Our Work Is Messy
The Inner Work of Racial Healing Is Messy
Beginning to Pay Attention
It’s messy because too many of us pay attention to racial suffering only when we are uncomfortable, and we stop paying attention when we are comfortable again. A growing awareness of our racial conditioning does not guarantee comfort. It just sheds a light on what’s here, pausing us long enough to consider how we might align and inhabit our deepest intentions. And this pause may initially increase our discomfort.
It’s messy because, as we discover and reveal our racial conditioning and begin to heal habits of harm, we will initially be more sensitive and less confident. We are less confident because we are learning how to be present and more honest with ourselves and learning how to talk to others without turning away. We will feel appropriately unskilled, as though we are learning a new language or even living in a new skin. And we will gradually discover that humility, presence, openness, and kindheartedness is not only the best we can do in a given moment, but also all that may be required.
It’s messy because racial ignorance and suffering won’t be transformed in our lifetime. The racial suffering and urgency we are experiencing in the world today are the result of seeds that were planted in the past that are now blooming. We can’t change the fact that those seeds were planted. Seeds have a nature: they simply blossom the racial consciousness of the planter, revealing the power of our thoughts and actions. However, with the care and understanding we will cultivate in this program, we will be able to plant new seeds of well-being in the same soil of consciousness, which will make prior seeds of ignorance and harm more difficult to blossom. We may see such blooms in the next moment, days, or lifetimes.
It’s messy because as a country—and this applies to most nations—racial policies may change, but hearts tend to lag behind. As we have seen over the generations, when people are forced to do the right thing through policy, the fragrance of resentment lingers in the air, and revenge follows like a cloud. The heart must be genuinely and generously involved to transform racism. When hearts lag, there is the manifest danger we are currently living, where regressive politicians come to power and appoint regressive judges and reverse or obstruct progressive racial policies. The inner work of racial healing is essential to systemic racial transformation.
Discovery through Mindfulness
It’s messy because there are no clear answers that are lasting or satisfying. We discover through mindfulness practice that some questions are not meant to be answered but rather to apprentice us — they teach us to know the question more intimately, instead of driving us toward resolution. As we steadily practice mindfulness throughout this program, we ripen our capacity to experience the nature of racial complexity, chaos, and uncertainty, and we discover that nothing in life is personal, permanent, or perfect. With awareness, we discover that happiness and suffering are two sides of the same feather, blown by the winds of change. Neither is our enemy or our savior. Each helps us know the depth of the other.
It’s messy because as much as we try, we won’t be mindful all the time. We will make mistakes, and we will cause harm and be harmed. Our hearts will be broken again and again in this awakening practice and we may find ourselves often in the throes of fear, righteousness, and ill will. But we can slow down, tune in, and acknowledge these contractions, forgive ourselves, and, when centered, if appropriate, apologize and forgive others. Forgiveness is an act of compassion. We purify the heart with practice.
Moving Through Three Stages of Group Development
When sharing racial experiences, we may feel exposed and unskilled as we reveal the fear, anger, shame, and uncertainty that accompany being open. These feelings can trigger exit impulses in your monthly meetings: to drop out, strike out, shut down, or remain superficial or guarded in group interactions. Because of this predictable vulnerability, in the RA-GDP, we attend to what is needed to feel membered, and to know our impact on group growth and wellbeing. In this program, we progress through three stages of group development: Inclusion, Control, and Belonging. When each stage is embraced thoughtfully, group members feel more committed and take more risks, and learning and connection is enhances.
I am delighted we are on this learning path together, and I look forward to supporting your transformation.
Shifting from Racial Distress to Racial Harmony
We have all been impacted by the rotten roots of racial conditioning, and we will likely not solve, in our lifetime, the social injustices and suffering that plague communities and hearts near and far. We can’t choose our racial heartbreaks, but we can become more aware of how our thoughts get in the way of clear seeing, healing, and responding wisely.
Racial distress invites us to question how we live our lives. We can become more deliberate through inquiry. We can stop the war within our own hearts and minds. We can cultivate more and more moments of inner ease. We can respond to racial suffering with more understanding, clarity, and wisdom. We can be more curious and aware of our impact. We can learn to empathize and to forgive others and ourselves. This is the most healing medicine of all, and the intention of our journey together.
The end game is not that we all get along or love each other because we are told it’s the right thing to do. It’s more about an ever-growing awareness of how we impact and care for each other; how we belong to each other. It’s about eliminating racial dominance and healing racial aversion from the inside out. It’s about ensuring that no joy is experienced at the expense of other races. We are all habit humans — change is who we are and what we do. When we recognize and understand our racial habits of harm, we can change them. History offers perspective and maybe a dash of hope — but don’t count on hope. Count on being present and doing what must be done in the moment with as much kindness as you can muster.
To be racially awake is enlivening and life giving. We become more tender, less defended, more caring, and less harmful. And when we do forget to take care of each other and ourselves, we can own up, reaffirm our intention to keep our hearts open to all beings without exception, and begin again.