misc-joy

Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

December, 2018

Silent – Silence – Silenced

By on December 13, 2018

White Silence = Violence
Silence takes many forms, both positive and negative. The silence of the early morning, before others awaken. The silence of a monastery, where we go for meditation. The silence of government, when it doesn’t respond to a disaster. And the silence of community leaders, when members of the community are in crisis. I think most people value silence at some point in their lives. Silence has a role and a place. But I want to explore moving from silence to an action, a declaration, a response. Through silence I work to cultivate insight and compassion. It is also through silence that people remain unheard in our society and in our communities.

Last month I received a text message from a Black colleague. My colleague wrote, “White silence is real.” This was an invitation and a wake-up call. The text was sent in disappointment and in kindness. Disappointment because he had to say it. Kindness because he said it. For me, the exchange was about being unafraid of difficult conversations. And my role was to say thank you, be silent, and then take action.

White privilege and racism are hard for white people to see. It challenges us as individuals and as well-meaning people who often see racism through the lens of Racist = Bad / Not Racist=Good binary. This really sets us up to be defensive and unable to see a different reality. In writing about what makes racism so hard for whites, Robin DiAngelo identifies individualism as a key characteristic. She writes, “Individualism prevents us from seeing ourselves as responsible for or accountable to other whites as members of a shared racial group that collectively benefits from racial inequality.” This in turn leads to our silence and to our denial of the advantages of being white, allowing us to think through a colorblind lens, assuming that we treat everyone equally. From this place it is difficult, if not impossible, to build cross-racial understanding and discover how race and racism are at play in our lives.

I want to break my racial solidarity with my fellow whites and speak to you. This is not about feeling guilty, feeling indignant, or a need to prove ourselves. This is an invitation to begin to see our racial filters and to recognize their impact on people of color. This is an invitation to look deeply into the life experiences of the Black men and women in this country. Looking deeply means reading Black literature and history, following people of color on social media, seeking out media aligned with racial justice (such as Colorlines), attending race-focused conferences, cultivating friendships with people of color, and engaging in small-group workshops with other white people to talk about what it means to be white. It is a constant learning process, and we will make many mistakes along the way. Like the text thread above demonstrated.

For most of my life I have remained silent, either consciously or unconsciously, when racism is present in conversations and in my community. Honestly, it has been easy to remain silent because as white people we have been trained to ignore racism and act as if racism is either something taking place elsewhere, or that racism is already solved. We’ve got our blinders on. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that people of color have also been silent, but in a completely different way. While as a white man, I don’t always see the racism, people of color have learned to accommodate, code switch, and/or withdraw. The person of color feels racism acutely. They are constantly reminded through media, wealth, employment, housing, law enforcement, education, etc. that things are unjust. In the workplace and in the community, people of color may not feel safe to speak up and remind others of racism. I imagine it is exhausting to remind white people of their blindness.

What I have observed is when people of color speak up, particularly Black Americans, they are judged and shut down. White people see them as being angry or unreasonable. That what they ask and argue for is too much. Then we may beg them to hear our apology and we ask them to be forgiving of us! Ultimately, we may even say that we feel silenced because talking about race makes us feel unsafe and judged. Suggesting that we don’t want to offend anyone. I am not being silenced because a person of color has finally been able to speak up and share living truth. We may think our action are about being politically correct and sensitive. I have been this white person making these judgments and requests.

My action, my declaration, my response is to engage in this difficult conversation. To hear the stories told by people of color, to offer the benefit of truth, to speak up when I see injustice, and to stand in solidarity in the hope of building and creating a more equitable world. Step forward with honesty, humility, and a willingness to make mistakes. Know when to be silent, and when not to be silent.

Belonging and Co-Liberation

By on December 9, 2018

It has been a little over three weeks since a vice-president said the n-word during the Gender Equity meeting at Santa Barbara City College. During this time, the suffering and trauma experienced by our employees of color has come forth. And it is not only the trauma being experienced at my place of work, but a much deeper societal and generational trauma. An unhealed trauma for which we all have a role in addressing and healing. I am also watching some members of the white community quickly fall into the racist=bad and non-racist=good dichotomy (source) and that prevents us from being able to move forward and truly address the systemic and structural racism within our work environment.

These three weeks have been a personal struggle as I make an effort to speak the truth of racism, honor and support those who are traumatized and have experienced oppression, and to also honor my deep-seated beliefs of nonviolence, reconciliation, restorative justice, and social equity. My Buddhist vows guide me by saying, “As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body.”

I am striving to change the situation and also working very hard to not take sides. But I have a side, and it is the side of justice! And this is my pain and my struggle. Seeing through this to the middle way is my path.

Be Still and Beloved
Artwork by Samuel Paden – samuelpaden.com

During the recent Facing Race conference, I picked up a journal called Othering & Belonging from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. The essay I read this weekend, An Evolutionary Roadmap for Belonging and Co-Liberation, speaks straight to the heart of the matter for me. Written by Sonali Sangeeta Balajee who has worked in the field of racial equity, primarily in government, to more fully integrate and prioritize healing. Her essay shares a framework in the following key areas: beloved; be still; behold; believe; becoming; and belonging, co-liberation, and well-being. I loved how she writes, “spirit-based practice is inseparable from social justice, and when realized, is the highest form of political consciousness.” She honors “being still” while at the same time acknowledging “anger and frustration as necessary emotions and movement builders.” Encouraging the reader to “bear witness to hope, as well as grief and anger.” Ultimately, the reader is reminded that “merely learning about belief systems that breed supremacy and superiority are not enough. Knowledge alone doesn’t interrupt or disrupt.

Those are just a few highlights. Read the entire essay because it is important and has clear and practical ideas. I will continue with my struggle for the middle way where truth is honored, people can heal, and society is transformed. Therein lies my hope.

Dead Bodies in Public

By on December 4, 2018

It was 1994 as I traveled home on the 21 Hayes street bus in San Francisco. I was a block from home when we stopped at the corner of Hayes and Webster. As I peered out the window toward the ubiquitous liquor store on the corner, I observed a dead body in the doorway from a botched robbery or a drive-by shooting. As the minutes and hours passed, I was struck by my lack of emotional response. It felt like I should be more impacted by seeing a dead body a block from my house. It was disturbing to think I was so desensitized and that I wouldn’t be moved by the loss of life. I didn’t even reflect deeply upon the family and friends this young man had; there was nothing inside me.

During those days, I did have a nascent spiritual practice but it wasn’t that deep yet. At that time, I was also watching a lot of violence in the movies (i.e., Pulp Fiction) and reading about violence in the media daily (newspapers and magazines). Because of my lack of emotional response from the body, I vowed to stop going to movies that contained violence. I wanted to be more sensitive…not de-sensitized. I placed a high bar for this and maintained that commitment for many years to come. People questioned my commitment and didn’t see how that could help my compassion and empathy to grow. But it did. In the ensuing years, my spiritual practice grew and deepened. I became a practitioner and teacher in the Plum Village tradition (a Zen Buddhist path) and today I have more empathy and compassion.

Police Line - Do Not Cross
SOURCE: aclu-ms.org

Twenty-four years later, as I traveled home in my car, I witnessed my second dead body in public. This body lay in the entrance to my place of work – Santa Barbara City College. In the middle of the street. About 100-feet from my office. An intersection I travel through daily. I was not prepared, and I was deeply disturbed. My immediate response was, “FUCK!” — I had to pull over. Call for help. And spend the next 45-minutes sobbing and in tears. Tears of sorrow, anger, frustration, and of memory. The person died as a result of a motorcycle accident. This was very personal for me because I rode a motorcycle daily for 25-years. I stopped riding when my children were young and because friends and acquaintances kept ending up in the hospital or ended up being dead. This death feels so pointless and preventable. Yes, I know people die everyday. Yes, I know that riding a motorcycle doesn’t always mean death. And yet, I know that by not-riding anymore I reduce the probability of being killed in that manner.

My tears today are for the person who died, for the family and friends of that person, for each person who had to witness the accident or the body, and for myself. This year has been very difficult for me and death has often been present in my consciousness. As the late fall and early winter begins, my difficulties have eased but the incident today leaves me raw and sensitive. And so I write to share, to explore and to heal.

In America we are so distant from death and dead bodies. Most of us don’t live in a war zone like those in Yemen or Gaza. I also recall the police violence in Ferguson when Michael Brown’s body lay in the street for four hours. Or when my mother-in-law’s Amtrak train was five hours late because a person jumped in front of the train on Thanksgiving weekend. Death and violence are ever present. And at the same time, it is obscured and hidden except in cases of public violence on American streets.

On an intellectual level, I understand police work. The need to investigate and not touch a crime scene. But on an emotional and human level, it feels so wrong to leave a dead body laying in the street. So inhumane. I certainly don’t have the answers and this writing exercise serves to help me process and explore the emotional landscape that came jarringly into my consciousness 12-hours ago. I do know that we should be disrupted and disturbed when we see a dead body. We should be reminded that a life has ended. We should draw our attention to the family and friends. To send love, compassion, and empathy. And when something could have been prevented, work toward finding solutions that prevent it from occurring again.

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

A Welcome for Sangha Gatherings

By on December 2, 2018

In recent years, I have been reflecting with other friends on the path on methods to make our practice communities more inclusive. Also, to recognize and honor those who have gone before us including those who were instrumental in building Buddhism in America. In particular, as a result of the war in Vietnam we have the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh living in exile for fifty years. And with that exile, along with thousands of Vietnamese, we have the practice centers at Deer Park Monastery, Magnolia Grove Monastery, and Blue Cliff Monastery that serve and support mindfulness practice in the Plum Village tradition.

Making our practice communities more inclusive is no easy task. It will require everyone to transform themselves and be willing to do things differently. As the Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams wrote on Lions Roar, this is the “back of the bus” moment of our time.

For the last two or three practice events I’ve offered, both in-person and online, I have begun the session with a short statement. It is offered as a guided reflection followed by a guided meditation. The reflection is drawn from several sources. Please use, adapt, and share with your groups.


Sunrise in Santa Barbara

For over 4 billion years the earth has been here, holding and feeding single-celled organisms, dinosaurs, plants and flowers, and humans. We acknowledge and embrace the many generations of Vietnamese who carried Buddhism to us through our Teacher, Thay, and helped build the sangha in new lands. Their history and practice are present with us today. We are also grateful to hear that our Teacher has been able to return home to his root temple, where he was ordained at the age of sixteen, to spend the rest of his days in the care of the community.

We see and hold too the native and First Nation peoples who lived on the lands before us, who cared for it as we do, and lived their lives in community. Here in the Ojai Valley these are the Chumash people. And today we also honor our diversity, whether that be gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or political affiliation. We hold a special place today for the communities who are recovering from the wildfires in California and earthquakes in Alaska (insert something timely and appropriate).

All this is present here today as the Sangha is invited to come back to our breathing so that the collective energy of mindfulness will bring us together as an organism, going as a river with no more separation.

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