Ram Dass once said, “If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”Today that challenge may read, If you think you are enlightened go spend a week in Black Lives Matter (BLM) Rallies!
That’s what I just did and wow, did I get to see where I really am on the path. It all began last Sunday when my 18-year-old son invited me to a BLM Rally on the Commons in our home city of Ithaca, NY. At first, I felt numb to his proposal. As a long time student of yoga, a teacher, and a Coach, Sundays are precious planning days. But as I walked away from him, something started to stir in my belly. My numbness began to dissipate and I soon saw anxiety, some dread and… anger take its place.
Don’t get me wrong, like most white people, and certainly like white yogis, I support equal rights for everyone! I openly challenge my own and others’ racism, sexism, ageism, and any other “ism” you can throw at me. But as I hit the stairs back up to my studio, my awareness settled deeper into these feelings. As I walked away from my son, and the opportunity he challenged me with, I was walking into my comfortably numb space of spiritual bypassing. Spiritual Bypassing is a term introduced in the early 1980s by a Buddhist Teacher and psychotherapist named John Wellwood. It refers to the “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”
When we arrived at the Rally, I stood as far back from the stage as possible. I nervously looked around to see if I knew anyone, anyone, at all. No luck. We were asked to go down on one knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd. I felt the heat and hardness of the concrete touch my knee, closed my eyes, and felt the first wave of acceptance for where I was and what I was going to hear. When the speaker asked us to rise, I couldn’t hear his voice but only moved forward when the other, largely… no, hugely, white group moved. For the next five minutes, I stared bored and frustrated at the stage because I couldn’t hear a word the black activists were saying. I looked at my feet, I looked at the little white boy and girl who were running around while their white parents shushed them. For the next five minutes, I strained to pick up a few words, “ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS”, “Say his name- George Floyd!”, “Whose Life Matters!?”
Then my son announced he was going to move closer. Without waiting for a reply, he walked away. I was alone. I felt exposed and struggled to keep my thoughts positive, ” All lives matter.” “Police are people too.” “Peace is the only solution.”
After ten more minutes of repeating my well-oiled mantras, I began to move closer to the inner circle of the Black Lives Matter Activists who were now screaming at the nearly all-white crowd. The aloneness I had felt a few minutes before was now turning into a seesaw of boredom and frustration. Judgments about the organization and the event circled my mind- “Why didn’t they organize better? This is why I don’t get involved with movements like this. They should have a complete speaker system set up, it can’t be that expensive! I really have a lot of work to do, how long have I been here already?”
Boredom led to frustration and my frustration began pleading with me to leave. Then I caught sight of my son. His white 6’4″ frame topped with blonde hair was right next to the current black speaker. My feet began moving me before my mind could say no. I eased into a spot behind the speakers. A spot where I could see the crowd of white people moving like a school of fish in response to the black speakers. Then it dawned on me, They are trying to wake US up! The school of fish yelled when the current speaker railed against the white police officers. We screamed when they talked about the white educational system, taxation system, and jail systems. Like fish in a net, we were being pulled in. When I turned back to the speaker, a large and very angry black man, I heard him ask, “Where are all the black people? How come we are here talking to you white people, again?!” His words hit me in the gut and realization dawned, WE ARE THE PROBLEM! This isn’t about the Police or even the white establishment, this is about US! Like the sun beginning to burn my white arms, I felt the heat of those thoughts sear into my soul. Then the white couple next to me left and once again, I was alone. Another realization rose, I can’t change any of those other white people, I can only change me. They aren’t even the problem, I Am The Problem.
For the rest of the hour, I stood open and exposed to all the words my black neighbors were hurling at my denial. Words that kept revealing the mechanics of how my white privilege allows me to avoid and hide-out from seeing what these people live with 365 days a year. “Do you know what?” He hooked me again. “If you are white, you got it good. If you are black, you got it bad! It’s that simple. Are you afraid to walk through your neighborhood at night? If so, isn’t it because you are afraid a black person is going to harm, rob, disturb or invade your life? If you go to school, do you know what it is like to be reminded of the color of your skin all day long? Do you know what it is like to be reminded of the poverty of your community, all day long? Do you know what it is like to feel the alienation from everyone who isn’t your color? No, you don’t! But I do and so does everyone here who is speaking to you today! Add to that, you don’t fear being shot or arrested simply because you have a tail light out on your car, but we do! And you don’t even think about being hauled out of a store and thrown to the ground while a police officer jams his knee into your neck for 8 MINUTES AND 46 SECONDS UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD, BUT… WE… DO!”
The silence that met his words swirled across all the white faces began to break up our school. Some people looked at the ground, some looked at the sky, others stared directly at him and, we were caught!
I stood in the Sun until the Rally ended. I came back to another BLM Rally on Wednesday and another one on Friday. I commit to keep going and I am inviting other white yogis to come too. Because after three Rallies, I am beginning to see and listen differently. I am hearing the wisdom of many people, seeing the “path” to peace and inner clarity amongst those who don’t have the privilege to avoid through spending their days on a mat or a cushion to find enlightenment. I am also just beginning to see that our true Teacher now isn’t our aged parents, it’s our suffering neighbors who want to be heard, seen, and recognized for the path they have walked.
If you really want to wake up, go to at least three Black Lives Matter Rallies and watch yourself change. As the great spiritual teacher, Mahatma Gandhi said, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.”