I live in Charlottesville, VA. On Saturday, August 12, the date of the white supremacist rally here, I was in South Dakota visiting my stepsister and supporting the sacred Lakota Sundance ceremonies. On that afternoon, a friend in Chicago texted me and asked if I was aware of events unfolding violence in my hometown. I looked at the newspaper on my Android. What I saw shocked me. I was filled with grief, anger, and confusion. As so many of us were and still are.
Nevertheless, over the following two weeks, I took my time to provide a response to ensure that I was not speaking out of despair, anger or hatred. Oh, yes, I have felt these emotions upon contemplating the beliefs and actions of the individuals who gathered in Charlottesville to promulgate hatred and division and the ideologies of white supremacism.
I have been shaken, much as I was shaken on 9/11 as I watched the Twin Towers falling live on television. During the week I was in South Dakota, as I cooked and conversed with new friends, both Native and white, I also heard many hard stories of injustice and violence, particularly against the Water Protectors of Standing Rock. My heart was already aching when events in my hometown went down.
So it was that I watched myself navigating through the chaos of three airports on my way home, and feeling suspicious and afraid whenever my eyes fell on a red-faced white man. Could he be a white supremacist?
Oh, yes, I thought to myself: this is how enemies begin to be made in our hearts and minds. Harm is done by a few individuals and the seeds of fear begin to be sown and the roots of stereotypes begin to grow. Here I see in myself the same causes and conditions which perpetuate cycles of violence and hatred.
I know better. I know how how the mind can trick me. Stereoptypes are always incorrect. I also know that hatred does not help. It only adds fuel to the fire. Fear leaves us vulnerable. Anger eats away at our basic human birthright to happiness. Despair is paralyzing. All of it kills peace, caring, hope, optimism, and love. And when these eternally positive qualities are suppressed, the mind of domination of one over the other all too easily takes over.
And, yet, like most of us, my heart is broken. And like most of us, I want all of this to finally, finally bring to an end the destructive power of hatred. To using violence as the first response to conflict. To ending the idea that power over is necessary to ensure safety and security. To finding a way to create a world of caring, kindness and love.
So, where do we go from here? How am I working with my own anger and fear? How am I dismantling this inner movement towards enemy-making?
There is the stark truth that on August 11, my community was invaded and pillaged. Beloved members of Cville were injured and killed.
I remind myself that everything that I have been feeling is what millions of human beings have felt in the wake of violence for millennia. In so many Hollywood-produced television series and films, such as the recently popular, Game of Thrones, we see played out in stark relief this terrible human drama–what I call the “bloody stream” of humanity’s history. How a single group or individual seeks to have power over others. How certain individuals and groups, based on their gender, poverty, clan, tribe, nation, culture, race, political viewpoint, sexual orientation, or religion are labeled as less than or not human, and thus not deserving of equal protection, safety, good work, respect, freedom, and love. How some are targeted to be suppressed, oppressed, invaded, stolen from, enslaved, and murdered. How hatred and aggression is the name of the game and is seen as “normal.” And how the cycle continues from one generation to the next because there is never time for healing and reconciliation.
For millennia, identity has been the very thing that hatred and the desire for power over others hinges upon. In the twentieth century alone, we see how such cycles of hatred happen: one group or certain leaders ply citizens with misinformation and manipulation intended to play on their deepest fears about survival: by Hitler and the Third Reich against Jews, Roman Catholics and homosexuals; by Hutus against Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi; by leaders of the French against the English in Quebec; by Milosevic who invoked an ancient story of war and enmity from centuries past and, until the 1980s, long forgotten between Muslims and Christians in the former Yugoslavia; by the government and Roman Catholic Church in Peru against the indigenous nations; in the U.S. by government and police enforcement targeting immigrants and blacks unfairly, resulting in outright violent assault, unfair imprisonment, and murder. The list goes on.
“The mind of dominion,” as Cherokee teacher, the Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo, said to me in a conversation during her monthly conference call, “is a powerful thought form…..it is an “illusion that contribute[s] to continuing reactive states and behaviors.”
Now history repeats itself in stark relief in our country with a president and others feeling free to even more openly and aggressively target certain groups with insidious words, unjust laws, unfair burdens, and violence. And how some–a very few–who are opposed to them feel justified in responding with anger and violence.
This is how violence continues. This is how the bloody vein of hatred continues to be fed. The wounds of violence and victimization are deep and fierce. When unhealed and transmuted, they fester. It can also happen that, in the wake of such actions, the group which has been the victim of violence and subjugation sometimes then turn around and become the perpetrators.
I have been an anti-racism and anti-violence educator and trainer for 25 years. I have felt keenly the injustice of violence of all kinds since childhood. I have also been a spiritual explorer and teacher for decades in the wisdom streams of Buddhism, Native American spirituality and shamanism, and the loving teachings of Jesus. I have always sought to make spiritual life relevant to the real-world. Meditation, prayer, ceremonies of the heart, energy medicine to heal our own wounds, traumas, and blocks to creativity and love ultimately do impact how we show up in the world and thus amplify the resonant frequency of peace and reconciliation.
The events in Charlottesville have re-energized my lifetime search for healing and meaning for myself and all of us in the face of millennia of blood being shed and injustice being done by humans against humans.
As our president and various factions aggressively promote fear and hatred, we can no longer stick our heads in the sand and claim that “identity politics” are being used as a way to blame and divide people. Or claim that blacks and immigrants are “imagining” racial profiling and police brutality. Or ignore the scapegoating of Muslims. Or the labeling of immigrants from Central and South America as “criminals.” Or believe that a closed border with Mexico is necessary to protect jobs, to “keep out criminals.” Or put up with transgendered individuals being barred from military service.
Or turn white supremacists into enemies.
What does this really mean? Particularly when hundreds of white men who profess to be white supremacists, Nazis, or the KKK, scream out: “White lives matter!” and beat up black men and call Cville victim, Heather Heyer a waste to society because she is not married?
As I have struggled with my feelings towards the men who brought so much violence to my beloved hometown, my spiritual practice nonetheless compels me to listen more deeply, to go beyond hate and anger. I must ask: What is going on inside these men and others who put out these messages and who feel free to use violence against targeted groups and their white allies?
I cannot but help to hear the sounds of human anguish. I hear that these men feel unheard and afraid. I also know that they have been fed misinformation and manipulated. And in some cases, these distorted stories have been passed down in their families and communities for generations–not all of them, but some. I hear the mind which believes that domination is the only pathway to safety.
Whites of European ancestry have for centuries dominated and set up the rules of society. They have thus benefited directly or indirectly from the subjugation of other peoples. This has been true of our ancestors. In the early 1800s, members of my family owned slaves. We were given land grants to territories which rightly belonged to Native Americans. These facts made us prosper at the expense of others.
As people of color and those of non-Christian faiths speak out, and as the world becomes more diverse with a rising tide of refugees and immigrants across the planet, the white narrative about history does not as easily drown out the voices of diversity–the truth of violence, injustice and subjugation.
I’m sure it’s not easy to be a white man when you face this new story. But I also know it’s been even harder to be black, Hispanic, Latino, Jewish, Muslim, an immigrant, a woman.
I know from my own spiritual journey how hard it is to face the shadow within and the brutality of human history. I have seen my own resistance to letting go of grievances towards those whom I feel have hurt me or my loved ones. I recognize my temperamental tendency to go first to anger when I feel put upon or pressured. And, many years ago, I slowly came to recognize that my mother was not always a nurturer, but was more often a perpetrator. Who wants to see these truths in themselves? Who really wants to acknowledge that their family is not perfect? It is no fun; it is often painful. It leads to more questions than answers. As a result, many people resist such awakenings, either unconsciously or consciously.
So it is that I recognize the deep resistance and fear these white men are feeling as, gradually, the hard truth of the last 500 years of history and our present world has been unveiled. How hard it is to believe that whites–and men–and Christians–no longer dominate the conversation. How they, too, have been abandoned by a system which has allowed corporations to steal from the people their livelihood and dignity. I can only imagine that underneath their anger, hatred and show of force, is a tidal wave of fear.
I, too have felt this much fear. And most recently in the wake of August 11.
So, compassion for myself demands that I recognize the fabric of suffering underneath the disease in white supremacists, as in the world, as in myself. I have learned to allow the movement of feeling through my body/mind. To not suppress anger or hatred, but to not act out of it until I have come to a place of stillness where it gradually is transmuted from mind of violence to mind of peace. I have turned to energy medicine to uproot in my psyche and Luminous Body the imprints of ancestral woundings from victimization and fear. I have also sought to sit at the table with men and women of all colors, races, and creeds, to foster dialogue of reconciliation and to forge a new vision for our world.
The tools I use include, the Buddhist loving kindness meditation for myself, my loved ones, and all whom appear in my field as “enemies.” More recently, I have explicitly included all white supremacists and our president. I have also done this for humanity as a whole, as I must recognize that all of us need to grow the mind of kindness, the heart of love.
As I do these essential practices of compassion, my body shakes. Stiffness in my tissues and mind soften. I cry. As I open up to my own suffering, I touch into the suffering of humanity, including those who have done terrible harm. A sweet sadness arises. It is a relief. Rather than being difficult, this sadness is cleansing and real. I begin to feel joy in my heart. Love then flowers. Compassion for myself and the white supremacists opens up in my field. Connection to the world.
Like the sacred waters of a stream, I now can move more freely as I resonate with the magnetic field of love which is always there, no matter what storms pass by.
Violence, anger, hatred and fear are not the only resonant field we can access within in the face of the violence in our troubled world. There is, in fact, a deeper and more powerful field of light, love and peace. It only awaits the clearing of our minds and bodies and the attunement of our attention towards it. This requires patience and the willingness to hold still and wait before responding. To feel deep within.
I have done this before, so I know. I have sat in the fire of despair, fear, hatred, and grief and found at the very center the pulse of love.
The next step from here is to gather with others to confront mind of dominion, mind of fear, mind of scarcity, and to magnetize mind of reconciliation and abundance. There we can take our love of humanity and Mother Earth and create beauty. As we create beauty, we strengthen our ability to connect across what appears to divide us. When we do this, the spirit of compassion then forges the desire to stand strong in the energy of love.
What do I think I will do now if I stand in front of a white supremacist who is yelling, “Kill the Jews!”? I hope I will be able to look deep into his eyes and penetrate the illusion, soften his heart and change his mind. Great miracles have happened with just this much. I must energize the mind of hope, the inviolable truth that the human mind can change.
In the meantime, I know that every action I take to forge the greater mind of love, beauty, compassion, and love will impact the great web of life interconnecting all that is and will, in time, dismantle mind of dominion, fear and power over.
It is only in this inner and outer exploration and holding a vision of healing, change, abundance for all, that we will find the true peace we are seeking.
Here is where the work begins: Believe fiercely and speak loudly with love that ALL LIVES MATTER. Then take the next step to conquer yourself. Do this work together and pray that all of us will eventually be drawn to the table of sweetness, beauty and love. Then, seven generations hence, as Native Americans say, we can be guaranteed a world that is free.
May it be so.