Not only do we live in a living universe, but the living universe lives within us.
— Duane Elgin
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.
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.
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?
* * * * *
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.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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.