My purpose in blogging every day(ish) during the season of Lent is to wrestle with complex issues in a public forum, hopefully in ways humble and vulnerable enough for other people to feel safe affirming but also challenging me, and engaging in an exchange of ideas as equals. So far, my posts have mostly tended towards the political, although through an experiential lens (that’s the core of liberation theology—we start by acknowledging how our lived experiences shape our lens on the world). Today, I want to take on a personal (and professional) issue, and do so in a confessional way. Now, I often experience that when I’m confessional, people respond, “Good that you realized you’re wrong about that issue which I was already correct about,” when my hope was that I was creating space for them to be self-reflective and confessional about something else in their lives. Nonetheless, I remain open to people affirming that I have a long way to go.
There are three broad types of organizations affiliated with the Oakland Peace Center. There are direct service organizations (like the phenomenal Project Darries) which strive to provide supplies to people in need so that they don’t have to turn to violence out of desperation. There are advocacy organizations (like Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice) who fight for people’s rights to dignity, equal treatment and access to opportunities. And there are organizations that engage in fostering personal inner peace (through yoga and other effective ways of remaining calm and at peace even in the frequently stressful situations in which they find themselves). This last group include the Niroga Institute and Mind Body Awareness Project. This last group believes that their work on inner peace is part of the fabric of peace-filled communication and eventually culture change. (There’s a fourth group I would call Culture Change organizations who do non-political community building with the same values as the other three organizations, but without a strong investment in crisis response or political action—perhaps Connection Action Project would fall into this category; they do amazing work but I would be hard pressed to categorize it. And on a good day, First Christian Church of Oakland falls into this category, hard as I try to push it into the advocacy category.)
My confession is that I can talk the inner peace stuff. Intellectually I believe in its power. I encourage people to plug into it. I’ve even repeatedly invited leaders from Niroga to speak to and practice meditation with the church and with other organizations, too. I believe that the lives of people in highly stressed communities will be improved by access to tools usually only people with lots of resources can access, just as much as I believe in policy advocacy.
Just don’t ask me to do it.
I don’t think it’s that I believe I’m above it. I’m an internally balanced person who has done a lot of work to be in touch with my emotions, my impact on others, and my spiritual centering, but I know I still get thrown off by major emotional upheavals and can take a long time to recover from those upheavals. I’m also fairly zen, but I get irritable and frustrated with people I love, and I could no doubt use some inner peace training to go farther down that road.
I don’t think it’s just a show when I encourage others to plug into inner peace work, or when I talk about how the Oakland Peace Center works to create a connection among advocacy, service and inner peace as the legs of the stool that is true peace in the city of Oakland. I don’t think that leg of the stool’s shorter than the other legs.
But most of the time, when I’m engaged in a meditation practice, I can’t help but think, “Isn’t there something useful I should be doing?”
I’m writing today’s blog to say, “I know I have a long way to go. But I’m a little stuck.” I’ll go to the gym. I’ll walk the lake with a friend. I’ll lead community prayers in church. But I can’t convince myself to show up to the weekly yoga program at the Oakland Peace Center, no matter how strongly I encourage others to attend. I can maybe delve into nonviolent communication training because it’s about how I engage another person, but I can’t do visualization and meditation and all the things my spiritual friends can do for hours and that I know are part of how peace is created in the world. I follow a guy who went into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights to get centered before entering an incredibly hard ministry and tried to get away regularly for personal meditation, and the idea of a weekend-long silent retreat evokes absolutely no positive response from me.
I’m drawn to the organizations that do inner peace work in highly stressed communities because there’s an embedded justice element (we deserve the same tools as folks in wealthy communities, because we deserve inner peace, too) and am a little cynical about the ones that radiate a smug “we’re all you need” energy, because I suspect they don’t know what it’s like to live in a community where one becomes numb to gunfire and is used to seeing neighbors with their hands behind their backs as cops frisk them. But there are GREAT groups doing GREAT inner peace work, and I STILL don’t plug in.
So as I continue through this Lenten journey, I hope to figure out how to plug into that inner peace work.
Any words of solidarity or wisdom are greatly appreciated.