Thursday, November 26, 2015

Today I Give Thanks For My Privilege

(a poemletter to my white American cohort celebrating Thanksgiving today
and anyone else who has privilege who feels compelled to give thanks today)

Today I give thanks for my privilege
at a laptop computer
(Apple, no less)
in my own, relatively quiet, and totally safe home.
A white woman, queer but accepted fully by
by my chosen society
(the immediate 18 miles that surround me).
With a warm, fat cat on my lap and
another in the bedroom -
more than one room, three bedrooms, in fact
(though small, I want to say, and the traffic outside
can be loud when it is not a holiday).

I have today off. The whole day off. Because
I am self-employed doing 100% what I love.
When people ask me:
"How can I do what you do?"
I have to pause in order not to start with:
"Do you have enough privilege to get going?"
An inheritance? Which I did.
A good credit rating? Ditto.
White skin and an educated upbringing? Tritto.
Because these are what made all the rest of it possible.
Even though it took dead parents to get
the money
and a lot of forced independence
for that credit rating -
the skin
the education
came first and most importantly
based on nothing other than chance.
Not a single choice in my life hasn't rested on that chance.
On privilege.

My desire to hedge, to say
"I am privileged, but..."
is itself a privilege, a mark of my own knowledge
the freedom I have to feel responsible
guilty, even,
or not.
Today, I choose not to feel guilty or ashamed.
Today I choose not to brag but to give thanks.

Because it is due to grace
that I am here.
That I am not in Syria
or trying to escape Syria
has absolutely
not one thing
to do with who I am
or my goodness.

This is privilege -
to feel safe. To feel unthreatened
except by my own mind.

I ask you to join me in giving thanks
giving back to what has been given to you.
I do not ask for guilt
I do not ask for shame
I do not ask for hedging or apologies or amendments
I do not ask myself for these
and I do not ask you either.

If you are in North America and your skin ever reads as white,
you are privileged.
Please stop trying to fight it.
On a day like today, where people focus on
gratitude for all the extra things,
I would like you to consider
like I am
giving thanks for being the basics:
for being alive
(because consider the alternatives)
for being here
for being safe.

I am not asking you to give up your privilege.
I am simply asking you to
See it.
Give thanks for this blind gift.

Because it is a gift, it is something that can be given away.
Risk it, risk it for the black people being shot
in Minneapolis,
in Chicago.
For the Syrians fleeing -
the migrantsrefugees the whatever whichever newspaper wants to call them today -
the human beings risking their lives to live.
Risk your reputation with your family
with your careful safe society
and side with those who don't have such safety.
Risk your sense of self
and consider what it would be like
to be born somewhere else
or in another time
or in another body

What you - what I - take as fact
is chance.
This life as a privileged white North American
is not fate.
It is not a manifested destiny you have earned.
None of it.
Not a whit.
All if it comes out of privilege.
And the best way to honor it
is to start by giving thanks
whole hearted
nothing held back thanks.

Then, to show our real gratitude,
we must risk it.
In small ways, in big ways.
Because privilege brings with it power.
Because we can do more
since others read us as not a threat.
We can go into the frontlines
(if that is your way)
or into the headlines
(if that is your way)
and still keep our privilege.
Since it is so indelible, such a given,
give it away. Just try.
You cannot lose it.
It cannot be taken from you.

Privilege was given to you completely.
Give it away completely.
People without it have sacrificed more and more readily
for centuries.
Start small
start today.

Today I give thanks for my privilege.
Today I ask you to do the same for yours.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cocoon, Creativity and Life

I co-taught a Shambhala Training Level II recently at the Madison Shambhala Center. This is the first time I have taught this material, and I was nervous as hell. The main teachings in Level II relate to "cocoon" - Trungpa Rinpoche's image for the solid sense of self we build with our habits and avoidance of life.

As you can see in this post, I've been working personally with doubt and choice, agency and hiding out a lot lately.

So I know it is important. Really, really important. But it is so, so hard. Why?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Exploring the Spectrum of Fear

In preparing to co-teach a Level II Shambhala Training program this last weekend, I did a lot of reading about, contemplating and meditating on fear. Trungpa Rinpoche says that fear is our main reason to build a cocoon, a wall of habits and tendencies that give us a protective sense of solid self.

But of course, fear is not just one thing.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Doubt and Choice

I have been working with doubt and choice and agency lately. I posted this on Facebook last week, and it got reposted/liked/commented on hundreds of times - so I know it is not just me.
Most days I give myself the choice to do nothing. Fuck it, I think, when my Bluetooth keyboard won't connect with my computer, when the coffee goes all over because I didn't set up my aero press right. Small frustrations threaten to pull me way off course.
No matter how much privilege and access we have, life often feels brutal, boring, irritating and too hard. But because I have privilege and access, especially to powerful, life-affirming Buddhist teachings, I know I need to keep going.
I take a deep breath. Feel the minor frustrations and real crippling suffering of all human beings. I step back, go for a walk or write, and come back and do it again.That's what I am doing right now - writing this to remind myself. I have a lot to offer. It is worth it. 
To myself: Don't shut down and watch TV all day. You've got this. Take breaks, snuggle cats, eat chocolate. But keep going. You've got this.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Trap of Doubt, Delay and "Discipline"

Recently, I met with one of my writing feedback groups. Most of the folks in this small group are working on memoir, which is a supremely difficult genre. One woman in particular is writing a very hard tale about a very small but potent part of her life - a year or so of mental health struggles in which she lost most of her support network. It's a poignant story, and she tells it very directly.

Since she has begun, she's written with great momentum, clear about what comes next, able to pile through very tricky scenes with great ease. Then she hit some doubt - a moment of not being sure where the story was going next, or what the point was in writing/sharing it. And then she hit some stress - way too many external and internal stressors coming together at the wrong time. Her actually writing got delayed - put on the back burner - by a few months, due to illness and literal, physical inability to write. It's also inevitable that such an intense story would bring up doubt, eventually.