I see a middle way as not being so immersed in our emotions that we don’t see a way forward, but witnessing them, giving ourselves time to be with it all, letting it run through, and then see the bigger picture which will inform our choices of how to move forward.
I’ve felt a mix of sadness, outrage, disillusionment, guilt, as well as deep compassion almost all at the same time over the past weeks as we’re witnessing the #blacklivesmatter movement gaining momentum.
As a white woman with a fair amount of privilege, I was jolted awake from my well-meaning but naive position that since I’m anti-racist and I see everyone as fundamentally equal, I’m not the problem.
The jolted-awake moment happened during the podcast I listened to (Courage to Speak Up by the brilliant Kate Swoboda of Yourcourageouslife.com) when an insight landed so abruptly that perhaps precisely because I don’t see race as an issue, I could be contributing to the problem. :O
The inner conflict sounded like “I love and see all people as equal, I’m not doing anything wrong” vs. “ I’m perpetuating the systemic inequality and racial oppression by being ignorant about the reality of it” and felt like I've been colluding with evil without even knowing it.
It was really painful to realise this, and not try to dismiss it in order to make myself feel better. I’m keeping my mind open, because I know how important it is to question our existing beliefs in order to transcend our blind spots and do better in the future.
A whole new perspective has opened up for me and I’m responding by taking action (by no means perfectly) to learn about the reality of the racial inequality in the world today, reflecting on my blind spots with full honesty, as well as asking myself questions about the actions I’m going to take to be part of the long-term systemic change.
(There’s so many good resources out there in the form of books, articles, programs, films, podcasts etc, that I’m not going to single any out here, but a quick google search will yield many great ones if you’re looking for ways to act too. )
As uncomfortable as the emotions I’ve been feeling are, I see them as absolutely necessary to experience. It’s the capacity of my heart to feel, to empathise, and I value that.
That’s what the heart does - it is the seat of our values, desires, and passion, but also our compassion and connection with others. Compassion means not only feeling with but acting for and on behalf of those less fortunate, to alleviate their suffering.
Strong emotions make it impossible to look away, and imperative to act - we just need to make sure those actions are in line with our core values (anger/fear/defensiveness are all strong emotions but not a wise place to act from).
* Tune into your own heart right now - just by bringing your attention to your physical heart - what emotions are present? *
One of my top values is love - not just as romantic love but all-encompassing force for good - and now I have an opportunity to express that love for my fellow humans, people of colour, in new ways with the new awareness I’m developing.
* What are your core values that you choose to live by? *
If I decided to ignore my emotions because they felt too uncomfortable, and go back to business as usual, how could the change that I want to see in the world ever happen?
Emotions have a purpose - to wake us up, to push us to reflect on things we feel strongly about, to examine our existing beliefs and evaluate if they’re the most constructive for the life and the world we want to co-create.
At the same time, I also acknowledge that whilst I am embracing the discomfort, I still need to function in my day-to-day life. Work still needs to get done, body needs to be moved and nourished, and I still want to be there for the people in my life.
How do we honour our emotions and not let them sweep us away completely?
Being present to it all, is what works for me.
Building my tolerance for discomfort, and at the same time having a level of distance from it. Not be identified with it. Mindfully detach.
It’s like stepping out a bit and seeing the bigger picture. Seeing myself experiencing the emotion and having a level of self-awareness around what I’m experiencing.
Before we detach, it’s important to give the emotions time and space to express themselves, in a safe way, so that we don't accidentally ignore them. A way to do this is to give yourself a time window and just let it flow (cry it out, vent into a journal or scraps of paper you later destroy, run/walk or dance it off, punch pillows if that works for you, etc). It may seem silly but emotions are physical and it's good to let them out through the body somehow. [side note - did you know that our tears (of sadness, not joy) contain stress hormones? Our body knows how to detox itself...]
In short, let emotions run through.
Then be the witness and observe what they are telling you.
To gain awareness, it helps to ask yourself (and journal on it if you like):
- What am I feeling?
- What thoughts are causing this emotion?
- What is this emotion triggering in me (what makes it so painful/intense)?
- What is this emotion trying to show me?
- What action, if any, is this emotion leading me to? Is that action in line with my values?
- What action that’s within my control and aligned with my values also lines up with this emotion?
It’s essential that we develop our capacity for discomfort, and our skill of mindful detachment.
This will help us develop an outer perspective and allow the wiser perspective to emerge from our emotions, which will let us know what to do and the timing of it.
This holds true for the context of the wider systemic change, but also for creating change in our own individual lives.
Because in order to progress, we must often take courageous action (countering our doubts and fears). Being present to those fears and doubts and being able to mindfully detach serves us invaluably.
Detachment is not in order to stand idly by, waiting for the storm to pass, but so that we have the clarity and the energy to act, as the world and our lives need our participation.
Hope you’re keeping well.
With lots of love,