~ Unwrapping Openness Walking a round shady block with my son Gyan when he was three, I answered his history questions under steady oak trees, full of birds. At breakfast, my historian stepmother had read us a strange N.Y. Times article about a slave woman who had rescued her "owner" from Civil War prison in a laundry basket, the day before his execution. My geneology fanatic father had also announced that our bloodline, like many others, includes American Indian, African, European, and other lines. So my son had questions. "Owner?" "Indian?" "Civil War?" And: "What color am I?" Jessica Kerwin Jenkins recently told me that the word truth comes from the Welsh drud for trees, welcoming and lasting and wild as they pour water and oxygen into the sky. As deep as they are high. As I listened to Gyan's questions, I kept realizing I could breathe and back up tall and deep into myself like a tree, and just say it as I feel it. Not as I read it in schoolbooks or movies. Not leaving out anybody, just leaving out the denial. When Gyan heard (not for the first time, by the way) that Europeans had kidnapped and enslaved Africans and tricked and murdered American Indians, his 3-year-old response was, of course: "All the Europeans should be killed." "I understand what you mean," I said. 3-year-old logic is easy to fall into. In the face of wrongs done, we so easily fall into helplessness. In our inner and outer worlds we would like to wipe out the hurt by killing the hurters. As if hurting would honor the hurt. A green breeze rippled above us, through branches over a hundred years tall. I continued: "And then you and I would not be here." He was quiet a while. I don't know what a 3-year-old mind does with things that are not black and white. But eventually we came to talk of how mixed up we all are--and not just our intertwined bloodlines! How each of us can feel pain and fear and not know what to do in that vulnerability. How people of any color can be kind or cruel. To ourselves and others. How we can respond to what happens with violence or creativity. How we can live from a place of 3-year-old helplessness or from somewhere else less certain and more alive. How there are rules and ideas and patterns that need to change so we can respond better. Inside and out. How telling the story as it is can help us awaken to what ideas and rules go against life. So we respond more freely. When asked about race, Gautam Buddha once said that you can look at the foot of an elephant and see it is different from the foot of a horse, but, he asked, has anyone seen humans with different kind of feet? What happens if we remember racists have feet just like non-racists? Is that disloyal to the pain? Or is it opening ourselves to grow down and up, against the grain of hatred? To stay deeply true to our common feet is perhaps to stay true to a force that heals. Can we stay true to the human dignity that is not shaken by what others do to us? What about inside us? What happens if we take away the denial and the extra story from our simple pain and personal history? What we have done and said. What others have done and said. I have so often noticed that some of our worst pain is our own twist on top of how bad we feel. Wrapped in shame and blame, guilt and fear, right and wrong--our pain is out of reach yet always acting through us. And we are out of touch with our true nature, deep and light. We find ourselves repeating the same situations or mistakes. We may even feel as if possessed by, or addicted to, what does not work--through anger, escape, worry, pressure, shut-down, small mind, lack. Something in us--a pull in the psyche--can so easily get fascinated by pain and power games. When we unwrap the hurt and our true dignity with care and steadiness, with the quiet aliveness of a tree, we never know what may happen. And that is already a good start. We may stop repeating history, personal and otherwise. We may start to notice that some of our hurt is extra, that some of the hurt is done to us by us. That even being right hurts, because being right means leaving our un-buy-able dignity, our un-own-able openness. And without that extra story, we find life and have energy to respond more directly and truly to whatever happens. We may come to a vulnerability that stands tall and together like a forest. We can back up into ourselves and reconcile our story with a timeless, wild truth that includes pain and openness. In our common feet, we find joy and dignity rising like sap. And we find no reason to forsake that true humanness for any slavery to being right or wronged or wrong. Even when our wider culture seems possessed, or addicted. I am not saying this freedom is guaranteed. But I am saying that the openness at our center is here in us. And I am saying that this openness allows unexpected wisdom to rise from out of nowhere, not right nor wrong. Unwrap it! Please. And in good company when you can, so we discover ourselves growing together like a forest, a home of truth, Gandhiji's satyagraha. This unwrapping, this coming undone, is one of the hardest things for a human being to grow into. It asks for all our energy, all our love of life. Stay true to the dignity. Stay true to the openness. And we may just find that a human being stands and speaks and acts, and is, an outpouring of aliveness.
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