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The Way They Do My Life

Solidarity, Violence, and Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul

The collective human experience is having growing pains right now. Like a child clinging to clothes and toys that don't fit, some folks are having a tantrum because they are afraid or uncomfortable about what is happening within them. Others are shirking away and still telling themselves stories that made them feel safe, and clinging to who they thought they were and what they thought life was. Others are paralyzed with grief and confusion, searching themselves for something stable or useful to do, to be, or to know. Some of us are exploring the edges of their skin, exposing it to daylight, and trusting that the aches and pains are building stronger bones and muscles. Some of us have been waiting for others to finally wake up, and have preserved the collective wisdom of the ages. I celebrate this wide variety, and invite us all to lift each other up, and hold ourselves accountable to the mistakes we have, are, and will make along the journey ahead.

The events of the last several weeks have brought up so much of what needs healing within the larger social order in the world, within the community of spiritual practitioners, and myself. The fabric of human life is woven together with threads of separateness, violence, and oppression. Some people were unaware of the gaping holes in that fabric, while some advocate for the fabric to be repaired, and others are asking for it to be replaced entirely. These are important considerations that require a depth of thought and patience that cannot happen overnight. No one on earth is untouched by the horrors of imperialism, colonialism, and racism. Some of us live in poverty or need because of systemic oppression, but others live in moral poverty because of their material prosperity at the expense of other people's suffering. Black, indigenous, and other people of color have always been endangered and victimized disproportionately in the wake of imperialism. Hopefully the events of this week are helping everyone understand that we are all suffering because of injustice and inequity, but none more so than those most marginalized by systems of social and political life steeped in racism and violence.

Separateness in the form of violence, racism, and hatred is like a barrel of toxic waste buried under the roots of a tree that feeds us all. It has mixed with the soil, and is flowing through the whole tree, and all it's fruits. We have been poisoned so thoroughly we don't realize how sick we are. The folks that were given the least to eat, pushed to the margins of where the fruits fall, in their starvation suffer the worst effects of this poison. The folks nicely situated to eat well, but still sick, can hear their cries, but are well fed enough that complaining or changing things seems dangerous to them. They pass along fruits to the outer ring, but they're quiet because they fear losing what they have. The folks closest to the tree are leaning against the tree, enjoying everything that the tree provides, and see everything and everyone else as fertilizer. They would never admit this, but they are so full of poison they couldn't think clearly if they wanted to. Changing who sits where, or changing who gets to eat what, is not a cure. Pruning the tree so that fruits fall more evenly is not a solution either. Adding more to the soil to make the tree make more fruit does not reduce the poison. Tearing down the tree does us no good if we do not plant trees in ground that is not poisoned. But most importantly, digging up the soil to find the barrel of toxic waste, rejuvenating the soil, and planting new trees will make sure no one has to try to live while being poisoned.

What is required now is collective action, personal commitment, and compassion without measure. This effort will not be resolved immediately, or spare anyone the discomfort of looking deeply within themselves. We also must not shy away from having difficult conversations with people who do not think, look, or live like us. Each of us has an immediate circle around us and are able to influence others by living our values and practicing self-accountability. Likewise, collaboration requires us to build networks between ourselves, to share a common language and understanding, and to agree to work together through the differences we face.

Lastly, this is a process which unearths so many painful and challenging things within our own experience. I have looked deeply into my own heart, memories, and relationships and seen how much violence, racism, and structural oppression I have witnessed, been subjected to, and benefited from. In looking, I find myself washed with grief, sadness, and anger in ways that remind me how valuable the tools of mindfulness and yoga continue to be. I also recognize that in no way does practicing these techniques, or identifying with any philosophical or ethical value system absolve me of my own human experience. It is this lived human experience, rich and beautiful, with joy and sorrow that allows me to connect with the presence of the deep mystery that supports existence. We awaken through our humanness.

Submitted with love, compassion, and humility. Feel the message in the music of Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul from 1973, "The Way They Do My Life," and know we have a lot more work to do. A question we might ask ourselves right now to make steps into the future is, "How do I feel called to work more directly with dismantling the fabric of oppression and violence and helping to create an alternative?"


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