Secrets to Another Perception: How to Decenter in Difficult Times

One of the keys to effective decentering is cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness is important because it allows us to become aware of the events, emotions, and thoughts that are occurring within and around us. Often, when one speaks of mindfulness, one can conjure visions of a Buddhist master, but the truth is anyone can achieve satisfying, powerful clarity through this practice.

The Self

The idea of The Self is an important one. It helps us to navigate a world where it is sometimes difficult to understand the place your dreams, desires, motivations, worries, and worldview start and end. If you are not aware of the nuances of this, you may need or demand too much or too little support from others, or they may ask too much or too little of you. 

The sense of The Self also harbors fear. Fear can be a good thing — evolutionarily, fear has kept us from being attacked by predators. However, too much anxiety can interfere with our emotional and psychological growth. It also fosters rash decision making and inability to establish long-lasting and trusting relationships with others. 

One example of this is the police officer that allows fear to cloud their judgment and ascribe far more danger to a citizen than necessary. When a person has this mindset supported by others that look like them, either by race or wearing a uniform, there is little incentive to stop and examine the circumstances through another lens. However, this support can prove to hinder your growth. When you are most comfortable and feel most supported is when you should decenter.

How to Decenter

One of the quickest ways of maintaining a decentered state is a routine meditation practice. Studies show that meditation reroutes pathways in the brain and reduces stress. Stress can aggravate and prolong feelings of fear, aggression, and unworthiness. While there are many books and videos on meditation, meditation does not have to be a process in sitting still and breathing.

The reason breathing is crucial is that, apart from the physiological changes when more oxygen enters the brain, breath is a repetitive movement. 

Meditation is a process of cultivating what psychologists call “flow.” Flow characterizes what laypeople call being in the zone. Any athlete, artist, or another person that relies on the repetition of their skill can report a sense of peace when they “get in their zone.” Getting in the zone provides an acute sense of clarity seldom found in other activities. 

Some activities to get in the zone are:

Visual art

Breath

Daydreaming

Dance

Music

Discussions and lecture

Writing

Reading

Why This Is Important

As a law enforcement officer, your job is dangerous. You probably work strange hours and have seen the worst of the human spirit. Because of this, you can end up overworked and fearful. However, there are other professions and life experiences that cause others to be overworked, stressed, and afraid too. 

If the police apprehend a woman, search her, and she physically retaliates, the police report says she was resisting arrest. The account may be accurate, but if you decentered yourself and listened to her story, you may find out that the way you gripped her arm was the same way her abusive ex-lover did two years ago. She suffers PTSD, and reacted the way she did because she was unable to decenter as well.

Decentering allows the public servant to detach and offer more effective service. It also allows the officer to see that decentering is part of his or her job. The “resist to arrest” no longer becomes about “degenerate citizens” but more about understanding how to diffuse a contentious situation.

Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 5): How to Mourn

One action that has historically, universally sustained oppression is the practice of Dehumanization. De-human-ization affects all people involved. Its insidiously intrinsic nature normalizes itself. People don’t even notice this Othering. Dehumanization is a disease of the consciousness, wherein the afflicted carry the illness without knowing it, and spread it to their families and extended community. How can Dehumanization be unlearned given the nature of this oppressive condition?

We must Humanize all of humans. Again, this work requires self-reflection, introspection and humility. Only the most-committed warriors for justice can stand up and face the self. This internalized oppression must be sought out in the psyche, at its root. Once again drawing upon powerful DBT techniques, we will embody the behavior that is married to the belief. Only by practicing Humanization, can we begin to see this invisible illness.

Lesson 5: Watch the entire video of Ahmaud Arbery‘s murder. Ahmaud was 25 when he was hunted down by a white father and son.

Do not turn away. If possible, show it to all members of your family. Open your heart and mind to the feelings and cry for this fallen son, your brother. See his humanity, and mourn with us.

Cry. Weep. Wail. Scream. Pray. Cry some more. This one step on the path to transforming our society.

excerpt from “The Will to Change” by Adrienne Rich

PART I

11/69-2/70

1.

We were bound on the wheel of an endless conversation.

Inside this shell, a tide waiting for someone to enter.

A monologue waiting for you to interrupt it.

A man wading into the surf. The dialogue of the rock with the breaker.

The wave changed instantly by the rock; the rock changed by the wave returning over and over.

The dialogue that lasts all night or a whole lifetime.

A conversation of sounds melting constantly into rhythms.

A shell waiting for you to listen.

A tide that ebbs and flows against a deserted continent.

A cycle whose rhythm begins to change the meanings of words.

A wheel of blinding waves of light, the spokes pulsing out from where we hang together in the turning of an endless conversation.

The meaning that searches for its word like a hermit crab.

A monologue that waits for one listener.

An ear filled with one sound only.

A shell penetrated by meaning.

For all the fallen angels of the Black Lives Matter Civil and Human Rights Movement of 2020, your life has meaning. You are not forgotten.

How to Maintain Mental Health Through Ritual

With unexpected changes happening every day, I’ve found that it’s important to find a routine or a ritual. For me, it is walking in nature to breathe the air that refreshes and heals, taking warm showers with luxurious soaps and salts that soften and cleanse, and drinking the teas that bring forth healing and wash the worries of the day away. These sensual indulgences link my body, mind, and spirit and allow for optimal psychological and spiritual health.

Mental health, our internal heaven, sometimes seems to elude us but is always available to us. A fragile, steadfast friend, it wants to stay with us — through connecting with our friends and our family, scribbling in a journal with tattered pages; a trusted and empathetic psychiatrist or counselor, or the paintbrushes tucked in our studio. 

Respite and Revival

These rituals simultaneously connect us to and vehemently release us from the realities of life, while life makes it possible to enjoy and revive our bodies and souls. With our staunch collective obsession of all that is new and theoretical in our Western society, coming back to that which is tried and true can be a welcome respite from the pressure to be different.

Still, a mysterious danger remains of being stuck in the past, present, or even future instead of being edified by it. We must embrace cycles in their full spectrum. Cycles are not just a hallmark of fertility although that is certainly significant; these cycles are cues that allow healing, sleep, emotional development and stability, calm. 

Alleviation of Emotional and Psychological Pain

These rituals and cycles — circling, and spiraling — undo the knots of symptoms such as anxiety and anger. Our internal revolutions unfurl the painful memories locked into our psyche and cells and are expressed as inflammation. Whether you call these experiences cytokines or prostaglandins, rituals to remove stress can stop the overabundance of pain.

We also stop the pain with laughter, the ultimate healing ritual amid the friction that can be described as systematic subjugation. I laugh with my ancestors: they get the joke, the absurdity that we should have to fight oppressive forces all this time.

Finding my center

My rituals help me to tap within, to figure out why we do what we do. Where do we fit into the seeming madness of the world? It seems like we all have desires that appear to be at odds with each other, yet make up a composite mosaic that is reflective of our collective experience.

Leading with Love: Mayor Garcetti Heals the City of Angels

It’s hard to feel energetic in the mornings knowing people are getting sick. Our lives are disrupted. It’s spring but we must stay home. Besides cooking, exercising and checking in with friends all over the world, I’ve found some comfort in my new hometown. These days, Mayor Garcetti’s five o’clock briefing is uplift hour at my house. That’s when I turn on KPCC and listen to Mayor Eric Garcetti‘s update.

When Mayor Garcetti speaks, I know this is what compassion is. In the middle of the most confusing time of our lives, a global pandemic that few expected and fewer understand, when violence has grown intimate and our national leadership has flagged, Garcetti is solving homelessness in order to save as many people as possible. His message to “Stay at home” comes with the energy and commitment to galvanize LA city residents to protect the lives of some of the most vulnerable people among us.

Mayor Garcetti easily slips into my portfolio of heroes: People like Harriet Tubman, Dr. King, Jesus, John Brown and Ernestine Rose. I don’t have a problem including him on my list. I want someone to imitate. I need to believe in goodness at a time like this. Here is a man talking about CoronaVirus and using words like, “us,” “we” and “love” to talk about what’s a stake and what we must do to heal and stay safe. He urges us to engage with our best efforts and most positive outlook while providing concrete guidelines for behavior that mitigates risk to our families. He reminds us to stay home, take care of each other and advises us on what the city is doing to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Hearing him is healing my heart.

“LA Love” is a theme I can get behind, especially when it comes with direct action. When he tells us about getting manufacturers to make masks for public workers, or sadly explains why our beaches are closed or how new regulations will be implemented, it’s full of hope. He’s even raising money for locals who are unable to work or need extended shelter until the danger passes. Garcetti emphasizes the unity of Angelenos and is raising money for people who may need help.

I’m grateful for Mayor Garcetti’s leadership at this time. It reminds me to be still and step up when I can. We can all use some hope these days.

A Season for Forgiveness

One of the things that I enjoy about organized religions is the way religions honor the extraordinary magic of life through ritual. These ancient, universal customs transcend individual beliefs and encompass the basic human elements that forge all relationships. They say to participants,

You are the fabric of this existence.

You are integral to the workings of life.

Notably, the season of Rosh Hashanah is upon us. It is a time of inner renewal and atonement for Jews. On a spiritual level, observers rest and remove stagnant energy from their psyches. Essentially, it’s a time to reflect on the past year, find peace with your life and loved ones and seek forgiveness from those whom you may have wronged and to grant it in turn. Obviously, these are not required practices for a non-Jewish person; however, for me, the benefit of honoring the practice brings peace and light into the world outweighs my allegiance to my particular faith. Central to these upcoming High Holy Days is a compelling call to harmonize with the self and one’s extended community, and it is a practice, which I wholeheartedly embrace.

JasonReyes
AJ‘s “Untitled” for Living Artist Project //  IG/FB:@agesimagery

When I first celebrated Rosh Hashanah with my Jewish friends in New York during my twenties, I remember being caught up in the spectacle of the ritual of a festive meal, chanting, and the lighting of candles. Now Rosh Hashanah holds significance for me that I treasure beyond those sacred memories of being welcomed into the intimacy of a private celebration. Rosh Hashanah is a time for me to get right in my soul. This period is a gift to me, a time to ask forgiveness from the people I’ve wronged, a chance to reflect on my words, my intentions and impact on the people around me. It’s also an occasion to atone for the unintentional harm I may have caused another, for even in innocence we can sometimes offend. It’s a habit that leads to grace—it helps me to say I’m sorry more quickly or more easily the next time around. It’s an invitation to hear when someone is struggling to make right with me. Rosh Hashanah allows me to let go of the outcome, release my ego and do my part to leave a blessing behind. The process makes my steps lighter, my heart ever more capacious.

Because we can’t change the past, it’s crucial we take the time to be present for our loved ones and atone for mistakes in an expedient manner. The unexpected death of my sister has taught me this lesson. The effort to seek forgiveness is a calling that requires humbleness, compassion and introspection. It is work done with a sincere heart; it is an observance with profound implications for everyone around us. There’s more room in our lives for tender moments when we don’t insist on carrying grudges. We can give and get forgiveness.

I still celebrate the Western calendar New Year on January First but find that Rosh Hashanah enriches my life with its heartfelt redemptive and renewing capacity. I’ve invited this ritual into my life in order to grow and expand my ability to love and co-exist with people who may not see the world as I do, which in an increasingly diverse world is becoming ever more critical. As I struggle with the right words and conditions to ask for forgiveness, I look to role models whose compassion and tenderness provide a guiding light. One source of luminous guidance for me is a mentor in the Order of Interbeing, who sent a beautiful email to her extended community. As I read her message, the words sank into my heart and touched the wounded part of me. I breathed in her words, and I let go of my hurt. Afterward, I filled that space with a tender hug and a salty kiss from my nephew and inhaled the sweet scent of my niece’s clean hair as I sent her to school. This I want to hold tight. The rest I’m willing to let go.

Agesimagery
    “A walk through the woods with Wootan” by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project    //         IG:@heyjayrey

It’s clear that we could all use some tenderness and gentleness in these times of disaster, strife, misunderstanding and tension. In the spirit of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I share some of her words and intentions with you, my readers and extended community.

Let the healing begin with me. On this wonderful day, I offer you these words:

Hello Dear Ones!

During this month of September we honor the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the Plum Village Community there are several mindfulness retreats, both general mindfulness, and those with specific focus on engaged awareness practice for racial equity and inclusiveness, and for caring for the earth, our planet home. May we find these trainings to be of nourishing support. 

Some of you I have not seen in awhile. Please accept my beneficial regret for any harm that my actions or inactions may have unintentionally caused. I ask your forgiveness with all my heart, and if I got it wrong before, I will do my best to get it right in the future.

With love on the path of Interbeing,

Edissa

 

 

The Uses of Visual Images as Envisioned by Douglass: The Necessity of Art (Part VII)

 

Art is a visionary’s tool (among others). For a long time artists have used the medium of photography to foretell, criticize and reimagine the way we see, what we see, but also why we see. Take the great reformer, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who in moving from images of Black poverty and nakedness to dignified and well-dressed statesman, understood and recognized that art could liberate Black men and women in the consciousness of the viewer. Douglass embraced photography in the form of Daguerreotype and used his own image to bombard the social media of the era. What had easily become a keepsake token of affluence, the portrait became a force for transforming consciousness in the hands of a powerful Black American, who used it to define himself and a people. With his actions as a writer and a subject of the gaze, Douglass used art to change America.

frederick-douglass-1852

Today selfies are a widespread phenomenon misused by young people all over the world. The intoxicating image of the self has us giddy with self-absorption (you can even by a stick for this). For his part, Frederick Douglass employed the power of the portrait that few of us seem to value or recognize today because of the proliferation of cameras. Yesteryear, however, Frederick Douglass, the original selfie King, sat for numerous portraits as an act of liberation, intending to shatter static notions of Black identity using his own changing image. Given that he did so well before the advent of cell-phone cameras, the selfie king had to make deliberate efforts to make his image available to a 19th-century populace, many of whom eroticized the African body as a side-show attraction, or relegated them to an exotic sub-human status unworthy of the lens. It was under these circumstances that Douglass envisioned a narrative that could only be told through the camera’s eye—a story he would repeat dozens of times to become the most photographed figure of his epoch.

img_1761
Pillar in Print

For Douglass, art in the early manifestation of the selfie, the portrait, was a vehicle used to normalize Blackness. By sitting for portraits wherever he went, Douglass realized that the image of a free Black American would provoke the viewer to consider his personhood and, thereby, challenge the perceptions of White Americans that he used to gain a kind of social currency, an invented algorithm inserted into the mainstream dialogue. Douglass did so in the struggle to abolish slavery; Douglass knew art had power, whether by creating it, starring on the canvas or generating a frequency of sound; art’s power was undeniable.

Frederick Douglass was able to harness the power of art and use it to reframe an entire narrative about Black identity. Later artists of the Harlem of Renaissance—writer, painters, poets, dancers and sculptors—would continue his legacy, crafting a movement of empowered self-expression that would begin to heal a people from a history as a formerly enslaved people. Art and change are not separate. One births the other and the other fathers the revolution—more on that later.

 

Centuries in the Making: The Legacies of New Orleans, A Retrospective

Skirting the mighty Mississippi River, a formidable body of water that enabled the trafficking of millions of Africans to her rich fertile soils, New Orleans is a city of traumatic memory, iconic history and idyllic diversity. A treasure trove of American Culture, rooted in Spanish, French, African and Native American traditions, the city compresses a rich diversity of language, food and identity demarcations into its communities. New Orleans is the ultimate Jambalaya, which over the centuries has had vast and consequential shifts of political power on a geographic territory of 350 square miles. From a large enclave of German settlers who farmed the land, and early generations of British and Irish settlers to the numerous enslaved African men and women, who generated the greatest wealth the New World has ever seen, NOLA is cosmopolitan to the core.

Sanctioned by the Catholic Church’s Pope Nicholas V, slavery gave license to white men to enslave any so-called pagans, and the ensuing trade proved prosperous to the entire world, but especially America, who continues to be a global economic leader; the slave trade gave birth to the most historically damaging and painful episode of dehumanization civilization has ever known. Like any birth, our nation’s is bloody, ugly and beautiful, simultaneously.

In the Treme, a jewel of African-American heritage and culture, and the pride of many local inhabitants, the many sides of the conflict have played out in the lives of the people impacted by the slave trade. With Spanish and French Colonial heritage, the large number of Catholics in the area, people of every color, is explained. St. Augustine, a popular tourist destination because the congregation of free blacks sponsored pews so that enslaved blacks could sit and worship, and where forgotten souls of Africans who perished under slavery’s iron fists have a memorial resting place in the courtyard aptly named, The Tomb of the Unknown Slave, made it one of the most integrated congregations in the city, but today seems haunted by the weight of years.

Around the corner from the shrine is Sister Delille Street, a street named after a black, creole woman famous for purchasing her own freedom and working tirelessly to help the sick and infirm, and who also just happened to own slaves. A short distance from the church, to the elation of thousands, is Louis Armstrong Park, which celebrates the immeasurable contributions of African Americans to the creation of a myriad of musical legacies and wherein sits the legendary Congo Square. New Orleans is not to be taken lightly. Its history is seeped into every corner if one has the eyes to see it.

From the shameful inheritance of slavery, a fierce resistance and tenacity is steeped in the people. Long-suffering under torture and from fractured psyches, the descendants Africans have birthed a relentless ingenuity, musical elation, spiritual triumph and American Culture at its best. Yet, the roots of slavery extend far into the Deep South and deeper still into the hearts of Americans today, 150 after the Civil War and over 60 years since the start of the Civil Rights Movements with its modern day manifestation in the Black Lives Matter Movement; we are a nation profoundly conflicted over our own history, grappling with a conscience that cannot rest easy, that is too effortlessly transmuted into hatred and violence. Over the loss and memory of chattel slavery, too many speak too softly or not at all. None of this is as readily felt as in places like New Orleans, where the legacy of slavery manifests as its closest descendant: Institutionalized Systemic Racism. Insidious, overt and entrenched, the legacy of slavery can best be witnessed in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Historically populated by a 98% black community, the Ninth Ward is still in a state of devastation 11 years after Hurricane Katrina. As the swamp and river reclaim the land, it’s our duty to remember that many of the displaced inhabitants wish to return to their homes. As witness to our collective amnesia, I dedicate this post to the residents of the Ninth Ward.

Forays Inward: A Preliminary Report on Mindful Peacebuilding’s 2016 Roots Retreat

 

“In my own case, a fuller awareness of what I needed to find out about people and their lives had to be sought for through another way, through writing stories. But away off one day [traveling] I knew this anyway: that my wish, indeed my continuing passion, would be not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.”           ~Eudora Welty

 

On the surface, a passage from Eudora Welty may seem an unlikely place to start an essay about ancestral inquiry. Although I have never met the famous Southern White woman, and my aspirations as a writer notwithstanding, it is to Welty’s legacy as a photographer that I have an affinity to her and claim her as a cultural ancestor. Welty took many wonderful, candid photographs of people in Mississippi, her home state, during the 1930s. But it is Ms. Welty’s photographs of black people, men, women and children captured in their authentic splendor and with their dignity and humanity intact that most reveal her compassionate heart. When I consider an inquest into slavery, into Southern culture, into our collective ancestral roots as a nation, it is with just such a generous heart, that of the non-judgmental witness that I wish to document my excursion into historic New Orleans in search of peace.

On the eve of embarking on the first-ever Roots Retreat to touch the earth in New Orleans with five Dharma teachers, I find myself looking at my existence and my particular station in life with fascination: As a Dominican-American woman in the land of the free, I can’t help but imagine some parallel version of myself if my parents had not emigrated from our small island to the United States when I was a baby. What if I had been left behind with extended family, or connected to the island of my origin in any significant way as I grew up? Marked as odd the length of my childhood for the many discernable cultural differences to those around me, the idea of roots for me is a source of profound curiosity. Until the recent past I have drifted between worlds, unsure of my foothold in any one identity. Like a leaf on the wind, a life of adventure, moving geographical location frequently, I’ve only just begun to feel tethered in community. In the trajectory of my life I am only beginning to comprehend my past as I work to remember the land that raised me, as I glance into a murky past in the hopes of seeing where I come from.

Destiny Manifest

These are difficult times: much of what we read and hear on the news has to do with conflict and pain; hate-filled presidential hopefuls get more press than compassionate socialists; civil unrest and economic inequality are polarizing our communities. There is a good deal of violence and suffering, but there is also, I believe, the space to transform the energy into something good.

To change the climate in our nation takes awareness and the willingness to look within ourselves as the source of answers. This interior space may well be the true final frontier of civilization. Though for some this inner quest may be a fearsome prospect, there is much to gain from sitting in silence with what ever arises, witnessing without judgment. Understanding the past is yet another tool for change.

Working with and thinking about what our collective and unintended inheritance may be, I carry my own history delicately, an object of fascination of which I know too little, leading to questions that may never be answered. In truth, there is a kind of freedom in knowing I don’t know. It allows me to seek and coax out stories. It is from this gentle holding that my inquiry flows: Who am I? Who are my people?

Lifting the Masks of Shame

If writer Tobias Wolff is right that “Unacknowledged shame enters the world as anger,” so much can be understood about what we carry to and fro, unaware of the explosive emotional storehouse within, undaunted by the burden of awareness. Even unexamined, the weight and presence of shame can be transmitted inter-generationally—the shame need not be immediate—we need not own it for it to do its work within us. Because o the way humans internalize shame, and all negative emotions, is powerful, trans-generational trauma can destroy individuals, families and societies, acting like a corrosive agent; we can carry shame for things we can do little to change, as well as for our own actions and behaviors. Ignorance is no remedy; nor is denial. All shared history—the shame, the pain, the trauma and the joys—must be touched for the healing process to begin.

Like many people of the African diaspora whose descendants were transported to new lands during slavery, my past holds many mysteries. As a woman who was born in the Caribbean, I know some things about my family of origin, but family stories are convoluted, riddled with holes, and bursting with secrets. It’s difficult to unravel the reasons I did not know my grandparents, or why our family is oddly scattered. To me this is rooted in our history in ways we have not yet begun to examine, but because I live in this country and my skin is dark, I am detached from the geographic reality of my birthplace. But if we are anything, we are where we come from, even if that origin is obscured.

For many African-Americans, who embody the site of subjugation, the unknown past, broken lineage, families fractured on auction blocks, the shame is visceral and deeply internalized. Yet the same identity is also an identity brimming over with resilience, creativity, ingenuity and self-determination. The triumph of their survival mirrors the intensity of the degradation of a people linked by a legacy human bondage, unnamed ancestors brutalized in the light of day in a carefully choreographed system of oppression. From that grotesque saga is born elegant music, spiritual fortitude, loving connection, personal reinvention and enlightened resistance.

But the people on both sides of this trans-Atlantic trade have suffered injury, injuries that must, first, be acknowledged, and subsequently, healed. We are caught in a binary of pain with a slippery narrative, one which no perpetrators wants to own, nor the millions who have profited from slavery’s stealth stepsister, White Privilege. To transcend this chronicle of pain, we must be willing to own the legacy, not just the most convenient parts.

I’ve noticed how many White Southerners champion the Confederate Flag as cultural heritage, embracing it publicly as beloved treasure bequeathed from father to son. But in that selfsame clasp of the Confederate Flag is stored the emblem of shame: the bloody war to continue to traffic in black lives for the profit and wealth of white people; the mortification of seeing a black child with a husband’s face; the remorse of imposing abject poverty, torture and bondage on the people who raise your children. There is no way to hold the flag as a source of pride without its shadow side inflicting deep discomfort and humiliation that is too easily converted to violence and resentment and calcified into unjustified anger.

I find it impossible to believe that knowing that one’s ancestors beat, raped, sold and trafficked in human beings for profit is not painful, shameful and denigrating to many White Americans. It is the other side of the pain, shame and denigration that African Americans endured and remember. So I see that the unwarranted hate of black people by white people is a mask to cover the shame. And a new question then arises. Is there hope?

Touching the Earth

The pilgrimage of compassion to a plantation in New Orleans with people of African-American, Vietnamese, white East European Jewish, white Northern European, and Caribbean ancestry to look and listen deeply into the heart of our nation’s history, to a geographic place of both the suffering and joy of slave and slaver, black and white, rich and poor is one of hope. Such an undertaking is only possible because healing is possible.

In the company of Dharma practitioners, who are committed to peace, the work of inner looking can unfold in a harmonious manner. The journey is a sacred pilgrimage into the heart of suffering that has given the world endless joy. We can cry there. We can laugh there, too, a the site of an institution founded with the intention of remembering and honoring that real human beings, black people stolen from their mother lands and transported thousands of miles away in dehumanized conditions, sold, hunted, bred, and shackled for centuries; we go to witness for their blood, sweat and tears, all absorbed into this our earth, our America, these United States, land of the free.

Dedicated to fostering peace in the world, Mindful Peacebuilding’s 2016 Roots Retreat is quietly leading a voyage to transform a society in pain. In the tradition of Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, traveling to New Orleans to “Touch the Earth” is a way to honor the memory of the victims of slavery; remembering is part of the work of healing historical trauma. Acknowledging the historical harm that transpired at places like the Whitney Plantation, is a way of embracing our collective heritage. Whether or not we have directly participated in those transactions is less important than simply bearing witness to the truth of our ancestors.

Even though I was born in Dominican Republic, I see a very strong connection with people, who like some of my ancestors, migrated centuries ago. This is a story of suffering, but it’s also one of triumph—one of power and transformation. Wherever I go, I carry my ancestors and the charge of my descendants. It is for that reason that a roots retreat is relevant to the study of my own history. We are not separate. We are bonded on the earth, witness to all, teacher for all times. The lessons are deep, and there are many. We go to listen.