The World Is Our Field of Practice: Angel Kyodo Williams

for us to transform as a society, we have to allow ourselves to be transformed as individuals. And for us to be transformed as individuals, we have to allow for the incompleteness of any of our truths and a real forgiveness for the complexity of human beings and what we’re trapped inside of, so that we’re both able to respond to the oppression, the aggression that we’re confronted with, but we’re able to do that with a deep and abiding sense of “and there are people, human beings, that are at the other end of that baton, that stick, that policy, that are also trapped in something. They’re also trapped in a suffering.” And for sure, we can witness that there are ways in which they’re benefiting from it, but there’s also ways, if one trusts the human heart, that they must be suffering. And holding that at the core of who you are when responding to things, I think, is the way — the only way we really have forward; to not just replicate systems of oppression for the sake of our own cause.

.. And so even our sense of what pains us and what makes us feel shame, feel guilt, feel awkwardness, feel put-upon by people, feel disempowered, has to do with the external information and cues that we have received. And they’re moving at an incredible rate of speed. And, for the most part, we almost never get the opportunity to observe them and sort through them — kind of like that drawer that collects everything in your house.

MS. TIPPETT: I have a few of those.

REV. WILLIAMS: Yeah, where you say, “Oh, but wait a minute, someone lived in this house before me,” in essence. “And some of that stuff is not mine. Actually, this is not mine. That’s my mom’s. This is not mine; that’s the inheritance of white supremacy,” or, “That’s the inheritance of generations of oppression and marginalization that subjects me to habitually feeling less-than, even if the current situation has no intent to make me feel that way.” And we have no real way of being able to discern what is mine, what is yours, what are we holding collectively, what have I inherited, what have I taken on as a measure of protection, of a way to cope at some point in my life or past lives, that I no longer need?

.. because what we first are confronted with is just the assault of the amount of thoughts and the mixed messages that just inhabit our body and our mind and our experience on an ongoing basis — that when we sit, the first thing we’re met with is not quiet or calm or peace. The first thing we’re met with is, “Oh, my God. Who is in here, and why won’t they shut up? How do I get them to stop?” And not only is something and someone and everyone speaking to me, it’s mixed messages. Things don’t agree with each other. I don’t agree with my own truth. I’m having arguments in here that are not my arguments, they are someone else’s arguments. They’re my parents’ arguments.

Sitting lets us just, first of all, recognize that we are this massive collection of thoughts and experiences and sensations that are moving at the speed of light and that we never get a chance to just be still and pause and look at them, just for what they are, and then slowly to sort out our own voice from the rest of the thoughts, emotions, the interpretations, the habits, the momentums that are just trying to overwhelm us at any given moment.

And when I say “trying to overwhelm us,” that’s really a key thing to understand, because that means that there’s an “us.” There’s a core and deep and abiding “us” that is being overwhelmed by something that’s actually not us. And when we become aware of it, we’re like: “Oh, I actually have some choice here.”

.. I had to bring into the language of my perception of the world; and that love was not to be limited to my bedroom or my family and just people that I thought that I liked; that what I was doing in the past and what we often do and what our culture calls us to do is to use love to be a quantifier of “Do I have a preference for you?” [laughs]

MS. TIPPETT: That’s really well put.

REV. WILLIAMS: “Am I aligned and in agreement and affinity? Are you reflecting back at me what I want to be reflected back at me? And if you are, and if you are enhancing my idea of myself, [laughs] then I love you.” And bell opened up the idea that that was a very limited way of understanding — and she still does — that that’s a limited way of understanding love.

The way that I think of love most often, these days, is that love is space.

MS. TIPPETT: Say some more about that. What do you mean?

REV. WILLIAMS: It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are — that that is love. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have hopes or wishes that things are changed or shifted, but that to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is, even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us. It’s bigness. It’s allowance. It’s flexibility. It’s saying the thing that we talked about earlier, of “Oh, those police officers are trapped inside of a system, as well. They are subject to an enormous amount of suffering, as well.

I think that those things are missed when we shortcut talking about King, or we shortcut talking about Gandhi, or we shortcut talking about what Aung San Suu Kyi was doing at some point. We leave out the aspects of their underlying motivation for moving things, and we make it about policies and advocacy, when really it is about expanding our capacity for love, as a species.

MS. TIPPETT: That’s so interesting, to just focus on that word, “movement” — because again, if we just take a reality base, you don’t move people by hating them or criticizing them. And you don’t always move people by loving them, but you don’t have a chance of doing it with the other tools. But I’m also thinking so hard at the moment — you’re right, we haven’t even seen this aspect of that history, even the history that’s not so long ago. I sometimes have this feeling that we are only now growing into, for many reasons, the aspect of consciousness here, what you’re talking about — the real human work, without which those political changes are fragile.

.. REV. WILLIAMS: We’re at this unique time. I’m surprised, actually, that more people aren’t talking about it. I think I may have glimpsed an article that I disciplined myself to not read. But we are at a time, so incredibly unique in human history, where there is a meaningful number of us that are not driven by mere survival, and we are not defined by the work that we do or the place from which we come. We are able to be transient. We can move around places. We can create meaning out of things and ways of being and work that we choose to do. And we can recreate it, over and over again. We’re not defined by where we are or what we do. We can make meaning out of it, but we are not defined by it in a way that former cultures and societies that were limited in transportation and had a necessity to be able to put food on the table, and so we farmed, and so we did a whole bunch of things that were about fundamental necessities.

.. MS. TIPPETT: You just inherited identities from — all kinds of identities from your kin.

REV. WILLIAMS: And they’re inherited. That’s exactly right, which is part of our great conflict in this country right now. We are running into the conflict between people that inhabit an inherited identity with the place that they are — coal-mining country, and the work that they do as a result of the place that they are — up against people that have values and ways of perceiving the world that have shifted because they are not identified by their place and the work that they do in the same way that location and a fixed place tells you who you are and how you be in the world.

And that conflict, and the values that come from those two disparate locations, is the conflict that we are up against right now — in this country, in particular, but also in other places in the world.

MS. TIPPETT: All over, yeah. It’s global.

REV. WILLIAMS: We are in this amazing moment of evolving, where the values of some of us are evolving at rates that are faster than can be taken in and integrated for peoples that are oriented by place and the work that they’ve inherited as a result of where they are.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, and who are in survival mode.

REV. WILLIAMS: And who are in survival mode as a result of that, and so our values and what’s acceptable to us — enough of us — is shifting at a pace that is just outside of some of our ability to even take in. And the problem is — that’s always been true, but the problem is, now we have a meaningful number, a substantive number of people that have those rapidly evolving values in confrontation with people that are, understandably, still working with the location-, survival-based orientation. This means a lot of things for us. This means that, in terms of values, we can be more spacious. There are many of us that can afford, literally, to be OK with people that are really, really different. In fact, we can be curious about it, because our sense of threat is diminished, because our identity is not prescribed by sameness and being afforded belonging because of sameness.

Our own identities have evolved in such a way that, because we’re not merely trying to survive — I’m not saying we’re not trying to pay our rent and everything, but because we’re not identified with merely trying to survive, our sense of survival, our sense of thriving is embedded in a sense of movement and spaciousness and increasing allowance for more and more difference that is in direct conflict with people that are in a space-time continuum that is still place-based, survival-based, get-food-on-the-table-based. “If I don’t cut off the top of this mountain, where will I go? If those people are not beneath me, how will I know my own value?” Et cetera, et cetera.

.. It is part of it, to go through the fits and the denial. There’s a death happening. There is something dying in our society, in our culture, and there’s something dying in us individually. And what is dying, I think, is the willingness to be in denial. And that is extraordinary. The willingness to be in denial is dying in a meaningful number of us, the tipping point. It’s always been happening, and when it happens in enough of us, in a short enough period of time at the same time, then you have a tipping point, and the culture begins to shift. And then what I feel like people are at now is, “No, no, bring it on. I have to face it; we have to face it.” We have to face it; I also think, what people know is that, short of a nuclear war, we’ll survive it.

Choosing Curiosity Over Fear With Elizabeth Gilbert

And all of that is a very strange way to see creativity and, I would say, a very new way. And by “new,” I mean post-Enlightenment, the last couple hundred years, and very Western — and, I would also say, very macho, in a way, very male, [laughs] because it comes with this grandiosity that’s on the individual, and this pressure to be great and to be a genius. And it’s strange.

One thing you’ve said is, the difference between passion and curiosity as something you’re following is that “curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity.”

.. this refrain that’s everywhere out there in our culture — to “follow your passion, follow your passion” — and that that, also, becomes a way that people feel themselves excluded, because they’re not sure what their artistic passion would be. Or again, if it’s their passion, can they really measure the value they’re creating?

And I love the language of “curiosity” you use, and I’d love for you to talk some more about that. One thing you’ve said is, the difference between passion and curiosity as something you’re following is that “curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity.” [laughs]

MS. GILBERT: [laughs] Oh, I love curiosity — our friend. I think curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. And it’s a very gentle friend, and a very forgiving friend, and a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes, not so available. And so, when we live in a world that has come to fetishize passion above all, there’s a great deal of pressure around that. And I think if you don’t happen to have a passion that’s very clear, or if you have lost your passion, or if you’re in a change of life where your passions are shifting, or you’re not certain, and somebody says, “Well, it’s easy to solve your life. Just follow your passion,” [laughs] I do think that they have harmed you, because it just makes people feel more excluded and more exiled and, sometimes, like a failure.

MS. TIPPETT: Yes, exactly.

MS. GILBERT: And it’s a little bit like — gosh, I mean, even the word, “passion,” has this sort of sexual connotation that you’re — I’m much more interested in intimacy [laughs] and in growing a relationship, than everything has to be setting your head on fire. And curiosity is an impulse that just taps you on the shoulder very lightly, and invites you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look a little closer at something that has intrigued you. And it may not set your head on fire; it may not change your life; it may not change the world; it may not even line up with previous things that you’ve done or been interested in. It may seem very random and make no sense. And I think the reason people end up not following their curiosity is because they’re waiting for a bigger sign, and your curiosities, sometimes, are so mild and so strange [laughs] and so, almost, nothing — it’s a little trail of breadcrumbs that you can overlook if you’re looking up at the mountaintop, waiting for Moses to come down and give you a sign from God.

MS. TIPPETT: You said curiosity “gives you clues.” [laughs]

MS. GILBERT: It’s clues and…

MS. TIPPETT: Doesn’t necessarily give you a destination at all, right?

MS. GILBERT: [laughs] It doesn’t. And here’s the thing. Sometimes, following your curiosity will lead you to your passion. Sometimes it won’t; and then, guess what? That’s still totally fine.

You’ve lived a life following your curiosity. You’ve created a life that is a very interesting thing, different from anybody else’s. And your life itself then becomes the work of art — not so much contingent upon what you produced, but about a certain spirit of being that, I think, is a lot more interesting, and also, a lot more sustainable.

MS. TIPPETT: You use the language, “the virtue of inquisitiveness.” That’s great.

MS. GILBERT: I think a definition of an interesting person is an interested person. I’ve never met an interesting person who’s not also an interested person.

.. He doesn’t pretend — I know the first line of that poem is, “Suffering everywhere.” It’s the first line, “Suffering everywhere.” Look. It’s everywhere. There’s no denial of that, and yet, something in us, something in the universe — there’s some sort of spirit that also wants to be glad, and also, wants to be amazed, and also, wants to be engaged.

And we can’t lose that, because then, we’ve lost everything. He has another line in there, which I don’t know if I know by heart, but it’s something about — “To only give your attention to darkness and suffering is to worship the devil,” or, “to give your power to the devil.” And you know, you have to be careful about this, especially when you have an impulse to be a good person — a “good person,” and your definition of a good person is somebody who gives everything to others. It’s a beautiful impulse, but if it’s done from a place of only giving darkness and suffering your attention, then you become somebody who’s very difficult to be around. [laughs] There’s a lovely line that this British columnist said, one time, that “You can always tell people who live for others by the anguished expressions on the faces of the others.” [laughs] There’s some heaviness in there that just spreads out of you and makes everyone feel heavy, and even makes the people that you’re serving feel heavy, because they feel like they’re a burden and a responsibility. And so, if you can find the gladness and the lightness, I think your service becomes better, and I think your art becomes better, and I think your worship becomes better and lighter.

.. the false choice that people are given are these two ideas. One is that it’s all coming from me: Nothing funny is going on here; there is no spirit moving across the face of the earth. I’m just a pile of DNA, my cerebral cortex is firing off, and that is why my creativity exists, right? It’s all me; it’s only me — which is great, except then, how do you explain the mysterious part that you can’t explain, about why one day you were in flow, and it did feel like something was coming through you, not from you, and you brushed up against a sense of great mystery and communion. And then the next day, Wednesday morning, it was gone.

.. the very hippie-trippy idea of “I’m just a vessel. I’m just a vessel; channel — it just comes through me.” Then why am I so tired? [laughs] Because I’ve been working hard. So there’s some sort of a — there’s some third way. And I think the third way is, it’s a collaboration between a human being’s labors and the mysteries of inspiration. And that’s the most interesting dance that I think you can be involved in, but you are very much an agent in that story. You’re not just a passive receptacle. And also, it’s not entirely in your hands. And standing comfortably within that contradiction is, I think, where you find sanity in the creative process — if you can find it.

.. Terrified people make terrible decisions. Terror and fear make you irresponsible. They make you not think very clearly, and they make you willing to do almost anything to get rid of that awful feeling. And we’ve seen people do that on the individual level, and we’ve seen cultures do that. And we’ve seen politicians who find ways to exploit terror and fear in order to get short-term power — or, sometimes, long-term power, because if you can figure out how to hold the reins of other people’s fear, then you can control them for a while.

.. And so one of the very most powerful ways to not end up being controlled by that is to remain more curious than you are afraid. I think, any time in the community that there’s anybody who’s keeping their head, I think it’s a benefit to everyone around them. I think everything is contagious. Our fear is contagious, but our courage also is. And our courage makes other people be able to be more brave and come out of their houses and come out of their shells and out of their fear.

.. “<strong>I want to live in a world full of explorers and generous souls, rather than people who have voluntarily become prisoners of their own fortresses.</strong> I want to live in a world full of people who look into each other’s faces along the path of life and ask, ‘Who are you, my friend, and how can we serve each other?’”

.. I had a very dumb idea, it turned out, that what I really needed was to just be alone and as far away from everyone in the world as I could get. And I went to this island off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia and rented a thatched cottage on the beach for ten dollars a day. And I decided, for ten days, I wasn’t going to speak. I don’t advise that if you’re in the state that I was in. [laughs] What I probably really needed was to be around community and, maybe, some therapists. Putting a magnifying lens on yourself when you’re in distress like that can be very hard. And I ended up getting sick.

.. She had been keeping an eye on me, and I didn’t keep my schedule. I usually walked around the island at dawn and at dusk, and when she didn’t see me, she came and found me. And when she saw how sick I was, she brought me food. And I think — I’ve never forgotten this woman.

And what I think I learned from her was: Pay attention to what’s happening in your community. That’s what it means to be deeply engaged with the place where you live, such that you will see when someone is in trouble. And there’s ways that you can reach toward people, rather than away from them. And you can do that. I know we talk often, in this society, about how terrible social media and the Internet is. But used properly, that too can become a tool of outreach, a way of knocking on someone’s door.

.. it’s because the universe is looking for collaborators, because creation’s not finished. It’s not something that happened in seven days and ended. It’s an ongoing story that we’re part of. And it’s a much more interesting way to be part of that story, to work in collaboration and in partnership and in friendly curiosity with it, than to be terrified of it.

.. I didn’t really understand how much <strong>you had really written a lot about men and for men</strong>, and been a journalist and been — I don’t know, what is it? You once said you were the only girl in the room a lot. [laughs]

And so that’s not really the trajectory of, I think, what people would expect of this person who eventually writes Eat Pray Love. And, ironically — that is such a phenomenally successful project, but you said once, it had not escaped your attention that <strong>when you wrote about a man’s emotional journey, they gave you the National Book Award nomination, but when you wrote about a woman’s emotional journey, they “shunted” you “into the ‘chick-lit’ dungeon.”</strong> And I sense that you’ve — this has been part of your growth and reflection out of this, is — and I wrestle with this too, with my work — pushing back against the idea that there’s something unserious about talking about these things.

.. the Dalai Lama that — when he first came to the West. And somebody in the audience raised their hand and said, “What do you think about self-hatred?”

The whole conference ended for a while, while he had to have a couple of translators sit there and try to explain to him how a human being could be taught to hate himself. And he was so — he just said — there’s this transcript of this conversation and that moment of him saying, “This is very concerning.” [laughs] And I see self-loathing everywhere I look, in so many different forms, and it’s so — it breaks my heart. And I also know self-loathing, because I have been in it. Anybody who’s been in depression knows what self-hatred is. In many ways, <strong>depression is — the best definition of it is anger turned inward</strong>, so there’s this battle that’s going on within you where you become a rival of yourself and an enemy of yourself.

.. “The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.” And I’ll just say, even as somebody who feels like I’ve done a lot of work on befriending myself, but that’s still a hard statement to claim, for me, and, I think, for a lot of people. It’s an aspiration, to be able to feel that way, to trust that.

.. when it’s not coming, and it’s not working, and it’s not being good, and I’m stuck in a problem around the creativity, it’s a very important shift in my life over the years to not think that I’m being punished or that I’m failing, but to think that this thing, this mystery that wants communion with me is trying to help me. And it hasn’t abandoned me. It’s nearby. And it wants — it came to me for a reason.

 

Richard Rohr: The Perennial Tradition: Oneness

On that day, you will know that you are in me and I am in you. —John 14:20

.. My experience with [perennial wisdom] convinces me that all diversity is part of a greater unity; that my sense of a separate self is a functional necessity rather than an absolute reality; that all my suffering is rooted in mistaking my limited and labeled self (male, Jewish, white, American) as my truest Self; and that I can, with practice, shift my awareness from that limited egoic self to the infinite divine Self that is all Reality. [1]

Has Trump finally gone too far?

Up until now, Trumpism has been a largely victimless crime. Or, to be exact, one whose victims were largely speculative and unnamed.

President Trump has been doing great damage to the fabric of our democracy with his venomous attacks on the free press (“Our Country’s biggest enemy”), the FBI (a “den of thieves and lowlifes”), people of color (who hail from “shithole countries” and “maybe shouldn’t be in the country” if they don’t stand for the national anthem), the political opposition (traitors who don’t “seem to love our country very much”) and other favorite targets. He has been doing just as much damage to America’s international standing by attacking our allies (e.g., calling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “very dishonest & weak”) and praising our enemies (e.g., calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “tough,” “smart,” “talented,” “funny”) while launching trade wars and tearing up international agreements.

.. his barbarous policy of separating the children of undocumented immigrants from their parents, Trump has finally provided vivid, camera-ready examples of how his policies are destroying the lives of ordinary people.

.. The suffering of adults — and adult men at that — doesn’t pique popular sympathy the way that the mistreatment of children does.

..Why would Trump do something so evil? Because he is desperate.

.. for all of Trump’s “fire and fury,” he has not managed to secure the border. Failing at his top task, he is lashing out at defenseless mothers and children in the hope that his inhumanity will scare other immigrants from coming.

.. not a single Republican has signed on. Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the most liberal member of the Senate GOP caucus, is willing to criticize the family-separations policy but won’t support the effort to repeal it.

.. Republicans, seeing the fate of Trump critics such as Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) — who was just defeated in his primary after the president tweeted an endorsement of his opponent — are so petrified of crossing the vengeful strongman in the White House that they are voluntarily separating themselves from their sense of right and wrong.

.. His GOP enablers are so craven, so soulless, so abject in their dishonor that they will allow any amount of human suffering rather than risk suffering the wrath of Trump.

.. he won’t be forced to act by Congress.

.. If only we could keep the hard-working Latin American newcomers and deport the contemptible Republican cowards — that would truly enhance America’s greatness.