Building a Bridge

May 26, 2010 Leave a comment

|Photo by eqqman||

Based on the recent conversation we’ve been having here, I thought I’d re-post from last April.

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 bookshelves overstuffed with books and journals about power, white privilege, race, class, genocide, conflict and social issues. If I’m honest, 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 and completely 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 – and may feel safer in one.

The question I’ve been having 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:

    So this might be a little bit “out there” in terms of this conversation, which is a fascinating one, but I’ve been wondering how our relationship to time might be an inhibitor in terms of holding on to both truths. There is work being done in physics around looking at whether time really exists and a proposition that physical time only exists as a result of our seeing ourselves as separate from everything else (it is an emergent property of our collective buy-in to that perspective). Not being exactly sure of what the causality is, I’m wondering how playing with our conceptions of time might shift our ability to see more of a continuum between relativism and holism. I’m very clear that our feeling pressed for time and often only using time to think in terms of production can pit us against one another and one orientation against another. But what if time were held or valued in a different way? What if more spaciousness were created? In our language here at IISC, what if time were more oriented towards process and relationship rather than results? Would that allow a deepening that could build and strengthen that bridge?

  • I’m smiling with you, Linda, a smile of empathy and solidarity, as I share similar struggles, challenges. It seems to me, though, that by holding both aspects in your awareness and then bringing that awareness into expression—in your living space, in your working space and here in cyberspace—you have already created a bridge. But while anyone could cross, that doesn’t mean that many will want to or are able to…yet.

    I don’t know about you, but I tend to be less outward about the spiritual side of my practice when in social justice contexts. For me, then, then the challenge is to be more genuine, honest and transparent to others in how I hold both. Maybe then, through this integrative practice in community-of-struggle, I’ll end up actually embodying that to which I aspire, and perhaps even be able to model that to others.

    Sometime this week I hope to continue practicing this when I meet with students at the University of Puerto Rico who have been on strike for over a month. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

  • Linda says:

    Thank you so much Raúl. Yes, yes – the question of being genuine is so at the core of things! As well, I’m with you about this practice of embodiment (on both sides of that bridge) – rather than espousing. Let us know how it goes when you meet with the students – and if anything emerges that the rest of us might learn from!

  • Charlie says:


    Love this post – though, I am skeptical that a reconciliation can be made between the two, contradictory realities. perhaps the reconciliation we seek is for the next life-time. who knows? perhaps this life-time is for learning to sit with the discomfort of the relative and ultimate truths?

  • Linda says:

    Yes, Charlie. Or maybe move a hair’s breadth closer… This may be one of those many lifetime things!

  • Christian says:

    I don’t have this problem because I don’t think through either of those lenses. I see morality and wisdom as being deeply intertwined. I don’t like thinking of the bad guys versus the good guys. I see all humans as struggling–some struggling at the top of the economic hierarchy, while others are struggling at the bottom. Selfish behavior abounds at all levels, it just happens that when it’s expressed through the rich and powerful it’s consequences are much larger. It irks me when the selfishness of the rich and powerful is treated as more immoral than that of the less wealthy. I want us to see the humanity and human struggle that connects us all. I want us to be able to genuinely put ourselves in others shoes. I want us to push and inspire each other to pursue more wisdom and morality, for this I see as the only true path to progress.

  • Maureen White says:

    For me, the way I create space that works for both my heart and mind is to practice yoga. The word literally means “to yoke”, that is to connect mind, spirit, and body.
    Maybe we need mandatory yoga classes for all social change practitioners? 😉

    Curtis, I love where you are going with conceptions of time. Have you read the book “A Sideways Look at Time”?

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