Manifesting Embodiment: Integrating Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Ability, and Sexual Orientation into Awakening

The current socio-political climate in the US, and much of the world, is such that we all have work to do to understand our relationship to differences in personal identity. Doing awakening work today requires us to lean in to how we embody our lived experience. In the Trillium Path, we awaken as embodied consciousness, which means that we do not transcend who and how we are. We transcend the limitations of who and how we are. It’s a fine distinction.

Our work starts with Greenlighting, saying yes to what is. As we Greenlight our experience, our feelings, patterns, and conditioning, we come to a point at which we can drop more deeply into Radical Embrace, which means that we embrace what is at the root of ourselves and we embrace it fully. The difference is between saying yes and saying come home to me. Radical Embrace is how we begin to integrate all of who we are. We awaken to the paradox of both and: we are both undifferentiated consciousness and a limited, finite, human person. These two things can’t be separated. I know that I am undifferentiated consciousness because I am in this body. Otherwise, I would live in the spirit realm!

For myself, awakening healed a lot of past trauma around gender and sexual orientation. It brought about an ongoing integration of my parts, past experiences in which I was shamed or which brought about a sense of shame; emotional wounds from not being seen and by being seen as a threat to masculinity, femininity, and  heterosexuality. It brought me to a place of familiarity, in which I knew myself as Self—beyond gender, orientation, ability, race, and ethnicity. I think for many of us, this relief of awakening to the truth of our Self as consciousness is a deep release from the burden of being separate, being Other. At the same time, the ongoing integration process requires that we deepen in our lived experience of the core paradox. We are simultaneously Divine and Human. In his book, Tantra Illuminated, Christopher Wallis says something very helpful about this: “It is out of love for itself that Consciousness bodies itself forth.” Consciousness bodies . . . forth.

Each of us bodies forth as a particular manifestation of consciousness, what I think of as a flavor or a filter. We have a race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical ability. These things are of the body. They’re not outside of us like religion and social class, and they are less fluid than age. Everyone everywhere experiences aging to a greater or lesser degree. We’re born; we’re infants, toddlers, children, adolescents, adults, elders. We can still be othered because of these differences, but they’re not inherent to who we are in the way that race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability are. These are things that we cannot and never do leave behind. They are the filter through which the world sees us and we see the world.

Today it is more than ever important that those of us living awakening come to a deeper understanding of the role these elements play in our embodiment. When we say, with all good intentions, that we are color blind, what we’re saying, in effect, is “I don’t see you.” Because a person of color is never not a person of color. A Transgender person is never not transgender. A Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, or non-binary, non-gender conforming, or asexual person is never not that. That is who and how consciousness bodies forth as them. When we say, “I don’t see your race, color, ability, ethnicity, orientation or gender identity,” we may mean to say “I see your soul” or “spirit,” or “essence,” but that soul, spirit, and essence abides in a physical body that has its differentiations.

I have a number of tattoos on my arms. I wasn’t born with them. I had them put on my body on purpose. I chose them. I didn’t choose to be a cisgender, Queer, white woman of European extraction. My lived experience in the decades before my awakening was shaped by those qualities, and they cannot be removed. I’ve integrated my unique holding of the feminine with its flavor of the masculine, my sexual attraction to men and women, my Queerness in my generation’s LBGT spectrum which made the Q necessary as a place for those of us who identify as outside of what felt like a limited menu for sexual and gender expression.

Having lived among Black people for much of my life, I see their Blackness. I see the differences between African, African American, and African-Caribbean. And yet there is a world of Blackness that I do not know or inherently understand. But what I do understand is that Blackness is part of who those people are. It’s a part that has been denigrated, and subjected to attempted erasure. So I would not say to a Black person: “I don’t see your color” because to say that is to say “I don’t see your history. I don’t see how you got here.” I can see them as more than their color, but I can’t see them without it.

For many of us of a certain generation, we were taught to try to become colorblind. Michelle Alexander makes great use of this concept in the title of her groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, which in itself explores the paradox that we are not colorblind in this age. A recent image that appeared on Facebook makes this clear. Two men, one white and one Black who committed the same crime from the criminal history, adjudicated by the same judge, got horrendously different sentences. The white man got 2 months in county jail. The Black man got 26 years in federal prison. No age colorblindness there.

The murder of George Floyd, one in centuries of murders of Black men and women at the hands of whites, set off a strong chain reaction. It has put us on notice that because all lives matter, Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter. While children of immigrants are separated from their families and kept in inhumane detention centers, Brown Lives Matter. All of us, wherever we land on the spectrum of Race, Ethnicity, Ability, Gender Identity and or Sexual Orientation have a responsibility to lend our love and our courage to supporting those who for centuries have been shown by our mass dominant culture that their lives are expendable. When we say “I see you,” we have to mean “I see ALL of you. And all of you is welcome here.” Anything else is too little to honor the beauty of consciousness painting herself on the canvas that is herself.

Fierce Wind

for George Floyd

George, the air today is charged with light.

I breathe and hear your words seeking breath.

Because I can walk, can breathe, I push

uphill the hard way, steep and close

with rocks, tight as my throat, closed and angry

with words I can’t find the voice to say.

Instead I speak your name to silent stone

older than law or hate. I say your name

to the fierce living wind, sing your name

like birdsong in waving grass. I give

your name to the endless sky that holds

this weeping world spinning in black,

star filled space.

Blue Hunger Collection Coming Soon!

me_bookI’m delighted to announce the forthcoming release of my new collection of poems, Blue Hunger from Methow Press.  You can order a signed copy of the book from the Confluence Poets Store.

Here’s some advance praise for the book:

Initially, the poems in Subhaga Crystal Bacon’s fine book show her keen eye for delivering the natural world. It’s tempting to think of her as a naturalist, but as her book progresses it becomes clear that, more broadly, she’s a human nature poet; poems of love and loss and community occur with the same acute precision. For example, in “Awake at Night” . . . she begins this way, “I feel beautiful, young and dying/as the cricket song lifts and calls/and you are far away. No happiness/like this…” All in all, a wonderful collection.

Stephen Dunn, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Pagan Virtues.

Grounded in the beloved Pacific Northwest, Blue Hunger is an account of a soul’s journey, “empty of longing./Luminous, lambent.” In this world where grief merges with love, so does the poet merge “with that great distance.” Each moment and season in a life is carefully observed, and Bacon’s world abounds with raspberries, garlic, choke-cherry, jays, owl, deer, lizards: a “tunnel of loss.” . . .” Blue Hunger is a book—a place—I will revisit again and again because “What I remember most was the flavor of those words, scented with lost possibilities.”

–Jennifer Martelli, author of The Uncanny Valley and My Tarantella

These poems show the love for one’s vision of nature as the shifter of shapes. All of the landscape’s Thingness–as Rilke saw it–ebbs and looms here, and Bacon follows their rhythmic changes. Bacon builds an album that honors the universe’s traffic, the gaze melting to honey. In these poems, the economies of silence, well: The lotus has its foot in the mud.

Cynthia Arrieu-King, author of Futureless Languages

In these intimate, meticulous, compassionate poems, Bacon seamlessly marries the self with the world . . . of wild rivers and dark trees, of coyotes and hawks, of snow and summer grasses— or the human body, with its love, its aging, and its griefs . . . With a deep mixture of curiosity and vulnerability . . .  Bacon sings of our human hungers— “diligent, defended, devout”— with wild consciousness.

-Kenneth Hart, author of Uh Oh Time

High-Desert Spring

Earth exhales
moist, fragrant
breath of thaw.
Pungent pine bark,
needle rot composting,
soil awakening below the top inch.

No rain falls. Snowpack
long since melted
feeds grass and flower,
flows up tree trunks
into gauzy green haze.

Meadow thrush,
redwing blackbird,
Steller’s Jay’s ecstatic shrill,
and flicker’s knock on tree and barn
all call to mate.

Clouds gather and glower.
On the Cascade peaks
shadow-snow or rain
falls like a mirage.

Garden draws deep,
footfall welcome in yielding touch,
sighs a sweetness short lived

until summer sucks it into sun.

Pandemic Artifact

What are these people doing?
What slow dance, moving one
to another, pairs of arms clasped
around backs, necks entwined
like swans. And rocking as if the ground
beneath them beats with a rhythm,
fluid. Both exotic and nostalgic.

Not the clutch of passion, the simple
meeting of belly to belly. Like food
but sweeter, meatier.

I salivate tears. My whole body
hungering for touch.

Painstaking

While we’re separated here by illness,
the bold forsythia risks the nightly
cold to burst forth in golden flame.

Likewise, the chokecherry, with its
furry buds, lifts its arms the way
I’ve heard that trees breathe
at night when we’re not watching.

And the red maple has nascent keys
dangling like platelets, small spurts
from its heart.

Life hurts. We go on,

even when we feel we can’t go on.

Go on.Go on. Walk the floor
to the nearest window. Something
out there is singing.

What is blooming

in you today that you’re mistaking as pain?

 

Go Outside

Whatever time of day it is,
wherever you are, crowded
city, tenement with its narrow stoop,
or high rise with its pricey airspace,
the streets are empty.

Stand and face,
the sky. Be patient, are there clouds,
continents shifting against the blue,
or a slip of moon? Windows bright with life,
laundry hung to dry?

Or if your suburban
house has a yard, a lawn, maybe
a bush or some weeds, or maybe you’ve
tended the grass, mulched the beds
and flowers spring up from the thawing ground.
Are you in a country lane? A farm?
Cattle, sheep, horses—even wheat
or soybeans.

Here is the news you need:
this blue and green marble continues to spin
bringing the new day and rich black night—
beyond the lights that burn to keep your fear
away. The fences are plunged into soil,
the wrappers lifted by wind.

The songs of birds
calling each other is all you need to learn.

For Those Who Won’t Stay Home from Church

This morning I worshipped God
in the light on frozen grass
that shone like a thousand windows
of stained glass. I worshipped the crack
of wood, its sculptured grain
that contains the imprint of years
of rain. I prayed on my knees for the fire
in the stove, warmth and home.
I prayed before the altar of candle
and smoke to those who hear and hold
the suffering of the world. I prayed
to be of service. I prayed for you, pastor
and supplicant of the mega church
with its walls and roof, its bodies
tightly packed in stadium pews.
Be still, and know that I am here,
came the answer in the empty room.

Terminal Mental Illness

Some years ago, the daughter of an acquaintance of mine died by suicide. While her husband and children were out, she lit a hibachi in their living room and died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The obituary her parents wrote said, quite truthfully, that she had succumbed after a long illness.

The recent suicide death of Gregory Eells, head of the University of Pennsylvania’s mental health services, brought to mind my friend’s comparison of lifelong mental illness with a chronic and ultimately terminal disease. In suicide prevention work, we say that many suicides can be prevented. Many, not most or all.

For some people, the lifelong challenges of a mind that berates, undermines, and negates their value as a human being is ultimately unbearable. No matter their outward signs of success, love, or accomplishment, they “know” themselves to be inferior, undesirable, unlovable. No matter the support they have in the form of medication, talk therapy, and interventions, like the Safety Planning Intervention developed by Gregory Eells’ colleagues at U of P that is proving so useful to many people living with anxiety and depression, the illness thrives at the expense of their wellbeing and life force.

We’ve come a long way in our attitudes toward mental illness and its compatriot, addiction, but we have a long way to go.

Myself, I struggle to accept the choices of the terminally ill who seek self-selected euthanasia under plans like Death with Dignity. I’m inclined to a world view that says life is what it is and is ours to experience no matter what. But when I encounter deaths like Eells’, I understand the analogy to terminal disease, that the suffering of acute, unrelenting mental illness can become too great. The prognosis unfavorable and unchanging. The best option to “shake off the mortal coil.”

What is the counterpart, for those with unrelenting mental illness, to hospice and end of life care available to the physically terminally ill? I only know that its foundation is compassion. We can no more blame those who succumb to mental illness than we can those who succumb to terminal illness of the body. We need to start loving, listening, and accepting that we cannot know another’s suffering, nor can we fix it. Our good intentions, pep talks, and interventions may, in the long run, only add to the weight of depression and anxiety. Not only does our loved one feel that the world would be better without them, but they carry the extra weight of our implicit message that they should be able to do something to make things different. Instead, our responsibility is to stand in compassion and serve the best we can as witnesses of life’s various ways of being.

The metaphysical poet, John Donne wrote “No man is an island. . . Every man’s death diminishes me.” Each is a cause for grief and contemplation of our own fragile mortality. “To live in this world,” the late Mary Oliver wrote, “you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” For me, this is sage advice for those of us who bear witness to friends and family for whom life is an insurmountable struggle, to love each other’s mortality and to hold it as our own. Our lives depend upon it.

Portents

Beetle, snake, apples. We walk single
file under willows, the dappled light
casting shadows. First the beetle, on its back,
and one side missing a few hairlike legs.
I flip it with the fine point of a pen revealing
its pale shell with elegant black stripes.
What to read in the moist spot it leaves
scuttling into the weeds? Immediately,
a slip of snake whips quickly into hedge,
slender tail a question mark, disappears.
Three small apples in a row far
from orchard. Four of us stepping
lightly on the concrete walk, stepping
lightly into the mystery of being
here together in this moment,
where everything is contained.