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The Freedom Of Truth Telling: My Journey Into White Denial

By Lisa Meuser.  

“It’s in the act of having to do things that you don’t want to that you learn something about moving past the self. Past the ego.” bell hooks

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

 

Do-gooding Instead Of Deeply Feeling

I run a small Facebook group. The group, set up for intimacy and safety, is where I sometimes post things that leave that me dumbfounded or enraged. Last year I came across an interview between a white supremacists and a person of color. I was I was somewhat shocked in abhorrence. The person of color was poised and in integrity throughout the interview. In contrast, the while supremacist was filled with hate, righteousness and certainty.

I was shocked by how overt this white person was about their supremacy[1]. These kinds of overt displays of racism were so taboo in my family of origin [2] that I had been shielded from them, which means I had never really sat in the discomfort of them.

Watching the interview, I found myself flooded with feelings. Deer in headlights, I posted the interview in the FB group. No, I dumped it into the group.

I say “dump” because I didn’t think about what I was doing by posting it nor how it might impact others. I didn’t sit with how I was feeling or what it was bringing up in me. I didn’t safe port (warn) the members of the group on what was in the video. I didn’t even offer my own reflections or share what was going on within me as I had watched it.

I dumped it into the group, and I did so from a place of privilege and ignorance.

I dumped it because as a white liberal person I’ve been taught that I am entitled to dump my stuff all over the place, all the time. White people’s level of entitlement is so thick we can’t see it. We learn of injustice and we complain, get angry, and feel bad, we even get distraught, but then we often do nothing. This lack of accountability and self-responsibility (and passive-aggressive behavior) perpetuates the status quo. And we don’t see it, because we’re the status quo!

Caught in our liberal do-goodness, we don’t stop and feel. Instead, we too often pat ourselves on the back for spotting badness/bringing others’ attention to it. Said another way, we get disgusted with racism, know others will be disgusted, and then we sit around, all disgusted together, like good, white liberal people.

I didn’t see it at the time, but this is what I was up to: I was going to share my disgust with my friends, and we were going to be disgusted together, saying things like “omg I can’t believe this kind of stuff is still happening. This is horrible!” We would be angry but unwilling to have an honest look at what was really going on. I was going to stay shielded in my white, ignorant world and stay in my comfortable role of being righteously aghast at the level of hate “out there.”

And gosh darn it, I would have gotten away with it if, except that there was a person of color in the group.

And she courageously nailed me on it.

 

Privileged To Be Ignorant

Over the course of my life my white, privileged culture has shielded me from being educated on atrocities of my white culture. While I had learned a little bit about racism, and that it was “bad”, I never was taught about the historical creation of racism. I was never confronted with the abhorrence, the extreme violence, and the devastating impact of institutional racism. I never learned about the micro-aggressions[3] that white people violently perpetuate and Black/ Indigenous/ People of Color (BIPOC) experiences’. I had never considered the complicity of my race of origin, and certainly not my own complicity. I had never truly contemplated and leaned into the pain and suffering BIPOC experienced, at the hands of white people. Privilege and ignorance shielded me and kept me from looking racism in the eye, my entire life[4].

Without even being aware, my ignorance fed my own internalized racism, and in doing so it disconnected me from humanity: others’ and my own. The violence in that is extreme, and what I didn’t understand is that the impact leads to the suffering of all people. There is no freedom – for anyone – when there is denial and disconnection.

 

Can You See?

I had been in denial of my internalized racism my whole life, and – double whammy! – was ignorant of that. Sure, I was able to spot blatant racism, and act accordingly. Of course I was disgusted by racism. But I wasn’t able to sit with the truth of it. I wasn’t able to look it deeply in the eye. I had never dared to go there and my sense of entitlement to not have to, enabled that.

I was so blind that I treated the one black woman in that FB group just the same as everyone else. I don’t know about you, but I thought I was supposed to treat BIPOC just like everyone else. Wasn’t that anti-racism? I had been pretending to be color-blind all my life, thinking that was the right thing to do. Guess who teaches that? White culture, of course.

I didn’t understand that I had become complicit in perpetuating racism by buying into the various mind viruses: be color-blind, treat everyone as equal, don’t mention skin color/talk about it, don’t make other people uncomfortable. Note that all these approaches are guised as being for the benefit of BIPOC but they are really for the benefit of white comfort. (Having said that, for the love of god please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that we need to make BIPOC the center of all conversations. Please be sure to be mindful of context.) In the context I was in – a small group designed for intimacy and safety – I was not acting in safe or intimate ways with my BIPOC friend. I was being color-blind, at her expense.

I am a white person with privilege that I have been born into. It does a disservice to my brothers and sisters of color- but also to myself– when I do not wake up to the violent ideology of color-blindness. White culture is based upon the invisibl-ing and unworthy-ing of BIPOC, so when I purport to be color-blind, I am continuing to uphold the ideas that white is the norm, white is important, white is all that matters – and everything else is less than. In a sea of whiteness, if I don’t see BIPOC as distinct in their experiences, gifts, and struggles, I am oppressing those very people. The lack of equity for BIPOC has been insidiously impregnated into every aspect of our culture. As a member of the race who literally created racism and oppression, I can have a role in dismantling that. In my experience, there is a deep empowerment in doing just that!

Having said that, it has been quite a journey, one I am still in the midst of.

 

From Conservative Racism To Liberal Racism

I was raised conservatively – religiously and politically. So, you guessed it, I was raised racist. Not KKK racist, but I’ll get to that in a second. It wasn’t obvious to my parents, nor my grandparents, but it was obvious to me. Being the good liberal do-gooder that I am, I’ve always tried to be aware of my racist upbringing, not wanting to be like them. In getting my Masters of Social Work, I had to take a look at some of my familiar biases, which was somewhat helpful in discovering hidden pockets of racism – but that was 20 years ago. It wasn’t until I had became good friends with a black woman last year- who was brave enough to call me out on my bullshit- that I realized, despite all my best efforts, I was racist as f*ck, but just didn’t know it.

Not racist in that overtly asshole kind of way – it was way subtler than that. In fact most people would never think of me as racist; I’m self-aware, heavily into social justice, have a degree in social work and routinely speak out about oppression. Here’s the thing though: I hang out with mostly white people, people like me. Liberal white feminist America – where no one thinks they are racist but only because the viewpoint is so radically self-referential by default.

As I began to listen and read what women of color were writing about, I very slowly started to spot my racism. I did a lot of deep inquiry and discovered more. Turns out, I wasn’t racist merely because I’m white, I’m racist because I’m a white person in a culture created by white people, for the benefit of white people, to the detriment of non-white people.

At this point you will likely be doing one of three things: nodding your head up and down emphatically saying YES!, waiting for me to say some more so you can catch on, or thinking I’m full of shit. At the risk of being repetitive, I’m going to Lisa’splain. Please stay with me.

People who have my skin color (white) have designed the culture I live in. All the rules, mores and keys for success were designed by people who have my skin color (white) for other people who have my skin color (white), and ONLY for people who have my skin color (white). The world I live in was designed for me, a white person. I’ve been privileged, but never necessarily knew I was, because of my privilege of being in the dominating class. I didn’t realize I was racist because I never had to confront my internalized racism – and so I never really understood that it existed.

When we’re not confronted with our privileges (white, male, hetro, etc) head on, there is rarely a reason to look at them. So, in the world of inquiry, for example, we might inquire about everything that has come into our personal experience, but we may never inquire about our white privilege, for example, as it’s just not “come up” in our personal experiences to be looked at. When it comes to race and gender, we live in a culture that is built upon – and actually created – racism and sexism. So, when we are a part of that group that the power comes from, there would be no motivation or need to inquire into it. This has kept white people – and men especially – complicit in oppression, which we can see quite dramatically in the media right now. The cat’s out of the bag.

 

Do I Really Have To Confront My Racism[5]?

Why would I need to confront my racism? I’m not (consciously) suffering because of my skin color. My child and I don’t get singled out wherever we go because of the color of our skin. We don’t have to worry about people constantly doubting our good intentions, our intelligence, or our worth because of our skin color. Moreover, we aren’t at higher risk for poor health/medical services, poor education, being killed by the police, higher rates of HIV and STIs, or higher chance of incarceration – because we’re white. I’ve got it pretty good, so why would I need to confront my racism?

I don’t. I don’t have to, ever.

Except that I’m in the business of waking up and heart work, both inviting me to become aware of what had previously been out of attention, and attend to that. In my reality tunnel, waking up and heart work brings along with it the inability to ignore, stay asleep, or tune out to that which is systematically creating separation and pain for living creatures. Waking up and heart work, by its very nature is inclusive, which means that if my brothers and sisters are treated poorly, even when I am not, something is not right. Because we are all connected, if I can, it is right action that I do something about the racism that exists.

But it gets more real for me than that. Here’s why it’s really imperative that I do something about it. As a white person, if I do nothing, I benefit by keeping people of color separate – and so it is me who is doing harm to people of color. Not indirectly doing harm, directly doing harm. If I do nothing, then I am the one who is violating, harming, and creating pain for people because of their skin color. As the “privileged class”[6], it is up to me. As such it is pertinent and imperative that I continue to look at things I’ve never needed to – and consciously seek to understand my roles in oppression and related topics as they relate to waking up and freedom.

If I do nothing, I can no longer say I’m in the business of waking up or heart work. If I don’t consciously look, I can no longer say that Love matters to me. If I stay ignorant, my heart cannot truly be open wide. And if my heart cannot be open wide, then I am not free. So you see, it really is true that if some people are not free, none of us are, because all of our hearts are linked together. This has been my direct experience, as it has been that opening my heart wide necessitates deep somatic inquiry… into everything.

 

But What About Me? I’m White, And Suffering. (I.E. How Can Being Privileged Feel This Bad?)

Yes, I hear you. If you’re a while female, yes, I *so* get that you may be suffering. And if you’re a white male, yes, I absolutely understand that you’re likely suffering too. And I understand why. We, as white people, suffer because of how our culture oppresses others. When one group of people oppresses another, they will always suffer in their association with the dominating class. Oppression is built upon a sense of fragility, which is why white, male fragility is a common topic these days. It can be debilitating. A side effect of oppression is that it oppresses the oppressor.

Dealing with my own trauma, and all the darkness that has come up with it/in it, has paved the way for me to be able to (start to) sit with my white fragility and privilege, and not hide from it or deny it. I have always been aware that sitting with my own trauma has allowed me to be deeply present with others as they journey through their own trauma, but this is something different.

Not having to turn away from pain that I have been complicit in, and that my race has created and perpetuated… it’s empowering in the strangest of ways. It’s counter-intuitive and goes against what the new age rhetoric often shallowly and violently proclaims.

It has allowed me to See deeply, to Feel deeply, and to Know deeply that when one group is oppressed, we are all oppressed, and that when we turn away from looking at others’ oppression (or our own darkness), with honest and willing hearts and minds, we are oppressing our self. One might think this would be burdensome or debilitating, but it is not. There is nothing that is more freeing than truth of Love. The heart can hold it all, and grows in magnificence and simple wisdom the more it cracks open.

 

Implicit Bias And So Much More!

A lot of what I’ve been referencing in this blog post but haven’t named is “implicit bias.” I will write more about implicit bias in future blog posts. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn about your own implicit bias, you can take a test here. I found these tests fascinating; as were the results from a few of the tests I took!

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

Stay tuned for more. I’ll be writing about the link between our internalized racism and our internalized experience of oppression. I’ll share more on my journey of how safely journeying into my own internalized oppression has opened me up to others’ oppression, only to discover their intrinsic link. I’ll explore the shame and guilt that has been a part of my deep looking. And, as always, I’ll be offering up practical resources and practices that will support you in your own unique journey of exploring racism.

I continue to learn every day about myself. I look forward to writing more on this topic and learning alongside you. I’d love to hear your responses to this blog post. What has it brought up in you? What would you like to know more of? What challenges have you had, and what freedoms have you experienced in deeply looking? Thanks for reading, and I look forward to connecting and learning together.

[1] I am no longer shocked as I have consciously chosen to educate myself with regards to the reality of overt (and covert) historical racism. In facing the existence of overt racism I have learned a lot more about covert racism, and my role in that. I now know that although covert racism is perhaps the worst kind, because of how insidious it is (at least there is an air of honesty when someone is admitting to their racism, as opposed to denying its existence), it is imperative to learn about the reality and severity of overt racism. There is never freedom when there is denial.

[2] My “good, loving Christian” family thought they were “above” racism – they considered overt racism to be something that people did because they didn’t know better. I took on that assumptive perspective, and it landed me in a web of delusion and suffering.

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/02/28/what-microaggressions-small-slights-serious-consequences/362754002/

[4] This is no accident, by the way. It seems to me that this is by design. Our culture perpetuates our white sense of fragility AND superiority by not honestly talking about our history.

[5] I’m going back to focusing on race, because the privilege I have comes from being white. If you’re a white male reading this, your privileges come from being white and male.

[6] I’ll explain why I put privileged in quotes in a future writing.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Part 2- Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution; It’s Time.

By Lisa Meuser.  

I wrote a blog post back in August about the importance of doing heart-work for social activists, lest we become burned out on despair and/or anger. Titled “Part 1, of 2: Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution”, it shared my own journey of heart-work, which took me straight into anger and then back out into deep and radical love. As I journeyed, this wisdom found me:

“I value my own heart so much that I must pause with and for her health before I do anything else.”

There was much left to be said, so at the end of that post I promised a part 2, which would continue to explore the radical act of heart-work, why it’s needed for evolution, and how to keep heart-work and social justice a sustained part of your life.

But I got a little delayed.

The overwhelming feedback from part 1 was that I needed to write more about anger; people were afraid of their anger, not sure how to handle it, and had some blockages to allowing anger, and so I wrote “The Gift of Consciously Connecting to Anger, aka Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution Part 1.5”. In part 1.5 I shared my own journey illustrating how anger is an appropriate and healthy response to injustice that can actually empower us. I went onto explore how allowing ourselves to journey into anger doesn’t mean we necessarily disconnect from love. Love is big enough to hold it all.

Then I got delayed again, as my clients and Gathering Group members were sharing their experiences with sleepless nights, and so I wrote “Sleepless Nights: When a Curse Becomes a Gift”.

It’s time to return to part 2. This is a stand-alone piece, but in order to grok “heart-work” see my first piece, for an experiential sharing.

Thanks for your patience. ❤

 

Part 2

Heart-work, mysterious work

Sometimes our greatest “doings” come from within our deepest Being. In my experience these impacts can be profound, albeit mysterious.

Perhaps a part of what makes heart-work challenging is because it is somewhat mysterious, and maybe in that, a bit risky. In part one I shared the discovery that when I gave myself permission to hate, love found me. Deeply found me. While this may make sense in some ways, it likely seems more counterintuitive.

By giving myself permission to hate, love will find me? Are you sure?

This is my lived experience, as counteractive as it may sound. I’ve found that there is a mysterious sense of redemption that happens when I go deep into the caverns of my heart and into whatever is there, even hate. It’s not always easy – sometimes I have a lot of resistance and need the support of others to help guide me. Other times there is simplicity and a readiness to step right in on my own.

While it may not often be easy, after doing many years of intense embodied self-study my system has learned that it’s safe. This is important. It is my experience that when there is safety, there is an inexplicable knowing that makes surrendering into life – into Love – possible. Safety is a huge part of this journey. If this is a new topic for you, or something you’d like to learn more about, please contact me or see my KISS list at the end.

 

What is heart-work?

Heart-work, simply said, is starting with, or at the least, always including, energy of the heart. While our culture is largely intellect or mentally based, heart-work is body and wisdom based. While our culture is mainly past or future based, fixated on complication, heart-work is present based, connecting with what is simple.

Heart-work, generally speaking, is not easy: it’s actually counter to what our capitalist culture teaches. Heart-work is life giving and life fulfilling in its honoring and allowance of the individual, where I am free to be my fully human self. My hate and rage is welcome in the heart space within me. Tears of grief and trembling releases of fear are welcome here. Joy, celebration and happiness are welcome here too. Heart energy includes the entire being – from the toes to the head and everywhere in between. Somehow the heart space holds it all, until, if we are patient to go deep enough, there is nothing left but love or Beingness.

Sometimes the ‘doing’ that comes from deep inner journeying is enough. Other times it is the springboard or foundation which births more externalized doings. It is no easy thing to blindly stay with the present moment and go into discomfort and socially stigmatized emotions, but in my experience heart-work, or the path of love, invites just that.

I understand that this is not everyone’s path, and for that I’m grateful – because thank goodness to those on the front lines. I know not everyone has the luxury and/or the time and/or the know-how or desire to deeply feel, but instead know how to deeply act. I cannot bow down to them enough, and I am in full support of outwards actions. As for me, I don’t have that resilience anymore, unless I tend to my heart first.

“I value my own heart so much that I must pause with and for her health before I do anything else.”

Then I can, and I do, act outwardly.

 

A new way

If you are the kind of person who can have the most impact by jumping to action first, then JUMP! Again, I honor your role in this life.

AND, dare I say to all of us who want to move from the toxicity of our culture towards something completely different: We can’t push through and avoid ourselves – not love ourselves – if we are truly wanting to make change. So please, include your own well-being, as you work for the well-being of others.

Disconnecting from our true well-being is the old way. That is the way of the patriarchy, of powering over, objectifying, and monetizing everything, of valuing thinking, thinking, thinking! over the heart. The old way doesn’t support love, intrinsic worth and value, inclusivity, and the unity of interweaving life.

The old way is life taking – it is death itself. The new way focuses on doings, actions and humaning that are truly life giving as it moves further away from the dysfunction of our current cultural paradigm and into creating something sustainable and loving.

Controlling and killing others is no longer what I want to participate in.

Utilizing internal resourcing, along with clear head and heart energy, ushers in the wise use of creativity and curiosity in living together on this planet. This is what calls me, as opposed to using control and force.

 

The heart path

When I say heart path, I’m not saying – “let’s just all sit around and feel into our hearts all day!” whilst singing Kum-ba-yah. I’m saying, let’s include heart energy all day, or as much as we can muster, as we go about our activism or social justice activities.

Our current toxic culture insists that the head or the intellect lead. Yet, the space of the mind alone is limited and is often absent of good intent, or what Buddhists call right action. The mental route is often exclusive, based on limited notions of right/ wrong/ good/bad. It is restrictive, rigid and dual.

The heart path invites heart energy to lead, knowing that the mind and wisdom will follow. When I start with the heart, what makes its way to the mind will quite often come easily, creatively, and with a new and renewed sense of empowerment because the space of the heart is limitless and abundant. The route of the heart is inclusive, curious, compassionate… and courageous.

It is also a route that has within it uncertainty and unfamiliarity. While the mind promises that it will solve problems, the territory of the heart isn’t linear, nor does it guarantee. It’s risky, open-ended, and wild. And that is why the path of the heart is considered the path of the courageous warrior – who doesn’t use a sword to kill and destroy, but to gently open and create.

It’s why, when I was confronted with opening my heart deep and wide (See Part 1), an existential fear arose… Going into the heart requires a leap of faith of sorts, because it is the territory of expanse, of ‘more’, of newness… and that requires a letting go and surrendering – two things almost all human beings struggle with.

 

Love is not neat and tidy, nor is the heart

Going into the heart can be messy. We humans like to know what we’re doing, why, and what for. If we know we’re going to get something out of surrendering, then we’re down for it. But surrendering without a promise of something? It starts to feel like going down into a sewer tunnel, with no knowledge of what the hell might be in there, and if it will ever end. That’s where a certain kind of trust, faith, or Knowing comes in.

The more one explores from the present moment and the heart the more one knows s/he will live through it and the more safe it feels to do so. Knowing, trust, or having faith doesn’t always make it easier in the moment – but maybe it’s lingering just close enough to make a difference. What is more motivating perhaps, is the understanding that I know what the alternative is – it’s our current culture: it’s death.

Taking a step into our own hearts provides us with an opportunity to deeply connect with our planet, with each other, and with ourselves. Feeling these deep connections, we are prepared to creatively, curiously and sustainably find new solutions to old problems – solutions that are not founded in the very same toxic approaches that have created the problems at hand.

 

Heart-work for the future

It is my experience that we must step outside the old paradigm to find new solutions on a macro level, and so it goes on a micro level. If we can, we must take a moment to pause, and go inward, before we go to automatic pilot and charge outwards. Countless numbers of us have tried that route, and it is not sustainable or healthy. The life of our planet and of humanity depends on not repeating the old, but communally engaging in something new.

You might say you don’t have time to take care of yourself, however, this mindset is part of the old paradigm. If we don’t take time to honor and love ourselves, we unwittingly add to the current state of affairs. Heart-work is political: our current culture hopes we will never take time to honor and love ourselves, it doesn’t want us to be healthy and resourceful human beings.

Heart-work is political, and also practical. We all know political activists, or have been them ourselves, who have gotten burned out. We care so much, and there is so much to feel, that it becomes too much. We get bogged down by our anger, lost in our outrage, and find ourselves bitter and/or hopeless. Sometimes we find ourselves giving up or shutting down. Other times we may disconnect from the world and isolate ourselves.

If one does not allow one’s emotions to be felt, internally expressed, and validated, then the amount of flow one experiences is impacted. Without the movement through there is a stacking up, which can easily result in overwhelm, leading one to simply give up or shut down.

Heart-work, because it is based in allowance and inclusivity, welcomes the anger, welcomes the despair, and welcomes the overwhelm and says, “rest here for a while.”

Heart-work allows fighting energy, tired energy, as well as the peaceful energy. It is sustainable because it is inclusive, based upon the moment, and on the needs of each unique individual and where they are on their journey. It is sustainable because it allows for respite and nurturance.

 

KISS: Keep It Simple Sweetheart

Heart-work is practical and simple, and at the same time new to most of us. If you are new to connecting to your inner terrain there are options for learning this new paradigm. They all include getting to know yourself:

  • Attend a mindfulness or meditation class
  • Hire a professional to assist you in navigating your emotional wellbeing
  • Learn how to somatically inquire into your experience
  • Take a yoga class
  • Spend some time outdoors
  • Eat good food, and drink lots of water
  • Explore journaling
  • Join support groups
  • Ask a friend to hold space for you
  • Explore your sense of safety in your body/being; learn how to feel and be safe
  • Build your curiosity muscle Here is a blog that talks about curiosity. Learn healthy ways to release emotions/support your emotional wellbeing
  • Exercise can be a powerful way to connect to repressed or active emotions (running up hills is a favorite of mine)
  • Work through your trauma with a skilled somatic therapist or facilitator

 

It’s time

Heart-work has given me the courage to be a change agent. Waking up is a political act, and in my experience heart-work is a crucial part of embodied wakefulness. Journeying into my heart has given me tremendous freedom to act, create, to be. Heart-work has led me to discover my true nature, and has allowed me to be more available for the hearts of others.

It seems to me that we have been preparing for a new heart-work based culture for a while. Mindfulness classes are taught in many schools. Bodywork is now recognized as an important part of physical health. Yoga and body consciousness have become mainstream. Even science confirms that it’s important to slow down, breathe, and take care of our internal mechanisms, as stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.

Should we accept the mission, heart-work might just be the next step in human evolution. Will you take it?

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution. Part 1, of 2

By Lisa Meuser.  

In every moment, new life.

I was going for a run this morning, on a new trail, in a new place. I came upon what looked like an extra large water pipe, but it was human sized- meaning I was to go through it. It was dusk. It was pitch black in there. And I had no idea what was on the other side. I started through, stumbling along the way, hoping I’d not lose my footing because there was stagnant and smelly water on one side of the dirt path that I really didn’t want to fall into. In the dark. I made it to the other side, and onwards I went, into more unfamiliar terrain, onto more trails that were new to me. I ran blindly, not knowing where I was going. At every step, there was new territory. In every moment, new life.

It dawned on me: these runs I take into the wild, they are like the journeys I take into my heart. Sometimes my pacing is awkward… sometimes I’m not sure where my heart is. Sometimes my body is stiff or out of alignment… sometimes my heart feels closed and hard. But I go on these unfamiliar runs, and I continue to go into my unfamiliar heart. Sometimes it feels risky, uncomfortable, and just plain hard. But I go, because I always experience new life in my body, soul and spirit when I do. I go, because I know what the alternative is, and of that I am not a fan.

The alternative is, by and large, our current cultural structure. I will be writing more about that in part 2, but in short, our current cultural structure is pervasively led by the head, not the heart. As such, it is not life-giving, nor life-sustaining, but more likely life-controlling and dominating.

I am a fan of the heart, which honors curiosity, creativity, and expansion. I am a fan of the mystery. I am a fan of the unity and quality of all life.  I am a fan of new life – and that is why I run on paths unknown, and travel into inner territories not yet traversed.

 

Something is better than nothing

A few weeks ago, in late June, I was sitting in the place I spend most of my Sunday mornings – in my Unitarian Universality Church with my daughter. It was the week we started to learn that the US government was taking infants, babies, and children away from immigrants without proper documentation.

That morning Rev. Mary Ann spoke about what was happening on the front lines with regards to immigration. It was not a playful [1] sharing of information – it was horrific. The room was exceptionally sober. People throughout the congregation were sobbing, and many others had tears in their eyes, listening to the words she was speaking, trying best as we could to not only keep our ears open, but also our hearts.

She encouraged us to do something. She then spoke about the many options of ‘somethings’ we could do; attending marches, making phone calls, sending letters, donating funds, and so forth. She knew that a lot of people were weighed down by the insanity going down on the front lines of our government. She knew that many people felt powerless, and hopeless. She knew many people wanted to just ignore this, until it went away, because it was just so big.  “Please do something,” she urged. She asked us to refrain from being complicit. “Nothing will yield nothing,” she said, “but something will always yield something, even if you don’t know what that is.”

Even if you don’t know what that is.

I thought that was profound. When it comes to political action, nothing will surely yield nothing.

Under the weight of what the government was doing, it was easy to think that actions might not have much of an impact. Rev. Mary Ann’s words were not only inspiring, they were also empowering. Even though we can’t know what that something will do, we know it will yield something.  And that gives cause to opt for something, any act, over nothing.

(Side note. Pausing a moment for a desperate prayer and to state the obvious which is often overlooked by the liberal left, which includes myself: may we please pick our “somethings” wisely. Doing violence, to counter violence, for example, sustains the toxicity of our current death-fixated culture. I will write more about this in part 2.)

 

First, some heart-work

I knew action was crucial. Passively praying, or pretending it is “all going to be ok,” not only seems inappropriate but also morally void in these times. Social justice is a passion of mine, and I find that activism, in some way or another, is crucial.

I wanted to jump to action. I’d already been called to heartfully connect with the victims of the atrocities, but because of the amount of anger and righteous indignation [2] I felt I simply could not. When I tried to bypass that and do something “easier”, again all I could feel was my own arrogance, blame and resentment, and I could not ignore how ultimately disempowering that felt for me.

My heart had been buckling under the weight of these crimes against humanity, and I had been trying to ignore her because it was all just so painful. Not only was she buckling, she was hardening at times, wanting to close at times, and wanting to numb out at times.

It’s not just that I don’t want to live with a hardened or a dissociated heart, it’s that I can’t do my work in the world with a heart that isn’t open.

I knew that I had to address that first – as my initial ‘something.’ I knew I had to go deeper into what was going on for me, and I knew the only place to go deeper into was what wanted to close: my heart. I was in need of some heart-work.

 

Getting honest with myself

I allowed myself some time to honor what I was experiencing. It felt overwhelming and almost too much to bear and I noticed that I was feeling some hopelessness in light of the political decisions being made. I continued to go slow, and as I got clearer I saw that the government taking children way from their families was hitting me on (at least) 3 levels.

  • I was impacted as a human being who has empathy and compassion for other human beings.
  • I was impacted as a therapist because I know how destructive childhood trauma is with regards to the development of a healthy psyche.
  • I was impacted as a mother: the idea of my child being taken from me broke my heart every time I thought of it.

Between the three, I was overwhelmed with emotional responses. I was angry, I was experiencing immense grief, I was afraid and there was some hopelessness under the weight of all that.

It was the hopelessness that cried out for attention, for in the wake of the hopelessness there was despair and wanting to give up. And I could feel that deep in my heart.

As uncomfortable as hopelessness feels, as much as I don’t like to feel hopelessness, I knew that I needed to move closer to that resonance and get more intimate with what I was feeling.

That was my first ticket into my heart: as I allowed myself to let in this feeling of hopelessness, my heart started to crack, and, like Leonard Cohen, I experience the heart breaking as the heart opening. I could feel more as I stayed with the hopelessness, and that led to the next layer, which was anger.

 

Then came Anger

Sometimes I still feel weary and/or afraid of letting anger in, or going down into anger. Couldn’t I just jump to love? (Or, let anger spur right action?)  No, I could not. I didn’t feel love, I felt pain and anger and rage and hate. And it felt like right action in that moment was to feel into it, as opposed to act from it.

As I owned that powerful righteous indignation I let myself fully feel it down deep into my being. My body felt rigid, as if I was holding, or gripping, and my chest was tight. I didn’t try to change or soften any of it, but instead consciously joined with it as it was. I let the righteous narrative be as it was, and before long started to see myself and feel myself as if I were having a tantrum. I was, as I often refer to this state of rage, ‘Hulk Mad,’ and in true Hulk fashion I was throwing things around (in my imagination). As I stayed with the visuals in my mind’s eye, I also stayed with the resonance of anger in my body, and my breath breathed down and into these sensations that were traveling through my heart, my gut, and legs.

Then a different degree of violent images arose in my imagination- first of caged children and cruel adults. Then, of me- gunning down those determent guards (I am pretty sure there were some politicians in there, too) so as to free those kids. I allowed myself to have such awful imagery and sentiments, and felt deeply into my being while doing so. Whilst breathing consciously I stayed with the heart contractions and let them have their way as they moved through my body. The sensations in my heart were painful, as if my heart was being ripped or torn apart.  It wasn’t long before the anger and the rage and the hate started to shift – on their own accord. I started to sob uncontrollably with grief as my heart continued to break open. As I patiently stayed with the anger, and then grief, there was a shift into love and my heart started to open up even more. I could feel the impact of the heart-work I was doing.

The contractions and the rigidity in my body had stopped and were replaced by a deep and wide warmth that flowed through and beyond my body- all around me, and all within me. Love started to pour out to those children, and the guards and politicians, too. The imagery had turned from a killing fest into a love square dance.

The pain in my heart had been replaced by a mysterious yet uncomfortable pulling sensation, as if I was being drawn into the space of my heart. “Come deeper, here,” my heart seemed to be saying. Here.

And that’s when something surprising showed up: Fear.

 

You’re afraid to love, Lisa, really?

Hell yeah – fear was there. I was afraid to really let my heart blindly love. I was afraid of going so deep into my heart that I’d get lost in there, in my ‘hearting.’ There was so much to feel.  Dare I let open my heart that wide? Could I trust my heart? Could I just jump in, without knowing where or what I was jumping into?

I didn’t know what “here” really meant, or where it would take me, or what it would “do”. I didn’t know anything, other than I was being called into a chasm that was deeper and wider than I knew. Like on those runs I take, I was being called to go into unfamiliar territory. I was being called to go into what seemed like emptiness.

I took it slow, and my dead friend Travis showed up to help me. He held my hand, and he reminded me that I didn’t have to go in deeper if I didn’t want to. I was feeling the deep desire to love, but I also felt some ‘supposed tos’. In the wake of those supposed tos, I paused, and I let myself not love, for a bit. And that was just what I needed because after that the love started pouring through on its own accord.

When I can honor doubt, and just let it be there for a moment, the trust that comes next is inevitably more powerful.  I don’t know how that happens- perhaps it is pure grace.

My heart continued to beckon me into it, and in doing so it softened, filled, and emptied, over and over in a dance that is impossible to describe.

 

Heart-work Motto

As odd as it may sound, I wonder if the first act of heart-work stems from the radical act of self-care.

Maybe this is the heart-work motto:  “I value my own heart so much that I must pause with and for her health before I do anything else.”

For me, in the above life-story, valuing my heart meant that my first ‘doing something’ was to deeply feel, because without doing that my heart was going to close, and then what good am I in creating the social change I believe in and advocate for?

 

Once I tend to my heart, all things become new

After tending to my heart, after following the path of love, then I can be grounded and open enough to be myself. I can attend marches, I can write letters, I can make phone calls, and be a political activist. AndI can continue to work with the hearts and souls of my clients, and I can continue to be a mother, and I can continue to create, and write.  And I do.

When I keep my heart open, I get to live another day in creating change, in creating newness, and in advocating life, not death, as our current political and economic institutions pray to. But once my heart closes down, it’s game over for me – and they win. Believe me, they want my heart to close – they want all of our hearts to close, and stay closed.

They want us to feel too overwhelmed, too depressed, and too powerless to feel, to act, to be alive. They want us to get lost in the horrific images on Facebook and television, and believe that we can do nothing.

Giving up isn’t an evolutionary option, but caring for ourselves is. In fact, the love and compassion that is at the center of self care may be at the heart of evolutionary progress on a macro level. As I tend to my heart and keep it open, I have more space and resourcing to participate in life on all levels. When I tend to my being, I have more available to tend to all beings.

We all must find that which sustains us. Taking care of my heart sustains me. It keeps me truly alive and furthering. Do what keeps your well-being alive, and involved in creating a different, a new, tomorrow. 

Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll be writing more about the radial act of heart-work, why it’s needed for evolution, and how to keep your heart-work and social justice work a sustained part of your life.


[1]The theme in June was play, and had became a paramount part of her services each Sunday because, despite what was going on in our country politically, she felt we needed to remind ourselves of the importance of play. Rev Mary Ann Macklin had done some research – convicts of unspeakable crimes most often come from childhoods where there was little to no play. Furthermore, she contended, the opposite of curiosity – something utilized in play – is depression. “In times like these,” her words sang throughout the room, “we need play.”

And, she did, thank goodness, later in the service invite us into some experiential exercises so that we could connect with curiosity, aliveness, and playfulness.

[2] FWIW Righteous indignation has its uses, and can be extremely powerful – and perhaps that would have been the perfect springboard into action for me in the past.  Perhaps my new slogan for myself will be, heart work first, then righteous indignation.

 

In Need of Satsang Detox

By Scott Kiloby.  

One reason I moved into the area of addiction treatment at the Kiloby Center was to get away from the satsang circuit. In and of itself, the circuit doesn’t necessarily create a lot of harm. But I remember getting numerous calls, texts or emails from spiritual seekers who had just attended a weekend or week retreat with a teacher. They would say, “The retreat was wonderful – I truly found peace” or something like that. But by Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week, the emails, texts or calls would change. “I’m suffering again right now, what should I do?” I would say, “Investigate for yourself, using the tools you have learned. Awakening is truly an inside job. Going to satsang and expecting to wake up and be free of suffering once you enter back into your normal life is like going to a drug dealer and expecting that temporary high to last forever.” So many times the person would not investigate for themselves. Instead, they would schedule and attend the next satsang or the next three to come to town. Then the cycle would repeat, with the high or peace of satsang replaced by the usual suffering days or weeks later.

I have to admit that I am biased. I never attended satsang back in my seeking days. Sure, I watched a DVD or two of a spiritual teacher giving satsang. But once I extracted some really valuable tools, I put all of that down and began investigating on my own. This made all the difference. When I’m talking to spiritual seekers who are heavily into the satsang world, they often cite “transmission” as the reason they keep going back. The notion behind transmission is that there is some recognition that is transmitted from teacher to student during satsang. I won’t argue with that. Perhaps transmission does happen for some people. However, continuing to go back over and over and over so easily slips into the realm of addiction, treating the teacher kind of like a drug dealer who is doling out the good stuff. In many cases, it stops being about transmission. It becomes all about addictive seeking.

I am not waging a war against satsang. It has value. But I think it is important to point out that investigation using skillful means is of utmost important, to finally put to rest the seeking that leads one back again and again to satsang. Most good spiritual teachers would agree, even the ones who are doing satsang regularly.

At the Kiloby Center, we truly make no distinction between addiction to drugs or alcohol and addiction to spiritual seeking or satsang. They carry many of the same elements: wanting to avoid or escape the past or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings showing up in the present, continuing to go back to the “drug” even after recognizing the cycle of “high” followed by withdrawal, believing that there is something (a drug) or someone (a teacher) outside oneself that has the answers to life’s pain, and chasing certain states and experiences rather than letting all states and experiences come and go freely.

If you are a satsang teacher or someone who goes to a lot of satsang and this writing triggers you, there is probably something to examine. This writing comes with no ill will towards anyone. No trigger. My body is completely calm as I write this. This writing has more to do with feeling great compassion as I watch people look outside themselves repeatedly for what cannot be found outside oneself. I would say the same thing to either a drug dealer continuing to dole out drugs to addicted people and to the addicted people who are enslaved to those dealers. And I’m not saying that all teachers are drug dealers and all seekers are like addicts. This is mainly just a metaphor. There are great teachers out there who emphasize self-investigation. And there are seekers who do a lot of self-investigation. But, if you are triggered by this writing, chances are the shoe here does fit. So maybe take a look. Again, investigate for yourself.

This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website

Clearing Out the Basement; Decluttering Our Subconscious Interpretations of Love and Connection

By Lisa Meuser.  

There are many different ways in which we interpret love and connection.

As kids, because our survival depends on being attended to, we basically interpret love according to whatever brings us attention- regardless of the actual quality of the attention. Furthermore, we attach the experience and meaning of love/connection (and thus safety) to people, places, things and behaviors (actions) that come from “out there” (ie our careproviders) during those formative years. How this translates isn’t often very linear because of the amount of variables, and as such doesn’t always make much sense to an adult mind on the surface. In fact, it can be quite nonsensical and convoluted!

For example, let’s take the subject of coddling. One child might interpret coddling behavior from a caregiver as love and connection, whilst another might interpret coddling as a threat/suffocating. As those children grow into adults, they might come to have a push-pull (attraction-revulsion) reaction to people who coddle them. For reasons unbeknownst to them, they may both crave and resist attention that has a coddling vibration to it. Moreover, they will probably not understand this tendency until they explore their personal meaning-making with regard to what they perceive and interpret as love (as well as what they associate with coddling itself).

The hidden layers of what we have attached to love and connection are deeply rooted in our psyches. These layers can easily go unnoticed and unnamed as we humans are often complacent, resting in the thought that “this is just the way things are.” Whilst that may be true, unless we can unpack “how things are” we will continue to live through our subconscious meaning-making, which often results in a very unsatisfying life.


The Trap

How many of us have a basement (or room/corner/closet/drawer/garage) where we pile things… and even though we know it would be useful to do so, we resist cleaning it out? (It is possible, too, that we don’t even realize how much stuff we’re accumulating down there.) Because cleaning out a dark basement is neither comfortable nor easy, we often just leave things there and, instead of dealing with what’s already down there, we avoid it and shift our attention elsewhere. We busy ourselves with everything BUT that basement (or room/corner/closet/drawer/ garage).

This is what we often do with our own patterning- which, whether we know it or not, is largely in our subconscious.

Instead of going inward into our own conditioning we keep focusing outward, and with regard to the topic of love this can get particularly tricky. Trying to get love from “out there” will always bring about a somewhat complicated and often twisted relationship to it. And when the voice or narrative inside mimics the voices from outside (often the critical voices of our caregivers), it gets even more complicated and we can begin to feel trapped.

Depending on how convoluted our relationship with love has become, the more dramatic and chaotic our narratives will get. This can lead to a dramatic or chaotic life as we make harmful choices or numb ourselves in order to escape from such narratives.

Opening the Door to the Basement

Escaping the trap happens in different ways for different people.

A loved one might say something to us that makes us question our choices and habits. We might be experiencing such pain or loneliness that we reach out to a professional to help us make changes. Or a “wake up” moment might appear out of nowhere, coming from a total stranger who just happens to say something at “the right time.” Suffering and dissatisfaction can be good motivators, but questioning our lives is seldom easy and may not even seem possible. It may take us nearly our whole life before we finally take action, stop doing what we’ve always done, and embark upon a new course.

You might be lucky enough to have already opened that “basement door.” Maybe you were ready, or maybe the door was opened for you and life shoved you through the doorway kicking and screaming. Or maybe you’re apprehensively staring at that door, still closed, considering what might happen if you open it.

Personally, life has opened many doors in many ways to my many levels of basement. (Yes, apparently one basement level wasn’t deep enough for all my “stuff!”)

Sometimes I have willingly stepped through the door. Sometimes pain and suffering have nudged me through. And sometimes I have avoided the door altogether until life forced me through… despite my clinging to the doorframe, holding on for dear life.

Thank goodness it doesn’t always have to be like that.

Sometimes grace seems to gently open the door for us. And sometimes, after we’ve decided to get comfortable and “make friends” with the basement, the door stays somewhat open and no longer avoided. This “open door policy” has been my own personal path for the last many years, which brings me back to the topic of love.

It’s been my passion the last few years to explore what seems to separate me from Love. In doing so I’ve explored deep terrain and, while it was certainly not comfortable or easy, it has resulted in a more spacious “basement,” a more spacious narrative, and a very different relationship with love.

The Space to Notice More

On my own journey of wading through my false perceptions of love, I have come to know a much deeper and wider Love (which will be the topic of a later post). Suffice it to say that there is less drama and chaos in both my narrative and my life… in all ways. My relationships with people are more clean, clear, and genuine. My relationship with money is healthier. And my relationship with my career continues to become more and more filled with ease. Overall, there is an increased spaciousness with life.

This spaciousness itself is amazing.
Here I find true, sustainable connection and Love.
And yet…

And yet…

To reside in this spaciousness itself is in opposition to my learned conditioning because I come from a lineage of do-ers. And so, the spaciousness itself… the silence itself… can sometimes be uncomfortable. Even though I know there is beauty here (and love and connection), I sometimes resist.

I noticed this recently, so back into my basement I went.

Exploring the Discomfort of Spaciousness

The discomfort was a cue that something was up.

I took it as an invitation to pay more attention to what was going on. As I noticed the discomfort connected to spaciousness, I noticed visceral responses I was having to the silence and that increased spaciousness over all.

I noticed a subtle resistance and so began to study how it was manifesting in my life, noting where it was happening most often and under what circumstances. This is what I found: it was mainly arising in my bed, with regards to my phone/Facebook. And with it came a gut level push-pull within my body.

Giving Space to the Push-Pull

You see, a recent change I’d made in my life was to not engage on Facebook (or on my phone much at all) while I was in bed. This was a big shift for me as I often do social media at the beginning and end of my days… from bed. But I was inspired one day, from an internal whisper, to not bring the phone into bed as much anymore—and to stop Facebooking there—and I have learned to trust these whispers.

It was unexpectedly marvelous.

Until it wasn’t.

For the most part it was easier than I had imagined, maybe because the experience of spaciousness is so rewarding in and of itself. However… at times, existing in that gap of space and silence, I found a part of me that wanted to fill it.

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine about it. “I notice that at times I want to fill the space with ‘busy hands,’” I told her. This simple act of naming allowed me to see that some part of me still resists the silence and the space, habitually wanting to fill it with “doing” and “going out there.”

It’s as if some part of me still thinks that love and connection are to be found “out there,” even though experientially I find it sustainably here.

(Side note: This is not to say that love and connection are never experienced “out there.” We are not solipsistic creatures; we are tribal and community-based creatures. And yet, for me in this current aspect of my journey, there is very little sustainable and fulfilling connection that comes from my busy hands scrolling through my newsfeed, especially when compared to the richness and depth of what has been waiting for my attention “in the gap” lately.)

I kept exploring, and found more

Upon this realization, I decided to bring the topic to inquiry and consciously explore what was going on.

After settling in and sitting still for a while I connected with the sensations of the push-pull. There was a subtle visceral sensation in my chest area that accompanied the desire to “be busy” (distracted) on my phone as opposed to being in the gap (without distractions).

I was quickly brought back to memories of my childhood when my mom was in “taking care of” mode. For her, “taking care of” meant practical actions, not being present with what was going on. Staying busy, doing things, figuring things out… this was the world in which I grew up. There was no “being present,” resting in spaciousness, or truly connecting to my feelings or experience. Presence and spaciousness got zero recognition for me as a child, so of course I’d not have attributed any value to them back then.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we attach the experience and meaning of love and connection to people, places, things, and behaviors that come from “out there.” In my case, I had equated love with “taking care of” actions as opposed to presence or spaciousness with regards to my actual experience.

This was not new information. But the awareness of this information was coming from deep within my being, which created the space for new hidden fragments to come to the surface.

Particularly profound was the clarity that those practical displays of “being taken care of” by my mother happened at the expense of what was really going on for me: the ignoring of my emotion was actually seen as loving. In other words, ignoring or bypassing my inner terrain was seen as the loving thing to do, and even as love itself.

How can that be?

I make a living tending to others’ well-being through presence and compassion. I don’t ignore or bypass others’ emotions or others’ inner terrains, so how could I possibly think it was loving to ignore my own emotions and experience?

The fascinating thing about the depth of our subconscious beliefs is that they often don’t make sense to the logical or linear mind. And they often don’t make sense when considering the adult context of a person. I.e., it doesn’t make sense to my adult self that I would be with people who are unable to hold space for my humanity. But the pieces start to come together once I journey into the subconscious unprocessed belief that my child self developed: that ignoring my feelings is love, and going outward into action is love.

It’s no wonder that, until recently, I have attracted people who were good at practical aspects but have not been able to be present or compassionate for my actual experience. I’d been equating love with the former, while not including the latter!

The Freedom to Feel

The surfacing of this awareness brought grief and anger, and I allowed myself to deeply connect to all that was arising within my body. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I connected to my child self who wanted presence and compassion, and instead got action. Specific memories arose, and I took my time honoring all that was coming with them. My entire body became hot and constricted as the sadness and grief morphed into anger. Images of being “Hulk mad!” flashed through my mind’s eye and my breath became forceful as energies moved through me, from my head all the way down to my toes.

As those emotions and the energies attached to them made their way through my body, eventually settling, I was brought back again to the push-pull with my phone in bed. There seemed to be something at stake with regard to giving up the “busy hands.”

I discovered that there was a hidden fear that if I consciously allowed myself to go deeper into the gap—into quiet, into spaciousness—then I wouldn’t be taken care of. I honored that this was a pain body echo from my childhood, and allowed it the attention it needed. As I felt that a deeper truth eventually whispered itself: I will absolutely be taken care of fully in the gap, in ways I can’t even imagine.

I deeply experienced love entwined with presence, and experienced directly how that took care of everything, without a doubt, and without a doing. A knowing was received that love and connection in their purest representations (Love) reside in that gap, waiting for me, always.

A sat awhile longer, breathing and letting my system integrate what had just graciously flowed through. Deep gratitude washed over me.

Opening Doors

I have discovered that this internal decluttering has opened doors to an increased simplicity and ease in my life. Mysteriously, it has brought forth whispers that I had previously been unable to hear. Many of these whispers are insightful, creative, and full of aliveness. Some of them are echos of familiar deficiency stories that I’ve been exploring for a while and are reminders of old pain body.

They are all welcome. They all hold wisdom.

Taking the plunge and courageously exploring the basements of our psyches brings all sorts of things to the surface, which allows for a more satisfying and genuine connection to life as a whole.

When the basement door is kept open, and when we make ourselves more available to the whispers of the subconscious, profound revelations and healings can rise up effortlessly- for our evolution.

In my own life, as someone who guides others through their dysfunctional attachments to love, I’ve been able to do the same with regard to myself… and the revelations continue to come! The more I “clean up the basement,” so to speak, the more spacious and fulfilling my life gets.

Just as cleaning the basement in our home creates a more functional living space, when we clean up the basements in our psyches we too become more functional—and consequently more connected and loving human beings.

Thank you for reading! For more information on self-inquiry, exploring belief systems, and unwinding trauma, contact me at [email protected].

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.