Spiritual Musings

Why I No Longer Blog About Spirituality

Years ago, I spent a lot of time writing about spirituality and building with like-minded souls through the blog. Then, at a certain point — not long after meeting Mooji, I suppose — I just…stopped. I still write about spirituality sporadically on Twitter, but I stopped feeling the need to write in great about my spiritual path. I think, for most mystics, there comes a point when you stop seeking and focus on living your truth.

Meditation and contemplative practice remain the cornerstones of my life. I’m still deeply engaged in daily spiritual work, learning from my teachers and listening to my inner guidance. But I don’t really talk about the details publicly anymore. Spirituality has become very sacred and private for me. There are only three living people with whom I feel comfortable discussing the details of my spiritual path: my partner, my mother and Mooji. I still haven’t gotten around to writing “Part II” chronicling my trip to Portugal, and perhaps I never will. But I can say that my time in Monte Sahaja was deeply beautiful, life changing and easily one of the most memorable and magical experiences of my life. I will never be able to capture it in words. Maybe that’s why I stopped trying.

In any case, I no longer feel compelled to blog in great detail about spirituality, but that might change at some point. For now, I’m perfectly content to keep this part of my life private and sacred as I continue to rise in consciousness.

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Spiritual Musings

The Moment I Met Mooji (Part 1)

For those who have followed this blog from the start, then you probably know that I am drawn to Mooji’s teachings. You might also know that a while back — two years ago — I felt the need to “forget about” Mooji, forget about every spiritual teacher, all the books, all the retreats, all the effort. I felt the need to stop trying to do anything particular in my “spiritual life” — to “call off the search”.

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Visiting with Mooji’s sangha in Portugal, May 2015

What I realized, afterwards, was the importance of this forgetting. This was the period when I began to transcend the part of my  identity that felt like it had to do something to “attain realization”. It wasn’t that I needed to forget about “Mooji” — I had to forget about me. I had to move beyond the feeling that “I” was directing my spiritual path, in order to open up greater space for surrendering to Life. In letting go of this spiritual identity, I also came to see more clearly that there is no difference between “Mooji” and me — or me and anyone else.

After a while, I began to sense that when I felt compelled to pick up a book, or sit with a meditation group, or watch a satsang video — it was not because “I” was doing it. It was simply because the Self — Consciousness — was unfolding in this way. These are things I don’t have many words for, but those who have experienced it will understand.

At some point, I found myself thinking that it would be nice to visit Mooji’s sangha. I didn’t have any particular question — at least not one I could articulate. I just felt that I should explore the possibility of being in Mooji’s presence. I had some concerns, though. I’d never met anyone who visited Monte Sahaja. Although I’d done one day retreats (for example, with Thich Nhat Hanh at Blue Cliff Monastery), I had never stayed overnight at an ashram. What if these people were weird? What if Mooji, the man, was vastly different from the Mooji I’d met in my heart? Would this community be a safe place for me, as a bisexual woman? I noticed that Mooji almost never acknowledged queer people in the stories and anecdotes he shared during satsang — and I couldn’t remember hearing anyone get up and ask a question related to being bi, lesbian, gay or trans. Troubled, I wrote him to ask why this was the case. I wasn’t sure if I would receive a response, but to my pleasant surprise, Mooji answered my inquiry, explaining that the sangha welcomes people regardless of sexual orientation. Shortly after this exchange — perhaps a week or so later — I watched a live satsang broadcast and saw, for the first time in all the videos I’d seen, a woman get ask Mooji to address the particular suffering of queer people who deal with homophobia. I experienced this synchronicity as a reassuring wink from the universe.

When I found out that I’d received a grant to spend two months working on my book in France, I knew that this would be my opportunity. I hadn’t been to Europe in 4 years and this was as close to Portugal as I would get for the foreseeable future. I wrote Mooji and the sangha to find out if I could come during this time. It took a bit of persistence, as I did not hear back right away. But eventually I did receive a gracious response. I would be welcomed at Monte Sahaja for a few days during my stay in Europe.

Mooji’s ashram is located in a remote part of Portugal, several hours from Lisbon. I’d never been to Portugal before and I don’t speak Portugese. There are certain things visitors are instructed to bring along, among them: bug spray, sun screen, a hat and a flashlight for getting around at night. I knew that the weather would be very, very hot – in the high 90s during the day – so I packed a small bag with light, comfortable clothes. I was mindful of the ego’s tendency to create projections about people — especially, perhaps “spiritual” people that we admire or learn from. I did not know how I would personally feel at Monte Sahaja. I remained open to the possibility that I would not “enjoy” my time there. But mostly, I just felt excited and in disbelief that I would finally be meeting someone who helped guide me to a clearer understanding of my true nature from thousands of miles away.

What was most helpful for me was resting in the knowledge that I was not going to meet Mooji as a “person” — that is, I was not interested in a personal meeting. And so I came to Monte Sahaja with this inner knowing — that I was not going to meet someone on the physical plane. I was interested in a meeting of the heart. And I felt incredible gratitude to have this opportunity.

My trip from Paris to Lisbon was long and stressful. My flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 11 hours later. I’d have to spend the entire day at Orly airport. I was sleep deprived and felt as though I’d pass out from exhaustion. At one point, when I was already frustrated and weary, there was bomb scare right behind my queue — a small black valise had been abandoned right where I was waiting to receive my new ticket. Eventually, French soldiers with machine guns evacuated the terminal. I followed along, resigned to a difficult day. I was both terrified and amused, knowing that in so many ways, I was already in satsang. Eventually the crisis passed, the luggage removed and disaster apparently averted.

Thankfully, I had resources to pass the time comfortably enough. I ate a pain au chocolat from Paul for breakfast, French onion soup at an airport bistrot for lunch and something overpriced from La Durée for dinner. I skyped with my girlfriend. I watched Mooji videos on my iPad while sipping kir royal. I chuckled at the ridiculousness of practicing inquiry while drinking champagne. I meditated while observing planes taking off, one after the other. I looked down to see that my phone was ringing — an unknown number. I answered. It was a woman with a warm, kind voice — someone from the sangha calling to see how I was doing. I’d emailed to let them know that my travel plans had changed. They wanted to make sure that I was okay and that I had a place to sleep in Lisbon that evening, as it would be too late for me to get to Monte Sahaja. I was surprised by the kindness and generosity of this woman, reaching out to me — a stranger — to check on my well-being. Later, I would see that this gesture was in alignment with other acts of kindness I experienced at the sangha.

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When the plane finally sped down the runway, leaping into the air, I breathed a sigh of relief — until the electricity and engines seemed to power off. A murmur passed up and down the aisles. I gasped and laughed, simultaneously – my life flashing before my eyes. A moment later, the power flickered back on and the journey continued.

Continue reading “The Moment I Met Mooji (Part 1)”

Spiritual Musings

Silent Retreat with Mooji’s Sangha

Hey y’all. I am so behind in updating this blog. Life has been quite busy. Lots of travel to report on and fabulous experiences with friends and family.  Over the past few months, I enjoyed a wonderful trip to the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Delft, the Hague), excursions to the Hudson valley, New England (Massachusetts and Maine) as well as jaunts to New York City (where, among other things, I had the pleasure of meditating in Time Square, enjoying amazing vegan meals, being moved by musical and dance performances and meeting Savion Glover..)  And then there was last week’s retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, where, along with a group of friends — and about 1500 other buddies – we sat just a few feet away from him as he gave a Dharma talk and later led us in walking meditation.  It was an incredible day – and my second visit to Blue Cliff Monastery. Lots of pictures coming soon.  I hope.  Maybe.  I’m on sabbatical right now and have my hands full with writing articles and book chapters for my tenure file.  But as soon as I can, I’ll post those pictures. They’re beautiful.

But before I can properly update you, I’ll be fluttering away again — this time for a silent “retreat” with Mooji’s sangha.  I’d planned on attending this in person at the retreat site in Portugal, but things changed.  However, I am thrilled to report that I’ll be joining the group remotely, for a week long intensive.  In between writing, data analysis, work and meetings, I’ll participate in the live satsangs and reflect on whatever it is that Consciousness wants to reveal to me at this time.  I’m very excited.  For the next 7 days, we’ll be minimizing social activity and focusing our attention on awareness.

I’ll see you on the other side . . .

Race & Ethnicity, Spiritual Musings

Why The Negro Problem is a Lost Cause

I want to be very clear about a few things up front before I lay out these ideas, because what I’m going to share is a bit complicated and my argument is probably unlike most of what you have heard and read – possibly ever, and certainly in the wake of the countless reflections on “the race problem” that have emerged in our collective efforts to grapple with what happened to Trayvon Martin.

So here are my caveats:

  1. This is not, in any way, a minimization of racism and its very real consequences for millions of people who have lived and died in this country – or en route to its shores – since its inception.
  2. This is not a post-racial post.
  3. This is not a hopeless story.

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In the days following the Zimmerman verdict, I found myself moving about the world in a heightened state of racial awareness.  Going about my business, I observed anxiety as I interacted with strangers I categorized as white — and/or Latino. “What are they thinking? Do they care about the trial? Are they racist?” Walking into a grocery store, I glanced at a pile of newspapers, with a smiling Zimmerman and the verdict in bold letters. And then I glanced at my white neighbors, pushing their carts and picking through cantaloupes.  “Are they happy? Are they disappointed? Are they indifferent? Are they allies?”

Beyond words, I observed the emotions caught in my chest — the fear, fatigue and frustration.  The relief I felt in the middle of aisle 6 when my eyes met those of the one other black person in the store — a woman with graying hair who took a moment to smile at me.  I smiled with gratitude in return, but I imagined that she knew it was not a smile of happiness.  It was the smile of survivors acknowledging with simple defiance that “We are still here.” It was a smile, tinged with pain and resistance, that black women and men have been wearing in the wake of tragedy for generations.

One morning last week, I sensed myself do a double-take when seeing a Latino brother who, to my mind, looked like Zimmerman.  In a flash, self judgment and shame: “This man has nothing to do with Zimmerman.”  And yet there it was – the ugly seed of prejudice.   I saw it in my heart — the heart of an antiracist, a woman who is highly committed to living beyond her own conditioning, with multi-racial, multi-ethnic family members, friends and loved ones of every hue.  If this seed can exist in my heart, then it can exist in any heart.  In fact, Buddhists teach that the seeds of consciousness and unconsciousness exist inside all of us.  We can either choose to water the unconscious seeds or we can choose to wake up to our true nature.  Looking at my Latino brother, I saw Zimmerman.  I saw Trayvon.  And most importantly, I saw myself.  In that moment, I knew that part of my spiritual practice in a time of racial crisis must be a renewed decision to water the seeds of compassion, to consciously acknowledge the seeds of prejudice and to be very clear about the core of the human problems that ail us.

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I’ve always been a big fan of W.E.B. Du Bois.  I like to joke that he actually attended my dissertation defense.  (This is also a litmus test for determining whether someone actually knows who Du Bois is.)  In fact, my defense was to take place in the department’s main seminar room, where Du Bois’ portrait hangs on the wall – the only black face in a sea of whiteness.  At the last minute, I was told that we’d have to move to another room.  This was so distressing to me that a friend secretly arranged to temporarily steal remove the portrait and place it in the seminar room where I defended my thesis, directly across from my seat.

Du Bois’ sociological work has always been near to my heart because he spent so much time thoughtfully and creatively meditating on what he termed “The Negro Problem”.  In fact, he wrote (1898) not simply of the Negro problem, but of Negro problems as a multifaceted set of complex social conditions with historical roots and myriad consequences:

“A social problem is the failure of an organized social group to realize its group ideals, through the inability to adapt a certain desired line of action to given conditions of life. If, for instance, a government founded on universal manhood suffrage has a portion of its population so ignorant as to be unable to vote intelligently, such ignorance becomes a menacing social problem. The impossibility of economic and social development in a community where a large per cent of the population refuse to abide by the social rules of order, makes a problem of crime and lawlessness… Thus a social problem is ever a relation between conditions and action, and as conditions and actions vary and change from group to group from time to time and from place to place, so social problems change, develop and grow. Consequently, though we ordinarily speak of the Negro problem as though it were one unchanged question, students must recognize the obvious facts that this problem, like others, has had a long historical development, has changed with the growth and evolution of the nation; moreover, that it is not one problem, but rather a plexus of social problems, some new, some old, some simple, some complex; and these problems have their one bond of unity in the act that they group themselves about those Africans whom two centuries of slave trading brought into the land.”

As a social scientist, Du Bois concerned himself with the social dimensions of the problematic features of black life in the United States. In The Philadelphia Negro – the first significant urban sociological study in the history of American sociology – Du Bois argued and empirically demonstrated that whites’ anti-black discrimination resulted in reduced opportunities for blacks, limiting where they could live, the jobs they could occupy, their social environments and the even the functioning of their families.  While his work was largely ignored by mainstream sociologists during his life, over a century later, his insights into the dynamics of race, discrimination and opportunity are highly influential and have been so for several decades.  And Du Bois’ related meditations on the subjective dimensions of oppression, as seen for example in The Souls of Black Folks, continue to shape our understandings of race in America.

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At some point in my 20s, a startling and depressing thought occurred to me: The Negro Problem is a lost cause. In long discussions with friends, activists, teachers and family members, we would always come to a point where we’d throw our hands up in resignation to the seemingly eternal nature of the bullshit.  I began to suspect that the mutlifacted and institutionalized problems that Du Bois and so many others have explained could be improved — but only to a point. Like many students of race, I found myself struggling to imagine that racism could ever be eradicated.  And more than this, it also seemed that the black/white wealth gap — which is only one dimension of racial oppression — would in all likelihood never be erased.  Over the years, it became increasingly clear to me that while our society certainly can and has become more tolerant, there are certain features of our history that have produced path-dependent effects — effects that will probably linger, in some way, shape or form, for a very long time to come.

This feeling – which first emerged in the classroom – was reinforced when I went into the field and began interviewing nearly 200 people of African descent in the United States and France.  As I probed their views on race and racism, I heard that many of them believed that the problem of race cuts to the core of something fundamental about the human experience.  In the voices of many black people I met, on both sides of the Atlantic, was an acknowledgment that the struggle against racism feels interminable because its really a struggle against the human condition.  It is a struggle at the core of the human heart.  The question is: Can this problem be undone?  Or will we forever be undone by it?

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If we try to solve our race issues by nibbling around the edges of oppression, by making superficial changes, by merely signing petitions, taking to the streets, by engaging in political movements, by becoming more entrenched in our racial identities — if this is all that we do, then yes, I am arguing that the Negro problem is indeed a lost cause.  We might as well go home now.  Game over.

But if we begin to acknowledge that the Negro problem is not really a Negro problem at all, then there may in fact be hope for us.  What we really have is an Ego problem — and yes, it is at the heart of the human condition.  But this is not a death sentence.  Another way is possible, but it will require that we transcend the ordinary ways in which we’ve been conditioned to think about ourselves and each other.  It will require us to see the N(eg)r(o) problem not simply as a social problem, the way Du Bois did, but rather as a special form of something more universal, something more pernicious, something more intimate than “structural discrimination” or “the system”.  Undoing the N(eg)r(o) problem is not even primarily about other people.  It must begin with each of us getting real about how we see ourselves and the consequences of these beliefs for how we interact with others.  So what does the ego have to do with the Negro? And what does any of this have to do with bringing about a more just society?

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Years ago when I read Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”, I noted with pleasure the fact that he acknowledged — albeit briefly — race in his work.  In describing the endlessly varied dimensions of egoic identification, he writes:

“Since the ego is a derived sense of self, it needs to identify with external things. It needs to be both defended and fed constantly. The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance  special abilities, relationships  personal and family history, belief systems, and often also political, nationalistic, racial, religious and other collective identifications. None of these is you.”

What does it mean to say that you are not your egoic identity?  Does it mean that your identities do no matter? That the way others identify you has no consequence? Absolutely not.  To say that we are not the ego is to bring attention to the fact that we go through life believing that we are the ideas we have of ourselves — so much so that most of us don’t even realize that we are acting upon this core belief.. what Mooji calls our belief in the “I-entity”.  We take our self-concept for granted, as though it actually, concretely, represents who we are.

Tolle is simply stating that logically, this cannot be true.  To say that you are not your ego – that you are not your identity – is to gently point out the incontrovertible truth that you cannot be any idea that you have of yourself.  “You” – your presence, your consciousness – must precede everything else.  This isn’t even about spirituality at all – it’s simple logic.  Think about it for a moment. Can you be an idea? Or do you have ideas? And if you have ideas, Who is it that has it?  Does that Who have a gender, a nationality, status, sexuality, height or weight?  Does that Who have an age?  Does that Who have a race?

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Sociologists are very good at describing our social problems and — sometimes — proposing some measures of improvement.  But we cannot solve them with empirical studies and well-couched policy implications alone.

In fact, we cannot solve the race problem inside the race problem.  Does this mean that we should simply transcend race?  Of course not.  Why?  Because it is not possible to transcend something without first acknowledging it!  Biases based on appearances are hardwired into our social conditioning through our interactions with others and our absorption of language.  Bias is not something we can simply choose to let go of or disregard without first becoming acutely aware of how it has shaped — and continues to shape — the way we live our lives.

bell hooks teaches us that one of the key mechanisms of racial oppression is convincing human beings to see themselves primarily as racial subjects.  I concur and argue that we must see racialized thinking for what it is — a particular form of a more general phenomena — the socially reinforced habit of thinking that we are defined by the thoughts we have about ourselves and others.  Effective antiracist activism will require acknowledging race and racism from a place beyond race and racism.

When we think that we are our racial identities and our racial thoughts, we perpetuate systems of inequality – not only out there in the world but also and primarily inside of our own experience.  As long as I think I am merely my ideas, then those ideas are dependent on validation, either from other thoughts of my own, or thoughts from others.  As long as I think I am merely my ideas, I cannot be totally awake and alive to my full humanity.

This isn’t woo-woo-woo spirituality . . . it’s simply a fact. The tendency to reduce ourselves and others to thoughts of any kind blinds us to our inherent worth and the worth of others.  And it is impossible for us to make truly positive change in this world, change that will last, if we are not aware of our inalienable worth, beyond thoughts, beyond social conditioning, beyond what we have learned to believe.  Prejudice of all kind stems from a human being mistaking themselves for an idea (egoic identity) and seeing others they interact with through the lens of that delusion.  Thus, instead of interacting with other human beings, in their full presence, the unconsciously prejudiced person interacts with them as stereotypes — as mere ideas… ideas that can be ranked, negated, diminished and disregarded.

So what can we do?

The Negro problem, as traditionally defined, may be a lost cause, but the Ego problem is not.  I don’t have the secret of how we will once and for all solve these pernicious problems, but I know for sure that we cannot do it without sustained awareness, honesty and transparency about our egoic impulses and the ways in which we have all been influenced by the biases we’ve absorbed through socialization.  Being biased is part of what it means to be human. Living beyond those biases, in the light of awareness and compassion, is what it means to be Divine.

Part of unpacking the ego is becoming more (not less) aware of our own racial lenses.  We must see ourselves beyond ego, yes, but we must also pay attention to the way our conditioned mind reacts when we encounter others – and take responsibility for living beyond the bullshit. What expectations and prejudices do we have when we interact with people we perceive as different? What thoughts — good, bad, or otherwise — arise when we see folks we categorize into “groups”?  What feelings do we experience when we encounter “one of them”?  Can we witness these thoughts and feelings without judgment?  In so doing, can we become more alive to that part of ourselves that witnesses our social conditioning but has Itself never been conditioned?  Can we become more alive to the Presence that is at the core of ourselves and every other living being?

When we are faced with racism, it is very tempting to be unconsciously dragged down into racializing others in return.  But this is a terrible mistake.  If we are going to help others wake up to their own racism, we must first wake up to our own racial concepts and in so doing, see beyond them.  From that place – in the racial world but not of it – we can rise in consciousness, inflecting our activism for social justice with wisdom and compassion, empowered with an unshakable confidence in Who we really are.  For, as bell hooks writes:

“To move beyond race is not only the goal of critical thinking, it is the only path to emotional longevity, the only true path to liberation.”

What I’m trying to say here is that we don’t, in fact, have to move beyond race, because what we really are has always been beyond it.  What we have to do is consciously realize what is already the case, by waking up to the part of ourselves that has never been defined by ideas, racial or otherwise — the part of ourselves that is Consciousness Itself.

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