self-compassion & racial justice

First off…

To all my BIPOC readers, I love you. I stand with you in the imperfect, never enough, WAYYYYY too late ways I can. I will follow your lead. I will learn from you. I will amplify your voices. I will do the work. I will fuck up. I will do this so you can take care of your Selves, not have the burden of educating another white woman on your experience, not have to hold space for my white tears and emotional processing. Your work is your self-care, the work of healing ancestral, generational & 24/7 trauma – however you see fit. As a white self-care coach, I recognize that I will never be equipped to hold sufficient space for your experience. But if you want to book a session with me any way, if you need me, I offer my coaching services to you for free here. If you want to work with other coaches & healers who are BIPOC, I will provide resources for you below in the next paragraph. After that, this piece largely speaks to a white audience about processing white shame, guilt, and anger in ways that don’t burden BIPOC, based on guidance I’ve received.

Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash / Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

To all my white readers, we are so late to this work. As a white self-care coach who is trying to do the work of anti-racism, I will hold space for you and your white tears so that BIPOC don’t have to. If you’re on the front lines of the Uprising for Black Lives, I will freely give you a session here. The work of anti-racism is not a personal development project. It goes much deeper, I believe, when it is done in parallel with the spiritual work of self-care. We cannot allow our shame & guilt to paralyze us. We must process all of this ancestral & generational & 24/7 racism & white supremacy. I will offer you a template for creating your own Anti-Racism Circle below, because for me – and I know so many other white folx – we need to be held accountable in community. It’s not enough but it is a start.

Black & Indigenous Healers, Space Holders, Yoga Teachers & Trainers

Listen & be led by them. Pay them & support them. Amplify their voices far & wide.

Soul Liberation Wellness – Private lessons, group sessions, online coaching available

Black Yoga Magic – Worldwide yoga directory featuring teachers of the African diaspora

One Village HealingOffers staff trained in anti-oppression and pro-liberation practices, free & pay what you can access to healing services, affinity healing offerings, and a beautiful accessible space for healing and connection. Every day except Saturday they offer zoom sessions from reiki and meditaton to breathwork and healing circles.

heal thyself: an intimate diversity intensiveA University quality course is 6 wk intensive with daily Facebook group interaction and discussion and weekly 2 hour zoom live sessions with master teachers who all identify with one or more marginalized group, offering lectures including 15000 year history of race, Metaphysical practices to increase self awareness/integrity/interpersonal skills, the impact of white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism, white feminism and womanism, tools for grounding and empathy, gender identity, ableism, institutional oppression and western economies, the not so subtlety hidden oppression of common descendants of white Europe, and so much more.

Kindred MedicineA sacred space for healers of color to do the work intended, those of ancestral wisdoms & modern medicine. A sacred space for beautiful people of color who are doing the work of remembering and who understand that healing is a process. that healing is self-determined and impactful for the mind, body, heart and spirit. heal in color is for the beautiful people of color who seek to heal themselves and their ancestors. Offers a directory of practitioners of color and a podcast called Kindred Medicine.

Healers of Color Movement Network of practitioners in the resistance, tapping into our resilience and abundance to shift these trying times. The Healers of Color Movement gathers self-identified healers of color to dialogue, build community, and collectively heal ancestral wounds, release ancestral weight, and create a movement forward for the benefit of all people and the land in which we walk our paths.

The Power of Anger in Anti-Racism Work

Anger is initiatory but it is not transformative. – Ruth King

My righteous anger is transformative. – Rachel Ricketts, in Spiritual Activism 101

I had the privilege of being taught by Buddhist teacher and black woman, Ruth King, at a session she led at the Insight Meditation Center of Washington a few years back. In it, she shared her view that anger is initiatory, but it is not transformative. It serves to remind us that anger, although a difficult emotion, is intelligent. It has a purpose, it wakes us up to injustice, to what needs to be changed. Of course, we’re talking here about righteous anger – e.g. anger over the killing of black people. On the other hand, the kind of anger that leads to a man in Albuquerque, where I live, cutting me off with his massive pickup truck on the highway and proceeding to give me the finger because I was going the speed limit… is not righteous anger. As we become more sensitive to our sensations and the life cycles of our emotions in the body, we can begin to discern righteous anger from unrighteous anger.

Ruth King also breaks down the differences between anger and rage, and how rage gets disguised, the medicine it offers us, and how to heal it here. She says, “Transformation is our nature. It is our birthright to be kind, joyful and happy. When we are paying kind attention to rage, it ceases to be a problem. The antidote to our fear and discomfort with rage is to cultivate a compassionate mind and heart, intellectual understanding, moral consciousness, humility, and an ambition that leaves a good legacy. We need more than aspirations and inspiration-we need practices, as close to us as each breath, that supports us in discovering who we are-who we have always been.” This reminds me that our activism must be coupled with self-care work. More on that below.

Earlier this week, I came across Rachel Ricketts‘ webinar Spiritual Activism. which incorporates racial justice training with meditation, breath work, & journaling. I can’t recommend it enough. Please purchase it here. She talks about how, as a black woman, she can’t open her mouth without being labeled angry. She says early on in the training that her righteous anger is transformative. It struck me, as it was at odds with what I thought Ruth King had said about anger not being transformative. But then I realized, once the webinar was finished, that black righteous anger over the lynching of black people and the immeasurable agressions and harms black people experience IS transformative. Look at what it’s doing. Rachel Ricketts in particular transformed it into this generous teaching and space holding for white folx and BIPOC alike. It fueled her forward, even while she’s doing her own healing work, because for black folx in America, this work is literally life or death. There is no choice about doing the work. She also said existing as a black person is radical, and is the work.

White anger, on the other hand, is absolutely not transformative. Anger not being transformative means we have to move through the anger in order to actually move and make a change. If we stay stuck in the anger, there is a chance we will fall into despair, paralysis, and inevitable inaction. This is especially important for white people to grasp – it isn’t simply enough to be angry. We must move through our anger & allow it to be a catalyst for our action.

As Jennifer Loubriel – a self-identified person of color, says in her article, 4 Ways White People Can Process Their Emotions Without Hijacking the Conversation on Racial Justice, “It’s nice to be in spaces where I can feel free to say what I want, talk about complex systems of white supremacy, and express my frustrations without having to worry about the feelings of the white people in the room. However, I also think that if you’re a white person, it can leave you without the space to fully deal with you emotions. I know many white people who do anti-racism work. They commit endless time and energy to be in full solidarity with People of Color. However, many of them often bury their own emotions or aren’t taught to fully deal with their feelings about their whiteness.” So white people – we must not do this emotional unpacking in the presence of or in a way that burdens BIPOC. We can’t ask them to hold space for our white anger, our white grief, our white grappling. These emotions are valid, but how they are expressed, used, and transmuted is key.

The Role of Shame in Anti-Racism Work

Now that we’ve talked about anger & rage, what about shame? It is also a valid emotion – one that requires examination and awareness in order to be transformed into sustainable action. Shame work is deeply at the heart of my coaching work. As a practicing Buddhist meditator, I focus a lot on the trance of unworthiness (as Tara Brach calls it) and the deep suffering caused by separateness. It is all of our core desire to be connected – to be at One. We get identified with all of the ego coverings – the roles and labels in life – and experience suffering because they make us separate from others. Healing a deep feeling of unworthiness and separateness is central to the work of self-compassion. The hard truth for white people to grasp about racism is – we will always be separate from the black experience in some ways, we can never grasp fully what it is like to live with the day-in, day-out trauma. But we can imperfectly imagine it, empathize, and give up some of our privilege on their behalf.

When we are stuck in the trance of unworthyness, when our nervous systems are so hijacked by fear and stress, we literally can’t do anything helpful or productive. We are in a frozen state, disembodied, cut off from our prefrontal cortex, cut off from our cull critical thinking and problem solving capacities. We literally have to activate our parasympathetic nervous system – through deep breathing, meditation, embodiment practices – in order to think more clearly and take genuinely aligned action. This is the same state responsible for rest, digestion & healing.

I often ask my clients to visualize all of the systems that they’ve inherited and how they might be contributing to their own shame or separation. These systems include the patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism, and their philosophies get internalized by all of us. We must become aware of the systems in order to create separation from our own identification with them. Only then can we come home to the truth of our deeper goodness, the part of our Selves that wants to be connected to all beings everywhere, the part of us that’s easy to love. When we connect to that part, we can connect to the truth of our belonging in this greater web of life. And then we are spurred into action, realizing injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Realizing when that black man was lynched in the street, part of my shared humanity with him was killed.

Brené Brown draws distinctions between guilt and shame in her blog post here: “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive.” So guilt is the signal that we’ve done something wrong – a useful tool that can point us in the right direction towards apologizing and choosing again, making reparations, and healing. Shame, on the other hand, is dangerous. It’s when we get identified with our guilt, our unworthiness, our separateness.

This distinction is critical for anti-racism work. White people, we cannot let our guilt & shame paralyze us from taking action. We can’t get so identified with the racism that flows through our veins that we think, “I am so bad, I am irredeemable, unforgivable, bad, bad, bad.” First of all, that’s just not helpful. How could that amount of badness ever spur you into action? If you don’t think you have any worth, you wouldn’t ever do anything because – by proxy – you would believe your actions don’t have any worth. You would be so shrouded in shame that you would never open your mouth against a racist friend or relative, because you would think, “I’m just as bad as they are. Nothing I say will make a difference.” Second of all, it’s just not true. I would challenge us all to stop thinking of individuals as racist (you might say all white people are racist, it’s the air we breathe), but instead ask, “How racist were those actions or words? How could this cause harm to a BIPOC?” And learn to apologize. In the racist ways we HAVE directly contributed to white supremacy, learn to say, “I’m sorry.”

I like how Glennon Doyle describes racism as a poison, and her work of unlearning racism as akin to her sobriety journey. In her book, Untamed, she says, “In America, there are not two kinds of people, racists and nonracists. There are three kinds of people: those poisoned by racism and actively choosing to spread it, those poisoned by racism and actively trying to detox; and those poisoned by racism who deny its very existence inside them.”

White supremacy is a system we are all poisoned by. As she says, “We are not going to get the racism out of us… until we consider racism as not just a personal moral failing but as the air we’ve been breathing… We must decide that admitting to being poisoned by racism is not a moral failing – but denying we have poison in us certainly is… Detoxing from racism is requiring me to open my eyes to the elaborate web of white supremacy that exists to convince me that I am better than people of color.” This may serve to help you not get so identified in your individual racism that you fail to see the forest for the trees – the forest being the system of white supremacy. We are already very late at getting to dismantling it. Denying the poison, denying the system and its affect on us is absolutely a failing.

Working with Shame Through Self-Compassion

I admit that before the current uprising following George Floyd’s murder, I had not considered how my self-care coaching project was either contributing to or dismantling white supremacy. I often thought through the lenses of patriarchy and capitalism, but of course my whiteness kept me at a comfortably safe distance from this anti-racism work. A few weeks ago, I was flying high feeling connected to my inherent worthyness, my intuition and Higher Self. I was self-caring regularly and trusting my Self and my work. When these uncomfortable calls to action began flooding my social media feeds, it sent me into a white shame spiral. “I should have known better. I should have already done more. I should have all the answers and have the perfect messaging and feel 100% brave to join the protesters putting their bodies on the line.” But here’s the thing about shoulds – they keep us separate from the work laid out in front of us. White people, we especially hate to be led, to follow, to listen, to do anything that doesn’t come with an automatic like, validation, or pat on the back.

Luckily, I already had a self-compassion practice. Meaning – I already had set the space, rituals, & precedent for daily sitting with difficult emotions, discovering their medicine, and nurturing myself through self-care. This practice supports my anti-racism work, because it gives me the tools to step outside of my shame and heal the corrosive damage caused by racism. Not to say I can ever completely get all of the toxic racism out of my veins – I don’t know that that is possible. But the more comfortable I can be with discomfort, the longer I can stand to look at my racism, sit with it, and yes – even send those parts love.

Whoa – send my racism love?! That’s crazy. It’s not sending love to the racism, it’s sending love to the part of me that has been poisoned by racism. I can’t teach my clients to love all parts of themselves… and then say, “except for the parts impacted by racism.” Hell, no! Self-compassion is radical because it is all-inclusive and all-transforming. Compassion sends suffering loving kindness. Racism is suffering. When a white person believes they are better than a black person, you better believe there is suffering going on. Because all judgment creates separateness, and all separateness cuts us off from the truth of our belonging to all beings everywhere! This is not to say the suffering white people feel from racism has any comparison to the suffering people of color experience as a result of racism. I can’t speak to the BIPOC experience, but trust me when I say the white experience is pretty damn comfortable. It’s just to say that poison – including racism – corrodes absolutely everything it touches. So – if you are white – you can work with your shame in the context of self-compassion and send love to the parts of you that have been corroded by your racism. Otherwise you would burn out! And that’s the last thing our BIPOC communities need from well-meaning white people.

As this is a lifelong journey and a lifelong project of anti-racism, we will need to return to the tools of self-compassion again and again, so as to be as effective and sustainable as possible. This isn’t about coddling whiteness, it’s about doing the inner work to bleed out the toxins so the outer work actually transforms the world. It’s about making sure our actions don’t burn out. That we can sit with the parts of white supremacy we inherited and the parts we are responsible for. That’s the only way we will make a truly sustainable change.

Getting To Work

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash / Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash / Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

But we can’t just self-care. We have to do the work! Seeing the recommendation from several BIPOC I follow, I decided to form an anti-racism community with other white folx as a space to dismantle our own poisonous racism, do the learning and unlearning, and take action in an accountability group – all based on resources and guidance laid out by BIPOC. If you’re asking yourself, “Why is it exclusive to white people? Isn’t that racist?”, the answer is: so that we don’t continue to heap our white shame and emotions on people of color. Rather, we actually do the work they’ve cut out for us. It’s not to be exclusive, it’s to keep us from forcing yet another BIPOC to educate us, fact-check us, make sure we’re doing everything perfectly right. We will fuck up. White people, we are so terrified of messing up, of making a mistake, of being called out and publicly ridiculed, that we don’t do or say anything. Let’s put that privilege of emotional safety on the line and get started.

I simply don’t do this work on my own. I need accountability, I need space held as I do the work, I need to be witnessed in it, and I long to do it in community. It’s the same with my Moon Circle, with my group coaching projects – I see it time and time again. When inner work flows outward into community, it gets hella multiplied and deepened. It expands and has the power to transform the world. Plus, this work is isolating. The more we believe the lie of rugged individualism that says we have to do it on our own, the more we will fail and the more we will be forced to sit with our failure in a secret shame.

If you’re interested in starting your own anti-racism circle, here is the template I created. It’s a google sheet that organizes several of the books, articles, films, videos, actions, and orgs to donate to by sheet. This is so that, weekly we can randomize to select one item from each sheet to “do” before the next gathering (i.e. one article to read, one donation to make, one action to take, and a few chapters of one book). The lists are not comprehensive nor are they complete, they will be added to based on BIPOC sources we find and site. These were are starting points, as well as these and these. Randomizing just makes it more fun and adds the element of surprise. Maybe you say anti-racism work shouldn’t be fun? But I know that if something isn’t intrinsically fun and social for me, I am less likely to do it. So this is what is working for me. Find what works for you. But whatever you do, do it now. Because we’re way behind!

Keep your circle small – I would recommend no more than 15 people. We kept ours to email and zoom, because who needs another FB group? We’re also taking turns holding the space each week, so the bulk of discussion question generating and asking doesn’t fall on one person. Our discussions will center around what we’ve learned that week, and space will be held for those white tears, anger, and shame that need processing without burdening another BIPOC. And we will hold each other accountable, checking in to see who took action and made the donation. Just knowing I’m going to be asked this question almost ensures I do it. And that’s what I need.

White people, let’s get to work. Hold space for yourself as you do the work. Make even more of an impact in community, in parallel with your self-compassion and self-care work. Listen to and be led by BIPOC – especially women of color. Pay them for and credit their work. Make a lifelong commitment to bleeding out the toxins of racism and acknowledging and confronting your inherent privilege. Know that – no matter how woke you think you are, no matter how enlightened or spiritual – you can never escape your whiteness (I can’t either). Your ego is white, as well as your intuition and Higher Self. In this life, in this skin, you cannot escape your privilege. Put it on the line by showing up imperfectly and doing the work.

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I started Luminous Leanings to share my passions of meditation & self-care. As a self-care coach, I'm really just a holder! I hold space for busy people on their self-care journey. Then I hold them accountable as they integrate self-care into their lives. If you want to develop more self-compassion, but aren't sure where to start, you've come to the right place. Be sure to check out my guided meditations & journal freebies, & sign up for the Letter to keep in touch. You don't have to self-care alone - I'm in your corner!

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