May I see the world clearly with gentle eyes.
The death of George Floyd was a wake-up call for me.
During the many years I was a Unitarian Universalist (UU), I often attended their excellent anti-racist trainings and programs, but this necessarily took a back seat to my efforts in the related sphere of addressing UU clergy sexual abuse. When I withdrew from those seemingly all-consuming efforts on July 1, 2015, I was bone-weary and my priorities became decoupling my identity from that of “survivor activist” and recuperating.
It’s taken years. At times I’d re-engage in various forms of social activism, but then I’d fizzle. My burn-out was too far gone.
And then George Floyd died. Everywhere I looked I saw surges of amazing energy to address the horror, desperate injustice, entrenched racism — the unspeakable tragedy — his death represents. And I realized it might, after all, be possible for me to be a social activist again — this time being one of many thousands (as opposed to a handful) — this time roused to overcome the systemic racism so deeply entrenched in my country, the United States.
Following the advice of my still-UU husband, who has for years been combining Nonviolent Communication with anti-racism, I began by listening to the Seeing White podcast series. It was an eye-opener — and got me over the hump of understanding what people mean when they speak of systemic racism.
Next, I became active in the Rochester Zen Center’s Seeing Through Racism (STR) group. Zen practice has become the center of my life and the Center has helped me in more ways than I can count — in particular working through the agonizing questions I had about all religions in the wake of my over-exposure to clergy (including Buddhist teacher) sexual misconduct. However, I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with the Center’s “more than 50-year history of being a nearly 100% white organization.”
There was clearly much anti-racist work to be done on this home-front of mine and, even though I don’t understand as thoroughly what it means to be an anti-racist as most others in STR, nonetheless it was clear they could use my tech skills as they started to leverage Zoom and other technologies to harness and coalesce anti-racist efforts within the Zen Center.
In these same months, the Center’s leadership began work with a race relations expert. Add this to STR’s revitalization and the result seems to be some seismic shifts. One example, and why I write this post, is that the Center added “taking steps related to fighting racism” as an option for participants to commit to in its current 4-week Term Intensive.
Of course I leapt at this commitment. And the timing was such I could also make it my October monthly practice.
But what commitment to choose? I didn’t want to be trapped in such niches as only reading books. Eventually I came up with the idea of both logging my anti-racist efforts and journaling about about them each day.
I’d never heard of anyone doing this and was concerned it was too self-centered, but it was the best I could come up with. Now, two weeks in, I’m amazed by how perfectly it’s greasing my anti-racist wheels: not too much; not too little; the Middle Way. And coincidentally, just today, I saw that Ibram Kendi has had a similar idea.
The log not only tracks my activities, it alerts me on days I have yet to do anything anti-racist-related and correct my course. And the journal gives me the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learned in the previous 24 hours. Here’s a sample.
- Oct. 2: “How deeply grounded in his faith John Lewis was. This seems to be the bedrock of his selfless activism.” It doesn’t matter that he was Christian and I’m Buddhist. It reinforces my growing belief that this is a vital part of my spiritual (for lack of a better word) path right now.
- Oct. 9: James Baldwin in The Fire Next Time says: “Take no one’s word for anything, including mine — but trust your experience.” He sounds like the Buddha [!] — something I’ve seen twice again in reading this short book — and I’m not finished.
- Oct. 10: Adapting a phrase I read recently in Ruth King’s Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out, I’m learning how potent it is for me to strive to see this racism-torn country and myself both clearly and with gentle eyes.
- Oct. 12: In my journal, I’m free to honor, rather than stuff, the intersectionality of racism and my experiences with clergy sexual abuse. I can affirm privately that victims of sexual abuse also matter — in a forum that doesn’t detract from the currently urgent message that Black Lives Matter. It’s a safe outlet for the parallel pain that a few times recently has engulfed me.
- Oct. 14: Looking at my motives for logging and journaling, one major theme is a longing to understand.
I’m so grateful to the Zen Center for this Term Intensive. Without it, I would never have tried combining a daily anti-racist log with journaling — and it’s proving a deep well of inspiration.