In the words of the 14th Dalai Lama, “My religion is kindness”. I believe that kindness and compassion make up a huge portion of the path to spiritual liberation. The idea that compassion can be cultivated is the foundation of my spiritual practice and life. And as I’ve been on this journey I’ve learned that in addition to there being virtues to cultivate there are also (MANY!) non-virtuous habits to untangle myself from. On the surface some of these habits seem quite unconnected to how kind I am. Like rushing.
But the truth is: I’m not always the person I want to be when I’m running 10 minutes late.
About a year ago, I walked passed a man (I presumed to be homeless) lying under a shopping cart in the middle of a deserted street. My first thought was that he was hurt…or dead. My second thought was less of a thought and more of a pang of anxiety and fear that pierced through my gut. I think I’d been worried that if he was hurt or dead I would 1) have to see it and 2) have to do something about it…and I wasn’t sure what. That discomfort (based off of my own self centeredness) propelled my feet forward and away from him -at a quicker pace. I can’t remember where I was trying to get to or what I thought was more important than helping fellow being who may have needed immediate medical attention. All I know is that I was more than halfway down the block before I finally stopped and turned around. When I got back to that intersection he was standing and pulling his cart behind him. I asked him if he was okay and he said that he was and that he’d just been fixing his cart. He smiled at me. A beautiful smile I don’t think I deserved. I’m not sure what that encounter was for him (if anything), but for me it was a lesson in the power of pausing. It was that full stop in the middle of the sidewalk that allowed me space to think and feel and put things into perspective. It was what I needed to beat down fear and to turn anxiety and dread into compassion and action.
As I type this, I’m sitting in SFO’s decidedly trendy food court. All the food stands selling the normal organic fare are drawn closed. It’s 10:16pm and my flight leaves at midnight. I would normally appreciate the calmness that this lends but I am not present enough in this moment to enjoy it. My mind is still on the ride I took get here sitting in the back seat of a black female Lyft driver’s car. 20 miles, 30 minutes.
Her and I.
I and her.
We fell into an easy familiarity that unacquainted black folks can sometimes cultivate without effort. No doubt, I reminded her of people she knew just as much as she reminded me of some of my sisters, aunts and friends. Our conversation ebbed and flowed naturally. Where our voices trailed off Michael Jackson’s picked up, carrying us with him. Our talk wove between our hometowns, lives and dreams. Later, it would dawn on me that we didn’t have the option to talk about our lives without also having to talk about racism. When I told her I was originally from Florida she told me she always wanted to live there but was afraid about being black there. I wondered if she was thinking about Trayvon or Jordan Davis or Rosewood or Overtown like I was. I had personal stories I could share but I didn’t think she needed them. She was black like me after all. I was sure she has her own. And sure enough, she told me stories of white and Asian passengers she’s picked up in San Francisco. The ones who’d talked down to her and the ones who’d talked crazy to her and the ones who’d left terrible comments in her review section. I wondered if we’ve both have experienced a lifetime of microaggressions, where does that leave us? How do we heal it in ourselves? And how do we heal each other?
As I listened to her speak, the only thing I could think to do was listen. Truly listen and be present with her in that car in hopes of sharing at least a sliver of her burden. I don’t for a second think that this will be enough to heal her or my own wounds but I do believe that it’s a start.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
“Would you like something to eat?”
No thanks, I’m good.
“Do you need a ride?”
No thanks, I’m good.
“Do you want to come with us to [some fun place]?
No thanks, I’m good.
“Do you need a hand?”
No thanks, I’m good.
I used to think that I didn’t know how to say no but the truth is: I say no all the time. I say yes to crap I don’t want and say no to things that I actually do want. This is a terrible pattern that I probably fell into in childhood. Back when I was being raised by a single mom and independence wasn’t just a virtue it was a method of survival. My world view was molded to be that by depending on someone else you open yourself up to being vulnerable and vulnerability is something that needs to be avoided at all cost. If a coworker offers to drive you home after work and you get used to not having to catch 2 buses and walk a mile home it sucks that much more when your coworker decides to quit and you have to go back to your old routine. Best to say no to their ride offer from the jump, right? Wrong. Life is hard, why do we make it even harder and unpleasant? Sometimes I’ve blurted out a no before someone’s even finish making their offer. Not only do I lose out on whatever they may have been offering I also loose out on a chance to build community. So much of the work that goes into forming new relationship depends on our ability to be vulnerable, to let people in.
I don’t want to go the rest of my life missing out on things I need and want because my guard is so far up. It’s an exhausting way to live and I deserve better.
I’m exactly one month away from my 25th birthday. Many of the seeds that I planted in my adolescence and early twenties are beginning to bear fruit. Some of these fruits are delicate, delightful and taste like freedom. Others are so bitter I know that they must deadly. With this in mind, I’m being very intentional and deliberate about the five year goals that I set for myself today because I am more or less living the dreams that I had for myself at 20. Or I should say, I’m living those dreams and the limitations of my own imagination about what my life could look like. At 20 my ambitions were entirely focused on my future career. I didn’t give a single thought to crafting long term goals for other areas of my life like relationships or health. I know now that there is so much more to life than work. There’s work to do regarding how I show up to life, how I present myself, when and how I advocate for myself and causes I care about. A recent brush with health complications have also aided in re-shifting of priorities for me.
So here it is, the things I want to accomplish and be when I hit 30:
- I want to be physically and mentally healthy. This means actually using my gym membership, biking, jogging to get 30 minutes of exercise a day. This means restarting therapy again and finally coming to terms with past traumas and healthfully navigate continued bouts of depression and anxiety.
- I want to have a rich an thriving spiritual life. This means continued volunteering and integration into my People of Color sangha at the East Bay Meditation Center. I would live to annually go on retreats, specifically the People of Color Retreat at Spirit Rock. This also means delving more into the Dharma teaching independently and making more sense of the scriptures.
- I want to live and speak my truth. This means to more cowering away from difficult truths and conversations. This means sharing my thoughts and authentic self with others, despite the gut wrenching vulnerability.
- I want at least 5 more stamps in my passport. Right now there’s only 1 stamp from my 2013 trip to Haiti. Japan, South Africa, Ghana, Thailand, England, Cuba and Brazil are all on my list of places to visit.
- I want to be a founder. I have a vision for a non profit that acts as a community building resource for queers and trans people of color all around the world. I want to make it a reality by 30.