Not only do we live in a living universe, but the living universe lives within us.
— Duane Elgin
As we say in Trillium Awakening: the good news is that perfection is not required in order to have a spiritual awakening. And, we are quick to add: the bad news is that perfection is not bestowed upon spiritual awakening!
This is a humbling fact, to say the least. It means that after realizing our transcendent unity with all of life, we still have a lot of shadow work to do. We still need to integrate the wounds and conditioning that are hiding in our unconscious, curled into our cells and bones, and manipulating our imagination. [See my recent blog post and video, Hidden Agendas, on how to work with this]
Our shadow includes deep cultural influences containing beliefs and experiences that color our perception and limit our expression. What is not permitted or socially acceptable becomes taboo and goes underground. Racism, especially in liberal circles, has become taboo.
Two incidents this past week made vivid how our collective shadow around racism is very much alive and well. How horrifying to see those three white policemen bearing down on George Floyd, especially the one whose knee pressed on George's neck and suffocated him to death! How enraging to see Amy Cooper call 911 and accuse birdwatching Christian Cooper of assaulting her!
And...how easy it is to scapegoat the policemen and Amy Cooper.
We want to distance ourselves from that horror and from being incriminated by it because we are white. We want to feel good about ourselves. We don't want to be bad people, and people who "are racist" are definitely bad. We can't accept the fact that we, too, have the potential for such dehumanizing actions.
I want to widen the aperture here and name something really important: every single white "one of us" in Western society has a healthy, active racist dynamic in our unconscious! And of course we do -- it's how we've been conditioned: it's the water we swim in, the air that we breathe. It's in the stories we tell, the humor we share, the music we sing. It's in the way we walk and talk and shop and parent and imagine.
So, the question is NOT: "Am I a racist?"
The question is: "In what ways is racism alive in me in this moment?"
This is our ongoing inquiry as white people. To notice and bring into consciousness how racism colors our experience -- in our bodies, emotions, and thought. Notice the subtle, automatic constriction in our body when a black person walks into our shopping aisle. Notice the automatic assumptions we make while talking with a brown or black-skinned person (e.g. about their intelligence). Notice how it's heartbreakingly impossible, really, to simply speak "human to human" because that slippery, sneaky, subconscious dynamic of privilege and prejudice affects every single interaction we have with a person of color.
It must be our practice as white people to support one another in bearing the unbearable reckoning with the racism in our shadow, and to help name and illuminate the way in which the dynamics of oppression live inside each of us.
It must be our practice as white people not to scapegoat each other, but to make a welcoming, compassionate space where we can use these vivid examples of our collective, racist shadow to take pause and ask ourselves "How does this oppressive process live inside of me?"
Only when we're humble enough to claim our own participation in the dynamics of racism, and strong enough to encounter how the cultural shadow lives within our own psyche, and courageous enough to bear witness to the deep suffering it causes in ourselves and in people of color, can we begin to effectively dismantle the dehumanizing, systemic structures that stifle our true humanity.
I believe that awakening to the truth of our non-separate inter-being with all of life is certainly an important, game-changing transition. However, for our spiritual awakening to be most fully expressed, and our humanity most fully developed, we must also awaken to the social realities that we live and participate in.
Because social awakening can be so very uncomfortable, it will most likely require a conscious choice and commitment to learning about, and allowing ourselves to be deeply affected by, the deep, systemic dynamics of injustice in our culture, of which racism is but one example. It will also require loving, compassionate support and community.
In the Trillium Awakening path, we tend to talk about mutuality in terms of an exchange between two people - an exchange of deep authenticity. "Being in mutuality" generally implies a willingness to encounter each other vulnerably, with presence and respect, even when things get rough (or perhaps especially then).
We can, however, widen the aperture of mutuality and recognize the way in which being in deep inter-relatedness is actually a condition of awakened life. In other words, we awaken to mutuality.
In the short video and guided meditation below, I invite us into an embodied experience of being in mutuality with our self, with others, with the Earth, and with the Universe.
What happens when we're this deeply, consciously, and sensorily embedded within the fabric of life? What does this fundamental connection to the Ecology of Mutuality ask of us, and how might it inform our choices and actions?
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I thought I'd share with you my morning's journal entry since seems related to this topic. Enjoy!
Note 1: I use a depth-writing process called Create! developed by my friend and fellow Trillium teacher, Joanne Lee.
Note 2: The first sentence of this entry is inspired by my friend and poet, Don Freas' poem, Raise the Sun.
What if your love polished water's dance to a sparkle, and what if the horse running freely across the broad, wild prairie sang your heart awake?
Photo by Margit Bantowsky - trail at The Evergreen State College
In my journal entry below I offer an invocation for a new kind of activism, one that is not ego-driven but is sourced in reverent, embodied, inter-beingness with all of life.
Essential to moving towards this new possibility is a commitment to engaging and integrating our shadow.
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WHAT IS THE SHADOW?
Shadow is a term psychologist Carl Jung used to describe the unconscious dimension of our psyche which our conscious self - our ego - denies or is unable to access.
Hidden in our shadow are aspects of ourselves that were unacceptable as a child, and which we dissociated from in order to survive and navigate our early relationships. Our shadow can include specific emotions (e.g. sadness), personality traits (e.g. boisterous), and capacities (e.g. creativity). It can also include feelings/beliefs about ourselves (e.g. "I'm essentially bad"), and of the world (e.g. "Bad things will happen at any moment").
Also found in our personal shadow are cultural influences. For example, in a society that overtly values strength and independence, the unacceptable qualities of vulnerability and dependence tend to be hidden away within us.
WHAT DOES SHADOW DO?
Because the shadow allows us to survive and function within our family and culture, it's really important not to demonize or pathologize it! It is healthy, intelligent, and functional to split off from things that are overwhelming and painful when we're young. And, everyone has a shadow, it's human!
However, despite the benefits of dissociating from painful feelings and beliefs, shadow material tends to bypass our rational mind and play out in our lives in painful, symptomatic and often vivid ways.
We're generally not aware of our own shadow but other people can see elements of it, just as we can see elements of theirs!
For example, someone who keeps choosing abusive partners over and over, or a person who strives for ever higher achievement and success at the expense of others. In activism, we've all seen plenty of angry people bullying others "in the name of doing good." In these examples, we can sense how unconscious - shadow - motivations deeply drive their actions.
If we are to become more effective and responsive to the world, then shadow work is critical!
HOW CAN WE WORK WITH OUR SHADOW?
As we get older, repressing parts of ourselves stops working as protection and starts feeling more like a prison. Also, it can become increasingly impossible to deny the negative impact our shadow has on oneself and others, even when we have good intentions!
Luckily, there are many ways we can become conscious of the deeper motivations that color our actions.
Below, in my video Hidden Agendas: The Shadow Side of Activism, we
Sacred Seeds of Divine Will
Margit Bantowksy, MA, is an artist, coach, teacher and facilitator.