Unassailable

MLK 2

“I pray that all beings reveal their True unassailable nature.  May I reveal my unassailable nature in the face of adversity. 

I said this prayer after contemplating an interview I did with our friend Gino Walker in church last Sunday.

Gino is an amazing woman.  She’s a talented singer, speaker, and teacher.  She has a YouTube channel called Pass the Mic.  She is a daredevil.  She bungee jumps and parachute leaps for fun.  I experienced the terror of hot air ballooning with her.  She lurched around the basket, while I sang “Up, Up, and Away” through clenched teeth.

Gino

Even with her bold power, Gino has been the recipient of racism.  She spoke with us about it on Sunday.

“A man threw a bottle at me and called me the N-word.”  “My mother taught me not to touch anything in stores because people might think I’m stealing.”  “A white shopkeeper ran out of his store and yelled ‘stop.’  It wasn’t even about me.  Some other guy had left his wallet.  But I automatically froze and raised my hands up over my head.”

This in America, in our lifetime.  Racism, intolerance, assault, and disdain for the perceived other.

Earlier in the service before I introduced Gino, I read a poem called “To Create an Enemy,” by Sam Keen:

Start with an empty canvas

Sketch in broad outline the forms of men, women, and children.

Dip into the unconscious well of your own disowned darkness with a wide brush and stain the strangers with the sinister hue of the shadow.

Trace onto the face of the enemy the greed, hatred, carelessness you dare not claim as your own.

 Obscure the sweet individuality of each face.

 Erase all hints of myriad loves, hope, fears that play through the kaleidoscope of every finite heart…. (for the full poem, click here)

painting

People project their fear, shame, and shadow onto the other and then live like that falsehood is true….

What do we do about it?

Many good people are outraged by racism and other assaults.  Outrage makes perfect sense.  But what if we’re not supposed to do what makes sense?  I’m not sure that we can transform from a platform of outrage.  We’ve tried it.  It doesn’t seem effective.  Outrage creates more outrage.  Outrage creates more to be outraged about.  Outrage is a greedy beast that is never satisfied.  And because outrage is focused on changing the “other” it may actually disempower those who are outraged, the people that we might call victims.

Nelson Mandela

We need a new language of protest, a new consciousness of irrational peacemaking.

The new language of protest quietly insists on something bold, vulnerable, clear, unknowable, and compelling.  We feel our outrage, but we do not become hypnotized by it.  Instead we give voice to the unassailable within us.

When we are victimized; when we witness the victimization of others we say, “I am unassailable.  You are unassailable.  We are invincible source and force.  Source and force provide the unrelenting love and truth that needs no defense.  This Full-Filling essence compels us to love our enemies and bless those inner and outer demons who curse us.”

I interviewed Gino on Sunday not because she had been traumatized by racism.  That was an important part of her story.  What made her story compelling (and yes, controversial) was her ability to transcend trauma and find mystical truth in searing hardship.

It happened by accident.  She was listening to an Ester Hicks CD.  The topic of racism arose.  Esther said something like “Don’t try and change the racist.  He has nothing to do with you.  Change yourself.”

Gino, of course, at first was outraged.  “It’s their fault.  They need to change.  I’m innocent.”

Many of us would react in the same way, saying “If I’m the one who has to change, does that mean I was in the wrong?  And doesn’t that smell like blaming the victim?”

Gino battled with all of this, and then decided to try something new.  She noticed how the words about race and inferiority were based on the premise that someone outside of her had the power to rile or shame her.   She asked, where does the language of racism get its power?  Is the power in the words themselves?  Is the power in those who speak harshly to me?  Is the power a magical vast human conspiracy that decreed words to damage my esteem?  Or is the power in my learned, hypnotic belief in untrue sounds – mere vibrations of vocal cords that misinform me and deny my true glorious nature?

Gibran

We recognized together how easy it is to give our power away.  We elevate racists to the position of cause, when in fact they should be effect.

To take back causal power, Gino examined her prejudices and hatreds.  She saw her own tendency to project shadows onto others.  She looked at her knee jerk plan to hate the haters.  After all, weren’t their insults responsible for “making” her feel badly about herself?

These reactions are commonplace.  The willingness to embrace and transcend them is rare.

Gino rose to the occasion.  She found that she sometimes saw bigotry that wasn’t there.  A woman who clutched her purse when she saw Gino, was not reacting to the color of her skin.  She was reacting to a heavy purse.  Gino reality-checked this with this woman and found the truth.

Gino also discovered a new way of dealing with bigots.

I asked her, “Just because you have a new perspective on racism; just because you’re owning your projections, that doesn’t mean that all racists are going to scurry away.  Racists are still real, right?”  She nodded and told us a story.

She was tested in a convenience store.  A man standing behind her in line ranted and called her a Black-A$$ bitch.  She stepped aside, offered him kind words, and spoke out-loud about sending him love.  The man didn’t change.  He stomped off to his Mercedes and drove away.  But Gino changed – she was empowered through her kind response.  Her ego died a little that day, for the cause, for more love in the world.  And the clerk behind the counter and the others standing in line, said through tears, “That was strong.  How did you do that?”

mad

I suspect she achieved poise and equanimity through her unassailable nature.  She responded from the Truth that could not be diminished by the evil behavior of others.

We all have that capacity.

When we find the truth of who we are, the verbal bullets that others shoot at us become blanks.  Their projections of fear and shame can’t handle the truth of our unassailability.  When we love ourselves, when we love our enemies, there’s no place for the projections to stick.

I asked Gino to give our congregation an assignment.  “How can we practice these principles so that we may support you and others?”  Gino suggested we engage in personal inquiry.  “Do the work of uncovering your own prejudices and projections,” she said.  “That’s the hardest part.

I know it’s hard.  I’ve been examining my prejudices all week, revealing disdain and fear.  It’s especially hard when you really have felt victimized by others; when the voice of the separate self enters into the debate and says, “seriously, how is love going to help?  They were wrong; that person is the exception and needs to be punished with your rage.”

If you don’t know how to get started, ask your unassailable nature to assist.  It lies “stretched in smiling repose,” waiting for an invitation to change the world through you. Find a community to support you.  And most of all, pray.

“I pray that all beings reveal their True unassailable nature.  May I reveal my unassailable nature in the face of adversity.  And so it is.

back bent MLK (2)

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Failure is Afraid of You

candlesA wise abbot decided to teach his students about the nature of light and darkness.  He brought them to a desolate cave and sealed the door.  It was completely dark.  “Find a way to dispel the darkness,” he told them.

One monk found a large stick. “I will beat the darkness,” he said.  That will fix it.”

The second monk found a broom and said, “I will sweep the darkness away.”

The third monk pulled out a shovel, saying “I will dig a deep hole and the darkness will escape.”

Nothing worked.  The darkness persisted.

Then a fourth monk found a candle.  He lit the candle and revealed other candles stashed in the crevices of the cave.  The monks lit them and eliminated the darkness with the power of light.

This story is a metaphor for our relationship with fear – and failure is one of our greatest fears.  We are so afraid of failure that we combat it by metaphorically beating it, sweeping it away, or hiding it in a deep hole.

What if we could light a candle instead?

Or three candles, Wisdom, Compassion, and Joy.  If you ignite even a small measure of any of these qualities– then failure is afraid of you.

  1. The Candle of Wisdom: Most of us have an unconscious definition of failure that goes something like this.  “Failure happens because I messed up; failure proves I am a loser.”

What if failure is really something else?  What if failure is a journey through an unexpected result that reveals an opportunity to tell a kinder story about what happens along the way?

When I first became the senior minister of our Spiritual Center I expected to be successful.  I had been a “star” in my former church.  After changing churches, whenever I’d see members of my former congregation they’d ask, “So how’s it going?  Your new church must be growing and thriving, right?”

I’d shake my head and say, “Well, no.  To be honest, it’s kind of like the scene from the Ten Commandments when Moses parts the Red Sea and all the Hebrew People run like a swarm of ants away from Pharaoh.  I’m Pharaoh in this scenario and they can’t get away from me fast enough.”

It was an unexpected result.  I used this result to tell myself I was a pathetic and undeserving example of a minister.

It took some time to see the abandonment as an exodus of good people who were not a good fit for a new version of church emerging through changed leadership.  Gradually, with persistence and prayer, people who resonated with my message and style found their way to us.  Today we have a great church – and part of its greatness is because of the early exodus.

When failure happens, we can see it as an unexpected result.  Then be mindful of the story we tell about it.  Instead of using alleged failure to prove inadequacy, see it as a transitional step to the greater yet to be.

quan yin

  1. The Candle of Compassion:  Most of us believe ourselves to be compassionate people.  If I were to ask you to say out loud, “I am a compassionate person,” you would say it and it would probably feel true.

It’s true to a point.  But consider your inner responses to failure.  Do you berate yourself when you fail?  You may not be as compassionate as you want to be if you torture yourself with self-criticism.

Shining a light on the inner critic can help.  Believe it or not, the inner critic is a work of fiction, completely made up to employ ineffectual self-help strategies.  If we have a fictional inner critic, it stands to reason that we can also cultivate an inner champion.  We can implant a compassionate hero in our minds.  Our inner champion can be Quan Yin, the Buddha, or a trusted friend.  It can be a beloved animal companion.  Our inner champion can be any being that is willing to filter the rhetoric of the inner critic through the prism of compassion.

Once we have found our inner champion, we tell it our berating story and see what happens.

When my inner critic gets over-zealous, I invoke the imagery of Jesus and/or my dog Stella.  If Jesus rolls his eyes or Stella yawns and goes to sleep, I know my criticism holds no merit. I release the story of my inadequacy and choose a more compassionate story that embraces and transcends fear.

Yawning V

  1. The Candle of Joy:  My friend Birju recently shared this quote:  Joy is the mother of all emotions.  But joy will not go where her children are not welcome. 

 It sounds odd, but I believe the feelings we hold around failure are displaced joy.   It can be hard to find joy in failure.  But welcoming the “negative” feelings will help.  As we welcome, we witness our inner chatter from an objective standpoint.  We listen. We love.  And ultimately, we laugh.

Something opens within us and we realize that failure is funny.  Seriously.

Google “blooper reels,” “stage fails,” “animals behaving badly,” and you’ll see how we love to laugh at ourselves.

Igniting candles of wisdom, compassion, and joy helps us see failure as a friend.  In the spirit of Failure Clubs, springing up all over the world, we may even decide that failure is a goal to be achieved.  The intention to hold dreams big enough to fail enlarges our willingness to approach the impossible.  Through our approach, the impossible becomes possible.  The journey becomes more important than the destination.  Our boldness strips failure of the power we have given it.  And when we try and fail, failure becomes success.

pug

 

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Stranger Kindness

Last summer, I invited our congregation to participate in a kindness challenge.  I said, “Approach strangers and ask, ‘Is there anything I can do or say to help you have a better day?’

Since I encouraged the congregation to engage in this practice, I thought I should give it a try as well.  Not that I wanted to.  At all.  I had many concerns.  I’m reclusive by nature.   I was afraid people would think I was weird.  Or even worse, people would ask me to give something beyond my capacity to give – and then I would feel like a disappointment when I couldn’t deliver.

I often tell people to serve beyond their comfort zone though, so I decided to give the Stranger Kindness question a try.  

The first person I asked, the manager of a store I often visit after hiking, replied “I have a hangover.  Can you help?”  I thought back to my wilder days, back when hangover cures were a topic.  I was just about to say, “Maybe go to Denny’s and have some seriously greasy food?”  But the manager disrupted my suggestion when he told me about the party he attended the night before.  It was a celebration for his daughter’s college graduation.  His smile came alive when he spoke of her.

There was nothing to change, nothing to fix – only connection and shared joy.

The next person I approached worked at Starbucks.  I asked the question as he took my order for iced tea.  He said, “I’m studying to become an EMT.  I just want someone to tell me I can do it.”

I believe in you,” I said.  “You’re clearly a wonderful person and I know you’ll make a great EMT.  Hang in there.  You’ve got this!”

Both of our days were brightened by the heart surge, inspired by a simple question.

My favorite story about this kindness challenge wasn’t instigated by me.  Mary, one of our congregants also went to Starbucks to ask the question.  When Mary entered, she noticed the barista taking orders was professional and friendly in a well-trained way.  Mary ordered her tea and then asked  “Is there anything I can do or say to help you have a better day?

The barista started to say no, but then she said, “You know what?  I’d really like to meet a man.  I’m not picky.  I just want him to have teeth.”

Had I been there, I might have panicked, thinking “Oh wow, how can I manifest a toothy man right now?”

Mary gave the perfect response.

“I’ll hold that in prayer for you,” she said.

When Mary left Starbucks, she noticed that the barista’s demeanor had changed.  Her superficial polish was replaced by deep delight.  She glowed.  Perhaps hope created the glow.  Not only hope for a man with teeth; but hope found in the kindness of strangers – the kindness that connects and inspires us to serve one another in infinitely creative ways.

If you want your life to be a party of goodwill, you might want to try this practice.  Ask strangers, “What can I do or say to help you have a better day?”  Then stand by, ready to touch the hem of what matters most.  

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