Sometimes I Think I Know Stuff but then Pema Chödrön Reminds Me I Know Nothing

I have not hidden the fact that 2016 was a rather tumultuous year for this writer (to put it lightly). In my reflections on the explosive events of last year, it occurred to me that the mantra I started chanting in early February 2016 included these words: “what is best for me, what is best for me, what is best for me.” As someone who understands a bit about that murky place where science meets magic, I should have known that such a mantra would result in the fiery explosion of all things in life that did not serve. It wasn’t long before I was ejected from a toxic work environment and fleeing a toxic relationship. I lost my pets, most of my belongings, 15lbs, and pieces of my heart. My friend died and my bike was stolen (methinks it carried some horrendous juju). What’s best for me, I said?

There were times when I was tempted to shake my fist at the universe and scream “what the fucking fuckity fuck?!” I did shake my fist at my former place of employment and former partner and scream and cry and hate and hate and hate (all in the privacy of my own home or my own head or sometimes in the middle of the woods and once accidentally on an airplane but just for a moment). But when those feelings finally moved through my dancer’s body and found a place of rest somewhere else, I turned my attention to a more sophisticated understanding of this journey called life.

It is so easy to blame isn’t it? It is so easy to point fingers at our spouses (former and otherwise), lovers, parents, Republicans, cis-hets, bosses and say “it’s YOUR fault.” It is so easy to puff out our cheeks, turn red in the face, and say with righteous indignation, “it’s because they/he/she/xe do it wrong!” It is so easy to jump on a moral high horse and proclaim everyone on foot to be a heathen/sinner/adulterer/bad dancer without actually stepping into their lived experience with compassion and an open heart.

I know cause I’ve done it. I’m fairly certain we all have though I won’t profess to speak for Jesus or Ghandi or Buddha or Mother Teresa or anyone else for that matter. It’s just so easy. I feel better when I have someone to blame because it takes some pressure off me. It eases my pain to know it was caused by someone else. Or does it? In those moments when I have been righteously indignant (and there have been many), MY body is the one that is tense and red, MY brain is firing on all cylinders, and I am the one who feels angry or incensed or frustrated or whatever. Does my righteous indignation actually have an impact on the people with whom I am righteously indignant? Not so much.

Enter Pema Chödrön. Sometimes I think I know stuff and then I listen to people who actually know stuff and I realize I don’t know anything. I do know how to breathe. I’m pretty good at that these days. Conscious breathing… deliberate, intentional inhales and exhales as a tool to regulate my nervous system. Since I live with PTSD, conscious breathing is my Jesus Christ; it is my personal savior. Without it, my prefrontal cortex would easily fly offline and my scared amygdala would run the show. It’s not pretty when that happens. So I breathe and I name colors and I look at clouds and I smell the wonderful essential oil blend given to me by one awesomesauce member of my tribe and I remain calm. It was from this place of calm that I was able to open up Pema’s books (again) and read her wise words (again) and be reminded that all the shit of life is simply that… shit of life. Life is not throwing shit balls at me because I deserve them or because I attract shit throwers, life throws shit balls because nothing is stable and permanent; sometimes life throws daisies and rainbows and sometimes life throws shit balls. Pema does not advise running from the shit balls, but rather, asks how we might turn the shit balls (she uses the term “arrows”) into flowers. Shit flowers? That I can work with.

I have recently been the lovely recipient of yet another act of cruelty, yet another pointed attack by someone who hates me. This hurts. This feels like a giant mother fucking shit storm. It comes with all the shitty emotions: embarrassment, humiliation, fear, anger, hatred. When I first learned of this attack, I wanted to blame BLAME BLAME the person who targeted me once again through a social system. I wanted to blame BLAME BLAME this person for their projections and attacks on my life. I did blame them. I do blame them. It comes in waves. But then I return to the teachings of Buddhism and ask myself, “how do I turn this shit storm into a daisy storm?” This does NOT mean bypass all my emotions and pretend that daisies grow from my butt. Au contraire, it means sitting in the shit storm with my shitty emotions and simply examining them. “Look at this shit puddle. Isn’t it interesting?” “There is a shit shower of blame descending on your body right now. How quaint.” “Maybe I should dance in this shit. Or paint it.”

This is NOT about blaming someone else or even examining how someone else is throwing the shit. This IS about examining how I feel in the midst of a shit storm and the shitty thoughts and emotions that arise in MY body. This is about me taking responsibility for myself and my feelings even if I feel (gulp) wronged. Pema also says we have to let go of this notion of right and wrong which I totally agree with in my brain and have a hard time internalizing in my body especially when it comes to abuse and oppression.

I want to be clear that I am able to sit in the shit 12 years after ending abusive relationship #1, and after 6 years of intensive therapy, and after 12 months of solitude/intentional healing time. If you are currently experiencing abuse or harassment or lack of safety in any way, don’t feel like you have to turn anything into daisies. Your #1 job is keeping yourself safe and sane.

The big question I am holding for myself (and the one I will pose to you) is how to put this into practice in the midst of a social-political climate that, frankly, is begging to be blamed. It is easier for me to apply this at a personal level (using a loose definition of the word “easier”). How do we rest into impermanence, groundlessness, and blamelessness when our country is led by… well, the person who is currently residing in the White House? How do we hold others accountable for acts of cruelty and oppression? Pema? Anyone?

I suspect that if Pema read this post, she would chuckle slightly at how I missed the point. In terms of knowledge and wisdom on par with our great teachers, I am a single-celled organism with some major evolution ahead of me. Yet I can feel the breaking of habitual patterns in my response to the current shit storm. Twelve years ago, when I last experienced a shit storm of this caliber, I did three things: 1) pretended it didn’t really happen, 2) denied most of the emotions it brought up, and 3) blamed myself, blamed someone else, blamed the gods for the storm. This time I choose to feel my feelings and hold compassion for myself and others. I still want to blame. I still do blame. But when I notice myself blaming, I sigh, look at it, and let it go. Conscious examination of thoughts and feelings. That’s all.

Thanks, Pema.

“Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart 

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Smacked in the Face with My Class Privilege

Oh yes, it happened again. There I was, driving along a tree-lined snowy road, listening to NPR when Class Privilege reached up from under my sweater and smacked me in the face.

“Ye of the professional class, pay attention to this! Cause you have been missing it.”

I am so happy to have a working relationship with my Privileges: Race, Class, and Ability/Body. Without this strong bond, I would have to rely on other people to call me in on blissful privileged ignorance and that, in addition to placing undue strain on others, is woefully inefficient.

So the slight ego bruise notwithstanding, I was delighted at the smack.

I’m going to do my best to unpack the moment, but remember, this is an area of privilege for me so I may still miss something.

I tuned in to NPR when they were in the middle of a story. It related to the 2016 Presidential election (what doesn’t these days?) and had something to do with voting patterns and privileged perspectives of certain candidates (or possibly the whole democratic party… I didn’t quite catch the context). What I did catch was a statement about working class white people being fed up with professional class white people telling them they are privileged when they are having a hard time finding jobs, paying the bills, or seeing themselves represented in government.

SMACK! POW! Ouch.

In that sudden smack, I knew without using words that I had a privileged perspective regarding the topic of privilege. While I understand intersections of privilege and oppression and the ways we might examine such a thing, I had not brought that cognitive knowing into my daily discourse on white privilege.

Huh, what?

Let me see if I can articulate this right-brain, non-verbal understanding that is floating around in my consciousness:

Systems of Oppression

Systems of Oppression.jpg

Systems of oppression are top-down processes that begin with the ideology of an elite class and end with squashed dreams, internalized hate, and opportunity deserts for the oppressed.

Social identity categories

Dominant Group.jpg

Subordinate Group.png

My Social ID.jpg

I talk about privilege a lot in my everyday life. A lot, a lot. There is nary a corner of my life where I do not examine how my own privilege (and let’s be honest, the privilege of everyone around me) might be offering some majorly unearned benefits. I point it out. Yet this morning, as I heard the statement about white people who do NOT have class privilege, it occurred to me that I may have missed examination of this intersection:

Race and class.jpg

Specifically, I tend to be ignorant of class oppression in the face of racial privilege. To me, white people have heaps of privilege… well, this isn’t just my opinion, it’s a fact. But white people who are poverty-stricken, working poor, or working class are also facing oppression at the hands of white people of the professional and owning classes. The NPR story noted that these people were tired of hearing professional/owning class people spouting their elitist jargon regarding white privilege.

I get it. The way to rally others towards inclusive thinking begins with validation of the ways they are oppressed. I suspect this is why so many “white men with no college” voted for Trumpywumpie Cheeto Head. They neither saw themselves benefiting from Senator Clinton’s policies nor even heard themselves represented in her discourse. To be clear, I got behind Hillary, but I also saw how her elite white feminist approach would be alienating to many groups of people. This is an ongoing issue in social justice movements: The marginalized elite (read: white, affluent…) pushing out even more marginalized subordinate classes (read: people of color, working classes…).

We see a clear example of this in the assimilation of cisgender gay and lesbian people into heteronormative values. I do not judge gays and lesbians who believe in those values and want to walk with them, but when those same gays and lesbians push queer and trans people out of the movement for being too freaky and ruining their chance at assimilation, well, then we have a problem.

Same thing happened with feminism. It was cisgender, whites only in its first and second waves which had to be challenged (and continues to be challenged) by women of color and trans women.

What am I taking away from this? I do not want to be another white member of the professional class telling people to examine their privilege before I examine how my own class privilege might be stomping all over my white neighbors. Therefore, I need to listen. I need to seek out experiences that take me outside of the elite professional class and into the working classes. Did I mention I need to listen? I need to hear how people are impacted by class oppression before I start with discussions of racial privilege.

For someone who makes inclusivity and diversity a focus of daily living, it is humbling to continue to encounter the privilege mirror. I suspect it will never end. I suspect understanding and fully internalizing systems of power and oppression will never be a box that I check, “done!”

May my Privileges continue to smack me in the face from now until forever. I offer gratitude for their tenacity.

 

USA DECLARES WHITE SUPREMACIST VALUES TO THE WORLD!

I wear black because I am in mourning. I am in mourning for the country I thought I lived in. The country that is most certainly dead. My privilege allowed me to believe that Hillary would win by a landslide. It was beyond my comprehension to think there were enough United States citizens who aligned with Drumpf’s values of hatred to elect him president. I was so wrong.

In the past year, Drumpf has said the following:

Mexican immigrants are rapists

He will kill the families of “terrorists”

He wants Hillary assassinated

Muslims should be banned from the USA

Women should not have reproductive rights

Marriage is for straight people only

It’s OK to perpetrate non-consensual sexual acts (i.e.: Nothin’ wrong with rape)

He is narcissistic. He is a pathological liar.

He is selfish, self-centered, inarticulate, incites hate, preaches hate.

He does not understand how to run an ethical business, let alone a country.

The subtext for the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is “Make America Hate Again.” Or, as the electoral college just informed us, “Bring Forth America’s White Supremacist Values Again.”

Drumpf is not my president. Drumpf will never be my president. I do not acknowledge his position because I do not believe in hate.

I do not acknowledge his position but I do acknowledge my racial privilege. I acknowledge the ideological, institutional, and systemic racism upon which this country was built. I acknowledge the implicit and explicit sexist values upheld by Drumpf and his supporters. I acknowledge the extreme violence perpetrated against trans people. I acknowledge the high rates of alcoholism and suicide of Native Americans.

I have been saying for years that this country is ill. I see the symptoms of its illness manifest as depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and PTSD in the children and teenagers to whom I offer therapeutic support. The election of Drumpf to the presidency of this country is proof of this illness.

I hear some of my fellow writers and activists calling for strength and action. I wish I could say that I am in a place to offer such things, but I am not. I am afraid for my life and my liberty.

We just elected a man to the highest office in the world who admitted to molesting women and denied any wrongdoing in doing so.

I support everyone who holds enough privilege to face this embodiment of hatred head on. As of now, that’s not me.

To all the people who voted for Drumpf: You can have this country. I will take my brilliance elsewhere.

 

 

 

Reflections on Invisibility

Despite my horror at the multi-ring circus called the 2016 Presidential Election, I am committed to seeing it through to the end and am therefore tuning in to the debates between Donald (who I affectionately refer to as Trumpiewumpie) and Senator Clinton. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough to call oneself a United States citizen this century, we have now gifted the world’s stage with a reality-TV-show-style election. Sigh.

On Monday evening, Trumpiewumpie and Senator Clinton debated (can we even use that term?) the issues… or rather, Senator Clinton attempted to articulate her stance on national security, foreign trade, and racial tension while Trumpiewumpie sniffed, snorted, and made fish faces into the microphone. I am not a die-hard Clinton supporter (shout out to Bernie), but at least she has a modicum of decorum and poise and is undeniably intelligent and capable of being the Commander-in-Chief. And she deals with a heck of a lot of sexism, microaggressions, and discrimination. Hey Trumpiewumpie, if she has a face, she has a presidential look.

I am used to being invisible when it comes to our nation’s ideology. President Obama mentioned trans people for the first time ever in the 2015 State of the Union address, but it felt more like throwing us a bone than highlighting all the issues we face. I’m fairly certain most people on Capitol Hill don’t have a clue what non-binary means and if they do, they certainly wouldn’t acknowledge our existence. For today, I’m going to let that go. Cause watching the debate on Monday illuminated all the other people in this country who are invisible.

The two candidates were asked a question about the current tension between races in this country and both candidates responded as if African-Americans and Latinx were the only people of color in the United States. Trumpiewumpie referred to them as one group: “Africanamericanhispanics” and Senator Clinton fared only somewhat better by giving them their own and slightly less colonial labels: African-American and Latino. But if memory serves, neither candidate mentioned any other race (someone fact check me, please!).

Hmm, am I wrong in noticing that there are many, many races of people represented in United States citizenship? Aren’t there Chinese-Americans, Filipino-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Iranian-Americans, Korean-Americans and (gasp) NATIVE Americans (goddess forbid we mention the people whose land we stole and now reside on) etc…? Maybe I see people who aren’t really here like the kid in The Sixth Sense who sees dead people (I see racial minorities), but I’m fairly certain I’m not wrong about this. So why is it that when our politicians discuss race in the United States they only talk about Africanamericanhispanics?

It makes sense to some extent, considering the rampant killings of unarmed black men by police. There is definitely a major issue with the ways white supremacy specifically targets and discriminates against the black community and the candidates should address this, but when asked about the racial divide, shouldn’t they at least acknowledge that there are more than three races in this country?

Politicians, Senator Clinton and Trumpiewumpie included, perpetuate white supremacy when they fail to acknowledge their racial privilege. When a politician gets on stage and says, “I have racial privilege and therefore have many unearned opportunities because this nation was built on white supremacy” then I will be excited to vote. But wait, I WANT our country to change in ways that will actually create equality, not just give it a head nod and I’m guessing most white politicians want to retain their unearned white power soooo I suppose I will wait a long time before I hear the above phrase.

I shall save abelism, classism, and heteronormativity for another post.

So while my gender and sexual orientation are completely invisible at the ideological and institutional levels and nearly invisible at the interpersonal level (a barista just “ma’amed” me), there are plenty of people who are also invisible for other reasons. I have race, class, and ability privilege. I am represented in that regard.

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”

-Toni Morrison