A prerequisite is: when all you touch, you touch as if it were sacred.
In the recent days and weeks, we have seen the havoc that weaponized and militaristic control can wreck on individuals, groups, and society as a whole. Control is another word for power, and the lust for power over another is ruinous. Sadly, we have seen pictures of this kind of control being inflicted on one human being by another. This is nothing new. History is replete with examples from the Trail of Tears suffered by Native Americans following the passage of the “Indian Removal Act “ in 1830 (even the name of this law is gut-wrenching) to the Holocaust that took the lives of six million Jews in the last century. Our United States history provides numerous examples of the oppression and control of people who were formerly enslaved, immigrants or poor. For example, the Covid -19 spikes in the meat packing plants called to mind Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, about the exploitation of immigrants in the Chicago meat packing industry.
But now we must pay particular attention to the stories of the oppressed because we see them on the screens of all our devices. Most recently, of course, was the brutal murder of George Floyd where we saw a white police officer kill Mr. Floyd by kneeling on his neck for almost 9 minutes. Cameras have revealed that the Atlanta police officer who shot Rayshard Brooks, instead of offering first aid, kicked Mr. Brooks as he lay dying. People around the world are outraged by these examples of oppressive power and have taken to the streets to voice their dismay and consequent desire for justice.
Most of us are horrified by this injustice. How is it that one group of people (white) enjoy privilege and exert control over people of color? The status quo is unacceptable. I want it to change but often don’t know exactly how to help beyond the obvious actions of trying to be well-informed and voting for candidates who will work to bring about change. This problem is systemic and so pervasive that it is easy to feel that my actions will be inconsequential, but to succumb to this feeling is to surrender to the voices of cynicism and despair. There is a way forward, a way to move out of what Marcus Borg has called the domination system. Relinquishing control and replacing it with connection is a good starting place.
Human beings are hard-wired for connection. We long for it and cannot survive without it. The isolation brought about by the pandemic has made this abundantly clear to us, so much so that many people are gathering in groups and returning to their usual routines in spite of the ongoing spike in Covid-19 cases. According to Douglas Rushkoff in his book Team Human, evolution is more about cooperation and connection than competition and the survival of the fittest. He writes, “Our nervous systems learned to treat our social connections as existentially important—life or death. . .Our eyes, brains, skin and breathing are all optimized to enhance our connection to other people.” The biophysicist and Zen master, Ginny Whitelaw has a whole chapter in her book, The Zen Leader about how we can “flip” from controlling to connecting. The primary way we can do this is by deeply listening to each other. We cannot presume to understand the plight of others without paying attention from the deep heart or true self. This kind of reverent attention—listening with open mind, open heart and open will — is crucial. If we listen with empathy to each other so that we feel what it is like to live in the other person’s skin we will soon develop a sense of reverence for the other, a reverence that dissolves animosity and makes oppression and control over the other impossible. This is, I think, what the wisdom teacher, Hafiz, is saying to us. If you wish to become fully human and connect with others there is an unwavering prerequisite—when all you touch// you touch as if it were sacred.
With appreciation and love,
Patricia M. Speier
Executive Director, The Seton Cove.