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The Need for Healing Racism in Our Body, Mind & Soul

The racially motivated massacre in Charleston last month was the turning point for me.  Looking at the images of the nine innocent people slaughtered at the hands of a white supremacist man really sent chills up my spine. I anticipated the silence, the denial, the rationalizations, but I did not anticipate the burning pain in my heart.  It said: just when you think, it couldn’t get any worse, it does.  An 18-year old teenager shot dead for appearing like a demon to an adult cop.  A three-hundred pound man pushed to the ground and choked to death. Three college students shot and killed over a parking spot.  An immigrant grandpa paralyzed for appearing like a skinny black man. A 14-year-old girl screaming for her mother assaulted with a gun and the weight of an adult cop.   We have collectively witnessed these incidents just in the past year. Black and brown bodies violated again and again sending tremors of fear, anger, and trauma across the nation.

The Buddha said, “Those who have failed to work towards the truth have missed the purpose of living.” This really hit home for me on June 17 after learning about the Charleston massacre.  I reached out to my sangha and in response we designed a workshop called “Healing Racism in the Mind + Body + Soul” which was offered at the Brooklyn Zen Center this past Sunday, July 19th.

The intention behind the workshop was to acknowledge, accept, and begin to plant the seeds of healing racism in our being.  The experience of racism, whether experienced directly or vicariously, is a physical experience.  It manifests as trauma in the body, mind, and our spirits.  It is stuck energy in the body that comes from the experience of being physically violated or verbally humiliated, something that is commonplace for people of color, particularly African-Americans in our country.  And its manifestations take place in the mind and spirit in the form of ideas, concepts, and thoughts of inadequacy, of not being good enough, for being bad, and for being at fault.  Tara Brach describes these emotions as real, but not true. 

In this workshop, we offered participants specific practices in the form of an embodied yoga practice, a loving-kindness meditation, and facilitated dyad conversations to create a space for our sangha members to explore any and all feelings and sensations associated with racism.  We wanted to provide them with space to be able to acknowledge that these emotions are real, but not true.  The first spoke of the eight-fold-path is Wise View, which is acceptance of reality for what it is.  With respect to racism, we accept that while race has no genetic or biological basis, racism exists. We live in a culture that worships light skin and European appearance.  Yet, so many people have a difficult time saying the words race or racism. If we don’t acknowledge the problem, how can we create solutions?  

The workshop was attended by twenty yogis that represented American diversity through so many identities, from ethnicity and culture to gender identity, legal status, age, ability, and class.  It was really heartening to be in community directly speaking to what is always operating in the background for so many of us.

Towards the end, we asked the participants, “What would it feel like to be healed of racism in the body, mind, and soul?”

“Freedom!”

“Endless possibilities for a life I could have had.”

 “Clarity. ”

“Feelings of belonging.”

 “I don’t know because that is something I have never experienced.”

Even if we do not know what healing racism would feel like, this is the reality we are imagining together.  I was watching an interview by Ta-Nehisi Coates where he said that racism is something we can never transcend.  As Buddhists, we know better.  All conditioned phenomenon is impermanent. So is racism. The Buddha said, “The mind is everything.  What we think, we become.” If we continue to give energy to persistence of racism, it is will persist.  On the other hand, if we imagine a different reality, we can collectively manifest it.  Our times call on us to use our efforts and energy to dismantle and break the urge for racial bias.  For us, this begins with the heart and mind.  It begins with community dialogues and opportunities to feel the impacts of racism in the body, mind, and soul – in a container of endless compassion where mistakes are permitted.  We hope many of you will join us to manifest this reality. 

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