Are you using Spirituality to avoid Responsibility?
It's a little more than 3 months since my initial Covid-19 experience and though I still have days at a time when it is all I can do to get myself up the stairs without dropping to the floor for a nap half-way up, I am beginning, on some days at least, to ease myself back into the world. What strikes me is how different the world feels from the way it did in March.
Of course it isn't actually so different, it's more as if some of the byosen (source of problems) lying dormant has risen to the surface to be seen, and hopefully cleared. There are many surging issues, and one of the most important for our future is the #blacklivesmatter movement. Listening to the voices that have risen to the surface, I see I have a lot more listening and learning to do.
There are books I have read, and speakers I have listened to that have made me squirm and shuffle and want to stop. I have this reaction because what they are saying challenges my life lived, it challenges some of my memories of childhood and what I learned to be true then, and it challenges my current perception of the world around me. This is not easy, but it is necessary. It is my responsibility as a human and as someone learning about Spirituality in life.
Responses to this movement I have witnessed online range from heart-warming to horrifying, I am surprised at the number of people interested in Reiki and the Spiritual who are using Spirituality to side-step responsibility. I see it because I have been doing it too. I realise it is all too easy to jump the human experience and go straight to the 'we are all one'. It is true, we are all one, we are spiritual beings having a human experience and therefore skin colour, sexuality and all the other differences in our human bodies have no bearing on the connection of our limitless souls. BUT, we are having a human experience and that means that what we do, how we behave and how we respond to other humans on a social level right now is important. We don't get to side-step this. Many people reading this are striving to create and live in an increasingly awakened society. Yet, this is impossible unless we are awake to the truth of what is currently so.
A very large proportion of people having a human experience, those in black and brown bodies, are trying to tell white people something. They have been trying to get us to notice something for so long now that they have had to raise their voices increasingly, to no effect, until finally, they have begun to shout and scream and smash things from sheer frustration. Responding with a message that white people have also been enslaved in the past and all lives matter, or that you are sick of hearing people going on about race when we are all the same underneath, letting this pass you by because you don't want to disturb the calm peace within, or singing about loving everyone without taking time to assess how you may be contributing to the problems, are just some of the ways of using Spirituality to avoid responsibility.
Spirituality is present in every moment of ordinary life, it is not just a description of the bliss that can be reached through meditation, connecting with the unseen or the acknowledgment of the soul.
Learning how to sit in the discomfort of not knowing; or in the acknowledgement that there is something wrong that we don't know how to change, is Spiritual.
Being willing to admit that we have done (and do) things that hurt or diminish others, even if we didn't realise at the time, is Spiritual.
Reaching out to listen to people who are so desperate to be heard that they are shouting and angry, is Spiritual.
Making uncomfortable changes to include people who have been excluded is Spiritual.
Yes, we are all one, each a part of the source energy. In Ancient Japanese Shinto this is described as the ichirei - one spirit branched from the source, and every living being has an ichirei. However, we are on Earth in these bodies learning and experiencing through the trials and tribulations of human life. To jump to the ichirei to avoid the full experience of being human, however painful, is to miss out on the living we came for. And learning to stay in connection with the ichirei through the messiness of life is Spirituality.
Those of us who are souls in white bodies need to be willing to push through the boundaries of our understanding and consider the possibility that there are experiences that we do not and cannot personally understand. I remember when my brother and sister-in-law moved to Texas I was afraid for my nephews. I was thinking of stereotypes I had heard about the South and as someone with the tendency to fall for females more often than males, I thought that my young nephews might learn to hate people who weren't hetrosexual. Once they had settled in Texas, I visited and was having a conversation with my sister-in-law who was happy to say that she had made many different kinds of friends there and had not come across any homophobia. I laughed, "Of course you haven't".
"What do you mean?" she said.
"You're not gay." I replied, "If I were to walk down the street holding hands with a girlfriend, we may well suddenly find some homophobia."
I realise now that it is the same with systemic racism. As a white person I have not seen what is there because I will never experience it; I have not seen the way our entire society is built around white bodies being the norm - and to begin to see it after living for 48 years in ignorance is more than uncomfortable. Even the word 'diversity' shows us the extent of this. Diverse from what? White is at the heart of everyone's view of the western world. It doesn't mean people in white bodies don't suffer or have challenges, but those challenges are not compounded by being diminished every day in so many ways for being born in a black or brown body.
We cannot have the awakened society we are striving for when the core of that society revolves around white bodies. We have a lot more waking up to do.
It's not just about changing the way we operate on the surface though, it's vital to also consider the trauma that has been passed down to us through our ancestors. Scientific evidence of this is starting to illustrate what systemic work has long been testament to. I sometimes work with Richard Bundy, a highly skilled systemic facilitator who sets up constellations to help people feel and find deep, soul-level movements and solutions to issues in their lives. During one of these, I happened to step into a representative experience of colonialists and gained an astonishing insight into the embodiment of white colonialists' righteousness - that kept them safe from having to feel the enormity of what they had done. It would take too long to explain it now, but I have written a poem about the experience that you can read here. I realised at the time that white people carry this with us and some express righteousness to avoid the pain, while others of us feel terrible guilt and try to make up for it, but rarely understand the changes needed. The acknowledgement and healing of the trauma of the past by people living in bodies of all colours is fundamental to our ability to see and make the changes needed in our societies to become fully inclusive. Resmaa Menakem is a trauma therapist who has some fascinating things to say about the trauma we carry in our bodies.
We have spiritual work to do - and it begins with each of us embracing the difficulty and discomfort of the human experience. From there, we will find our soul calling us to place our piece of the puzzle into the picture.
Books, Movies and Videos.
Educating ourselves is a start. There are statistics in some of these books that provide undeniable truths about the extent of the problems we are facing. I have recommended a few books, though there are many more. I'm sure you can find ones that call you once you start looking.
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni-Eddo-Lodge
Black and British - A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Movies such as 13th, and I am not your Negro give insight and look out for TED talks and videos like this.
We won't always get it right, but we will always be learning when we are living from openness and the willingness to make mistakes - this is the beginning. Together, we can change the world.