Like many of you, I have been deeply disturbed, distressed, angered and motivated by the widespread protests and calls to action that occurred in response to the murder of George Floyd. Disturbed and distressed as a loosely covered bandage was ripped away to fully expose to me the festering wound that is American racism. Angered, both at myself and others who unconsciously and consciously perpetuate a racist culture that creates so much suffering. Motivated as my role as a white cisgendered female in both supporting the status quo and as an agent for change come into sharp focus.
At times like this, I find guidance in my yoga and buddhist practice. Right now I am working through this moment in time with the support of teachings on wisdom and compassion. In Buddhism it is taught that wisdom and compassion are two wings of the same bird- we need both in order to be free.
Wisdom is the clarity we receive from seeing things as they truly are. It is born from awareness- being in contact with that unchanging aspect of ourselves. As I have brought mindfulness practice into my daily life, at times wisdom has spontaneously arisen as a painful wake up call. Images of police brutality and global protests in the news and online have shone a harsh light on my privilege and the bubble I live in. Seeking wisdom also involves actively seeking the truth. In this case, I have been, and now increase my efforts in understanding the history of racism and how my own privilege is enjoyed at the expense of those whose skin color is different than my own. I have begun to clearly see something which has until now been invisible to me- my own whiteness and the culture of whiteness I live in.
The hard work of seeing clearly is balanced by compassion- the ability to feel care for ourselves and others when we experience suffering. It is the piercing of the heart that I felt when I saw this past Sunday morning yet another black man, Rayshard Brooks, was unnecessarily shot during a police altercation. It is what softens self-deprecating thoughts that I haven’t done enough to effect change. Compassion for self and others is what allows me to have hard conversations with family members who don’t see this matter in the same way I do without getting into a shouting match. Now, more than ever, we need to cultivate the heart.
Without compassion, wisdom can be overly intellectual and harsh. Without wisdom, we can end up weighed down by suffering and unable to act. Cultivating one of these qualities might be easier than the other for you. Ask yourself- do you find yourself paralyzed by grief, so much that you are unable to take action? Are you connected to your body and the heart around this matter, or are you spending a lot of time taking in information and/or developing your understanding?
Balancing these two wings will allow us the heart and vision to take action and make real change. I have listed some resources below that have been useful in my own life as I cultivate wisdom and compassion, and take action!
Michelle Downing
Justice in June-
A comprehensive document that lists educational resources and action items
Support local BIPOC-owned businesses
opportunities for white caucus (exploring whiteness with other white people):
Books and articles:
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Love and Rage by Lama Rod Owens
Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out by Ruth King
Radical Dharma by Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams and Lama Rod Owens
Birth of a White Nation: The Invention of White People and Its Relevance Today by Jacqueline Battalora

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