….. Enough 

When I was 14 years old, I ran away and lived on the streets in Atlanta, Georgia for several weeks with my best friend at time. Thinking of all the terrible things that could have become of me is baffling and nothing short of miraculous, however we were taken in by a couple of neo-nazi skinheads who sheltered and fed us during this time. (Yes, even neo nazi skinheads can be caring)One night we went to a skinhead party with them and I met a “white power” skinhead named Christopher and we talked until a fight broke out. What intrigued me most about Christopher was that he was a young African-American who believed that something was inherently wrong with him and that he should be subservient to white people. I was confused by him. Up until then, I had never really thought much about race, but after that, I absolutely knew that I was in the wrong crowd and I needed to get away from these skinheads.

Although this part of my life story is embarrassing, interesting and complicated, I have to leave it there. Obviously, it left an indelible mark on me. And my story has a happy ending since I am writing this today. Clearly, I am lucky to have a loving family who has always supported me through my troubled times.

Although it may not be as obvious in places like America, it is blatantly clear in countries like South Africa in which race inequality is apparent.

However, it was the first time I became aware of my white privilege. I wouldn’t expect most white people to identify it let alone acknowledge it, but I know it’s a real thing. Not only have I experienced it first hand but I’ve lived its opposite vicariously through my husband, an Indo-Guyanese, and witnessed it with others. And no matter where I go, in South America, the Middle East, Asia or now in Africa, the attitudes toward race are consistent: the paler your skin is, the better. This attitude that was imprinted during imperialistic times still is in different cultures today.

Lately the international news is full of all things American- mostly the social discord brought about by Trump’s presidency. In particular, women are protesting him and his vision of “greatness”. However this has struck a chord with women around the world and these protests went global. Undoubtedly this confuses Trump supporters, men and women alike, with them thinking that he has been fair enough to women. Perhaps white women are “privileged enough” but what about the women of color- whether black, brown, yellow or red?-maybe they are tired of slathering on whitening cream and putting on pants to justify that they deserve a fair shake at the benefits afforded by men-especially white men- men like Donald Trump- who never had to make difficult choices about whether to buy food or diapers for his children. It seems clear to me that there is another perspective to this reality tv show called American politics that is being reflected across the oceans,  and ideas about race and gender are being challenged.

All I know is there seems to be a day of reckoning that is upon us as we hold our collective cultural beliefs up to the light.  This is a time for reconciliation, courage and thoughtful action. To be unaffected by these events seems impossible and it has definitely stirred up a lot of emotion, even for non-Americans. As I am a tourist here in South Africa, a nation still grappling with its recent past of apartheid, I am wondering if I treat my fellow humans with the dignity and kindness that should be afforded to all people, or am I just being “good enough” to them.

From my Christian background, this is one of those bible verses that clings to my heart and reminds me that kindness and understanding should be my compass as I encounter others.

I know that I can’t change the inequities of the world but I can change my behavior as I interact with others. I can see others in their humanity and embrace the differences between us. I can acknowledge that their struggles are real and offer them genuine compassion- not pity or indifference- but respect for who they are and encourage them. We are all one. I truly know that with every fiber of my being. The Catholic faith taught me that first and my life experience continues these lessons. I can be more forgiving, more patient, more willing to see others’ perspectives.

I do not know if this “enough” but I feel that this is the soundest action to take in the moment.

Can We Stop Gun Violence by Making Compassion a Habit?

If anyone has studied the Chaos Theory, then they have the understanding that nothing is random even though it is unpredictable. Coincidences are an illusion. Even one small act can have profound effects, such as the flap of a butterfly’s wing.

So this week was no surprise that my mindfulness practice mirrored the curriculum of our inherent oneness and the need to cultivate compassion. As my key take away, I reflected on remembering our common humanity–see the WE and not just the ME.

Due to the shooting in Orlando, FL in America, I was deeply moved, not just by the violence of the shooting, but by the reaction to the trauma. I wondered if people could experience greater compassion if they would feel that they need to cling to their guns to provide them a sense of power. Could embracing the notion that we are ONE despite our religions, our ethnic backgrounds, our political leanings, our level of wealth, etc.. and recalling that “we are our brother’s keeper” be a powerful enough reminder to curb our need to “protect” ourselves from one another and stop using the 2nd Amendment as a shield from our feeling of powerlessness? Now we could argue if owning a firearm is really a right or is it a privilege and hence the need for gun control, but that’s not the point. As I see it, it is the cause for such a horrific act of violence that needs to be argued–why would anyone feel a deep malicious desire to kill others? And I am not referring as so much the mental state of the perpetrator, but the underpinning lack of consciousness that seems be prevalent in these senseless crimes, in which there is a lack of connection to people, emotionally unplugged from the beauty, love and grace in life.  And it wasn’t just the shooter, because so many other hateful things have risen to the surface and have been brought to light as a justification for killing innocent people.

viktor-frankl-quote

So here is the flapping of the butterfly wing. Me, thousands of miles away, feeling the impact of this atrocious event. I reflected and wondered about my own acts of violence (not bullets, of course, but the things I say I do which create harm) in my life–toward myself and toward others.) I tried to take note of these moments, offering the wishes, “may you be happy, may you be well, may you be peaceful, may you be safe.” It helped me to cultivate gentleness towards myself and others. As I think about the importance of practice, I wonder if I was to really commit to this and create a habit in which my default mode was compassion, who I would be in 1 year from now? And I am curious–how long would I need to practice this in order to cultivate this hard wiring of compassion? Would keeping these people in mind (as well as Sandy Hook and so many other senseless mass shooting victims) who were shot down be enough to keep me focused?–Remembering that the world needs LOVE and UNDERSTANDING.

If I was to create this habit of compassion, is the risk that this practice might ripple out in the world to make a difference enough to solidify this worthy goal into the fabric of my daily life. Could you imagine what serendipity might ensue from a cascade of events that arose from a moment of compassion, understanding and love? In this way, there might be some sense made from the murder  For surely this too is the flapping of the butterfly wings as well.

May we be Happy.

May we be Well.

May we be Peace.

May we be Safe.

May we be WE.