Not only do we live in a living universe, but the living universe lives within us.
— Duane Elgin
Collage by Margit Bantowsky
Until we are anchored in the profound, fundamental trust in Life and in Self that embodied consciousness awakening can bless us with, our activism can be motivated not only by fear, but also guilt and shame. These drivers often push us beyond our limits resulting in cynicism and burn-out. Conversely, guilt and shame can immobilize our energy and cause us to feel stuck and ineffective. Even when we're initially motivated by love and compassion, these "darker" impulses can impede sustainable action in response to the world.
In and of themselves, neither guilt nor shame are a bad thing - they are normal human emotions. Diving deeper, we discover that they contain wisdom. Instead of eliminating or powering through them, there are ways to embrace and transmute them so we're liberated to participate in joyful and authentic ways.
In the spirit of exploration, here are three journal questions for you:
Guilt and shame are emotions that arise in relationship with others. My sense of guilt is that it's an emotional signal informing me that my actions have harmed someone or something. Arising from my capacity for empathy, something in my gut "feels off" and lets me know I'm out of integrity. Thus, for me, guilt is part of my moral intelligence and is an invitation to reach out and tend to the relationship because of an action I took that caused harm (whether intentionally or not).
Shame is a response to being seen by others as lacking, flawed, wrong. I experience shame as a downcast gaze, breaking off relationship with the other, and then turning away from myself inwardly. Instead of staying at the level of action/ behavior, shame denigrates our personhood. I feel exiled and unwanted because something is bad, wrong, or fundamentally flawed in my being.
Activism can become distorted when we try to do things in the outer world in order to minimize or avoid feeling the discomfort of guilt and shame.
But powering over, ploughing through, won't resolve these feelings. We can't metabolize them through our minds alone. We must use our awareness, our bodies, and our hearts in order to transmute guilt and shame and find our deeper compass of integrity.
In the video below, I offer:
Consciously engaging guilt allows us to sense our innate integrity and stay in relationship with others. Healing old shame patterns gives us a deeper ground in our value and fundamental innocence, allowing us to be less defended and more curious.
By transmuting guilt and shame, we can become more free to be of service in ways that genuinely nourish us and others. We can experience more energy, connection, and love, and engage with less defensiveness and more fluidity. We can also enjoy healthy self-responsibility - not taking on too much of the world's burden, but also not too dissociated, imploded, or blaming. It becomes easier to honor passions and limits, and to choose actions that are a really good fit for us, and thus more sustainable in the long run.
Guilt is a profoundly conservative emotion and as such is not particularly useful for bringing about change. From a position of insecurity and guilt, people do not change or inspire others to change.” ~~ Michael Kaufman
photo by Margit Bantowsky
Awakened activism invites us to bring forward our authentic self in service to and celebration of the wellness of all beings…and authenticity invites consideration of integrity.
In the Trillium path, our emphasis on mutuality is one way to bring ourselves into integrity with others – acting with kindness and courage while being open to hearing how our actions impact others, and making appropriate amends.
Another level of integrity involves our relationship with ourselves – noticing whether we are acting in accord with our nature, our values, and/or our intentions.
As a result, integrity requires me to be honest with myself, and honest with others, to the best of my ability. Perhaps most deeply, then, integrity hinges on my authenticity and knowing what my needs and wants, and my limits and longings are.
These things are hard to know if I'm not in touch with my body's intelligence - emotions as well as sensations. Dissociation breaks the bridge with my embodied, felt-sense of when things are "off" or "aligned," or a felt-sense of my "yes" and "no."
Once I know what is really true for me, the next challenge is to respect my truth and to speak and act on its behalf. As you probably know all to well, this is often easier said than done! And the converse is also true - respecting other people's truths could be seen as a form of social integrity.
Commitment plays a role in integrity as well. Following through on commitments I make with myself and others helps me live in alignment with my word and intentions, and honors the trust others extend to me.
A generous way to view integrity is through a developmental lens. This capacity usually grows naturally as we mature out of our youthful self-centeredness into a more generative orientation. However, we all know examples where this hasn't happened. Integrity becomes more accessible as we gradually reduce the dissociation and soften distortions caused by trauma and cultural conditioning by diligently doing our shadow work.
The guided inquiry on this video explores some of the nuances of integrity, what it requires of us, and what gets in the way of accessing it. To take full advantage of the depth of this offering, be sure to have a pen and paper handy for journaling!
They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.
Photo by Margit Bantowsky
Awakened activism inevitably evokes contemplation of the relationship between being and doing. Because who and how we are being has such an enormous impact on others, it is appropriate to devote considerable attention on our inner workings and integrating our shadow.
On the other hand, after awakening and integration we may be called to show up and participate even more fully in life. In addition, it’s important to honor how different temperaments naturally express different forms of participation, and that there’s a wide range of activity – from subtle to gross – that can be aimed at the wellness of all beings.
In this video I guide us through a series of penetrating questions to illuminate the relationship between being and doing.
I also offer conceptual framing around what I call the "Ecology of Being and Doing," and point to the possibility of a seamlessness of being/doing which is profoundly embedded within the Flow of Life.
Wherever we are
It is often said in Trillium Awakening circles that our individual shadow work serves both personal and collective healing. This is because the conditioning (and trauma) that caused us to protect and hide our authenticity came through our primary caregivers who, in turn, were deeply conditioned by their families and culture. This conditioning goes back countless generations, and now we finally have the understanding, tools, and capacity to consciously integrate what our ancestors were unable to. Lucky us, right?!
Renowned spiritual teacher, Thomas Hübl, talks about cultural trauma – patterns of psychological disruption that characterize an entire group of people. He points out that one of the key features of trauma is what he calls “the absence of sensing and seeing,” and this happens not only individually, but with collectives.
Our Western industrialized culture harbors patches of collective trauma – massive blind spots – which make it difficult to sense and see things clearly, and to access empathy. These absences of sensing and seeing deeply affect our capacity for mutuality. In embodied, spiritual awakening we recognize that our wholeness depends on deep reciprocity with others and with all of life.
In this the below video inquiry, we’ll explore what it means and how it feels to have socially-related “absences of seeing and sensing.” I draw from the powerful trauma-informed somatic abolitionist work by Resmaa Menakem to illuminate how collective trauma impacts our capacity for compassionate mutuality.
Note: This inquiry is for White-Bodied people
Some of the questions we contemplate include:
We have been born into the fragmentation of our former generations, so we don’t know a world without trauma. Which means that we make trauma normal.
photo by Margit Bantowsky
After whole-being realization, and after several years of sacred reconfiguration (integrating unconscious conditioning and deepening in fundamental wellness of Being) things tend to smooth out a bit. We may feel more relaxed, grounded, and alive. We may also feel more comfortable in our own skin and in the world. That’s all wonderful and good….and then what?
Then, life might tap you on the shoulder and invite you to step forward and engage a bit more. Or, ask you to respond to a situation in an unexpected way, or do something you normally wouldn’t do. Your awakened, tenderized Heart might call you to action, to step into some form of advocacy, to take a stand for something your bones know is right.
It’s more than cliche to say that we live in interesting times. But perhaps it’s not a coincidence that you’re here, now, incarnated at a time when global social, economic, and ecologic dynamics are crescendoing. It might just be that your unique, authentic, awakened contribution – whether large or small – is quite needed and wanted!
To dive into this inquiry a little deeper, watch my presentation and guided meditation in the video below. You might want to have a pen and paper handy!
Change is a side-winding beast
photo by Margit Bantowsky
by Margit Bantowsky
Take root in your grief.
Root yourself way down, all the way down,
and further still.
All that shatters becomes soul-gold.
It's what you came here for:
to feel and know and burn
in the divine devastation.
Angels fall from Heaven to Earth
not so they can just turn around
and escape upward again,
but rather to revel in darkness and density.
So root deeper into the mud,
the fecund rot, and the cold, seeping
aquifer beneath bedrock
carrying the current of our personal
and collective evolution.
Wrestle and roll in that muddy, bloody wallow
and let yourself love
the impossibly glorious mess of it.
Let weeds cultivate chaos in your hair.
Root yourself in the shattering imperfections
and unbelievable horrors.
Let your dress become soaked with blood,
and notice the dagger in your own hand.
Nothing human is alien to you.
Take root in these humbling lessons,
let them ferment and dissolve any illusions
you might still have about superiority.
Fall to the ground, and stay down,
until mercy becomes the only word
left on your lips,
until the only commitment you can make
is to stop causing harm.
There's no escape, only rolling up your sleeves.
Only tending the wounded,
like a battlefield nurse
or a chaplain on death row.
Bear witness to the deep and wide
underbelly of humanity.
Become a sanctuary
for Truth and Reality.
Make remorse possible by
withholding judgment and offering
See yourself in each and every person
and extend to them the healing generosity
you yourself long for.
Not being afraid of the dark
allows you to serve the light.
Note 1: The first line comes from poet Alfred LaMotte
Note 2: Around 2,000 years ago the Roman-African playwright, Terence, wrote "I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me."
photo by Margit Bantowsky
In the Trillium Awakening path, greenlighting is the practice of allowing ourselves to be exactly as we are in the moment. Another way of saying it is “being with what is.” This practice sounds so simple – and it is – and yet we generally spend much of our waking hours resisting what is, both inside and outside of us. Resistance takes a lot of energy, energy which could be available for other things such as awakening to who and what we really are!
After nearly 8 years of “awakened life,” I’m finding that the continuing process of awakening is starting to assert a more fierce imperative, and that the greenlighting practice of “Being with what is” is feeling inadequately superficial. Life seems to be insisting that I drop into an even deeper, more visceral surrender down and into “what is” – within myself, and also in the world – and encountering ever more subtle, sub-conscious ways my ego resists the truth. Sometimes this can feel quite shattering to my self-image and my worldview.
Paradoxically, the more we’re shattered open into undefended encounter with reality, the more we’re able to respond to life with compassion, courage, curiosity, and creativity – the cornerstones of awakened action!
In this video we explore the following questions. [Have a pen and paper handy to engage the journaling questions (at 12:03 min), and enjoy going deeper in the guided meditation (at 22:15.min)]
Photo by Margit Bantowsky
Once upon a long time ago, early human civilizations valued highly the sacred power to give and nurture life. We honored life and death, and the cycles of regeneration. We honored the power, sensuality, and mysteries of our own bodies, as well as the body of the Earth and all her precious (our fellow) inhabitants.
Whole-being realization invites us to consciously occupy our bodies, and consciously relate to life in a radically new way. However, all genders of body-soul-minds have been deeply conditioned to devalue the Feminine and her life-giving gifts of cycles and timing, sensuality, embodiment, compassion, nurturing, and deep relatedness.
This is not to dismiss the necessity of the healthy masculine! However, we've all been subject to the painful, harmful distortions of patriarchal, dominator society for thousands of years, and perhaps some re-balancing is in order...
I'd like to suggest that not only is reclamation of the Feminine central to the embodied realization process (before, during, and after awakening, and for all genders), it can be understood as central to the project of reconfiguring humanity to live in a life-enhancing rather than life-destructive relationship with our beloved Mother Planet.
Join me in an inquiry into the Feminine. Some questions I invite us to contemplate together are:
The Goddess' Table
photo by Margit Bantowsky
Industrialized culture, deeply disconnected from body and soul, values reason and believes in control. But the mind alone is incapable of getting us out of the perilous predicaments facing us today. Reason will not save us.
Our fleshy, vulnerably, imperfect bodies when saturated with consciousness and rooted in radical inter-beingness, can become portals to a very different and much needed kind of intelligence. In deep and conscious connection we can listen for and receive the seeds of action - prompts of Being - that Life gifts us with, tailored specifically to our uniqueness, inviting us to liberate our love and awakened service into the world.
Our tender soul-seeds of love-in-action defy logic and require reverence, and can be crushed by dissociative, hypermasculine habits.
Watch the video to explore how we might nurture the Sacred Seeds of Divine Will we've been gifted with.
Sacred Seeds of Divine Will
"We Make the Road by Walking," Watercolor by Margit Bantowsky,
Title comes from a book on Myles Horton and Paulo Freire
"If only we could just get along. If only we could just be one happy, human family."
It's a good dream, a valid dream, and one worth investing heart and soul into. And us white people want to believe that simply including People of Color will get us there.
But it won't. Inclusion isn't enough. Let's take a moment to look at why.
We'll begin by asking "What are we including them into?"
We're including them into our deeply flawed, white-washed world. We're assuming this is what they want. But is it? Do People of Color really want to be assimilated into a white world that is determined to avoid the very real discomfort of owning its privilege, its advantage?
Inclusion is a wonderful dream designed to soothe and regulate the white nervous system. It's an attempt to downplay difference by up-playing similarity. Inclusion provides welcome relief: instead of keeping them at arm's length, we finally recognize "People of Color belong here!," and, "They're human...just like us."
Yes, it's an important, dignified, and necessary step in awakening from racism to be able to see and welcome the humanity of People of Color! We can, and should, honor this as progress to be celebrated.
But there's further to go...
In the warm, well-intentioned embrace of inclusion (which, in spiritual communities, shows up as focusing on on our existential "unity" and "equality"), very real differences are subtly minimized. What we're really saying to People of Color is "Yeah, you're welcome to come to my party... but please play by our rules, don't make waves, and don't bring too many of your friends."
Only when we're willing to sit down with that token Black or Brown person in our white neighborhood or organization and really really listen to their experience, will we begin to realize that yeah, they're human, like me, but their daily lived experience is excruciatingly different than mine, in very real and harmful ways.
We begin to realize that this painful difference in lived experience is based on deep, systemic dynamics of oppression in which we white people are overvalued and given unearned advantages, and People of Color are devalued and bear undeserved hardships.
Growing up beyond inclusion requires white people to be willing to stop seeking comfort and relief from the awful truth of racism, and the way in which it is alive in us and the way in which we benefit from it.
It means being willing to be uncomfortable, and to acknowledge that our discomfort (heartbreak) is encouraging: it indicates that we're reclaiming our humanity and that our frozen, dissociated hearts are starting to thaw out.
To grow up beyond inclusion, white people need to let themselves be shattered in two ways:
I'll address these two forms of necessary shattering in more detail in another blog post.
But for now let me suggest that we don't do this growing and unthawing process alone!
Find other white people who are also willing to hold the gaze of People of Color and not turn away. Who are willing to learn about the history of racism and how it's alive and well right now. Who are willing to help metabolize the inevitable shame and guilt activated by holding the gaze.
Find, or co-create white-only, anti-racist spaces where together you can bear the unbearable truth.
Then, once you've been humble to a good degree, join hands with other beautifully uncomfortable, awakening, and willing white people to start addressing and dismantling systemic racism in your organizations. Join hands with other awakening white leaders to overturn old, oppressive laws and policies, and endorse new laws and policies crafted in deep, respectful collaboration with People of Color.
Ultimately, however, we need to somehow move beyond our self-interest and not just acknowledge, but let go of all the special advantages we enjoy from being white and overvalued.
When we're willing to sacrifice our comfort and self-centeredness, and when we willingly and respectfully give wide berth for our beautiful brothers and sisters of Color to fully occupy and express their power and sovereignty, then perhaps we can finally join hands with them and co-create new a world beyond dominator culture and beyond whiteness.
Note: The term "beyond inclusion" comes from Dr Leticia Nieto's brilliant work, which you can learn about in her excellent book Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment
~ ~ ~
Below is a journal entry from this morning's inquiry about "What is beyond inclusion?" Enjoy!
ps: I use a depth-writing process called Create! developed by my friend and fellow Trillium Awakening teacher, Joanne Lee.
Let your feet fumble-find their way along invisible songlines. Let the path be imperceptibly illuminated one step at a time.
Margit Bantowksy, MA, is an artist, coach, teacher and facilitator.