Everything has a beginning, middle, end.
For some time, this teaching
Seduced me in trying to diagnose
Which phase I was experiencing--
As I questioned the life of a relationship,
Whether my mother was dying,
Whether I was menopausal...
I now can see that there’s no way of knowing.
The peace comes in simply understanding
Everything has a beginning, middle, end.
One thing I’m noticing is the suffering of White folks.
This statement makes me uncomfortable to say as a White woman. I’ve been trained and conditioned to not attend to White suffering and to direct my noticing to the suffering of those more directly oppressed by racial injustice and White Supremacy. I’ve diminished the suffering of those with privilege and focused my justice-making and healing intentions on “those people” with less power and racial privilege.
Damn, we can be dangerous as well-intentioned white folks. Because at the end of the day, this approach reproduces dominant power structures. This framing only (re)positions the dominant as dominant.
I’ve been wondering about how we are all subject to structures of domination and how we are all harmed by them. How might we notice and tend to our own internalized White Supremacy and Whiteness so that we can actually be in community with one another?
White Supremacy is so baked into the DNA of every molecule of everything in this nation that it really screws with the dominant group. For white people to awaken to ways in which we are have been harmed by White Supremacy is damn near impossible. The forces of Whiteness—institutionalized and structural racism as well as internalized Whiteness–make it very difficult for White folks to see Whiteness and to notice how it impacts us. Mostly, when we can see Whiteness, it is too scary. It calls into question everything we think we know about ourselves, our world. We turn away with all our distancing behaviors and white fragility before we have the chance to experience our fullness, our wholeness, our connectedness.
For me, ego is a helpful red flag of sorts that signals when my internalized Whiteness and other dominant patterns are showing up. My whole Self splits up and my mind drowns out my body. Sometimes I catch myself not breathing, I am so withdrawn into my mind. The world is reduced to terms of either/or and right/wrong and my life force moves out of the present moment into the future with goals and plans and outcomes and answers. Connection is lost with those around me as I become distractingly invested in their opinions of me. I become much too big, swelling up like the marshmallow monster in Ghostbusters while also losing my Self, driven by racing thoughts and triggered emotions. My determination and drive to do more, do better, go faster increases as I try desperately to fix and solve and please.
I’ve noticed that this happens especially in moments when I feel expectations of how I’m supposed to perform, when I’ve internalized scripts about what “successful”, “smart”, “knowledgeable”—all driven by White Supremacy and systems of domination. I beat myself up when I don’t perform these roles well, when I fail or stumble or come up short. I ruminate on what I should have said or done or not said or not done. I can be my own worst enemy.
This behavior is certainly not in the service of the world. Being stuck here, in ego-driven Whiteness, is not helpful in meeting what the world needs right now. Or in living a full and rich life with those around me. So we gotta figure out how to notice our own internalized patterns of domination so that we can disentangle our being from them, and be free.
Free. It is for sure unsettling to land here—on freedom for White folks—given the state of the world and the impact on Black and Brown lives. And yet, here I am. Because I just keep seeing racial and social violence perpetuated by White folks that cannot—or will not—see their actions as violent. We cannot feel and experience the disconnection that has rooted within our minds and hearts branching out into our relationships and worlds. As White folks, it is too threatening to our identity, our worlds to let go of the promises Whiteness falsely claim and surrender to not knowing. It is too painful to really look at ourselves, to experience our own pain.
And yet this is the path to love and liberation.
It’s a conundrum. Letting go of all we know and believe in order to be free. To undo ourselves completely in order to be whole. And that as White folks, we’re the ones who need liberating.
Maymoud Darwish’s The Prison Cell gets at this beautifully:
It is possible…
It is possible at least sometimes…
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away…
It is possible for prison walls
For the cell to become a distant land
What did you do with the walls?
I gave them back to the rocks.
And what did you do with the ceiling?
I turned it into a saddle.
And your chain?
I turned it into a pencil.
The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
He came back to see me
In the morning,
He shouted at me:
Where did all this water come from?
I brought it from the Nile.
And the trees?
From the orchards of Damascus.
And the music?
From my heartbeat.
The prison guard got mad;
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
But he returned in the evening:
Where did this moon come from?
From the nights of Baghdad.
And the wine?
From the vineyards of Algiers.
And this freedom?
From the chain you tied me with last night.
The prison guard grew so sad…
He begged me to give him back
Are we ready, as White folks, for what this will take? I’m choosing yes.
i’ve long loved spirals. they represent to me an ongoing process of growth that returns, again and again to its origins. lately, i see myself spiraling. not in an out-of-control way (although sometimes it does feel like that!) but in the sense of circling back to a core place, with the same core questions and contemplations.
today, i stumbled on this blog post i wrote almost exactly five years ago, Notes from the Mainstream. then, i worked for higher education; now, i do not. my work is the same and it is different. i am the same and i am different. i bring new insight and learn from my old self. all at once.
the spiraling has brought nuance to my core question: how do i remain whole so that my actions are in service of the whole?
for now, wanting to just notice this spiraling. a calling back to my Self. with a deepening and widening perspective all the while.
My heart has been heavy this week.
I’ve spent some time considering why. Honestly, I’m not sure, exactly. And I’m learning to be okay with not knowing. I don’t need to understand. I don’t need to try to solve my sadness, or to fix it.
In fact, my tendency to want to do this–to get at the root of my own suffering–pulls me away from it. Pulls me away into my mind, where I ruminate on the past and theorize about the future. And while this maybe sounds like a good thing, it’s actually not helpful. We need to be present to our suffering, to feel it and fully experience it. This presence invites Wholeness, Holiness.
The thing with being present to suffering is that first, I have to notice it and allow myself to experience it. These days, in all our busyness, this isn’t an easy thing. We need time and space. A strange commentary of the state of affairs: we need time and space to be with ourselves and to feel what we feel. And yet, so true.
Just yesterday, in two separate conversations, when friends spoke of things happening in their lives, they were surprised by their tears, by the emotions that arose as they touched on what was bubbling underneath, all along.
Today, Good Friday, the day Christ suffered on the cross, I am thankful for this Christian tradition. Today, this day invites me to remember the sacred role suffering plays in transformation. Today reminds me of the power of being with suffering.
What if, when we touch on something tender, we simply stay with that tenderness? Instead of turning away and running (to a glass of wine, Netflix, another topic of conversation, a theory as to why, or a solution that will fix it), we tend to the tenderness?
Tending is not fixing. Tending is holding, caring.
And that is all. And that is enough.
a year ago i said yes to an invitation that only my soul understood to join with others broken-hearted by the suffering of our world open-hearted to the joy of our world who shared faith in power unleashed through right relationship this year has been one of painful unlearning of letting go of false selves and forms and ego of grieving hope and answers and truths of remembering presence and connection and wholeness how thankful i am that i trusted my soul and dared to listen to my Self i said yes to awakening choosing who i want to be which is to say i choose to be nobody a valley rather than a mountain mystery rather than a brand free floating rather than attached funny that a path that feels so new, so radical traces back to the beginning of humankind we only have to forget all we know to remember who we are, together
the past couple of weeks, i’ve come undone. this, i know, is life. over and over again, we become undone. the practicing comes in accepting it, being in it, and not retreating in utter fear.
i’m still practicing.
the thing is, all that we’ve learned our entire lives tells us otherwise: to hold on tight. to try harder. to grin and bear it. to be strong. to keep it together. these messages rob us of rich living and dying and in the process, dehumanize us. these messages tell us we are pathetic and incapable and weak for being just as we all…in the words of the great grace lee boggs’, “human human beings.”
so i get this. i’ve learned these lessons before. even still, this time as i practiced, i was surprised by my lack of self-compassion when i started beating myself up. as i transitioned from intense hospital duty with my mom back into life’s routine of kids, work, home, i began destructive self-talk as i started to drown. it got louder and louder. “why can’t you just let go of the dirty house?”; “why did you forget that email?” “you’re being hypersensitive.” “what is wrong with you? get over it. you’re so freaking privileged to have the resources you do.” in a time when i most needed loving-kindness, i met myself and my process of being undone with judgement.
now that i’ve noticed it, i feel lighter. i feel more compassion. i wonder what would it mean to accept being undone with an open heart and trust that from this place will be born life that is already taking shape within me–as a butterfly emerges from its undone cocoon.
i’ll keep practicing.
for the past ten days, my brother and i have accompanied my mom through test after test, appointment after appointment–126 in total. we have been waiting in limbo-land for life and death information.
waiting at the intersection of life and death, living takes on a realness that is both heavy and liberating.
the heaviness comes with the overwhelm of our human attempts to pin things down. and of course, try we must! after all, there are jobs, children, …responsibilities. there have been moments, feeling stuck here in minnesota in the midst of a blizzard, with my ailing mother, i’ve thought, i can’t just keep waiting here. i have to get home–i have stuff to do. i have meetings on monday! i have to get cat litter! i have to make sure meg gets to her first guitar lesson. after all, this period of waiting and limbo and in-between could go on forever and who knows what we’re going to need down the road? i have to spend my time wisely. yes, i need to go.
and then, reality hits and with it the truth that my mama’s heart is giving up quickly and that minnesota ain’t down the road from home and that this is where i need to be. after all, meetings and cat litter and guitar lessons can wait or go on without me.
and then again, can they? should they? what’s more important? missing meg’s first guitar lesson or waiting with my mom? bailing out on work or waiting with my mom? this is the heaviness of decision-making at the intersection of life and death, where every decision takes on a whole other layer of meaning. more is at stake.
and the joke is, we are always at that intersection. every day, every moment. we forget this truth, with all the business of our lives. and with that forgetting, we lose some of the meaning that adds weight to our decisions, to how we choose to spend our time and energy.
to be honest, i’m kinda grateful we forget! it’s easier. this limbo land of waiting ain’t exactly the most comfortable place to be. it can be exhausting.
mostly, it feels exhausting when i’m flailing around trying to grab hold of something solid. i wear myself out trying to stake my claims and assert my control. essentially, i wear myself out when i fight the present moment. on the other hand, when we can accept where we are and the reality of our situation, a peace sets in. an easiness.
yesterday, i witnessed my mama’s ease with awe. i’ll never forget her fearlessness. as she was prepped for her surgery today, she was being bombarded with all the people and all the interventions, all day. she was starting to grow weary of it all. she wasn’t alone. just as she started to order her food, two other staff entered her room and explained they were there to discuss nutrition. i’m assuming, to address her diabetes. one of them sweetly asked, “is it okay for us to talk with you?”
“oh, we can we talk.” my mom replied. “I’m about to have my second heart surgery tomorrow and so let’s wait. There might not be any need to have talks about nutrition.”
my mama’s truthfulness was a gut punch to these two, well-meaning staff who fumbled and mumbled and slid out of the room. when they left, the three of us broke into hysterical laughter, tears streaming down our faces as we sat squarely at our intersection. a sweet moment of being wholly together, with no pretense separating us. liberation from our delusions that we are ever anywhere else. freedom from our desperate attempts to be elsewhere, where things are planned and comfortable and where we police our own being.
as i sit here in the waiting room of the ICU, waiting for news on my mama, this is what i know to be true:
waiting is where we find God, Spirit, Source. it is in this in-between space, the land of limbo, where we face that we are always, in fact, at this intersection of life and death. this space is exactly where we humbly accept that being present is a place of liberation, where we can hold the joy and suffering of it all.
The piano man drew me in
With the sweet lullaby he played as a backdrop
To the swift movement of the herds of people.
I sat, thankful for this music
And it’s transformation of this place and space.
The man next to me invited piano man
To play Sounds of Silence
And with that, also invited friendship.
Sitting side by side, we were now joined
Together by our love for this music, for this moment.
His kind face and wise eyes
Turned to me and offered his story to me,
A story of love and loss and cycles
Returning here again with his wife, Mary
Ready to face the truth, together:
He and Mary, married 54 years
With 8 children, 30 grandchildren
77 and 74 years young
Not a perfect marriage, he offered.
And what is? we laughed.
He, a musician himself
Playing lead guitar in a band with 3 of his children
His drummer daughter, with 5 children of her own
“It’s getting harder for us to play…what, with life” he murmured.
“And we’ve had such fun.”
The chorus of his story,
“Life’s been good.
We’ve done good.
The kids are good.
We’ll be okay.”
With the in-between sounds of silence
That his soul so clearly sang, and which spoke so much.
And as I rose to slip back into the herds,
“And your first name?” he wondered.
“Amy”, I offered.
“Yes, and mine is Roy.”
How many times will we be here?
Waiting for answers to questions unknowable
About life and death and suffering and aliveness
Looking to strangers for directions on finding “quality of life”
Alongside those we are bound to, through birth or by choice
Who in those very moments offer all the answers we need:
We are together.
Even now, even still.
For a long time, I understood “being grounded” as positive. I aspired to “feeling grounded”. For me, it represented a feeling of being solid, sure, connected with a sense of integrity and wholeness.
The irony of being grounded is that this groundedness is rooted in groundlessness–a deep understanding that there, in fact, no solid ground at all. This groundless form of groundedness allows us to experience life beyond the labels we claim, answers we assert, forms we grasp. Grounded in groundlessness offers presence, aliveness, vastness.
My mom is ill, really ill–one piece of the kaleidoscope of life these days that is shifting in uncertainty. We’re traveling tomorrow to Mayo Clinic for a week seeking answers. Seeking clarity. After all, we all need answers. And yet, I’ve learned that we can go and seek while also not hoping for any real certainty. Because the reality is, there are no solid answers. For anything. This might sound dark. I’m sure it does. But this is truth. And like all truth, accepting it is…liberating.
And that liberation allows me to be present with her, my family, my self as we move through this uncertainty.
Pema Chodron offers, “As we practice moving into the present moment this way, we become more familiar with groundlessness, a fresh state of being that is available to us on an ongoing basis. This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky–that’s called liberation.”
What we’ve been trained to think of as comfort and security is a lie. Knowledge, truth, control–these are lies that we desperately grasp out of fear and need to secure solid ground beneath us. And these lies are stealing our precious lives from us, pulling us away from the present moment. And this present moment is all we have.
And in moments like this, with my mom, I want to savor every one.
So, I’m headed to Mayo with my mama, and no ground in sight.