Friday, July 31, 2015

Getting Beyond Shame -- Inner Work for Multicultural Engagement

If the new film Inside Out included a sixth feeling, it should be Shame.

Shame controls so much of what we do--or don’t do. And in this era of waking up to far more systemic racism in our culture, the last thing that anybody wants to say or do is something that could be perceived as racist. And this shame inhibits so many of us from having honest conversations and getting real.

It is human nature to not see our own biases. When one of us unintentionally says or does that is an "ouch" experience for someone else and then are confronted with what has happened, we naturally blurt out--or at least think to ourselves--“I am not a racist!”. 

Racial bias is in everyone, no matter our color. We all participate in cultural constructs that frame our experience and perceptions. We all have the need to wake up to where our perceptions are skewed and diminish others. But we can’t identify our blind spots, let alone learn to act more thoughtfully, if we can’t have direct conversations.

A waking vision came to me that has helped me identify my own spiritual work in this very human challenge. Now, I warn you, this is a really bizarre vision! 

It starts with me pulling the ends of a ribbon wrapped around my neck, shutting my head off from the rest of my body. The ribbon, I discover, is attached to a canvas bag. This bag  stretches around my torso. I knew I had to loosen the ribbon enough so I could look down into the bag. As the mouth of the bag opened enough, I gazed inside, as if I was looking down into my body through my neck. A messy, smelly, ugly mix of blood and guts churned below. It was unsightly. The primary word that described what was inside me: unseemly. 

This churning mass was clearly filled with fear, uncertainty, judgment, and---most of all--shame. As I continued to work at loosening the ribbon, I felt called to pull the canvass bag off of me. 

Once I had stripped the bag off, the vision of my torso morphed into a grey putrid mass. My insides were indistinguishable. I was filled with a knowing that my insides needed airing out, that I couldn’t effectively move through the world until I did so. 

At that moment, I realized that my gut was hidden behind my heart. The source of my conviction and clarity was hidden by--and indistinguishable from--my emotional life. I saw clearly that my spiritual work is to “air out” my insides so I can clearly discern and move from my gut--and not be so beholden to the source of my emotions. 

For me, this vision is a call to distinguish the source of conviction and wisdom within and to move more effectively through the world with a greater fire of confidence, commitment, and passion. It is also a vision that pushes people like me toward greater multicultural engagement and sensitivity. 

How so? So many of us spiritual progressives and religious liberals tend to minimize differences among us. We like to focus on how we human beings are all the same without acknowledging the reality of cultural differences. And we are unable to explore other cultures effectively because we aren’t aware of our own. It’s as if we have a ribbon wrapped around our necks, and instead of engaging difference with joy, open curiosity, and the capacity to be changed, we instead are driven by the shame, fear, and what all else is hidden in our bag. 

When have you encountered someone with significant different life experience and culture and sought to engage them in open conversation? It is so common for us to want to make a certain impression, to verify our own perspective on the world, to be driven by what we don’t want to acknowledge is within us. 

I know that I have multicultural sensitivity work to do when I catch myself speaking faster rather than simply be responsive to the person in front of me. I am inclined to speak from my head rather than relate from my heart and gut.

If a ribbon is around your neck, and you move through the world primarily from above your neck, join me in working to loose that ribbon, pulling down the bag, and airing out what is hidden inside you. 

Then we can live with greater freedom, openness, and vitality. We can revel in the differences among us human beings and enter into ever more powerful and influential relationships. 

No comments:

Post a Comment