When did you learn you were white (or not white) and that there was a difference?

white privilege graphicLThe Buddha tells us that perception is a function of mind that happens almost immediately after a sense contact is made. We see, hear, smell, touch, taste or think something, (in Buddhist psychology the mind is a sense gate, and what sights are to the eye or sounds to the ear, thoughts are to the mind) register it as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, and then form a perception of what it is, based on our past experience. Immediately following that perception come a cascade of thoughts and associations, based on our conditioning. For example, one person might hear a sound, perceive it as “bird”  and feel happy and peaceful to be living where they can hear the sound of a bird. Another person hears the same sound, perceive it as a bird migrating in November; think that it’s almost Christmas and they haven’t started shopping, and what will they get for their nephew who is obsessed with violent video games, and what’s the matter with the world that promotes violence as entertainment, and what’s the matter with my nephew, and what can I do about it. Another person hears the same sound, and remembers hearing birds the day her father left the family for good, and feels suddenly forlorn and lonely, not knowing why. Same sound, same perception, different conditioning, thoughts, emotional responses.

The Buddha also tells us that when we slow down and closely observe our experience, we see that what seemed to be solid and unchanging is actually a multiplicity of interdependent factors, which we form these into constructs, which we then agree to regard as real unto themselves. A table, for example, serves a function, but is part of a process that includes trees growing in sunlight, watered by rain, nurtured by soil made up of decomposed organic material; loggers, millers, truckers, designers, salespeople, purchasers;  all the people who raised and taught them; all the beings who grew, farmed, sold and cooked or were the food that animated those loggers, millers, designers, etc. And in time, the table too will age, break, be discarded and eventually return to the soil which grew the tree, in an endless cycle of co-arising phenomena.  But it serves us to agree that for now, it is “table” even though it arose from all of these interdependent phenomena.

Out of these ever shifting co-arising phenomena, we clump things together to form concepts which are illusions, but serve a function, so we all agree on them.

Why is a ten dollar bill worth ten times what a one dollar bill? And why will it buy a cup of coffee in a Santa Monica, but not in Shanghai? It’s value and worth is determined by agreements that were made or not made, agreements to regard an illusion as real.

The concept of “Whiteness” is just such an illusion. it has no basis in genetics.  Some “white people” have olive skin, some have pink skin, some have pale skin, or skin turned red with blood vessels. “Whiteness” is a social, political and economic construct, and its main defining characteristic is that it is not black.  President Obama has two parents; one white, one black; four grandparents; two white, two black, yet he is considered a black man because he is not white.

Last week on two separate occasions, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castille in St. Paul, Minn. were shot by police who perceived them to be a threat. Then a few days later, white police in Dallas were shot by a sniper. As I write this, similar retaliation seems to be happening in Baton Rouge.

I watched the video that Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s fiancée, recorded on her phone while her boyfriend, shot by a policeman as he reached for his wallet to get his driver’s license, was bleeding to death, and which continued to run as she was handcuffed and put into the back of a police car with her four year old daughter. https://www.facebook.com/100007611243538/videos/1690073837922975/ I tried to imagine how I might feel if my beloved were shot and killed by police at a routine traffic stop, and realized that it is inconceivable that in this country such a thing could happen to me, a white, upper middle-class woman. And that it is not only conceivable, but a routine possibility and ever present threat in the black community. Mr. Castile was pulled over by police 49 times in 13 years.

Blackness, in men, is often perceived as a threat, in a white dominant culture.

In the aftermath of the dreadful week of all the shooting between black men and white men, and devastated by watching the video of the woman watching her loved one bleed to death in front of her eyes for no reason other than delusion and perception, I began to read about white privilege, and how to be a white ally.  I wanted to share these readings with any of you who might want to learn what I’ve been learning these past few days.

https://medium.com/@Mandela/my-white-boss-talked-about-race-in-america-and-this-is-what-happened-fe10f1a00726#.y7m1ydh2b

https://mic.com/articles/121572/15-things-your-city-can-do-right-now-to-end-police-brutality#.CaUK2wfFI

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2vDBY9AHUjQN0tJYXlLUmtJUVE/view?pref=2&pli=1

This last contains links within it, which I will urge you to also click and follow if you are interested.

Lastly, John also sent this link, to a poetry slam of a white boy in Atlanta, which has gone viral:

http://patch.com/georgia/decatur/white-boy-privilege-atlanta-student-goes-viral

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I believe that unless and until white people examine the concept and perception of “whiteness” and its implied and institutionalized supremacy, we will never get a different result from the escalating racial conflict and pain. It is in that belief that I am posting this.

FIVE THINGS TO DO AT THE BEGINNING OF A SIT

stones seated in meditationFIVE THINGS TO DO AT THE BEGINNING OF A SIT

(With a debt of gratitude to Leigh Brasington, who suggested them.  Feel free to modify and alter to suit yourself and your practice – I know I already have.)

1. GRATITUDE.  spend a few moments generating gratitude.  For all that we have to be grateful for – health, life, resources, the teachings and our access to them, opportunity to practice – we all have things we can be grateful for, and it’s good to begin meditating with a grateful heart.

2. MOTIVATION.  Spend some time getting in touch with your motivation to practice.  Why are you doing this? To see deeply into the true nature of reality? To be present to each moment?  To awaken to your own true nature as boundless love?  To develop kindness and friendship towards yourself, just as you are? To life, just as it is?  To know life at it’s essence?   To achieve liberation for the benefit of all beings?  Conscious contact with a Higher Power?  Ease, peace, calm? Whatever works best for you, that can serve as a reminder, should the going get rough, or the practice stale.

3. DETERMINATION. Spend a moment rousing some resolve, some energy, some determination. To stay awake, to stay present.

4. METTA.  Include, at the outset, some time offering yourself some loving-kindness, some friendliness, some unconditional love; setting an intention to be kind to yourself regardless of what arises during your practice. If you like, you can also offer this kindness and wishing well to other beings, or all beings, as well.

5. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind.  Breathing out, I smile.”  This comes from Thich Nhat Hanh and is a good transition to the sit.  It points our attention to the breath.  Spending the initial period of a sit giving attention to the breath is a good way to calm the mind, and generate concentration.  Concentration gives rise to happiness.

Remember:  comparisons are odious.  Don’t compare this sit to any other, or even any moment in this sit to any other moment.  Or you to a projected or imagined “real” meditator.  We are not trying to “achieve” anything, or put preference on one mind-state over another.  Sure, concentration feels great, but sometimes we can’t concentrate.  If the mind is distracted, just note, “distraction” and keep going.  “Whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon will be the inclination of their mind,” says the Buddha.  When we blame ourselves for what arises during our sitting period, we just reinforce the habit of self-blame and condemnation.  Just be present to the truth of the moment with kindness, and keep going.  Have fun!

GRATITUDE – THE ANTIDOTE TO THE COMPLAINING MIND

snoopythanksI once heard Werner Earhard, the founder of est, say that, if one were ever to come face to face with God and to report back on the experience, one might say, “Well, she’s radiant, and there is nothing she doesn’t know, and she can do anything – – but she’s a little bossy.”  The point being, you can always find something to complain about. And you can focus on that, or you can focus on the good. There will always be both.

This week in our group, we talked about gratitude and its benefits. People who have an “attitude of gratitude” seem to live longer, have better health, and of course, they enjoy their lives more. Negative emotions flood the body with stress hormones, which over time take their toll on all of our organs. Gratitude floods the body with endorphins and neuropeptides like oxytocin and other “feel good” hormones, reduces stress, and is therefore good for health and longevity.

Anyone can be grateful when things are going well. The harder part is learning to be grateful when things are not so good. In the midst of any difficulty, one can always find something to feel grateful for if we look for it, even if its just a breeze on our cheek, the sound of music or the sight of a bird in flight.

Worry is about the future.  Gratitude brings you back to the present moment.

In James Baraz’s course in “Awakening Joy,” he gives some suggestions for developing the gratitude muscle:

  1. LOOK FOR AND APPRECIATE THE GOOD STUFF – KEEP YOUR RADAR OUT FOR LOOKING FOR THE GOOD
  2. APPRECIATE OTHERS, ESPECIALLY IN THE WORKPLACE AND AT HOME
  3. APPRECIATE YOURSELF – YOU BECOME LESS DEPENDENT UPON PRAISE FROM OTHERS
  4. YOU CAN EVEN HAVE GRATITUDE IN THE MIDST OF A DIFFICULTY.  ASK YOURSELF: WHAT CAN APPRECIATE IN THIS SITUATION  WHAT LESSONS CAN I LEARN?

Gratitude towards ourselves is often the hardest. Instead of going over our mental “to-do” lists and seeing where we are falling short, try taking some time at night before you go to sleep to look at the day counting what you DID accomplish, or what kindness you might have shown. Let yourself feel good about the things you did right, instead of only toting up the things you did wrong or fell short on.

Take time to appreciate your sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin – as well as your lungs, heart, digestive system, endocrine system – – in short – the miracle of the body, heart and mind, and life.

And I promised to post this:

The Top Ten Ways to Become More Grateful

Adapted from Attitudes of Gratitude by M.J. Ryan

1. Focus on what’s right in your life instead of what’s wrong.

2. Take a moment to say one thing you are thankful for at dinner.

3. Say “thank you” to others as often as possible.

4. Especially when they’re annoying or frustrating you, remember why you love your

spouse, kids, and friends.

5. Don’t compare your life to others. When envy arises, ask yourself: how can I create more

in me of what I see in them?

6. Give thanks for your body. What can you appreciate about it right now?

7. When difficult things happen, ask yourself: What’s right about this? Yes, it’s awful, but if

something were right about it, what would it be?

8. Look for the hidden blessings in challenges. How have you grown?

9. Imagine that this day is the first and last of your life. How would you tryou treasure it?

10 Practice daily—a written journal, email to a gratitude partner, etc.

 

“Drop the Rock!”

rockTHUS I HAVE HEARD ….There is a story I’ve heard, which I will embellish slightly – because what’s the point of being a story-teller if you can’t tweak it a bit to serve your purpose – about a girl who got a rock for Christmas from her parents, instead of the Barbie Doll she wanted. She was hurt, disappointed, angry. But she decided to keep it, as a reminder of all the things she never got as a child, and how dysfunctional her family had been. Then, as she grew up, she discovered that it was actually a magic rock. Every time she had a disappointment, or got hurt, or rejected, the rock grew larger. It grew when she was frightened, it even grew when she found workarounds to deal with her fears. It grew with her successes too. She became fascinated by the rock, which carried with it the story of her life. It was cumbersome to carry around, and sometimes she was ashamed or embarrassed about how big it was, but she was also secretly proud of it, because it represented all that she’d been through. She felt it defined her so accurately that when she went on a date, or met with a therapist, she felt all she really needed to do was show them the rock, and they’d know all there was to know about her.

One day she had been invited by friends to go on a picnic. It was to be on a beautiful island, and they were going to the island by boat. But she missed the boat when it took off. (She was late, because it was difficult to carry that rock around.) They sailed without her – (the rock got a bit bigger) – and she stood on the dock watching as they sailed away. She decided to catch up with them, and she jumped into the water to swim to meet the boat. But the rock was weighing her down, and as hard as she tried to swim, she was drowning instead. Her friends on the boat called to her, “Drop the rock!” But she couldn’t. She loved that rock so. But she was drowning. “DROP THE ROCK!” they kept calling. “But it’s MY rock” she thought. “DROP THE ROCK!!!” they shouted. Finally, something caught her attention, and without meaning to, she dropped the rock. The rock quickly sank, but she found that she herself was buoyant. She swam easily to the boat, climbed in, joined her friends, and had a wonderful time at the picnic.

So often we cling to the very things that are making us unhappy – our fears, our resentments, our projections and conclusions, as if they define us, as if they are our birthright. And even though the very things we cling to are causing our suffering, we are very reluctant to “drop the rock.” As if, if we gave them up, who would we be?

Our meditation practice gives us the opportunity to answer that question. As we sit in silence, we get a chance to see our thoughts as they arise, – and pass away. Eventually, we can see the space between the thoughts. To hang out in the silence from which the thoughts arise, and to which they pass away. We see that, as compelling as our thoughts may be, and as much as we cherish and identify with them, we are more than our thoughts. We see that the “rock” that we have been carrying around with us, is actually an amalgam of streams of ever changing phenomena, a succession sensory experiences, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and emotions. Continuously arising, and continuously passing away.  What is there to hold on to, when everything is constantly changing?  We are better able to “drop the rock” – or better yet, watch it dissolve.