I have been heartened this past few weeks by the number of spiritual teachers from different traditions speaking out against racism and making it clear that anti-racism is part of the spiritual work and not separate from it. Eckhart Tolle, Tara Brach, Ron and Mary Hulnick, all made their position clear that they were taking action to support anti-racist work and standing up rather than standing by. I also really appreciated listening to Gangaji’s podcast Being Yourself: Meeting the Roots of Racism Within. Thanks to Sara J. Sanderson Co-founder of When Women Speak Global Network for sharing and bringing it to my attention. Gangaji and her host Barb share in the podcast that the conversation about racism is a crucial conversation to be having at this time and deeply spiritual.
I am grateful to not be alone in believing that addressing racism is not separate from spirituality. What has happened since the murder of George Floyd is a greater awakening to injustice. The protests and momentum around the globe have the potential to create real change in terms of social justice. But we all need to do our part. I am glad so many spiritual communities are speaking out. No justice, no peace is spiritual. It is the recognition that when one is suffering, all are suffering.
From positions of privilege, like my own, it is easy to be in denial of the oppression that is happening right now. Of course, I knew racism exists, but its impacts have been subtle in my life. I have been comfortable getting on with my work waking people up to their potential and showing them how to have better relationships, but I wasn’t focused on addressing systemic injustice.
I was living in a bubble of denial. I should have known better. My first master’s degree was in Cultural Geography. My thesis title was: The Ethnocentric Corral: Feminism, Postmodernism, and Cultural Geography. I am no stranger to the impact of European colonialism and the discrimination and marginalization of black people and people of color. But I had not been doing my part. I am glad to have my eyes reopened and to be reminded to be an ally.
I need to see what is. Healing comes through seeing and understanding. This makes room for compassion, empathy, and love. Denial is the opposite of seeing. It allows for ignorance and fear to run amok. None of us are completely free from this.
It is spiritual to respond to suffering.
Clearly the issue of racism and other forms of injustice has not been adequately addressed because they still exist. Shifting this requires that we each do the work in our own consciousness to wake up more fully to our prejudice and then work together collectively to effect systemic change. This is not the job for black people and people of color. It is the work for those holding power to wake up to the systemic change that is needed and to let go of their unequal share of power.
This is spiritual work.
We need to recognize the brutality and horror that so many people have experienced for centuries. We have to address the conditioning that allows for whiteness to be seen as superior. Hardly anyone is free from this conditioning.
It is spiritual to break free from conditioning that has us try to preserve our survival by stepping on top of someone else. It is spiritual to free oneself from the attachment to external power structures that require subjugation to be in place. Spirituality is not a retreat from life. It prepares the heart to approach life head-on and see where more love and understanding are needed. It addresses the mistaken belief that we are separate rather than one being expressing in a multitude of ways the one source. As Gangaji said in the podcast, There is no aspect of our lives that is separate from the truth of ourselves and we can be willing to recognize and take responsibility for the prejudice within ourselves. The depth is there and the possibility of discovering the freedom that includes all and welcomes all is there. All of yourself. All of the other.
If you don’t believe you are a racist, understand that racism is not always expressed as hatred that is only the extreme. Gangaji expresses her profound love for her black nanny, but she also recognizes the conditioning of her prejudice against blackness. She knew that black represented the bottom of the social ladder. There are not many places on the globe that have not been exposed to the ideology of white supremacy. And in the Western developed world, we live in a system of racist policies that benefit white people. This is beyond the individual. The collective systems that are in place support subtle and overt discrimination, abuse, and even killing of black people and people of color. Racism is not reserved for the alt-right and Nazi’s. It is yours and mine too. We have to look within and see the profound prejudice that can be so invisible and subtle. We need to look for the ways we feel better than and use self-elevation as a way of self-protection. As Gangaji said, “A lot of us escape if we relegate it (racism) to hatred.”
Racism is about the human desire for power and survival. This is spiritual because to move beyond that requires a new reference point, a willingness to see what we haven’t seen about who we are so our foundation of safety and wellbeing is not sought for externally but is recognized as coming from within. That new internal reference point that is spiritual is what makes it possible for us to override the conditioning of the ego and make choices that honor the wellbeing of all rather than the survival of one.
To get there we need to see what is invisible to the eye. We need to let go of the learned conditioning by recognizing it. We must allow space to feel the healthy guilt that arises when we shift levels of consciousness. We can start with ourselves and wake up to our ignorance, blindness, cruelty, and lack of care. This is spiritual work.
We start by addressing the Eurocentric views of white supremacy within and then we show up as allies without. Solutions are not easy and may not be clear, but the way forward toward reparations and inclusivity will be revealed from a freer mind. But we need to first see the truth of the oppression we are capable of and party to. We need to be conscious of how we participate in the continuance injustice so we can see how to stop it. There is no perfection in this. There is simply moving forward and learning and growing.
The murder of George Floyd was a tipping point. The festering wound of racism and the associated pain and suffering came into the light more fully. This is a time for healing. This is spiritual work. Gangaji says, “All spiritual teachings are about truth-telling. and wherever we try to partition off telling the truth that’s where we make ourselves smaller than we are and separate from the bigness that we are. We must look at it and look at it deeply and tell the truth.”
The need for freedom from oppression is real. The desire for deeper inner freedom is not separate from the desire for freedom from outer oppression. Looking at it head-on and taking responsibility for our part opens up the possibility of real freedom that helps lift us all.
Rohini Ross is passionate about helping people wake up to their full potential. She is a transformative coach, leadership consultant, a regular blogger for Thrive Global, and author of the short-read Marriage (The Soul-Centered Series Book 1) available on Amazon. Rohini has an international coaching and consulting practice based in Los Angeles helping individuals, couples, and professionals embrace all of who they are so they can experience greater levels of well-being, resiliency, and success. Rohini is the author of the free ebook Relationships and the co-founder of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can also follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and watch her Vlogs with her husband. To learn more about her work go to her website, www.rewilders.org.