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Healing the Cultural Wounds

Study Course Q&A
Excerpted from “The Way of Liberating Insight”

A participant writes: I am a 56-year-old black woman, and a particular feeling of unworthiness appears in the form of internalized “racism.” It is often/mostly subtle these days.

For example, going into predominantly “white” spaces and relationships (which in the Pacific Northwest is pretty much everywhere), I find myself going out of my way to present myself as nonthreatening to make others feel comfortable with my presence.

You spoke about unconscious choices in the exercise. I don’t know how to look at this because in some way it feels like “whiteness” and “otherness” in the form of culture, institutions, and people are to blame for this particular feeling of unworthiness.

Adyashanti: Thank you for your question. It brings to mind an incident I had many years ago in my early twenties. I was traveling out of town with a friend of mine to compete in a bicycle race. Late at night we pulled into a roadside motel hoping to get a room. I went in and booked a room from an elderly white woman who was working at the desk. Just as I was about to leave, my friend came in and asked if I was able to book a room. As soon as the woman behind the desk saw that my friend was African American she suddenly looked very disturbed and claimed that she had made a mistake with the booking. She claimed that actually there were no rooms available and tore up the paperwork that I had just given her.

I was so shocked and dumbfounded that I didn’t know how to respond. It was the first time that I had encountered such overt racism first hand. It was deeply disturbing. We ended up leaving and driving to another motel where we booked a room without incident. I was enraged at the woman’s racist behavior and when I talked to my friend about what had happened, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “When you’re black you encounter this sort of behavior all the time. It’s part of what it is to be black in this culture.” I wanted to go back and confront the woman, but my friend convinced me to let it go and go to bed -- we did, after all, have to get up early the next morning to drive out to the race. This was my first personal encounter with a form of overt racism that shook me to my core.

I can only dimly imagine what it is like to be so defined by the color of one’s skin and the effect that has on one’s sense of self-worth. To internalize such a painful and destructive cultural shadow is painful indeed. It does however seem as though anyone’s experience of unworthiness, whatever the color of their skin, begins in great part as an internalization of outward influences that are sustained by identifying with the images in one’s own mind of an unworthy self. In this sense, at least, we are dealing with a universal phenomena of incorrect self-identification.

If in fact our true identity originated in some outer influence, we would all be destined to be unavoidably impoverished by the limitations of perspective and love of those around us. Fortunately this is not the case. And because this is not the case, it is up to each of us to seize upon the fierce power of discernment and love, and begin to bear the dark light of our solitude where we encounter the unformed nature of our presence. For as long as we choose to remain defined by either inner or outer images, no matter what our race, upbringing, or gender, we end up only imprisoning ourselves within the profound limitations of our own internalized self-image.

That is why it is up to us, and only us, to cast aside everything that is false, painful, and limiting, by facing into the profound mystery of our being. We must take that one profound step beyond everything that we think we are (no matter where it came from), begin to face the formlessness of our presence, and open once again to the invisible and silent ground of our being. It is there that all of our masks will be stripped away by the great impenetrable silence, if only we can bear its voiceless command to surrender all that we know of ourselves and embrace the benevolent light of our unborn nature. We must throw out of our consciousness everything that is not essentially our own, by being absolutely willing to be a light unto ourselves where we -- not someone or something else — encounter the fullness of our nothingness.

Then, and only then, can we embody the fullness of our own skin, and be a clear and benevolent presence in this often confused world. Then we in our humanity embody the sanity, freedom, and love that is the only hope for humankind, and can consciously and lovingly participate in the outer work of healing the cultural wounds of racism (and all forms of division) that distort the indistinct unity of our shared human and spiritual nature.

The above Q&A is excerpted from an online study course with Adyashanti. Learn about his current course on the Study Course page.

© Adyashanti 2015

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