“Don’t be afraid of getting your heart broken. Do your work, say your prayers, then do your best. Grieve, rest, keep hate at bay, and join with others for refuge. Don’t get too far ahead of now! This moment is enough to digest. Sit, breathe, open.”
– Ruth King
Ruth King is a writer and Buddhist teacher who focuses on working with racial identity in learning meditation and using the tools of spiritual practice to examine one’s own racial being. King combines western psychology with eastern philosophy and indigenous wisdom to coach her students in becoming more aware of their underlying areas of fear and vulnerability as well as the key points of their own rigidity. In this excerpt from the final section of her book Mindful of Race, she expresses the importance of loving presence, as remembered through an encounter with the Dalai Lama and encourages change not through following directives but through engaging with one’s heart. As the chapter’s title assures the reader, it’s a process that’s Messy At Best.
In 1993, I visited southern India with a small group to study the stories of textiles, ancient health systems, and classical dance. Our connecting flight was delayed at Cochin International Airport, so our group was put up at what appeared to be an abandoned hotel a few miles from the airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave quite early the next morning, and I and one other person in our group were the first to meet in the empty lobby. Suddenly, I heard swift movements of feet; within seconds, a sea of saffron and gold swarmed by. In the eye of that storm was His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who paused long enough to look me in the eyes with such piercing, loving presence that the next thing I knew both my friend and I were sobbing, astounded, and grateful for no good reason. To this day, his glance of compassion is palpable, reminding me of the power of loving presence—what we are all capable of with intentional practice.
“The end game of being mindful of race is not that we all get along or love each other because we are told it’s the right thing to do.”
Collectively we are sacred geometry, extensions of each other. We are racial beings who belong to the human race, reflecting the human heart. Imagine that our only job is to mirror each other’s goodness.
Ultimately, we are beyond race. Relatively, we must deal with the harm that racial dominance and subordination produce. Each of us must ask, “What kind of society do I want to live in? How can my life be a reflection of racial harmony and an example of racial well-being for future generations?”
The end game of being mindful of race is not that we all get along or love each other because we are told it’s the right thing to do. It’s more about an ever-growing awareness of how we impact and care for each other. It’s not a problem in my mind that we live in segregated neighborhoods or even go to separate schools, although there is much enrichment from the diversity of integration. It’s more about how all neighborhoods and schools support wholesomeness and the dignity of the human spirit. It’s about eliminating racial dominance and healing racial aversion. It’s about ensuring that no joy is experienced at the expense of other races. It’s okay that I’m not invited to your home even after knowing you for many years, but it’s not okay that it’s not safe for my grandchildren to leave home without the fear of being harmed and that so many brown bodies are marginalized and warehoused in prisons.
“Count on being present and doing what must be done in the moment with as much kindness as you can imagine.”
Deep within all humans is the desire to be safe, healthy, happy, and inspired and to earn a living, be respected, and be peaceful—free from harm and distress. Most POC I know are not trying to be white; they are trying to be themselves and to live without racial subordination or exploitation. All human beings, regardless of race, should have clean water, nourishing food, quality medical care, adequate shelter, and a loving sense of belonging. Too many brown and poor bodies live far removed from these basic human needs. Racial transformation requires social balance and heartfulness, where we take care of the earth and each other.
It takes more than courage not to be discouraged by racial ignorance and social injustice, but we can take strength from suffering. As Karle Wilson Baker said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” In this book, I have invited all of us to say our prayers, and I have given us a way to see how we got here; how we can shift from racial distress to inner freedom; and how we can heal, reach across the divide, and invest in a culture of care.
We are all habit humans—change is what we do. When we recognize and understand our racial habits of harm, we can transform them. History offers perspective and maybe a dash of hope—but don’t count on hope. Count on being present and doing what must be done in the moment with as much kindness as you can imagine. To be awake is enlivening and life giving. We become more tender, less defended, more caring, and less harmful. And when we do forget to take care of each other and ourselves, we can own up, reaffirm our intention to keep our hearts open to all racial beings, and begin again.
“Allow racial distress to teach you how to be more human. Sit in the heat of it until your heart is both warmed and informed, then make a conscious choice to be a light.”
The freedom we seek is not dependent on whether we can control external variables—we can’t. The freedom we seek is subtler and more in our control. This freedom can be known even in a sea of ignorance and suffering. This freedom depends on us cultivating the qualities of our mind and heart so that we bring loving awareness, mindfulness, and compassion to the certainty of racial suffering and put an end to it from the inside out.
One last thing: don’t be afraid of getting your heart broken. Do your work, say your prayers, then do your best. Grieve, rest, keep hate at bay, and join with others for refuge. Don’t get too far ahead of now! This moment is enough to digest. Sit, breathe, open. Don’t be a stranger to moments of freedom that may be flirting with you. Allow racial distress to teach you how to be more human. Sit in the heat of it until your heart is both warmed and informed, then make a conscious choice to be a light.