Building a Bridge and Creating a Space

April 22, 2009 Leave a comment

For a while, I’ve been fairly unsuccessfully trying to create a space in my apartment that works both for my heart and for my head. My meditation cushion is there – as well as my altar and poetry and spiritual books. It also has my desk, computer and two bookshelves overstuffed with books and journals about power, white privilege, race, class, genocide, conflict and social issues. If I’m really honest about it, it’s the most chaotic room in my apartment.

I’ve been intentionally trying to create this space because I’m trying to bring these two parts of my life together. In part because I’ve been noticing what seems like a split in progressive groups. For some of us, talking about the ways society is structured to benefit some groups and deny those benefits to others rolls off our tongue and is a framework that holds great resonance. Others are more comfortable talking about the ways we’re all connected – oneness and love are foundational ways we understand the world. There are a few wonderful examples I know (or know about) of people who fully integrate both. But I don’t know that many. Most people seem to lean in one direction or the other.

So for those of us who lean toward one or the other, talk of structure without spirit – or of spirit without structure – seems incomplete. As if the speaker is missing a huge part of our experience and belief. They may even seem to deny what we think of as reality. We tend to then move more vehemently to our “side.”

From a Buddhist perspective, reality can be described as being made up of two truths in which we live simultaneously – the relative (or historic) truth and the ultimate truth. The relative truth describes the world in which there are deep separations – it is the truth that describes a world with oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia and many other divisions. The ultimate truth describes the world in which there is no separation, in which we are one. The understanding is that both these truths co-exist – though we may only be aware of one.

The question I’ve been having (and don’t yet have many answers to) is this: How do we become aware of both, in our work toward social justice and social change, so that we build an authentic bridge between the two – so that anyone, no matter their leaning, can walk with us as we talk about structure or spirit? So that no one feels their truth is left behind. I’m wondering where others are in thinking about building that bridge – or would advise about setting up that room.

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  • Curtis says:

    Thanks for your post, Linda. Such great questions you raise. In the training Melinda and I are currently doing in CT with the Graustein grantees we’ve already had some rich discussion about how realistic it is for any individual to embody all of the characteristics and practices of Facilitative Leadership. While it is a good thing to set the bar high, it may be a trap to ask any one of us to aspire to be all things to all people. I wonder if the same is true of the spiritual- structural dilemma. Of course it is great to be aware of our leanings and remain open to other perspectives, and perhaps the key is to surround ourselves with people who have different outlooks to keep us honest. I have yet to meet a fully integrated human being, and sometimes I wonder if the pursuit of this goal can be an unhealthy drive that ironically over-hypes individualism to the detriment of the collective.

  • Linda says:

    I’d love to hear more about the ways you think this may over-hype individualism!

    Another question I might ask is this: “How when talking about either spirit or structure, do we talk in such a way as to engage those coming from a different truth rather than making them feel unrecognized?” That’s the bridge I’ve been seeking.

  • Gibran says:

    Thanks so much Linda for doing such a good job of naming this seeming stalemate, the depth of heart in your own quest shines right through your words, and I think this is precisely the right place to launch from. I’ve been thinking a lot about this bridge while also finding myself totally caught in the game you describe.

    I’ve often referred to the importance of holding two seemingly opposing truths long enough for something new to emerge.

    I also think that part of the work is making space for people to be exactly who they are, to follow the energy that moves them and then to see, observe the results. I feel like the “right direction” is a life giving direction. Have you noticed how the most special human beings that we know seem to be full of life even in the most difficult circumstances?

  • Cynthia says:

    Sorry to come to this conversation late. I’m vexed by the difficulty folks–including myself sometimes–have living with a “both/and” answer to Linda’s question. Truly, structural change is incomplete without the transformation of the people who animate and live within and beyond the structures. Truly, individual liberation is incomplete if the individuals live in a society that constrains their freedom to engage, love, contribute and simply be.

    I think Curtis has part of the ‘right’ answer in suggesting that we seek a collective that contains multiple views/multiple emphases without any of them having to dominate. It’s not about each of us being perfect and complete. It’s about all of us together completing and perfecting the whole.

    I find myself often raising structural questions at IISC in the midst of conversations about how individuals need to be fixed or changed or motivated differently. It’s not because I believe individuals have no role in shaping what we do or what outcomes we produce in the world. It’s mostly about trying to round out or balance the conversation.

    I don’t see myself as either fully integrated in the sense Linda was discussing or fully unintegrated. And yet, the role I play in our organization, in relation to other thinkers, makes me appear to be a ‘spiritless, deterministic structuralist’ much of the time. What a frustrating spot to live in. And, yet, choosing not to engage when I hear a gap in the conversation doesn’t always feel like the right choice either. Raising these issues and speaking about my window into the truth isn’t necessarily endearing all the time, yet, it is life giving for me, even though it isn’t cost-free (in terms of spirit, energy, and relationships).

    I love that Linda is putting all of this together in the physical space of a home office. It’s a great metaphor for engaging the questions. And, just like there is no such thing as multi-tasking (the brain scientists say you are really just switching between activities really quickly, not actually doing two things at once), there’s probably no such thing as full integration. It’s about making sure we switch our attention back and forth quickly enough to appear to be multi-tasking–taking in the spiritual and structural elements of the situation as much of the time as we can. Maybe that means the meditation pillow lives right beside the desk–or even in the desk chair? Or that the bookshelf has spiritual and work-related books on each shelf rather separate shelves for each group of books? Or maybe it means that it’s perfectly ok to have two separate spaces in one room that get visited in equal regularity?

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