Normally we’d be on vacation right about now, looking at scenes such as this one on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. We would be revitalizing ourselves by walking beaches on either coast, perhaps taking a ferry from one location to another. There was always a body of water involved. Last night, as we took our walk in the July heat, I realized it was July 15. I mentioned that I’ve always considered it the midpoint of summer, half way finished, with half remaining. This summer has been like no other, with all the days melting into each other. In some ways it feels like I’ve been on vacation since March. In other ways, it seems like there’s been no break.
For the most part, I’ve managed to keep my spirits up, continue doing my work, and fill open spaces with things and people I love. I’ve used this time to broaden my awareness around racial and social justice issues. It’s been a time of remembering what I have to be grateful for instead of what I don’t have (e.g. insert summer vacation here). At no other time in my life has the reality of my white privilege stared me in the face to this degree, saying, “It’s time to wake up.”
In her book, Welcoming the Unwelcome, Pema Chödrön writes: “If our aim is to wake up for the benefit of ourselves and other living beings, then it’s necessary for us to change. These challenging times give us the greatest opportunity for change. Every time we catch ourselves going down the rut of a habitual reaction, we have a chance to interrupt the momentum and discover a whole new direction and depth to our life.” For me, it’s a time to seriously examine the habitual reactions I’ve spent a lifetime developing. It’s uncomfortable work that resists lingering in the discomfort, rather than trying to slip away. Waking up isn’t easy, but the alternative is worse. Everywhere around us are indicators that we need to collectively wake up: climate change, the polarization of viewpoints so poignantly exhibited in the disagreement over wearing face masks, the horrific racial injustices brought to light by recent murders of people of color. The list is long and overwhelming.
Sometimes it feels like it’s more than I can handle. I want to stay informed, yet some days my mind can’t handle one more news article or interview. There is no easy way out of this complicated situation in which we find ourselves. When I think I can’t take one more “opportunity for change,” another one presents itself. So I take a breath, talk to someone whenever possible, and start breaking down the steps to address whatever is before me. Even though it feels uncomfortable to do so, I try to lean in to the experience instead of run away. More and more I am grasping the fact that we’re all in this together. The only way we’re going to make it through this unique time on Planet Earth is to work through our challenges together. Pema says it so beautifully: “The wonderful irony about this spiritual journey is that we find it only leads us to become just as we are. The exalted state of enlightenment is nothing more than fully knowing ourselves and our world, just as we are. In other words, the ultimate fruition of this path is simply to be fully human. And the ultimate benefit we can bring to others is to help them also realize their full humanity, just as they are.”
May we all wake up, and help each other do the same.