I spent the weekend with Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a Zen Buddhist teacher who brings a teaching called Radical Dharma. Essentially, as I understand it, it’s a teaching that helps to point to the way of liberation through the undoing of the systems and structures that entrench us in a racial-ized world, namely, those of white supremacy. This is probably a pretty poor description of it; hopefully it comes close.

The weekend has me thinking a lot about liberation, and what it means, and what it would look and feel like. In modern western spiritual circles, there’s a tendency for us to look toward comfort. Our ideas of liberation are somehow being removed from and separate from pain, trauma, suffering. Somehow moving beyond them. So we practice meditation to get the hit…the feel good hit. We do yoga…it feels so good. We strive to be good people. It feels so good to be a good person. We have values of diversity and inclusion, and we see everyone as equal. All good. But this ignores some very basic truths. It ignores the ways in which our being able to do these things is built upon the foundation of some else’s suffering. It helps us feel better, so we don’t have to feel the pain that is caused by our role in oppression, thus keeping oppression in place.

Rev. angel calls this a kinder, gentler suffering, which is in contrast to liberation. Liberation is fraught with suffering. It is looking, wide eyed, into the face of the pain we have felt and we cause. It is taking responsibility for the ways we benefit from these systems, while doing the day-to-day work of undoing them. It is being honest with ourselves about the things that feel good about our privilege, and dealing with the parts of ourselves that don’t want to let go of that.

This isn’t just about race, though. It’s about all the pain. The pain associated with our ties to the economic system. To the patriarchy. These things are all tied together, in many ways. One can argue that white supremacy is the tie that binds. That said, I think the work of liberation is a deeply personal and deeply communal work that involves trauma healing, undoing and unmasking shame, and doing the spiritual work of mending our personal and shared hearts.

It’s a lot.

So, if what we seek to do is liberate, we must be in these conversations. In every space we seek liberation, which will eventually be all of them if liberation is our path, we must be in these conversations. It’s becoming clearer to me that if I truly believe that liberation is at the heart of my work, that I must find more and more ways to be in these conversations. And to do this, I must be in my work. This is the edge that I feel calling me into 2019.

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