them come true. I certainly had no shortage of feelings. I woke up crying, went to bed crying, walked around my neighborhood crying, sat in my room crying. Later, sadness would be joined by anger, resentment, shame, and fear.

“Acceptance,” writes author Cheryl Strayed, “is a small, quiet room.”

But after a few months, I began to see that mine was not the only room. Peeking out of the door that I had closed on myself, I began to see a whole world of doors, a whole world of rooms where people wept, and prayed, and screamed, and wrote secret notes on the corners of the wall. Rooms that I could not enter, rooms that had long been empty, rooms with their doors left ajar, rooms full of light.

I came to discover these rooms because of meditation. That summer, books weren’t the only thing that kept me afloat. It was also the summer that I came to the practice of meditation. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew that my cushion was one of the only places where I felt truly safe. In the months that followed, as I began sitting in the community and reading work by teachers near and far, I felt the same way about the practice of meditation that I had felt reading the words of Audre Lorde. I knew that I had discovered something true, but I also knew that there was still so much more to learn.

This past Wednesday, as I sat down for an LGBTQ meditation sit at my school, I felt nervous and excited about the opportunity to practice in community. Though I meditate on a daily basis, I have struggled to find a steady sangha, and I hoped that I had finally found a place I could come home to. When our teacher, Danielle Saint-Louis, pulled out her own copy of Sister Outsider, I knew I had found what I was looking for. When she opened the book to the very same passage that had touched me one year before, I knew that I could finally hear these words as more than just an affirmation of my own particular sorrow. I could hear them as a call for radical love, the kind of healing that can never be contained in a single room. The kind of healing that opens doors.

It was the dharma that taught me how to sit with my feelings, with my fears, with my suffering, and with my pain. But it was also the dharma that taught me how to rise, how to seek, how to listen, and how to love.

Friends, this is no small lesson. In a world that teaches me my whiteness needs protection at the cost of other lives, it is a radical act to practice healing in community. It is a radical act to practice metta – or loving-kindness – not only on the cushion, but in our everyday lives. Not just to say that we value the lived stories of those who experience oppression, including our own, but to listen deeply to these stories, to investigate honestly the content of our own biases and fears, and to love against the forces that tell us we should hate. Love not as sympathy, or courtesy, or empty words of encouragement. Love as the messy business of accepting that our liberation is tied up in the liberation of others–that liberation cannot exist in a room with no doors.

Audre Lorde was a feminist, a lesbian, a woman of color, a writer, a poet, and an activist. To read her work without recognizing each of these intersecting identities is to undervalue the complexities of her lived story, and to hide away from the complexities of my own. Buddhist meditation is a practice developed and cultivated by people of color. To practice meditation without recognizing this history is to take possession of something that is not mine to take.

Healing is a practice. It is a practice of recognizing and tending to pain, of giving and receiving care, of offering and building strength.

To heal without feeling is to stumble in the dark.

In metta meditation, we offer loving-kindness first to ourselves, then to our loved ones, and then to the world.

May all beings be happy, we say. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be free from harm and suffering. May all beings be at peace.

Healing may start in a small, quiet room. But it does not end there.

Keep Your Heart Open

I’d like to apologize for the radio silence these past few weeks. It’s been a hard few weeks to be a person here in the world. Our hearts have been heavy in response to the violence in Orlando, Tel Aviv, Turkey, Istanbul, Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and I’m sure a few more places that I am missing. There is so much to say and yet so few words are forthcoming. I don’t know what I have to offer in response to these tragedies.

I am sad. I am tired. I am doing my best to help in my own small ways though it does not feel like enough. There is always a voice in my head asking “what else can I do? what else should I do? what else do I have the responsibility to do?” I am scared often for the people I love, in this world where people die because of ideological reasons, for their identities, for simply existing in public.

Sometimes I am reminded that despite the breadth of human history, there will always be questions that don’t have neat answers. I wonder if my ancestors felt this in response to the tragedies of their time. I wonder if they chose to act, or if they turned their eyes and closed their hearts, to protect themselves from the confusion and pain.

I hope to keep my heart open, even in these heart-breaking times. To be affected by injustice, even when it is not close to home. To not allow myself to be complacent. To keep helping in my small ways, and hope that if enough people chose to act in small ways, it can become large scale change. I hope that you will too. I hope you will keep talking (and shouting) about injustice, keep donating money and time, keep being kind to those around you, and choosing to accept when you are wrong.

I’ll leave this small post with some articles and a poem that I have found useful these last few weeks.

Love and peace to all of you.

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Full Transcript of Jesse Williams BET Awards Speech 

Racism in America FAQ

Philando Castile Was A Role Model to Hundreds of Kids

In Praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club

#PulseOrlandoSyllabus

LGBTQ People Can’t Have Safe Spaces But We Still Need Community

After Attacks on Muslims Many Ask: Where is the Outpouring?

Mourning on Ramadan: Breaking My Fast With Queer Muslims After the Orlando Shooting

Doing the Work

For me, social justice work is about love.

Loving humanity and wanting everyone on earth to have access to basic human rights. Loving my community enough to stand up against the oppression that takes place within it. Loving myself enough to trust my instincts and use my voice.

In her transformative book All About Love, bell hooks tells us that love isn’t a noun, but a verb. We can’t just say we love someone, we have to learn how to intentionally practice love. Practicing love means setting boundaries, providing care, being honest, and seeking justice. Without justice, she tells us, there can be no love. Love, in short, takes work, and bell hooks argues that many of us don’t know how to do the work.

I started learning how to practice love through therapy sessions in college. In psychoanalytic therapy, you learn to look into your past and find the roots of your shame and pain. You learn how to read the messages you internalized but didn’t recognize as contributors to negative thought cycles. You learn where you were missing love, and how those situations could’ve been handled differently. I don’t know if I will ever quite be free of depression, but because I did that work, I don’t think I will ever be able to reach the same depths of shame and self-loathing as I once did.

Learning how to practice loving myself gave me an unexpected side effect: in learning about the context of my own life, I also started to look for the context of the lives of the people who hurt me. I could empathize with them, and figure out how to create boundaries to keep myself protected, while also forgiving those people for how they hurt me.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing someone for their actions. It doesn’t mean giving them a free pass for the pain they’ve caused or pretending that I wasn’t hurt by their actions. It doesn’t even mean expecting immediate change, (although wouldn’t it be nice if we could guarantee that we wouldn’t be hurt in the same way again?). For me, forgiveness means accepting that the journey that brought me to where I am is completely different than another person’s journey, and under different circumstances I might have done the same thing.

Often in a community where social justice is valued, I feel this urge towards empathy stir. I think in progressive circles, we are often enraged when we see someone who we consider to be “one of us” make a mistake. It hurts more coming from someone we thought we could trust. Meryl, why did you say we were all from Africa when asked about diversity in a film panel? Beyoncé, why were you in a culturally appropriative Coldplay video? Why can’t you just let me love you uncritically?

Despite the fact that they make great examples, I don’t want to talk about celebrities here. I want to talk about communities that center social justice and how we can better love and do good work for one another.

I think that often when feeling angry and uncomfortable people forget that they too were once learning about social justice. They too made mistakes that we are uncomfortable to think back on. They too are not perfect. To paraphrase a problematic fave, Albus Dumbledore: the world is not divided into social justice advocates and bad people.

The fact of the matter is, love shouldn’t be uncritical. People we love make mistakes, and we forgive them. We make mistakes, and we forgive ourselves. That doesn’t mean we excuse ourselves, or continue being hurtful. To err is human, and to grow is also human.

But, you say to me, I am hurt and angry and exhausted from explaining myself over and over and over again! I don’t have the energy to forgive, because those little offenses add up quickly, and I deserve better!

I understand that, too. As a queer woman, I often get upset with well-intentioned straight folks who ask intrusive questions, and as a femme, I’m hurt when I feel like my queerness is erased, because I like to wear dresses and paint my nails. As a person with depression and anxiety, I am infuriated when I hear “everyone goes through that” and “you need to calm down.” If it happened once in awhile I could deal with it, but as an ever-present hum in the background of my day-to-day, it often feels like too much. Sometimes I have to love myself enough to say “no.”

But luckily, I am not alone. It’s not my responsibility to singularly educate and forgive everyone who has ever said something problematic (i.e. everyone). There are educators doing the hard work of writing and teaching about homophobia and femmephobia and stigma around mental illness. I have straight friends and masculine-of-center friends and neurotypical friends who listen to my frustrations, and use what they hear to inform themselves and their other straight/neurotypical/masculine-of-center friends. These people do some of the tough work of “calling in” the people in their lives who say problematic stuff, and challenging them to be conscious of what other people experience.

And it’s my job to do the same thing. As a white person, I’m not doing anti-racist work if I decide to get mad when a friend or family member says something racist, but don’t try to educate them about why what they’re saying is racist. As a person who has grown up financially secure, I’m not working to eliminate classism if I hear someone say, “they should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and don’t try to explain why that thinking is wrong. As a cis gender woman, it’s my responsibility to point out jokes that are transphobic and as a queer person, to call out transmisogyny in my community. As an able-bodied person, it’s my responsibility to recognize and address ableism, whether it’s in my workplace or in everyday language. If I don’t have the language or the knowledge to respond, I can find information from someone who does, because the internet is a magical place.

I think that when people stand in solidarity with an identity that isn’t their own, there is a pull to distance ourselves from our identities as an oppressive majority. When someone who shares our identity do or say something oppressive, we’d like to get angry and be hurt and say, “that’s not me!” We’d like to forget that in the past we might’ve done or said the same thing, because we didn’t know better. But we have to be able to say, “That’s not my pain. Someone else is hurting or will be hurt if these actions continue, and if I can make a difference I should.” We have to love each other enough to protect each other from hurt and to call in those who mean well, but still cause harm.

I learned about “calling in” as a practice from Ngọc Loan Trần’s brilliant essay on Black Girl Dangerous. They write: “Mistakes are mistakes; they deepen the wounds we carry. I know that for me when these mistakes are committed by people who I am in community with, it hurts even more. But these are people I care deeply about and want to see on the other side of the hurt, pain, and trauma: I am willing to offer compassion and patience as a way to build the road we are taking but have never seen before.”

They suggest “calling in” as a practice to use with people you are in community with, “of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us.”

I think calling out has become very mainstream in communities that center social justice. Especially online, where we often forget that we are talking to a person and not an algorithm, it’s easy to place blame. In a queer facebook group, I’ve seen fights break out because someone didn’t know the right language to use when querying about creating a safe space, and battles in statuses about sharing a meaningful message from a celebrity who has also recently made a tasteless joke. We live in public, and sometimes we forget that just as often a private word will make more impact than a public chastisement. People respond more to love than to shame.

Now I’ve also seen some great education happen on social media – I don’t want to discount the work done to call out those who are not willing to recognize their actions as oppressive, who continuously spew hate or apathy for people who don’t share their identities. Publicly showing up in solidarity for one another can also have an impact on folks you don’t even realize are reading.

All I ask is that in doing the work, we remember the humanity of one another. We forgive those who are trying to grow and change, and we care for those who experience violence and oppression everyday. We check-in with ourselves and make sure we know when is our time to speak and when is our time to listen. And we continue to do the work for one another, with love.

Grateful

November has been rough.

It’s become hard to look at a computer or open a newspaper without finding a new example or terror and hate, a new story to grieve. Our hearts here are going out to Baghdad, Beirut, Paris, the students of Mizzou, the families of the Black Lives Matter activists who were shot this Monday night, the continuous plight of the Syrian Refugees, and the staff and patients of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, as well as Planned Parenthood offices all over the country.

Honestly it can feel like  a lot of places for a heart to be at once.

How do we as feminists and social justice advocates cope with living in a world where it feels like we are facing a new tragedy every day, some of which target our personal identities? How do we sit with the grief for ourselves and for humanity in general? How, this Thanksgiving, do we find anything to be grateful for?

I haven’t found an answer that feels good for me yet. Often I feel split between the desire to join the dialogue and the understanding that my voice doesn’t need to be the most elevated one. Sometimes the only way it feels possible to stay sane is to disengage, but I don’t want to be someone who is apathetic in the face of tragedy. I also know that being able to disengage, especially for issues surrounding racial injustice and Syrian refugees, is rooted in the privilege I have as a white American.

Despite all the terror we have seen or experienced this year, I do feel we have a lot to be grateful for. I am thankful for my communities, where I have found love and support during my own hard times, and anger and solidarity during large scale tragedy. I am forever grateful to my friends and mentors who have educated me and inspired me and taught me how to better my own understanding of social justice.

I am thankful for the activists. I’m thankful for the folks who create apps and petitions and organize protests, and who believe in a better world. I’m thankful for the folks who have reported the facts about injustice being perpetrated, whether it was on Twitter or in newspapers. Without them none of the revolutionary work we have seen this year could have been possible.

I’m also thankful for grief and for anger because feeling them means I have loved. I have opened my heart to the idea of a just world and I continue to believe it can exist.

shaunking

Below are some ways you can get involved with some of the movements discussed in my blog post.

Write to your Governor and members of Congress to support refugee resettlement: http://cqrcengage.com/theirc/app/write-a-letter?0&engagementId=146418

Download Share the Meal to provide meals for Syrian refugees: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/app-lets-users-share-meals-syrian-children-151112200450748.html

Get involved with Planned Parenthood: https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/?_ga=1.148159799.1098778570.1448726367

Get involved with Black Lives Matter: http://blacklivesmatter.com/getinvolved/

Show up for Racial Justice (SURJ): http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/stand_with_blm_mn?sp_ref=162720005.300.17012.f.71716.2