Updated: Jul 8, 2020
In all honesty, I have hesitated to write a blog during the pandemic because I recognize and honor the wonderful responses from many beloved and deeply rooted mindfulness leaders and teachers who were and are continuing to offer such calming wise words either freely or with deeply reduced pricing through their on-line workshops, conferences, and classes. Their teachings have nourished me as I walk along this shared journey of uncertainty and unpredictability. And, never did I think that I would also be grappling to find something meaningful to share from such a raw and deep grief welling up inside of me by the egregious injustice of George Floyd's murder. Again, a brutal death that has jolted us awake demanding our deepest personal and societal attention. Yet, how many have gone before, named and unnamed? The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery insist that blinders fueled by implicit and explicit bias be lifted so that racism can be felt and known. Wading through, and not bypassing the messiness and vulnerability arising from our cognitive understanding and bodily felt sense of bias, must guide the direction for the implementation of lasting and deeply regarded personal and societal strategic action.
I am struck by the juxtaposition of the inherently impersonal nature of COVID-19 to the purposeful action taken by Derek Chauvin as he murdered George Floyd. The virus does not and cannot choose whom it infects. Yet, Derek Chauvin had a choice - 526 seconds worth of choices. As we saw with gut wrenching anguish, moments where there were actions Derek Chauvin COULD have taken. And clearly, there were a multitude of actions that SHOULD have been taken during those long 8 minutes and 46 seconds that could have preserved George Floyd's life. The pleas from bystanders asking for the pressure to George Floyd's neck and back be lessened in order to ameliorate the horrible suffering and ultimately his death, went unnoticed. Somehow, Derek Chauvin could not "hear" them. What was he listening to inside of his head? What, if anything, was he using as his rationale for his behavior? How deeply was his thinking hijacked so that he was deafened to any level of feeling that could have instructed him to release his hold? We most likely will never know the inner workings of his mind defying hope for any logical explanation.
As the study of heuristics indicates, it is a necessity for our brain to categorize things quickly in order to make a determination about what the "it" is and what the "it" means in relation to our use of the object and/or safety and well-being. Otherwise, if every time we saw a chair for example, our brains would have to slow down and go through the myriad of steps that young children's brains engage in when they are learning about the objects in their world. The amount of time to do this would be unwieldy, rendering us slow to respond and not astute enough to survive when speedy decisions are a necessity.
Heuristics are important as we move through the world because thanks to heuristics, we don’t have to reinvent the world each moment because we can unconsciously create associations with things, people, and circumstances due to familiarity. Heuristics don’t make us racist or sexist. However, depending on our location in our society – class, education, race, ethnicity- if we don’t look closely at our associations and assumptions, it’s likely we will not be able to understand where and how we perpetuate inequities and injustices in our families and in our societies.
As a member of humanity, heuristics asks of us to know intimately our implicit bias that can be unconscious and yet the guiding force for our actions and speech without discernment. Ignoring race bias, or refusing to cultivate an awareness about our personal implicit bias' related to race, is continuing to keep us singularly and societally stuck in an evolutionary tool that no longer has purpose, but a tool that has proven over and over again to be lethal.
Perhaps I am not saying anything new in the above paragraphs. However, I do know that mindfulness practices help us to connect intimately with the deepest and darkest places from which we typically turn away. Mindfulness practices also allow for thoughts and feelings to come into the foreground and be "seen" for what they are without suppressing or ignoring. Steadying the mind allows for our personally nuanced lens' and perspectives based on context, privilege, power, and experiences to be known - a sorely needed gift for humanity's undeniable interconnectedness.
In this current and magnified stark reality filled with uncertainty, unpredictability, and moral questioning, it isn't easy to feel vulnerable as we explore our inner landscape finding perhaps that it isn't as idyllic as we might want to believe . Yet, dipping our toes into this uncomfortable place is a start. The imperative start. As we begin to dip in, we can choose to take the toe out, when to add another toe, or know that moment to immerse the whole foot. There is no forcing of the process but the intentionality must be steadfast. How can we each make "dipping in" to what is here, in our hearts and minds, in this moment, become a personal priority? Otherwise, without doing so, we are living with exclusivity - separating out in our inner world what we like from what we don't like. Thoughts inform our behaviors whether from a conscious lens or one that has been pushed to the side ultimately rendering them more potent and dangerous. Exclusivity creates divides. Divides in our minds are the beginning of deep separations that manifest and acculturate our world. George Floyd's murder brings front and center, again, this age old and deeply seated call to mend and resolve the reality of our personal and societal bias' that has and continues to humiliate, intimidate, deny equity, and kill others in our own species.
The challenge to "dip in to" this moment with courage and vulnerability is now. Our individual choice to commit to this task of knowing our inner inclusivity and exclusivity is a deep necessity for our collective well-being, safety, and existence. Change happens. We must be a catalyst for change by first knowing ourselves so deeply that personal action arises not from excluding and ignoring the difficult and uncomfortable, but from an informed and inclusive integration of our being - one being connected to all.