Belonging and Its Twin Welcome! Diversity Series: Part 1

 

The nation is once again focused on the topic of diversity, specifically inclusion and its counterpart, exclusion. Political rhetoric is high, as imaginary lines are drawn between people of different ethnic groups with solutions to class and socioeconomic problems being reduced to ejecting immigrants to their nations of origin. After some two million deportations, this doesn’t seem to be the fix. And in more stable quarters, Chris Rock has criticized the Academy of Motion Pictures for its pervasive “color blindness,” which translates to excluding anyone with visible skin pigmentation from the possible list of award recipients. Naming the issue is secondary to impact when we account for the people who suffer from the practices of separation.

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Cultivating an atmosphere of spaciousness in our society is vital. America is nothing without its broad spectrum of people. This spaciousness is as necessary in our personal lives as it is in our places of work and government. Close relationships are good for us, and so is a general proximity to people who are not exactly like us. It’s why we read books and educate ourselves: We understand ourselves, and each other, better when we use a wide lens to take in the human experience.

 

There is also the fact that we need physical and emotional support and comfort to thrive. We are meant for one another. I’m no expert here. In truth, retreat comes easy to me, especially when things get complicated. It is my go-to when avoiding and preempting rejection. How do I stay close in the midst of discomfort? It’s hard work. Yet, connection and community, belonging and acceptance are deeply important to all people. A baby must be held and given physical nurturance in order to survive and grow. As adults, we continue to need those things as well. Even proper brain development is contingent upon the quality of relationships. According to Robert Waldinger, a researcher in the longest ever study on happiness, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” (Learn more about the Harvard study here: http://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness?utm_campaign=ios-share&utm_medium=social&source=email&utm_source=email%23t-52952) Even without a doctor and a study to say so, it holds true.

 

Love and connection are universal driving forces, motivating people to do almost anything to feel a part of some larger community. Gangs often capitalize on the deep yearning of desperate people, bringing out the worst aspects of human character as they work to forge bonds at a high cost to individuals and society. In contrast, feelings of belonging can lead to joy, nourishment, and overall good health. Acceptance, love and the ensuing elevated self-esteem release agents into the body that heal and revitalize the physical and spiritual self, reducing pain and distress and activating the body’s natural mood-lifting chemicals. Belonging is the essential and vital source of wellness that promotes authentic happiness, which benefits people in all spheres of life and reverberates to all who are fortunate enough to come into contact with these human resources.

 

One way I have found of maintaining impactful connection is opening my home. I have really come to appreciate hospitality more and more. An invitation is an opening for compassion and time together. In an age when emails, Facebook and text messages form large portions of private and work times, where social-media sites dominate in the arena of communication, sitting together at the table is balm for the soul. As humans, we need intimacy, which cannot be replicated via electronic mediums though arguably Skype and FaceTime platforms do seem to offer at least visual reinforcement for times when the distance is too great to easily surmount.

 

The question of when we reach for each other is also important. I’m reminded of an African proverb that counsels, “Build your well before you’re thirsty.” Contemplating this adage, the message yields its lesson. It is very hard to build something sound in a short period of time while under duress. Great need heaped onto a weak support will not hold. We cannot wait until we are in crisis to make a friend. Like a garden, the seeds must be sown well in advance of the harvest.

 

This metaphorical thirst can be translated into a literal earthquake or other emergency, or a death or a loss of position, such as a job change or breakup. When these events happen, and somehow no human being of any color or financial status can escape such pain, people need someone solid to count on and turn toward. This is the power of proximity. If you are fortunate enough to be surrounded by family in the town where your previous generations have grown intertwined, then the turning toward one another may be easier. However, if like many urban dwellers, you come from afar, and your roots yet skim the surface of the earth, you will need your neighbor. I remember when all the phone lines into New York City were down after 9/11 and I could not reach my family members for many days. I sat in the university with my peers. We were all crying and reacting to the events, staying close to each other though we were strangers. Whether or not we had family in New York did not matter. We held on to each other like survivors in a raft.

 

There has to be balance in inclusion; we can’t always reside in the inner circle, nor can anyone dwell in the outer circle for extended periods without suffering. Lack of connection creates great vulnerability. This includes a common form of relational aggression: exclusion. Like all forms of violence, aggression stems from a deep fear of insufficiency. Competition is sparked as people engage in toxic struggles for power or resources or, sadly, love. Equally dangerous whether consciously enacted and recognized or not, such competition has no real value in human society. In the animal kingdom these struggles serve as a means of assuring access to the gene pool by establishing dominance and hierarchy of mating rights. In both realms, the results of aggression on the victim are always the same: a shorter life span, poor health and isolation. Human or not, the impact is measurable; the costs, high.

 

We have to create the spaciousness in our lives for all the members of the community to feel a part of the whole—this is the belonging that people long for. In the human world we inhabit, we permit the exclusion of enormous groups of people for all sorts of carefully justified reasons, even as we see that people are willing to die and kill to belong. So how does this situation get ameliorated? One heart, one mind, one person at a time we look for ways to make room, to invite, to welcome.

 

There’s hope in awareness. There are things we can do to improve life on earth. We get to share our time, our food and our energy; we get to be in community through service and activities. This is our joy and beautiful fellowship gift. We have each other—belong to one another—in a profound way, the longing in us reconciled with sharing the cycles of life as we witness one another. The physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment is complete in the act of companionship, sitting through the difficult and the beautiful, alike. A culture shift needs to happen in our society, where too many people are made to feel as if there’s simple not enough room for them. At home, it may mean taking time to listen—even family members get caught up in roles and stop being present, stop inviting, stop welcoming. In the office, fear manages the hiring process. In the movie industry, it’s stereotyping. There’s always a reason why someone is excluded.

 

At times I have resisted welcoming and belonging, my own receptivity challenged by feeling disconnected and unworthy. That’s work that needs to be done in community as well. In reality, we all need to belong; we all need to feel welcome. We need those affirmations repeated throughout our lives, because belonging never gets old.

 

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Getting It Wrong to Get Things Right

 

Life has a way of giving us enough challenges to teach us to adapt quickly to situations by forcing us to pay attention to mistakes. Setbacks, missteps and shortfalls form the backdrop of our experience, shaping and contrasting the triumphs and achievements that are the peaks of a rich existence. Accepting mistakes, embracing them, even, is not only a life skill, it is resilience at its most optimal. Mistakes are our teachers—the bigger the error, the greater our potential for growth. I’m finally beginning to appreciate my own mistakes now more than ever, and I’m looking for ways to fall down with grace. If I scrape my knees often enough, I know I’m playing for keeps. Only benchwarmers escape scratches and lumps.

 

During office hours recently, a young lady came to see me to tell me about all the things that weren’t working in her life. Unable to produce work, she complained that she had no motivation and could make no effort. She was scared about failing her classes, rightly so. This particular young person has a great personality, a lot of energy and possesses a very chatty disposition. Even when she is completely unprepared to discuss the topic at hand, she still wants to contribute. Looking at her, I couldn’t help notice her need for guidance. Interrupting her rambling, I asked her to think about the advice she’d give a friend in her situation. Her mouth opened, but I didn’t want an answer—at least not at that moment. I wanted her to go home, reflect and stop by again. I could see that talking is too easy for her. She can talk all day and never get to the reflection and introspection she needs.

 

That’s a familiar response for many of us. We fill the silences with noise. We turn the volume up on the voices on the television or radio—anything so long as we don’t have to be alone with our thoughts. To her credit, she pulled out a battered notebook and a pencil stub and wrote down the assignment. I’m not sure I’ll see her again, however. She hasn’t been back, yet, despite her enthusiasm. But before she left my office, I looked her in the eye and told her she shouldn’t worry too much about making mistakes. They’re natural, I said, just make some new ones, too.

 

Contemplating her situation later, I couldn’t help but see myself. She’s been repeating the same errors for nine weeks, now, always returning to pick up where she left off, and I, too, have done the same things for years. It seems I easily get on the dreaded hamster wheel, naively expecting to step off in Paris, while merely circumnavigating the familiar perimeters of my comfort zone. I can’t grow if I’m not willing to be clumsy, to fall down a few times and keep trying. I’ve grown too careful; I don’t want to look foolish or risk too much, but security also has a price tag.

 

Reading the San Francisco Chronicle a few Sundays ago, I was so saddened by an article about the growing income gaps between blacks and everyone in San Francisco and California. It seems that every other group is making financial and economic gains, while African Americans are literally moving backwards. I walked around with the unsettling numbers on my mind for weeks. I searched my students’ faces for answers, but they don’t have any more answers than I do. I grieve as I look at the handful of African-American students out of the ninety in my sphere. I think about my part to play in keeping them from becoming the living statistics in the newspaper. I pray for them. I nudge them to stay vigilant so they can ride their star to victory.

 

A few days later, it hits me. An email about a full-time position in my department sent by our department chair is a historical first. It was the first time in my eight years as an instructor in the department that I learned about a position from an inside source. As my past telescoped through my mind, all the pain I’ve endured at the hands of my colleagues, of hiring committees predisposed to disqualify applicants who happen to be people of color, I suddenly recognized myself, the woman trapped by fear.

 

 

Despite being illegally disqualified from the applicant pool more than once, I repeatedly applied for a full-time post, steadfast and loyal daughter of the college that I am. Each time, my disappointment mounted heavily on my buoyant personality, weighing me down, etching away my confidence. It was only last year that I decided to stop applying, to stop torturing myself with the process. But there I was, once more drawn to the idea by an email even though I know I have try something different if I want to thrive.

 

I am the living statistic in the paper. This year I spent half the year unemployed, only to make up the deficit in a deafening whirl of activity as I unexpectedly accepted a temporary full-time position, while nursing a debilitating injury.

 

Noticing is my first step off the wheel.

 

For me, the task is to stay on course with my purpose and calling, to be willing to persevere and walk into the unknown. The temptation to stay comfortable is great. Even the squeak of the wheel is comforting—I know just where the bumps are, where to pause for a breath. Limping at high speed on the wheel to nowhere, I hurry to my stop, chasing a dream that has long since lost its opulence.

 

With these realizations, I am at last able to see that my student, the one justifying and stringing together excuses, the one who can do it all with her eyes closed like an expert beader, is me. I am my student. I keep making the same mistake. It’s safe and easy—predictably awkward, but not at all scary. Finally able to understand why the Chronicle article was so upsetting, I acknowledge that it is because the article is about me. I have to make a new mistake.

 

The decision to change is nothing new for me. I have been a transitional character all my life. This is my big chance to fall down while doing something I feel is critical for my own liberation. Ironically, it’s the best semester of my teaching career, because I am finally living from the very center of my heart. Releasing and opening to possibilities is more like disembarking in a strange land than it is like falling exhausted from a squeaky wheel. At least I know I’m heading toward the unfamiliar. When the alternative is to tighten up my laces, pop a few Advil, and keep spinning, I want all the more to take a chance. It can’t get any worse. I’m already at the bottom. Maybe I can kick off from here and make some of those mistakes I’ve been dreaming of, the ones that require faith, courage and support—the essence of what we must believe, ask for and risk to answer a calling.

 

Taking time to reflect on the last 15 years of my life, I notice some of my biggest failures have helped me to get quiet and reflect. In many ways, taking a risk to make a major change, such as a career shift, is an opportunity to be authentic. I can’t tell my students to follow their dreams and take risks if I live a safe existence, sanitized by fear. A life of meaning requires letting go and inviting transformation to happen; transitions require discernment and faith, a deep knowing that there is enough, that God will sustain us, and that we are meant to fall down and help each other up again.

 

Allies for a New Generation of Conscience

This semester I’ve been taking the time to listen to my students’ stories, the ones they never tell. I’ve been asking them what they’re afraid of and what’s on their minds. And they have started to tell me, because I’m listening. One thing is clear: They’re hurting. They’re burying their friends at alarming rates. They’re terrified that their cars will break down in the wrong neighborhood or that they’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the police are looking for a criminal and they’ll do just fine. They worry their fathers and mothers will be deported. They’re afraid their brothers will not come home and that a teacher will suspend their six-year-old brown child for biting or having a tantrum. They’re scared of being homeless because of the predatory housing situation in San Francisco. Each day they’re bleeding resources, looking for jobs that will allow them to live and care for their families and not merely survive moment to moment.

 

For the past eight years now I’ve been teaching young adults, and this year, something different is shining through the cracks in the veneer youth wear when confronting the scary new places in their lives—into the college and the world it represents. They are paying attention with their hearts to the pulse of these times, and they are answering with conviction, demanding to be heard and seen—demanding the right to live. The galvanizing force of injustice, personalized, is a powerful motivator. Reminiscent of the disenfranchised population of eligible Southern voters demanding their right to register and cast ballots a half century ago, young people are moving again in this country.

 

Once more, deep, prolonged and repeated psychological trauma, sustained within families has erupted into undeniable discomfort. They’re acting up and speaking out, entering the political debate from the margins, uninvited. They will not go quietly. They risk everything, their civil disobedience punishable by death by bombs in the night and bullets in daylight. Dr. Martin Luther King was asked to go quietly and wait for the right time and place to speak, not to make noise and not to agitate and draw attention to the suffering of millions of anonymous people. The time, it seems, is never right. History has repeatedly shown us how our collective silence only makes the oppressor’s work easier. Reflecting on the Jewish Holocaust, I imagine how many well-intentioned Germans sat silently in their living rooms, while their neighbors were hauled away by the train-full to concentration camps.

 

As we grapple with the notion of civic responsibility, who do we become? Our silences are no longer convenient, because if we remain mute and when we absent ourselves from compassionate witnessing, we heap the burden of the work on the youth, who both ready and willing to perform the tasks of resistance, suffer the consequences alone. They need allies in their struggle, voices of support, our intention to be present and defend, the collective memory and wisdom of years to push through the entanglement of business-as-usual. Dr. King was convinced “that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” To me those values must shift to include all the human beings within our borders, whose lives and presence make up of the tapestry of a loving society. People must come first.

 

In August, when Bernie Sanders was interrupted by young activists—ordinary and plain young women with brown skin, the children of the Black Lives Matter revolution, on fire with indignity, the public’s response was familiar if disappointing. Why were people outraged when they interrupted the status quo with their fiery hearts, conjuring up wet streets, soaked with the blood of their brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, their palpable rage appropriately directed to a society blindly looking away from unspeakable violence doled out lavishly in their communities? As the comfortable and affluent sit shaking their heads at their audacity, these girls have shown up on their TV sets, ordained as themselves, speaking for the nameless and voiceless masses, resisting the irresistible urge to comply, to behave and be silent—that age-old mantra girls are still taught to adhere to all their lives—putting their lives on the line while we ask them to sit passively, ask them to be more appropriate, to wait.

 

I’m reminded of the infamous letter written to Dr. King by eight clergymen and printed in the newspaper asking King and the entire African-American community to wait for justice and to which he famously responded with his letter from Birmingham Jail. It’s obvious that those young women are walking in the footsteps of the greats, using their very bodies as the front line of change as their predecessors Fanny Lou Hamer, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Lucy Burns, Cesar Chavez.

 

History seems to have weighed in on Dr. King’s side. Too many of us are all too ready to cry at cartoons depicting the loss of childhood of innocence, only to turn a blind eye to the real pain of people living under the daily strain of grief and oppression. We have to learn to feel the same pain in our guts when people are hurting, regardless of the color of their skin. People of color have become refugees of compassion in this country, ignored by ordinary citizens and pushed up against the corrugated steel borders by politicians.

 

Everything that can be lost to this generation, has already been lost to them: education is compromised; ministered by a jaded justice, prisons swell with their ranks; lynching has all but supplanted policing; people of color are relegated to vast food deserts, where fresh vegetables do not exist. And through it all we ask young people not to riot, not to act up, to wait patiently for jobs, housing, respect, the right to walk down the street alone at night with a hoodie on or to blast a stereo in their own cars. We have grown intolerant of ordinary youth when it is wrapped in hues not labeled “white”. We move these young people into the category of other, while we demand equal opportunity, but we mean only that room should be made at the table for white women to join white men in positions of leadership and power. We continue to delay the imperatives of diversity and plurality in the workplace, school, college and government, moving them down on the agenda when a woman is named CEO of a tech firm. We define this ‘progress,’ even while infant-mortality and unemployment rates for Black and Latino/a families surpass their white counterparts at shocking rates for an industrialized superpower nation such as ours.

 

The question is, how do we support the young people in our communities and encourage them in their uncharted courses toward justice? To start, we must step into the awkward spaces with a voice of dissent, displacing our indifference in the process, and embracing the notion that our lives are intertwined, for better or worse, so we ought to try for the best-possible scenario. It is of vital importance to shield young people from random bullets and comfort the parents of children slaughtered on the way home. We have to place a new bounty on their heads, one that reads “Wanted Alive.” But first, we have to hear what they’re saying. We have to listen. We have to soften our hearts when we see their suffering explode during a political debate, just as we’re willing to tolerate the demeaning and inappropriate presidential candidate who is constantly given the right to speak even as he has earned our censure.

 

The recent political unrest and mass unease around the world has led to both organized and disorganized resistance, protest and strife. The waves of this emotional and psychic upheaval have swept the globe from the Middle East to Europe and Asia. Even the 99% movement has taken us by storm. People are no longer content with their lots in life. The status quo has become passé. The trend has not stopped at our carefully guarded borders, nor has it missed its target in the hearts and minds of Americans, particularly young people, who continue to connect with their own causes and bring them to the attention of the nation. We are called to stand with them, however we are able, as they struggle to create a brave new world.

 

Devastated by my students’ stories, I listen all the same. I’m learning to ask how I can be of service, but I offer something specific: A book, a cup of coffee, a hug or my undivided attention. I acknowledge their pain with a touch and my own regret. I offer condolences and let the heavy words land where they will. I mentor, feed and look at each one. I insist they tell it again and write it down. I share my own story, jagged edges and all. I congratulate them for showing up in distress, broke and physically broken, hungry and grieving. Sometimes, I’m struck dumb with listening-heart pain, but I don’t turn away. They need to know their pain is real and that their lives really matter.

 

Musings on Identity and Skin Color

 

Personally, I get a thrill when I see any of the fabulous Ogwumike sisters on TV playing basketball for Stanford, because I know they are as intelligent as they are powerful and graceful on the court. Likewise, I am dazzled by the emergence Lupita Nyong’o as she freshens up Hollywood with her poise, beauty and consciousness. Then there are the extraordinary and prominent women who all model life lessons for a society in need: Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey. I could go on, but the point is, we still need more everyday role models because, simply put, the media does not love our young people of color. We have to love them ourselves. We have to be close at hand, comfortable in our skins, strong in conviction and lovingly compassionate. While I’m happy that we have these ebony stars in the limelight, I know that’s not enough for our girls, because it was not enough for me. Our young people of color need to see real women—of all colors—neighbors, friends, aunts, and sibling keeping it real.

 

It’s very painful for me when people casually deprecate dark skin. For one, I have dark skin. For another, humans are diverse. We shouldn’t be judged on hue. That said we do live in a world dominated by racialized identities in which white-skin tones are highly privileged and prized. It’s a heartbreaking shame that an entire segment of the human race is made to feel inferior because of their skin color. For example, the recent Dencia media blitz has quite a few more people than usual thinking about skin color. That’s not a bad thing. For many conscious black women and our allies against oppression and discrimination, Dencia’s skin-whitening cream registers as the most current and blatant symptom of internalized racism. With the constant and continuous overt and covert messages about the inferiority of dark skin, it’s no wonder that even successful and wealthy people like Dencia and poor Michael Jackson went through such great lengths to erase the “stigma” of their birthrights. That’s why this post is so difficult to write; that’s why it’s so critical for me to write it.

(Here’s the link if perchance you are not aware of the story: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2586963/White-means-pure-African-singer-defends-Whitenicious-skin-bleaching-cream-accused-encouraging-people-change-skin-tone.html)

 

Over the years, I have personally received numerous messages about the undesirability of my dark skin—even from family members. Implicit and explicit messages such as, “Lighten your skin if you want to be more attractive,” have been delivered and received too many times to count. (I won’t even get started on hair!) Now I see just how insidious these outrageous messages really are. They undermine the peace, happiness and self-esteem of young girls and boys. American Black girls especially, because they are seldom regarded as beautiful even while they are hyper-sexualized in our media; black boys are too often criminalized and vilified for their dark skin though they are little innocents. It took me over three decades to deconstruct the bombardment of the harmful messages leveled against me and to learn to embrace the woman in the mirror. That’s too long for a young person to wait to feel accepted, loved and respected based on their individual merits.

 

I’m beginning to understand just how urgent it is to counteract these messages. When I teach, I’m entirely conscious that for most of my students, I am the one and only woman with dark skin who has ever stood in front of the room as an instructor. For others, I’m the first and only woman of color with whom they’ve come into close personal contact. That’s quite a bit of pressure, but it’s also a reality that I’m committed to disrupt. I’m conscious of the ways certain people feel uncomfortable with my limited authority and of the challenges to it stemming from the resistance to my presence as a woman and person of color in the academy. My answer is to name those places where identity and societal values intersect and to remain in that uncomfortable place until it is normalized in our classroom and the other spaces we collectively inhabit in society. It sounds audacious and ludicrous to admit it, but it’s one of my ambitions; it is one of the reasons why I teach—and it’s exhausting.

 

Clearly, however, holding space as the teacher in my classroom is not enough. I’m just one woman, and God knows I’m far from perfect. Yet, there are far too many people who will never enter that space with me or some other person of color, or experience me as a teacher or person. Too many jaws drop open on the first day of class. Why should that be the case when we live in the great USA?

 

Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips said, “There’s nothing to you until someone sees something in you.” He’s right. In a way, redemption can be found in each other’s loving gaze. Therefore, we need to affirm the beauty of our young friends—no matter their skin color—but prioritize it for the ones who do not receive affirmations of their beauty and goodness from movies, magazines and television. The countless stereotypes about dark skin should not form the basis of individual identities. Positive reinforcements to counteract them are needed. Diverse populations are too often collapsed into the singular label of “blacks,” which is woefully lacking in the complexities of origin, personality and identity. We all need to take a stance in the situation. If people willingly relinquish their identities for the privileged mantle that whiteness provides, then it is essential to define the other in opposition. We are caught in a brutal binary.

 

I want to leave you with hope, because this is not a doomsday post. I have, after all, been accused of being an optimist. I do believe that I look for the fullness in situations, for while the pragmatist in me wants to shatter societal dysfunction, I also want to be soothed and jettison my own heavy cares. I find inspiration in poems, beauty in people and magic in books. For a dose of enchantment, you can watch (and share) this clip of White Teeth author Zadie Smith interview writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about her latest book, Americanah. It’s utterly refreshing to see the space created by women of color comfortable in their own skins:

http://shine.forharriet.com/2014/03/watch-zadie-smith-and-chimamanda.html or

http://colorlines.com/archives/2014/03/watch_zadie_smith_and_chimimanda_ngozi_adichie_talk_about_postcolonial_lit.html

Atonement: the Future of Good Relationships

A recent training with twenty-five women at Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic for low-income women with cancer made me think about how I love the people in my life. I was reminded that many years ago, when I volunteered and served as staff there, I was emotionally open to hold the space for women who were often suffering and always courageous, no matter what else was going on in my personal life. I would hug any woman who wanted to be held, and I would forget any of my own problems at the door. In that space, once again, where I was working from my heart and listening to the pulse of the women around me, I realized that I have not, for a very long, lived in this way. Too often I’m guarded (not without good reason, mind you!), and operating solely from my intellect, resisting my intuition and blocking my emotions. Yet, there I was, physically holding virtual strangers and asking myself, “How could I step into that space and be there for total strangers and not for my own sister?” This is the question I’m grappling with.

Like most people, I haven’t got the “relationship” thing down perfectly. I haven’t always been there for the people I care about in the ways they’ve wanted. At other times, I’ve come through with flying colors. It’s occasionally hard to tell when I’ve hit the mark or not. Lately, I’ve been listening better, but it’s still not entirely clear when I get it right. I’m drawn to people who articulate their feelings openly, or who trust me with their unspoken realities. Can I really afford to avoid those people who express themselves differently? I think that I cannot. This has me thinking a lot about atonement. Why don’t we have more rituals to help us make amends when we stray? I don’t mean legal recourse, which we have in spades, but rather authentic space for reconciliation in our everyday lives.

The Jewish tradition has a yearly Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. They have it right. I believe my life would be much better—I’d have far more peace in my heart—if I had had the chance to apologize, ask for forgiveness and make amends at regularly scheduled intervals throughout my life.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many role models for this one. Martin Luther King inspires me, but his work seems to be from another lifetime. The training the Civil Rights Workers underwent in order to resist oppression without resorting to violence is ignored and underrated though there is much that can be learned from their displayed discipline in the face of adversity and violence. They literally trained themselves to turn the other cheek.

Why don’t Christians have a tradition of non-violence and reconciliation as a common practice? Oh, I’ve read on the Internet that Christians honor this tradition, because Jesus would have observed these practices, but I cannot recall personally attending even one such service in all my many years as a member of different churches. Perhaps we take it for granted that since Jesus died for our sins, we needn’t trouble ourselves to reconcile with others. That’s not the whole truth. Communion and silent confession have given me great peace and comfort, but what about the intentional righting of wrongs?

I’m a teacher, so it always comes back to training and practice for me. In my opinion, I can’t get good at a thing until I’ve had some practice. Learning to make amends is now moving into the priority range for me. Perhaps I’m more aware of my mortality now that my mother is seventy, and because I don’t have a healthy relationship—friendly communications, even—with my sisters. All this has begun to unsettle me. At the same time as I want to have a relationship with my sisters, I don’t want to ignore the very real problems that have led to our present impasse. I need a ritual that will let me heal the deep emotional wounds that only sisters can inflict on each other and address my concerns as well.  I’d like to have open communication with my blood family. I’d also like to remain sane through the process.

This week I’m co-facilitating a workshop to help young people unlearn internalized oppression, and it makes sense to me that atonement has to be part of the work we do to heal our communities. We can’t move on, heal, or feel good with guilt on our conscience. It’s critical that we learn to forgive ourselves and other people. We have to learn to say, “Sorry,” and then take steps to build trust. It’s essential that when we get a second chance, we use it to make peace. This is not the popular social paradigm of our times—possibly of any times. Generations of families have been known to carry grudges (Note: Romeo and Juliet, or the Hatfields and McCoys—fiction and reality are telling us a truth).

We have to make atonement part of the fabric of our society.

In the Buddhist tradition there is space to air and resolve grievances. It allows individuals to talk openly about their troubles and begin to repair damage with the help of the Sangha, the community of practice. The community both witnesses and mediates, with the goal of keeping the community intact. Thich Nhat Hanh also teaches the practice of atoning by writing letters. Sometimes it’s too hard to face someone who has hurt us and whom we have in turn hurt. In such cases, a letter may allow for the full expression of our emotions. I’m not just talking about forgiveness, which is often a personal practice that has noting to do with reconciliation, per se. I need the ability and skill to speak thoughtfully and compassionately to the people I love.

Now that I’m committed to my monthly service at Charlotte Maxwell, I see that I will pour the love I feel for my sisters, who I’m literally and figuratively afraid to touch, into these women, who want to be touched by me. Even my awareness is a powerful reminder that I am learning and growing because this matters to me. My ability to express  love in ways that are meaningful for the people in my life is important. I know my prayers and meditations are bringing me closer to the healing I desire. In the meantime, I want and need to be loved for who I am and the gifts I bring into the world. This can better happen when I’m open. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the exceptional gifts of love I’m able to share with friends, family and strangers.

EFT Tapping: A Vaccine Against Microaggressions

We may be occasional targets, but we don’t have to live our lives as victims. We need immunity from the ills of stress caused by behavior, environment and other people. While we can’t always control those things, we do have personal power to shape our destinies. Like what understanding a growth mindset can do negatively stereotyped people, tapping can transform one’s bearing in the world. It’s certainly not a cure for the –isms of this world, but it can help us fortify ourselves against the harsh realities of daily life. Oppression and microagressions are everywhere. We may not know how to name microaggressions when they happen, but we always know when we’ve been hit by these subtle bigotries: tiny insults, slights, small physical or psychological attacks that leave us asking ourselves, “What just happened?” The benefits of EFT Tapping if you are a person of color, or in any marginalized group, can be enormous.

Let’s first examine why microaggressions are so harmful. Unlike blatant acts of bigotry and oppression, microaggressions are often difficult to define, deflect and interrupt. They’re also are a big problem because of the way the cumulative effects of microaggressions manifest like PTSD after years of a person being subjected to them.  The Atlantic, in a recent article, confirms the impact of racism on people of color. It reports that “discrimination raises the risk of many emotional and physical problems. Discrimination has been shown to increase the risk of stress, depression, the common cold, hypertensioncardiovascular diseasebreast cancer, and mortality.” Not only do direct acts of discrimination cause these problems, but the article goes on to explain that even knowing that one might encounter racism can lead to a heightened stress response. Boy, do I know what that’s like firsthand, having experienced physical sickness at the approach of a designated encounter, such as work or a meeting with a person who regularly committed microaggressions against me. Many of the diseases associated with microaggressions are a direct result of chronic stress, which breaks down our bodies, system by system. Read the article for yourself:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/03/how-racism-is-bad-for-our-bodies/273911/

Working in toxic environments, with racist people or even well-intentioned liberals who can’t seem to stop microaggressing against us, can really chip away at our well being. Therefore, it is EFT Tapping that can help us remember the fundamental message that needs to be programmed in us: one of total and complete self-love and self-acceptance. We need to be able to love ourselves in such a way that we are able to see and accept the love that is offered to us when it’s present, and to be able to seek out positive experiences and environments to offset the negative ones. Conversely, we can also see and accept when we are not getting what we need to thrive and be happy. Tapping can give us the courage to change our circumstances. Here are some of the affirmations I have used to help counteract the poisons of microaggressions and overt bigotry in my life:

  • I am a good person. Good things happen to and for me every day. I love myself fully and completely.
  • I am fully protected by light and love from any acts of microaggressions and oppression. I love myself fully and completely.
  • I am a gifted _____. My contributions are appreciated and acknowledged. I love myself fully and completely.

Obviously, these affirmations have no direct impact on the people who may be doing the harm. They merely strengthen the individual, helping us to see ourselves positively without internalizing the harmful messages being communicated to us.  This positive self-image creates a lasting energy.

The tapping can also be used to distress after an unhealthy encounter. It can help to return your heart rate to normal, providing clarity for reflection. I’ve often had to run to the bathroom at my previous job after meetings in which I was subjected to microaggressions and overt discrimination. I would tap myself into a calm and centered place, so I could return to the situation with dignity, and sometimes armed with the ability to interrupt and address the problem that same day without having to take the bad stuff home with me. There’s a great video on the Mercola website that teaches how to talk yourself down after a particularly egregious incident (Watch it here: http://eft.mercola.com/). This type of tapping works great if you’re thrown off balance and are feeling vulnerable; it’s essentially emergency triage. It is not the type of tapping that I’d recommend for daily practice. Unfortunately, some of us go to work places where we need to heal after every interaction. In that case, a new job, a new focus in your life might be necessary.

Preventative care can help get you through the battle grounds with minimum damage. The greatest danger from microaggressions is the cumulative effects of chronic stress, the stuff we don’t want to take home if we can help it. EFT Tapping can be a kind of vitamin against assaults, allowing us to deflect and fortify ourselves against routine attacks that would otherwise undermine our peace of mind. Tapping can help us be more resilient when confronting difficult situations, allowing us to bounce back to the clear and strong center of our identities. Knowing who you are can literally save your life.