Thursday, September 19, 2019

Climate Striking as a Sensitive Person, Equinox Reflection


Near the equinoxes, I like to contemplate equanimity. With the climate strike tomorrow, it would seem equanimity is the opposite of what I need to be contemplating. But as I age (I am only 42, but no longer an 18 year old, that's for sure), I realize I am a highly sensitive person. It's possible I have always been this sensitive, or somewhat sensitive and I just didn't recognize or respect it; it's also possible I am getting more sensitive as I age. It could be a combination of the two. Regardless, I don't see it as a problem, but it does make me less likely - less able, really - to go out and protest on the street in the same way I once did. So what do I do?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Letter to my students from Chislehurst, Kent, England

from Frank Bowling's painting "Remember Thine Eyes"

Letter to my students from Chislehurst, Kent, England                          June 10, 2019

Dear ones,

I am sitting in the kitchen at my elderly friends’ house, where my sometimes-called-Godmother June, her husband Bruce, and their daughter and her two adult boys live. It’s a rainy day - very rainy, sort of un-English actually, as the rain keeps coming and coming, rather than just sort of spitting and passing. But I am happy for them; the last summer this area of England - near London - had massive droughts, and a very dry winter this last winter meant they might be headed for the same. Climate chaos doesn’t hit England any harder than any other country, but when I have people I dearly love - family - in a place, I think more about how the climate affects the weather and the lives of the millions of strangers in the British Isles more than I would otherwise.

Ilana and I are now halfway, two weeks, through our trip. We’ve been in England this whole time, first in the northern part of the city, in Highgate, near the famous cemetery where Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, and George Eliot are all buried, amongst hundreds of others. We then went to Devon, which is in the southwest, and had the good fortune to stay with a friend who lives in a village inside Dartmoor National Park. Neither of us had been to Devon before; on a vast scale Devon reminds me of our Driftless Region in Wisconsin - ancient, green, and rural in a progressive way. 

We then came back to London area, and have been a week at June and Bruce’s in Chislehurst. Today we go to south London, Crystal Palace, to stay with another friend until Wednesday, when we head north to Edinburgh, followed by Holy Isle off the west coast of Scotland, where I will teach my first course. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Reflections on Identity


I am going through a training to become authorized to facilitate workshops with Leesa Renee Hall's Unpack Biases Now program. I am really excited to be able to use such powerful tools, developed by a whipsmart and compassionate highly sensitive Black leader, in writing. Not only do I not have to re-invent the wheel myself, and I can use her amazing tools, but I also get to support and emanate out her style and approach, which has greatly impacted me in the last year or so.

Over time, I am investigating identity more and more with my Contemplative Writing groups. This has been a blindspot in my teaching practice in writing - not going directly for or into identity, especially ways in which access via identity privilege some of us more than others. My students are majority white, cisgender female, middle class. While I have a high percentage of queer women in my classes, in terms of sexual orientation, I have found for myself and others that "being queer" can only carry us so far in terms of compassion and direct understanding with People of Color. More often than not, it can actually serve as a bargaining tool, an "oppression Olympics" player piece. As in: "Well, I may be white, but I am also a woman, and I am queer, so I know what it is like to be oppressed," said in a defensive tone, especially when called out for having expressed a racist view.

There is so much wisdom in exploring our identities, especially the dominant identities, with a contemplative lens and deep curiosity. So I wanted to share, along the lines of blog posts I used to do more frequently, some of the reflections which have come up. These are anonymous, only occasionally direct quotes (when the person's articulation was stunning) but other than knowing they come from my classes over the last few weeks, I have removed any identifying factors. As a lot of you know, I so prefer to tell stories from first person, or relate them to a specific person. I generally avoid, "you," or "one," or "we," in writing, because I don't want people to feel if they don't fit into the description there is something wrong with them. However, when I am protecting identity, I generalize a bit in order to protect identity. So please keep that in mind.

Here is a wisdom culling from reflections on identity in class a few weeks ago. The prompt was on what we see in the mirror - and what is not shown in the mirror.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Spiritual Shadows in Whiteness Work

Trigger warning for People of Color: This post deals with the anniversary of Tony Robinson's death, recent assaults by a white teacher of a young black girl in Madison schools, and white spiritual bypassing. Please read at your own discretion.

For white folks, this post is likely to make you as uncomfortable to read as it made me to write. So please, read with kindness. But read it. It's essential.


What seemed separate suddenly wasn't.The new hashtags #blacklivesmatter or #blm had, previously, felt important, but far away. Distant. Not that I did research to see when any Black people had been shot by police in Madison. Not if, but when. Police violence against Black bodies seemed conveniently elsewhere, even if Ferguson was in the Midwest depending on who you asked, even if it was the hometown of one of my longest running students, a white woman shaken to the core by how close it suddenly felt to her.

But checking twitter that night in March four years ago, I swear - though this may be 20/20 in hindsight - I could feel the walls falling, the distance closing. Seeing at first the bare descriptions - a young black man, an older white male cop - then the name: Tony, called Terrell - Robinson. Then there was a face, too, varying depending on who was putting it up - local Black community or police department. There were no pictures of him where he looked like a thug. No, that difference came in description, evocation of the incident - mentions of drugs, possibly being armed, uncontrollable.

***

Ilana is reading the 76 page police report - with a lot of redaction - about an 11 year old black girl whose braids were pulled out, who was dragged on the ground, and hit by teacher at Whitehorse Middle School a couple of weeks ago in Madison. Reading the report is bringing it closer, clear, even with all the details protected for privacy. That feels important, because the white male teacher won't be returning to Whitehorse, but this week our Black District Attorney announced he will not press charges against the teacher.

Monday, October 01, 2018

When Dharma (and/or Dharma Teachers) Seem/s to Say You Suck


I just got done teaching a weekend program in Chicago with Acharya Charlene Leung. The title was Healing Harm for Vibrant and Just Community: Exploring Social and Personal Power.

It was a revision from a previous program she has been working on for a few years, a version of which we did in Minneapolis awhile back. The version she had been developing focused more on unconscious bias, especially with race, and social conditioning. How to shake that social conditioning to build more vibrant Shambhala centers with true inclusivity and equity.

However, we were making the final course description when the Shambhala situation broke, and it became clear to both of us immediately that the program needed to be able to more directly include what was now a big part of our community. Thus, the new title - and new focus - was born.

The program was rich and deep, and we both learned a lot, as well as the participants, about all that goes into all three components: power, harm, and healing.

However, what stays with me most, and what I want to write about today, is an insight Charlene had towards the end of the weekend, as the two of us discussed our plan for Sunday's portion of the program. It relates to the hairy territory of intention versus impact, both in regards to teachers, and in regards to teachings.