There's a story of a yogi who asked to burn through all his karma in one lifetime. He falls out a window and breaks nearly every bone in his body. "Oh!" he says to himself. "This is so painful, I'm going to release my spirit and ease my suffering. I'll try again in my next life." His master rushes to his side and talks to him, helping him stay in his broken, dying body, helping him find the strength to carry on and fulfill his wish to be released from his karmas in one lifetime.
I don't recall making this same request, and yet I am certainly feeling like a man broken beyond endurance.
Yet I endure.
I went through something on Wednesday. My roommate Clare invited me to a Be Present Empowerment Model training- the first that included men. For nearly 20 years, women have been sitting in small circles, and following a communication model developed by Lillie Allen, they've been giving voice to their silences, becoming allies for each other.
The first step is "Know yourself outside the distress of oppression." As the only white, male, landowner, heterosexual, monogamous, non-Jew in the room, I initially felt very out of place. I felt the pressure to find the place where I could identify with being oppressed. I wanted to believe that I wasn't part of the culture of oppression that so many people experience.
I told about getting beaten up, year after year, as the smallest boy in school. I told how I knew it was the bullies' rage, not mine, and that I got to choose whether I would react in angry or acceptance. I told how I didn't feel the privelege of my skin color and gender. I told how I did feel the strength that truly is mine to have, and that I was tired of making myself small so that I didn't threaten people who considered me to have power above theirs.
But mostly I sat and listened to people pour out their pain of feeling separate, of wanting to be celebrated for being themselves. And I still wondered how any of this intersected my world.
I took Xena to dinner after I got home. The waitress asked, "How is everything?" Sensitive in a way I've never been before, I answered,
"My dinner is fine." The waitress walked away. She didn't wait to find out how Xena's meal was.
It's a really small thing, but it opened my eyes to all the other times I've seen Xena get discriminated against, and then many of the times I've seen sexism, ageism, hetero-ism, and racism in my life. Times and places where I'd gotten what I needed, and so didn't notice that someone else hadn't.
Then I started looking at my indoctrination into the class of people who are viewed as the oppressors of nearly everyone else, and I became physically ill. I don't want to know that I'm participating in keeping someone else down. But as I look at my learned behaviors, I see it. I see things that have nothing to do with who I am, but have everything to do with keeping the social order.
I am horrified.
I have a great deal to unlearn.