Small Changes

I’ve been thinking about racism recently, for a couple of reasons. The first is I’ve moved to a dead end street and most of the folks here speak Spanish – or so I thought. I was embarrassed the other day to find one of my neighbors is throughly bi-lingual and so are her kids. I’d heard them speaking Spanish and made an assumption.

Racism? Yeah. Since I’m a member of the dominant culture and I only speak one language I assume that’s true of others, even though I’ve been proven wrong more than once.

The other reason is an incident that happened in a group I belong to. My hidden racism surfaced and so did that of some other people there.  There was a blowup. Fortunately someone named the problem and we began to talk about the real issues. The group is of truly good heart so efforts at healing have begun, and my sense is we will succeed.

Part of my own efforts include reading Together We Are One: Honoring Our Diversity, Celebrating Our Connection. It’s by Thich Nhat Hanh, and is based in part on the experiences of  a People Of Color retreat held at the Deer Park Monastery. As so often happens, this book is not what I expected – it’s much more subtle.

Some of Thich Nhat Hahn’s teaching is about what he calls “inter-being.” As I understand it,that’s the mindful recognition that there is no separation between you and me, or me and my cat, or me and a person of color, or… well, you get the idea. While I mostly believe he’s right, I don’t experience inter-being very often.

This morning, however, when I was reading in preparation for meditation, something clicked and as I sat I experimented with knowing that I’m also male, I’m also young again, and even older than I am, and Black, and Asian, and American Indian, and Indian. I briefly saw myself as a blonde from Australia and as a Muslim woman in full Burka with my eyes barely visible.

While I’m not sure I actually accomplished inter-being with any of the people I pictured, I did brush it, or taste it just a bit. It was surprising and even delightful. Just a kiss of an experience. One of those events that is utterly beyond words.

In the grand scheme of things does it mean much? I seriously doubt it. I also doubt that a single session of such a meditation will shift my knee-jerk reactions, at least not completely. And I’m not a bit sure I could repeat what I did and get the same results. But something happened.

I don’t know about you, but I always want dramatic changes. I want to wipe out my own fear of the other in one fell swoop. I want to wake up one morning and discover the election I worked on not only came out the way I wanted, but changed the world in an instant and in a way I think it should be changed. I want the trash I recycle to result in saving all the polar bears right now.

Perhaps it’s just as well the changes, when they begin to happen, are so small they are almost unnoticed. If I really knew I’d probably get in the way.

I like to think I know what’s best, but I don’t, not really. Or maybe I do, but not completely. Maybe change  is more like a seed that slowly uncoils itself, or like the true headwaters of a mighty river high in the hills where the stream is almost invisible.

I am grateful when I catch a whiff of change in me, particularly when it’s change I like.

Meanwhile, like all of us, I’ll just keep doing my best, or as close to it as I can get.

How are you working for change in yourself and others?

Love and blessings,

Anne Wayman: When Grandmother Speaks

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