My friends – I want to share about an awakening that has overtaken me. The parallels are so strong between this and my experience of awakening to the truth of myself that I feel it belongs here. I speak of a deep awakening to the truth of white supremacy and racism, and I speak particularly to those of us who are white, as so many in this sangha are.
I don’t speak of the “Racism is bad” level of awareness, I am speaking of a deep and thorough plumbing of the toxic depths of horror that is racism in this country (and others). A reckoning with the incalculable extent of human suffering it has caused, and my own intimate participation in it, even as I thought of myself as “one of the good white people”.
Like the awakening that we speak of so much here, it is ‘can’t-unsee-it’ deal. Once I experienced the truth of myself, that was the grace that guided me from that moment on. Similarly, with this level of reckoning with the evil of racism, I may get lazy or lose focus, but there is no choice once it has been seen, to return again and again to the lifelong commitment to live up to the truth of it – in this case, to dedicate myself to lifelong anti-racist activism.
Like spiritual awakening, it is accompanied by waves and waves of overwhelming love, in this case flavored with abiding admiration for the strength, resiliency, and courage that black/indigenous/people of color have had to access in order to live lives of joy, meaning and integrity in spite of the massive forces of oppression arrayed against them, and a heart-bursting desire for all human beings to live free and able to walk on this earth in safety.
Like spiritual awakening, it is also accompanied by floods of sorrow and regret at the lost years spent in blindness and denial, at the sheer bloody-minded determination of those of us protected by white privilege to not see what is all around us all the time – the reality of the racist world we inhabit. Also shame, at my own participation in the horror show, the deep entwining of my life of white privilege with the forces of white supremacy, the colonization of my mind, the mighty effort it takes to extricate myself from the delusions.
Like the spiritual sages who have guided seekers for centuries, our own beloved Ramana among them, oppressed groups have given us writers, leaders and creatives of titanic intellect and vision who have always been telling the truth to those few who would listen. More are listening now.
My dears, can we have this conversation together? Can this be included? How can we not include it? For those of us who have lived our lives with white privilege, whatever misfortunes we think may have befallen us, we experienced them while white, which changed everything. Whatever blindness we indulged in, surely racism was also buried in the nightmare we were trying to run from. There is a moment of opportunity that is happening in our world right now. The veil of illusion parted for so many when they watched George Floyd die. May we never fall back into illusion again.
Joanna lives in Santa Cruz, California, and works as a psychotherapist in a County Children’s Mental Health department. She has spent her career working with under-served populations, and has learned about the deep dignity and resiliency of people living with inequality and oppression. Her life was changed in 2009 when she attended her first retreat with Gangaji and recognized that she had found the teacher and the teaching that she had been seeking. The Grace of that meeting has been resonating ever since.