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Privilege, Discomfort, and the Courage to Pay Attention

I was walking out of the West African Dance class that I TA’d in college when a tall, slim African-American guy from class caught up to me on the green. He was dressed all in white with these gauzy, drawstring pants that gave his whole style a timeless quality. He had big hair and nice eyes.

“You’re beautiful,” he said. “I’ve been working up the courage to tell you that all semester.”

I flushed and smiled, totally caught off guard by his sweet directness.

Flattered and suddenly feeling awkward, I started asking him a million questions about where he was from, his major, where he lived on campus, and all kinds of other data I thought might distract me from the fact that I had no idea what the appropriate response to a handsome guy telling me I’m beautiful might be.

He told me his major was Political Science, and somehow the conversation led to me telling him that I never paid any attention to current events.

The record scratched and stopped short. Silence. Attraction shifted to repulsion.

He was appalled that I could consider myself a good citizen without being aware of what was going on in the world.

I was 22 and until this past November when Trump was elected president, I’d stood by my policy of being relatively oblivious to what was going on around the world. It never affected my life much, and I didn’t want to energize the negativity by giving it attention.

The morning after the election this past November, I awoke to my husband telling me who’d won. I was in total shock. I couldn’t see how a man who’d publicly disrespected my gender and just about every other group on the planet other than white men (and probably a lot of them, too) could now be in charge of our country.

How had we let this happen?

The morning after the election I awoke to the fact that way more people than I was aware of think and feel really differently than I do. I awoke to the fact that there’s so much more healing from our legacy of white supremacy, racism, sexism, and all other ways the belief in separateness manifests than I had realized.

Charlottesville, Barcelona, and the conversations circulating about privilege and how we can rewrite the ending of our collective story, like this one from Brené Brown and this one from Wild Mystic Woman and this one fromMotherWiseLife.com, have woken me up even more.

I see so clearly that my having been checked out from what was going on in the world for so long has been part of the problem.

I feel guilty about it, yet I’m not going to let that guilt stop me from diving into the conversation now, despite knowing that I will most definitely say something wrong and mess up along the way.

I see now that silence and ignorance are passive complicity.

I’m writing this because I would imagine there are at least a few other people within our community who have been operating under the belief system that not paying attention to the terrible things happening to other people around the world is okay, and perhaps even helpful, because we don’t want to give the violence and hatred more power with our attention.

Listen, I’m a student and teacher of the law of attraction. I’ve said many times that what we put our attention on grows.

I’m going to amend this previous statement and say instead that:

What we put our loving attention on heals. 

There are things happening in our country and world that are awful. I can’t even think about the sex trafficking industry or the fact that innocent men and women are killed because of the color of their skin without my eyes burning with tears and feeling nauseous (both of those things are happening right now).

But ignoring them will not make them go away. Ignoring them is a passive, silent agreement.

My mother has wisely told me every time I’m going through a hard time that we have to feel it to heal it.

Ignoring past hurts and traumas and covering them up with meditation, affirmations, and spreading the love and light doesn’t heal them. This applies in our personal lives as well as when it comes to collective hurts and traumas in our communities, countries, and the entire world.

We can still be the light while we look at the darkness. In fact, we must.

Healing requires looking our darkness in the eye. Healing requires slogging through the mud. It’s dirty. It often feels really bad. And if we don’t do it, whatever progress we make is temporary and superficial.

So, I want to say publicly that I’m sorry for opting out of the conversation until very recently.

I’ve been blessed with many things in my life. One of them is an ability to communicate and another is a platform to do it.

So, here’s the deal:

I’ve changed my policy of not paying attention to what’s going on in the world so that I don’t energize the negativity.

Here’s my new policy (which is open for updates when necessary):

1. To pay close attention to what’s going on in the world via trusted sources without succumbing to the addictive nature of the media.

2. To talk with my community about things that are uncomfortable to talk about (like this whole post, for example).

3. To use my platform to share what I find to be helpful and hopeful ways we can all be part of the solution.

​​​​​​​4. To take care of my incredibly tender heart through rest and boundaries while still staying engaged.

​​​​​​​5. To hold myself and others accountable for our actions without the use of shame.

​​​​​​​6. To feel how bad it feels to really know how bad some things are as a means to healing.

​​​​​​​7. To remember to pay attention equally to the beautiful things going on in the world so as not to become bitter, fearful, or hopeless.

​​​​​​​8. To listen to people whose beliefs and experiences are different than mine so I can learn.

​​​​​​​9. To know just because I can disengage and keep living my life as though others aren’t being harmed doesn’t mean I should.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​10. To be willing to look the darkness within myself and within our world in the eye so that it loses its power.

There’s a scientific principle called chemicalization that describes the phenomenon by which things get worse before they get better. Just before the sun rises, the night is the darkest. Just before women transition into the final stages of labor and the baby is about to come out, we say we can’t do it anymore and we want to quit.

I am choosing to believe that we’re in the part where it gets worse right before it gets better. That if we can breathe and stay with the process and look one another in the eye, clutch each other’s hands, and ride the waves of discomfort without drowning in them, that we’re about to give birth to something beautiful.

I hope you’ll be there with me, paying attention to all of the moments of pain and bliss and everything in between that are required to welcome a miracle.

OVER TO YOU:

How are you feeling in the wake of Charlottesville, Barcelona, the election in the US, and other recent global events? Have you recently become aware of the need for all of us to engage in order to heal or have you known this for a long time? Or do you disagree? What specifically are you doing to be part of the solution in your community, online, or in any other capacity? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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