The edge: looking at some of the _isms that inform the creation of ‘me’…

The ground for writing this entry, is the soft-inquisitive and tender heart that yearns for understanding. But there is an edge brought by the tenderness and the discomfort I feel/felt. I believe there is potential for growth and finding lightness and joy in exploring this edge. I pray for clarity and courage. The beginning of the path, is simply to write the piece and to be with it, with the understanding that this piece began to write itself through me when I decided to go to my center this past Sunday. The path is to feel the tender heart and to see where it leads in its search for a life guided by compassion.
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I was both positively touched and also somewhat bothered by the talk/meeting I attended. The topic was Difficult Conversations, and it is part of the move to bring in and work with social injustices, and issues pertaining the inclusion and exclusion of people we consider “the other” as we set out to manifest Enlightened Society. Enlightened society is, or rather happens, first and foremost as an encounter between two people, in dialogue, and in the felt presence that occurs in the space-between. This entry is indirectly a result of my own personal search and the sense that something deep within snapped some months ago, allowing certain voices that I thought were long silenced to the surface of my mind-heart, and asking to be heard/seen primarily by myself. So, not everything is completely articulated, since I suspect there are things that may not have surfaced. And I apologize for that.
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Breathe. I also feel the need to add the following note to perhaps better situate this entry. I left Academia, before entering the last stages of my doctorate in education. In my last year of graduate school, right at that moment when I was  thinking about my dissertation and and who I would want in my committee, and while straddling between two departments (Education and Anthropology), the grant that funded the education degree in which I was involved, was cut. I would have needed to pay the rest from my own pocket. So, at that time, I tried to figure out ways for me to complete my degree. And in the time period of searching for ways to do this, two events or stories/narratives informed and helped galvanize my decision to leave the program, at least for the time being. (I witnessed a friend’s dissertation defense which was very disheartening and I also witnessed the faculty egging us, the students to “grill” a prospective professor while presenting a lecture, which was part of her interview process). I searched for a job, found one, and for years, I had put aside the kinds of academic oriented literature that would speak about heart, solidarity, equality, teacher identity, teacher-student relationships, institutional powers, color and race in the school system, consent, age and aging, gender, sexualities, rights within education, feminism, voice and voicelessness, liberation theology, to name a few, because I felt that the American academic world I had witnessed served mostly to strip this literature of its power to 1. guide decisions to be made from the heart, and to 2. inform our decisions of how to be in order to better explore our humanity, and what it means to be human beings in the context of education, and the world at large.
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Fast forward. Around perhaps two years ago, perhaps more, a group was created in our Shambhala center to explore issues of diversity, inequality, identities, and other issues around which we tend to segregate/isolate/exclude other humans, and/or ourselves at times inadvertently.  I participated in the meetings, because I was, and I still am, interested in the dialogue (Paulo Freire’s notion) that can foster deep understanding, and the depth that can stop me/us in our tracks toward further cocooning and aggression. But I remember only  one particular phone conversation as having the potential for that depth to arise. This is to say that most of the meetings left me feeling deflated, sad. And for what it’s worth, I am grateful for that one phone conversation. Time passed. 
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Fast forward again. Last Sunday. Another iteration of the diversity group held a meeting, at what seems an auspicious time: the current American presidency scares me; I feel a palpable threat of nuclear war (North Korea); there have been multiple natural disasters; and, the lids that had been imposed by means of conceptual political-correctness are now falling or breaking allowing fears and resentments previously hidden in the hearts of people of the worlds in which I/we live to surface. So, I went to the meeting. I believe that the work of the group at my center as well as the Sakyong’s initiative to do this work throughout Shambhala is necessary. So it is in light of this, that I wonder why I left that space on Sunday with a feeling of same-ol’. Why did it feel like a repeat of previous meetings? Am I that self-obsessed and cynical? Is my heart so closed that if it’s not my way I will not play? At least I have heart enough to wonder. Keep going.
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Sanity. The very small part of me that understands about the Basic Goodness of myself and others, says: “No. Your heart is not that closed. Just the fact that you are willing to “look” is an indication that it is not.” If I listen to this, I can then take my edge, my discomfort as an invitation to explore (albeit shaking with fear of what I might encounter) the depths of my feelings in writing, without the safety net of another human being within an encounter, or dialogue. Breathe. I don’t want to offend my friends / my teachers, especially those who are brave beyond measure and have begun their own search and put the diversity group together. With that pre-apology I will attempt to further articulate what bothered me, in the hopes that I can contribute something of value, or at the very least, clarity. Breathe.
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Today. I surprised myself by going online this morning and spontaneously searching for “bell hooks and whiteness”.  I surprised myself even further by reading a full article on a website:
http://thefactsofwhiteness.org/whiteness/   It’s been years since I had willingly and spontaneously delved into reading critical thinking and theory. It felt good.
I confess that I was saddened by the contents of the article; I was moved; I was interested; it lent me space and clarity. Within it, I found two embedded quotes that just grabbed me directly, one from author bell hooks, and the other by Foucault. These quotes, wrapped within the thoughts of the writer/creator of the website lent further clarity and fire to my own thought process and feelings regarding our meeting. Here are the quotes as they were embedded in the article on the mentioned website:
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          ...”next to testing rituals, next to the testimony of witnesses, and the learned methods of observation and demonstration, the confession became on of the West’s most highly valued techniques for producing truth. We have since become a singularly confessing society. The confession has spread its effects far and wide. It plays a part in justice, medicine, education, family relationships, and love relations, in the most ordinary affairs of everyday life, and in the most solemn rites: one confesses one’s crimes, one’s sins, one’s thoughts and desires, one’s illnesses and troubles; one goes about telling, with the greatest precision, what is most difficult to tell.” (Foucault: 1990, p.59)
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and
          ‘As I write, I try to remember when the word racism ceased to be the term which best expressed for me exploitation of black people and other people of color in this society and when I began to understand that the most useful term was white supremacy’. (hooks, 1989, p.112)
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I was struck by the notion of confession in Foucault’s quote and how it applies to our groups’ meeting. I was struck because, I have frequently felt that the power of confession is constantly abused in the west, having become almost a part of speech. Confession of wrong-doings and/or restatements regarding systemic privileges when devoid of 1. regret/remorse, 2. vulnerability, 3. the vow to not repeat the aggression/transgression being confessed or, 4. the time-space in which to feel the heart from where the confession arose, has the potential to become yet another cover/lid/bandaid. In confessing, we  have somehow gotten used to uttering words decrying our privileges or our mistakes in a voice that mostly reflects discursive thought, i.e. sheer surface mental energy. And I fear this. And on the other side of confession, the listener too often jumps to put the speaker or person confessing in the Shambhala cradle of loving-kindness too soon, before s/he has had the time to feel and share the heart behind her/his words and in so doing, perhaps reach the space where resolve can come forth.  I can only guess at the reasons why we do this as listeners in the context of racial/ethnic/sexual-gender related conversations. I can only guess at the reasons why we feel we have to cradle the person confessing before s/he “has reached heart”. And my guess is that we do this in part because we are afraid of our own discomfort, and because perhaps we might habitually fear retaliation, especially if the speaker represents the most empowered group.
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With bell hooks’ quote, I had what I can only describe as a gestalt-moment. In that moment her quote was rendered as follows in my mind-heart:
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I try to remember when any or most _ism(s) ceased to be the term which best expressed for me exploitation of  __people in __society and when I began to understand that the most useful term was unquestioned supremacy’.
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Breathe. I was and am grateful for this brief and relative easy access to clarity. This time I did not have to struggle for years to find out what bothered me and touched me. Instead, this tiny bit of clarity arose, albeit tainted by the fear of worrying about whether or not I might hurt or offend people dear to me. But there is greater good, I think, in just saying this and then letting it be.
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Fears. I fear the degree to which there seems to be an unquestioned supremacy, a lack of willingness to even begin to contemplate that we all embody parts of this supremacy (Paulo Freire’s Oppressor and Oppressed), and that we all speak within the framework of an unquestioned discourse of supremacy. I fear the degree to which said discourse has the power to deafen and blind us to the reality of exploitation and oppression of people within our schools and many other institutions that we hold dear. I fear looking at what the term exploitation means to me, because most of the people I know (myself included) have remained within said institutions and watched our hearts wither as we participate in the silence that harms. I fear the darkness I feel in my throat as I write these words, and I fear that I will lose the lightness or felt sense of basic goodness which guided to start this piece in the first place.
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I fear that as a group we might not be able to reach depth. I fear that the needs of our moderators to keep the group contained within the framework of oneness, sameness, or equalities while exploring the ignorance of our long held and unquestioned assumptions, will preclude the possibility of reaching depth; that we will end perpetuating, by our not exploring, further __isms as we reify them, or as they become taken and reified by individuals or smaller groups as attempt to reclaim their sanity and identities.
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Fearlessness. I believe that as Buddhists I/we need to engage in the exploration of our human tendency to seek comfort by solidifying or reifying identity related concepts. It seems to me, that any reification, any concept reified in the name of name of reclaiming our sanity, any solidified perpetuation of a habit will amount to nothing more than that, i.e. another temporary reification that will necessarily create the exclusion of others, which to me is the same as creating “the other“.
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The fruition of this piece is hopefully clarity, understanding and reflection that bridges the gap between the edge of my discomfort and the possibility of remaining present to further these very much needed conversations. I am not advocating further silence, or stopping this exploration. What I would like to experience in the context of meetings such as this, is a sense of deepening (emphasis on the _ing active, progressive, developmental, ongoing quality of the word). It seems to me that true inclusiveness can only happen in the willing heart, in the heartfelt moments cushioned between the space that exists within polarized tensions or expressions of tensions, and within time suspended, the fourth moment, the now. The teachings ask us to look at anything and everything that happens in life, so that we learn to open our hearts over and over. The teachings asks us to look deeply. Always. But depth is relative to each heart. I hope I have not offended anybody.
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May this entry contribute to clarity. May it be of benefit. May I be pulled by the proverbial pony-tail into learning and opening my own heart.
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