one reflection

Charged rhetoric. Resegregation. Terror Attacks. Cop funerals. Black lives that don’t matter enough.

I weep for our world.

And as tears roll down my face and pool in my heart, I see the mirrored reflection of my humanity. Of our humanity.

Staring back at me is mi abuelo y abuela. Not mine by birth, but by my sister’s marriage. Growing up I remember their parties. Loud laughter; welcoming hugs; lively discussions; late night dancing under hanging lights; endless bowls of arroz con pollo y homemade mole. More than their parties was their presence: no matter what my brother-in-law and sister went through, they were there. They were there for Dave and I too, gifting us with a suite for our wedding night (espero que ustedes están leyendo esto porque quiero darle las gracias: gracias Abuelo y Abuela). And they were there in our home too. Mexican skin and tongue brought together by holiday family fests–the only translator needed was Mom’s chicken spaghetti or sweet potatoes. Brown Mom and White Mom were assaulted equally by breast cancer, and they quilted the tapestry of their hands together to comfort each other’s pain and fear. I, white, am them, Mexican; and they are me.

Staring back at me is the predominantly black fellowship that cultivated my formative years. Singing “black and yellow, red and white, they are precious in his sight” carried more potency when I held all those colors of hands and merged into all those colors of voices and hugged all those colors of bodies. I prayed with them. I ate with them. I served with them. I drove through ghettos with them to play volleyball. I dated them. I lived with them. And the rhythms of their souls and the swagger of their hips and the passion of their hearts became my own. I, white, am them, black; and they are me.

Staring back at me are the Muslim girls for whom I was a camp counselor. I greeted them with Allahu Akbar. I found reverence for their careful attention to cleaning rituals before meals. I saw the Divine in their five calls daily to prayer. I learned respect for their self-governed choices to cover their heads. I enjoyed the beautiful way they let go when they felt completely free. I, Christian, am them, Muslim; and they are me.

Staring back at me is the multitude of students who are at-risk in this world that should be guarding them. Their color and race does not matter, for they are united by the bedrock of poverty upon which others’ American dreams are built. They don’t go to the doctor when they are sick because it is too expensive. They are sequestered to schools where their success–and failure–is reduced to numbers. They hide in closets during territorial shootings outside their doors. They care for their mothers who have been beaten by abusive spouses. They work jobs at night instead of doing homework in order to keep their family together. They are pushed out of their neighborhoods by the oozing white tentacles of gentrification. They hide in drugs or gangs or sex because they have no other way to cope with the dark reality of their lives. And everyday I show up to educate them, but end up instead being taught by them. I, privileged and safe, am them, disadvantaged and poor; and they are me.

Staring back at me is my nephew-in-law. Day after day for years he has pursued a variety of assignments in his local police vicinity: first security detail, then cop, now detective. With a heart of integrity, he serves his community to build trust and security and prosperity for all parties involved. On his social media feed, he likes his black best friend’s white wife’s post of an image of their mixed son with the hashtag #mysonisnotahashtag. Meanwhile less than 800 miles away from his home, three cops left their wives and children in the morning never to return. He is not the enemy. They are not the enemy. There is no he or they. I, civilian, am him, officer; and he is me.

Staring back at me is the weight of my white privilege. To write a statement like “I am … and … is me” is something that I, a white woman, can get away with. I have a position of power that I recognize. But I also refuse to let it cloud my vision and steal my light.

I am done with lines and borders and binaries that cut bloody scars across communities.

Black/white. Legal/illegal. Cop/civilian. Muslim/Christian. Republican/Democrat. Poor/rich. Them/us. You/me.

They are us. We are them.

I am you. You are me.

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Quote

training the monkey… the mind that is

(Author’s note: I really wanted to title this post “Spanking the Monkey,” but I didn’t want some perverts to open this post thinking it was going to be up their alley.)

(Pervert’s note: That’s what she said.)

phonto

Buddha often spoke of the need to train the monkey mind through meditation and mindfulness. His intention was that our life would be less about narration and commentary and more about the presence and experience itself.

To me, the idea of minimizing narration and commentary and analysis and story is quite daunting–and perhaps even backwards. After all, I am an English teacher: I live and love stories. To explore this conundrum (and generally solve all of the universe’s mysteries), I was fortunate enough to garner a fellowship to participate in the Mindfulness in Education Retreat at Vallecitos. (Thank you Hemera!)

While there, meditating for about a quarter of every day (insert shocked emoji face here), I gained a few treasured training tools to get that monkey mind to sit and stay:

  1. It’s a muscle…or a puppy. I like to do things well. I don’t like to struggle. There’s a small chance I might be addicted to perfection and the illusion of what it does for my soul. So naturally upon arrival and discovering we were going to meditate for six. hours. every. day. I just knew I had to nail it. I didn’t. I had unrealistic expectations of instant-6-pack-upon-entering-the-gym-after-keg-magically-disappears, or miracle-puppy-who-falls-out-of-mom-rolling-over-on-command. Cuz that happens. Like anything else, being present in the moment with mental chatter under control takes time. Takes discipline. Takes training. Takes constant attention and reattention and rereattention and rerereattention (or attention to the 3rd?).
  2. Tone matters. But therein lies the rub: it’s not just about the training; it’s about how I train. I naturally fell into this kind of cruel, self-abusive narrative progression when my mind would wander: “Be here now.” “Just get it together.” “Ugh again, come back.” “Why can’t you just be here?!” “Damn it Patrice!” At the height of my frustration, I considered myself a failure who could never get it right… you know, after meditating for oh…3 minutes. Mindfulness is a constant redirecting of attention, but that does not warrant a scream or a flog or a deep sigh of frustration. I found the mantra of “there is room for that, too” to bring me back again and again with kindness and compassion and grace.
  3. Interruptions versus experience. Before this retreat, meditation meant to me all the right conditions. I want people quiet. I deserve to be comfortable. I need to be in the mood. I seek out perfection, both inside and outside of me. Then, once the stars have aligned, I can meditate. What I learned at this retreat is that noise is a part of the meditation, not an interruption. Discomfort a part, not an interruption. Chaos a part, not an interruption. Instead of seeking the perfect external context, I need to be internally present in whatever is occurring–however annoying.
  4. The power of narrative. But what is annoying, exactly? One night while sitting in meditation with my nose running; eyes itching; throat tickling; sneeze building; tissues missing, I thought: “this is miserable.” But I checked myself before I wrecked myself. Is it? What is misery? These are the physical sensations, and they just…are. It is my narrative and commentary that creates the bias of misery. Even deeper, why does it do that? I realized I’m still realizing that mental narrative is the last stronghold of control chimera of control. I think by naming I have power. I think by describing I have hold. But…I don’t.
  5. Escape mechanisms. Which leads me to the biggest aha of this retreat: when I feel like I am failing, I want to escape. This should come as no surprise after my year failing as an instructional coach, but alas…this lesson was only more pronounced when I could not escape “failed” meditation. Instead it went on and on and on. (I mean at home, I’d be blissfully ignorant on Facebook or delightfully numb playing Angry Birds or completely tuned off with the TV on. Oh the wonderfully destructive avoidance technology allots.) But I did learn even in those moments when meditation lingered and I could not physically leave, there are a lot of ways to mentally escape: sleepiness, haziness, mental chatter, restlessness, distraction, planning, discomfort, judging (about me), gossip (about others). Unfortunately, where there is a will, there is a way (to get out). I learned that when I feel like escaping, I need to examine the urge: what I am afraid of? what exactly is failure? what am I avoiding? Sitting with the urges (does anyone else have to go tot the bathroom now?), rather than running from them, is the challenge but also the reward of mindfulness.
  6. Size matters. Before this retreat, I was narrow-minded. Who am I kidding, I still am. But I’ve come to a thought-place that is more spacious, more wide, more welcoming, more soft, more generous…more. There is room for that, too. Mindful meditation can–and should–include the distraction, the clanging pots, the escape tendencies, the judgment, the narrative, the cramp in my foot, the constant need for approval, the desire to be seen, the pervasive sense that I am not good enough, the unanswered questions, the buzzing fly. There is room for that, too.
  7. Pattern trumps pieces. At most retreats, I make sweeping plans to come home and be brand spanking new. But what I carried away this time is that a little each day makes more difference than grand gestures occasionally. And so I am committing to 12 minutes of meditation a day. I can do that. I want to do that. I will do that. And if it doesn’t happen, well, there is room for that, too.

 

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