A naughty, stubbornly inattentive puppy-mind in meditation this morning. How strange it is, after a good session yesterday evening at our sangha with Than Geoff, to find my mind so... well, mindless, this morning. It was almost that it had decided, independently, that it had worked hard enough yesterday and needed a good rest this morning. Ah, well..
At sangha, after our hour's sit under the guidance of Than Geoff, the topic for discussion turned to racism. One of our group had received an email from a man he had thought to be a friend and was stunned to find it filled with hate-filled rhetoric--so stunned that he could think of nothing to do except to write back and say he could no longer pursue a friendship that had apparently lasted for years. Than Geoff's response was typically wise: he would have written back to say he was truly taken aback by this outburst and to ask simply where it could have come from? Non-judgmental honesty, followed by a question that would open up a field for investigation, rather than judgment and closure.
For myself, I would have wanted to explore my own response--my indignation, anger, and judgment. My practice, when I have a strong emotional response, is to see what, if anything, it has to say about myself. In this case, I would have wanted to explore that secret, unacknowledged part of me that harbors racist thoughts and racist habits. I may not like it, but I know it's there--even if only in the tendency to stereotype and categorize, in a mindless, automatically responsive way. I know that I share that kind of easy, "liberal" self-congratulation that says: Racist, who, me?--a way of absolving myself of responsibility for thoughts of which I would otherwise be ashamed. But the truth is that they're there, buried deep, perhaps, out of sight except when sought out and examined.
The other topic for the evening is related, surely: equanimity. This is not, in Than Geoff's teaching, a mere rejection of responsibility, and not mere, passive acceptance. Equanimity, for him, needs to be worked for. It's earned by some serious examination of the options: is there anything I can do to change this situation? If there is, I should work to make the change. It's only when I conclude that this is something I'm powerless to change that equanimity kicks in. As for racism, I can work to make changes in my own attitudes if I take the time to observe them honestly and examine them with thoughtful self-criticism. I may also, with care and compassion, have the power to bring others to an understanding of the harm that results from racism--harm to oneself as well as to others. If not, not. At which point, assuming that I am blessed with so much wisdom, I practice equanimity.
A confession: I read back through these words with a familiar fear of seeming pious or self-righteous--qualities about which I find it very hard to remain equanimous when I suspect them in others! But I don't see any of this as particularly holy. I just see it as a practical way to live in harmony with myself and others.