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Got Time? Stand Up for Justice

“If you are free, you need to free somebody else.
If you have power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
   –Toni Morrison

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez became the first and only District Attorney in New York to release data on who has been arrested for social distancing violations and the results paint a grim reality. 40 people have been arrested. 35 were black, four were Hispanic, and just one was white. Despite making up only 25% of the population, Black people received more than 87% of arrests for social distancing. And this is only based on a small percentage of data released by DA Gonzalez in his district in Brooklyn.

My previous post was, “Got Time? Sit Quietly for a While.” Still a good idea in my view. But as with breathing, there is a time for inhaling, going in, and a time for exhaling, going out. A time to Be and a time to Do. If there is a message in the Covid-19 visitation, it’s that humanity needs to take more time to go within and find peace, AND to step up and out and act more with strength and compassion to bring peace and justice to this world.

The mistreatment and abuse of people because of their skin color, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation or gender comes out of fear, but also a belief that those people are essentially inferior. White male supremacy has been with us for centuries and it will take time, a long time, to undue that ignorance from the hearts and minds of all of us. But we can more quickly end the institutional systems that make it possible for people with privilege and power to act against those they deem less than. It will take those of us with privilege examining ourselves for the seeds of racism implanted in our psyche. It will take those of us with privilege standing up, speaking out, and supporting and joining those groups in the struggle for racial justice.

I’ve received so many beautifully written messages and posts that express the pain, frustration, rage, and fatigue of Black people who fear for themselves and their children, fear of participating in simple, normal activities in America. Many of the messages include lists of 5, 10, 15 or more things that White people can do to help. I’ve included here just a few quotes and a list of ideas for all of us to consider and take action wherever possible.

A personal story: In 1966 I participated in a sit-in to integrate a small restaurant in Gainesville, Florida, off the campus of the University. A White man took a seat next to me and was so filled with hate he could barely stir his coffee. His grin, the look in his eyes, his shaking hands and his hateful threats are unforgettable. My experience was nothing compared to the Freedom Riders and others, many of whom were beaten and burned and killed in those years. But I tasted the hate, and it’s just so painful to see it still alive today snuffing out the lives of Black people, one after another. How can we let this go on? As I’ve heard a number of times: it’s not enough to not be racist, we need to be actively anti-racist.

The vigils, marches and other forms of protest going on now are a hopeful sign that there is in fact an awakening happening. Please help keep it alive and strong by lending your support. At the bottom of this message are two links to people who do excellent trainings, (at this time online) for White people regarding racism. Please check them out.

peace with justice, justice with peace,

“…we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’ — whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.”
                                                                             –Barack Obama

“…………….this latest crisis precipitated by overt racism, along with the corona virus pandemic and the climate crisis, are all interwoven forces pushing to face the truth of the pathology of what we have created and how we need to do it differently if we want to create a healthy and just, peaceful, beautifully diverse, Win-Win World For All, which is the only way it is going to work for we are all in the same life-boat together.   May enough of us wake up and work together in respectful cooperation to make it be so.  Have no doubt about it, this is spiritual work of the first degree. If not you and me, then who?  If not now, when?
                                                                             –T0m Pinkson

“What deep possibility is activated now, with mass cries to finally see centuries of dehumanization, trauma, and brutality toward people of color as a monstrous crime against life? The disruption of a dominant worldview is unfolding. We witness the extraordinary power of ordinary human beings, allied to bring forth a shift of consciousness. 
                                                                            –Geneen Marie Haugen

From the “Movement for Black Lives” (These are issues that you and I can support through sending messages to elected officials and voting to elect those who are supportive).

“We call on localities and elected officials across the country to divest resources away from policing in local budgets and reallocate those resources to the healthcare, housing and education our people deserve. More officers, guns, jails and prisons are not a solution to longstanding problems of racial disparities, injustice and police violence.  We demand police free schools across the country and an end to the use of police officers in public universities. All public Institutions designed to serve the people, must cut ties with the police in the interest of public safety.

We demand an end to the war against Black people. Since this country’s inception there have been named and unnamed wars on our communities. We demand an end to the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of our people.

This includes:
An immediate end to the criminalization and dehumanization of Black youth across all areas of society including, but not limited to; our nation’s justice and education systems, social service agencies, and media and pop culture.

This includes an end to zero-tolerance school policies and arrests of students, the removal of police from schools, and the reallocation of funds from police and punitive school discipline practices to restorative services.

An end to capital punishment.

An end to money bail, mandatory fines, fees, court surcharges and “defendant funded” court proceedings.

An end to the use of past criminal history to determine eligibility for housing, education, licenses, voting, loans, employment, and other services and needs.

An end to the war on Black immigrants including the repeal of the 1996 crime and immigration bills, an end to all deportations, immigrant detention, and Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids, and mandated legal representation in immigration court.

An end to the war on Black trans, queer and gender nonconforming people including their addition to anti-discrimination civil rights protections to ensure they have full access to employment, health, housing and education.

An end to the mass surveillance of Black communities, and the end to the use of technologies that criminalize and target our communities (including IMSI catchers, drones, body cameras, and predictive policing software).

The demilitarization of law enforcement, including law enforcement in schools and on college campuses.

An immediate end to the privatization of police, prisons, jails, probation, parole, food, phone and all other criminal justice related services.

Until we achieve a world where cages are no longer used against our people we demand an immediate change in conditions and an end to all jails, detention centers, youth facilities and prisons as we know them. This includes the end of solitary confinement, the end of shackling of pregnant people, access to quality healthcare, and effective measures to address the needs of our youth, queer, gender nonconforming and trans families.
                                                                   –Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)
                                                                   https://m4bl.org/about-us/

For White people seeking to understand racism and become better allies:

The Center for the Study of White American Culture (CSWAC) http://www.euroamerican.org/About/Who-We-Are.asp

Doing Our Own Work: White People Learning, Healing, and Acting for Racial Equity*
https://dianegoodman.com/public-workshops/

~Alan

Got Time – Sit Quietly Awhile

“We can only have insight and wisdom when our vision is clear. 2020 is the year for that vision. For generations into the future, people will remember you as heroes and sheroes for your sacrifice and your vision.”
               –”Commencement talk” from Sister Boi Nghiem to class of 2020

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
       
–Arundati Roy

A thread of wisdom is weaving its way through all the pandemic confusion and fear: this time, this Covid-19 time, is giving each of us (and humanity as a whole) the chance to reinvent ourselves. From the social and political systems that we have taken for granted, to the patterns of inter-personal relating, to the understandings of who and what we are and what we are here for; everything is up for review. What better time than now.

Spiritual teachings have always offered us the pathways and methods for seeing more deeply into ourselves, beyond, above or behind our ego personality, to a truer, more awakened way of Being. We live in a time that allows us to hear the voices, and sometimes see and be with, people who have devoted their lives to these teachings from the different lineages of the world . They are able to share with us what can truly be called medicine for our minds and hearts. What better time than now.

Responding to the needs of the many people seeking solace in their grief, fear, anger and confusion, there are now many daily offerings of guided meditations by experienced teachers. I’ve gathered together some that have come my way and want to share them with you. Please save this as a resource and share widely. What better time than now to deepen your practice of meditation and attunement with the true nature of the one you are, and to find the peace and strength to face all that is arising around and within you.

May you and all beings be healthy, safe, happy and free.

Sister Boi Nghiem lives at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi, (one of several monasteries in the world founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. In this video “dharma talk” we have a beautiful expression of the consciousness of wisdom, happiness and compassion that comes from devoted meditative practice. Addressed to graduating seniors, but relevant to us all:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhipUITeVWM

Sharon Salzberg is a widely known and beloved teacher of meditation. She has been offering free teachings online during the pandemic and has generously created a site with many other free or low cost teachings available on a daily basis. This is an amazing resource:
https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/covid-19-resources/?fbclid=IwAR1xRjD4Pkdl9iuk_aEiulIO4rHKwXZYgsSLVijiIc0fZXh-Jfg9zdi5dLo

Krishna Das is a world traveling chant master and teacher of meditation. He is offering what he calls “Chai and Chat” sessions online. Some are for a nominal fee. (Everyone still has to pay rent). This link is for one on June 6th, and you can find others dates from there. 
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/group-chainchat-with-krishna-das-india-tickets-106136920386?aff=enews

Dr. Tom Pinkson (Tomás), offers a weekly online talk and exchange, “Live Love Now – Soul Support in the Time of Covid-19”.  Tomás apprenticed for many years with Huichol shaman and presents prayerful, inspiring messages of  “wisdom guidance from Great Spirit to enrich your life.” This is a Facebook gathering:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/874420176244116/about/

Jonathan Gustin, is the founder of Purpose Guides Institute and its new projects: Climate Change & Purpose, and Pandemic as Practice.  At the following link is an interview with Joanna Macy on these subjects and you can get more information about his online meetings by sending a message toinfo@purposeguides.org
https://www.purposeguides.org/free-webinar-pandemic-as-practice-1#unique-id

By the way, Sharon Salzberg, Tomás Pinkson and Krishna Das each are featured with extensive interview in  Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths, available at CrossingTheBoundary.org.

Introducing #CovidInspirations

“May All Beings Be Happy
May All Beings Be Safe
May All Beings Everywhere Be Free”
                     –Buddhist Prayer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzPTHstpJ2I
                –(link to Jennifer Berezan and friends beautifulrendition)

         Since my last  post “We Are Not Alone,” I’ve received many appreciative responses along with poetry and messages that also point towards the possibility of this being a much needed transformative moment for humanity. I’ve put together a site at medium.comhttps://medium.com/@covid.inspirations, that brings some of these together and hope you will find them inspiring and helpful.

I understand fully the fear, anxiety, and actual physical suffering that this pandemic engenders. I also understand that it is quite possible for humanity to take this time to spiral further into a destructive course, one already underway, that many of us have been calling attention to for years. My intention, and I believe the intention of the writings at the site I’ve created, is not to gloss over the reality, but to foster the strength to face this reality with open eyes and the willingness to make the changes required.

I do believe that we as a species must meet the reality we have created with a new way of seeing. We need to let go of the modern era’s sense of certainty and the post-modern era’s tendency to nihilism and cynicism.  This is no easy task. Just as we have been basted in sexism and racism, we have been raised in a world that only believes in what can be weighed and measured and the certainty that we are separate from each other.

As we take the precautions necessary to stop the spread of the pandemic, let us also be mindful of this important work on ourselves. This is only the beginning.

Help spread inspiration https://medium.com/@covid.inspirations

These are the times that try our ability to stay aligned with our Souls. As the Covid-19 virus pandemic has spread and unprecedented actions are taken to control or minimize the spread, some people have responded with unprecedented beauty, wisdom and compassion……” See: https://medium.com/@covid.inspirations/these-are-the-times-98ef4b07718b

–Alan Levin

We Are Not Alone

It seems clear that the pandemic of the Covid-19 virus is amplifying a pre-existing condition; the pandemic of fear and anxiety that has already spread across the world. In times of crisis, we tend to look to the established powers to help guide and support us. These powers – local, regional, national and international –are formed through political processes and informed by the various methods of scientific inquiry. A difficulty we now face is that both our political and scientific thinking is dominated by an old paradigm of reality that may have reached the point where it can no longer be effective.

Something that the modern political and Western scientific mind fails to take into consideration is that we humans are not alone. I’m not simply saying that we have community among and with other humans; but that as humans, we are part of a much larger family of beings that also have a say in the future that is unfolding. I’m speaking of the jaguars and lions, elephants, geckos, condors and eagles, whales and dolphins, to name just a very few of the multitude of animal creatures. There are the rainforests, boreal forests, tulips, banisteriopsis cappi, and mushrooms of the plant world. There are the great mountains and oceans. There is Mother Earth. And there is a multitude of tiny bacteria and viruses all over and inside everything. Who is to say that they don’t have a say concerning the future?

Indigenous people worldwide, including the ancestors of Europeans, saw not only life, but consciousness, intelligence, in all that is listed above. Only in the last several centuries have humans, especially in the West and North, considered humans to be the only intelligent life form on Earth. During this period, using that very special human intelligence, we have brought ourselves to the brink of self destruction while also destroying myriads of other life-forms. Now, just as it seems the our situation couldn’t get any scarier, some tiny agent from the natural world comes along and is shaking the very foundations of our civilization. Broadway is shut down. Baseball, basketball, football and hockey – down. Concerts, schools, community gatherings – down. Gatherings to protest what is going on – down.

Nature works in mysterious ways Her wonders to perform, (to paraphrase from the Christian hymn). Are we going to start paying attention to Her more respectfully, more intelligently, more empathically? Or are we going to continue down our fear-based and arrogant pathway, trying to control what is infinitely more wise and powerful than us? She could dispense with us with a giant hiccup. She wants us here, or we’d have been gone long ago.

Beliefs, (which form the cognitive basis of our paradigm of reality) die hard. But pressure and pain from forces outside ourselves are sometimes a catalyst for reconsidering what we think is true. Quite a few years ago, I led a group of folks on a wilderness quest in the high desert of Southern California. On the first night, after we had all settled some distance apart, each under his or her tarp, a fierce lightning storm struck. There were Joshua trees and pinion pine scattered like lightning rods all around us and we were surrounded by ridges of stone. The lightning struck every few seconds and the roaring thunder was constant, seemingly interminable. In the morning it was quiet and we shared our experiences of the night. Even the professed atheists confessed to praying during the night to something or someone that in that brief moment seemed to really be there protecting us. There is an old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

I’m not predicting what will happen. I don’t know and I’m ok with that. Maybe this one moment of worldwide fear will turn out to be a bump in the road. Maybe it will be a catalyst for positive social, economic and political change. But I do sense an awareness growing in us as people that goes beyond the political ideologies that justify and perpetuate so much human conflict. I feel it in myself. As I let go of my sense of certainty and open to the counsel of the life all around me with a humble and open heart, two things shift: I feel the possibility that this will all turn out ok; I recognize that in this moment, I am OK.
There is and will be pain, and it behooves us all to pay attention, be wise and help those in need. At the same time, for our own sake and for all life, there is a need to step back and open to a new frame for seeing what is happening on Earth. We need to stop treating nature like a tinker toy or as a simple child that knows not what s/he needs. She is more than what we are in our little body/mind selves; she is wiser and more powerful. Perhaps there is a blessing in disguise of “social distancing.” We will take time with nature in the quiet and solitude that allows us to listen to Her, ask for guidance, and align our lives with the family of life.

Watch Out! The Woo-Woo, Wacko, “New Age” is Gonna Get Ya! And She’s Running for President

This is my response to the mostly mocking, ridiculing and fear-based mainstream and social media focus on Marrianne Williamson. To start with, while most of those doing the ridiculing would deny that anything like telepathy exists, they are the first to tell us they KNOW why she is running: (to make money, sell books and get attention, of course). I’d love to give these writers mirrors for their egos.

Then there’s the shock at the phrase, “dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred ….” as if it is an expression of something alien, occult and just plain weird.  Does anyone not immediately know exactly what she is talking about? Does political speech have to be that devoid of the language of the human heart that it can’t relate to those words? Even the modest approval she is occasionally given for her intelligent policy positions and psychological insights into politics is always hedged with some reference to her “wacky new-age ideas.”

So what is the “new age” anyway. While my Google search brought up several somewhat objective accounts of the very loose movement/network/zeitgeist, they all seemed to leave out “the Aquarian Age” of the Sixties. Didn’t folks see “Hair?”  Back then, as I recall, many of us believed that there was a shift happening in the world and people were going to change from a competitive and survival-of-the-fittest mindset to a more loving, earth friendly, non-hierarchical world.  Naive, yes, especially in the sense that we would thought it would all happen very quickly and without effort. But this Aquarian spirit was a major impetus, if not the primary force, behind the environmental movement, holistic and integral medicine, new forms of psychological and mental health treatment, organic farming, reforms in education, and the embrace of sexual expression and varied forms of identity. See Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy.

As things evolved in the Seventies and Eightees, what started to be called the “new age” movement continued to grow even outside the realm of counter-culture hippies. From my insider perspective, the primary unifying principle was the belief that humans could transform their own consciousness to a higher and more loving place and that this would (or could) spread and change the world. There would be, (or we could help bring about) a paradigm shift in human thinking and behavior, between us as humans and between humans and all life. What a concept!

As people extended their openness to new and different ideas, to think more outside the box, there was and continues to be an exploration of the older, even ancient, ideas of astrology, the I Ching, Tarot, and other symbolic maps of consciousness. The study and practice of Eastern spirituality and mystical forms of Western wisdom traditions became widespread. Alternative forms of healing, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, yoga, tai chi, were seen nearly everywhere. None of these are inherently ‘new age.’ Most are very old or ancient.  Carl Jung, among many eminent scholars and visionaries of the modern world treated them with great respect. 

Deep, revolutionary movements have a way of being trivialized, coopted, commercialized, distorted. The “new age” has gone through all of that and the term is mostly now used as a pejorative applied to just about anything or anyone superficial, naive, flaky.  I’ve done it myself. But Marrianne Williamson? NOT!  Read or listen to what she actually says in full context. 

As she gets more attention, there is a new trend among liberals to not just dismiss her as flaky and irrelevant, but dangerous! Something along the lines of, “Her new-age stuff may seem innocent enough, but it hides a pernicious cult of individualism which ends up blaming and shaming people for their poverty and illness.” “It’s really right-wing in its essential teachings.” 

This is an accusation made by some against all religions. But there is a deep question here for all spiritual and religious movements. While atheists have Ayn Rand espousing the value of selfishness, spiritual movements can fall victim to the same egoic impulse that they aim to cure.  Spiritually oriented people outside of traditional religious institutions have been discussing for decades this tension between the notion of individual liberation of oneself and the seemingly opposing call to be involved in the struggles for justice, peace and harmony with Mother Earth. While there are spiritual teachers and groups that do emphasize the former, as someone very involved in this myself I am aware that the preponderance of movement is towards a deeper and wiser integration of both human needs. And for decades, Marrianne Williamson has been at the forefront as a teacher and leader of the movement to bring spirituality into the service of healing individuals, communities and the world. 

Her courage in crossing into the dark, yes DARK pit of politics and media to bring a message of light and hope and an honest progressive political agenda deserves respect. Vote for who you like, but listen to what she says and hope the other candidates do as well. If she is not President, perhaps she can head the Department of Peace. And if she is neither, she will have still accomplished a great deal.

May the Force and Light be with you, Marrianne, in your noble quest.

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

In the modern secular world, it takes courage to cross the boundary from watching the events of the world, to becoming an activist in bringing about change and transformation of the direction of society. Likewise, even for those immersed in a religious tradition, there is a boundary to becoming a truly spiritual being. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. crossed both of those boundaries and changed our world. I was honored to be asked to write a piece about him for the Fellowship of Reconciliation which I’ve linked to here.

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

                                                                                    –Alan Levin

“Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hate never yet dispelled hateOnly love dispels hate.” – Buddha (from the Dhammapada)

 

With an iconic figure such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose brief life shook this nation forever, people pick and choose what they want to see of his multi-faceted legacy.

Currently we have the literal whitewashing of his very radical message as politicians who want to discredit affirmative action and impose voter I.D. laws use quotes from Martin Luther King to justify their supposed “color-blind” objectives.

On the other hand, activists of the Left often overlook the fact that Reverend King was a truly religious, spiritual man. He was a Christian. But more so, he was a holy man in the prophetic tradition that transcends any one religion.

I have no knowledge of King’s inner life, but from what I do know of his life and statements, he regularly sought counsel from the divine within for guidance and tried to walk and talk in alignment with that.

 

I do not know if he ever studied formal meditation from Eastern teachers, but he found deep friendship, mutual respect and admiration with Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It was after his talks with Nhat Hanh that Dr. King came out publicly against the Vietnam War. In 1967 Dr. King nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In any case, King found from his inner sojourns, his reflections and prayers, his own unique understanding and expression of many of the deepest teachings of spirituality, East and West.

Everything is interconnected. Everything affects
everything else. Everything that is,
is because other things are.
–Basic Buddhist teaching of Dependent Origination

“All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality … And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.”

–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Commencement Address at Oberlin College, 1965)

 

His call to, “remain awake” as a primary goal testifies to the importance King placed on consciousness, not just our behavior as humans, as activists. He wanted us to be awake not just to the suffering, or even the systemic causes of suffering, but awake to the nature of reality. In this, he is in alignment with His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “What the world needs is a spiritual revolution.”

I believe Dr. King understood from his own experience the need to take time to cultivate that spiritual consciousness, to cultivate a heart filled with compassion and love in the face of injustice, hatred, and violence. This cultivation is the very heart of meditation.

King’s good friend Thomas Merton, the Roman Catholic monk, deeply involved himself in Eastern philosophy and spirituality. He counseled us to “withdraw into the healing silence of the wilderness … not in order to preach to others but to heal in (ourselves) the wounds of the entire world.” And yet, King did preach once he felt his voice was a channel for that greater whole.

Somehow, through his inner searching and his confrontation with the realities of the world, King realized for himself that freedom from the fear of death is the promised land of spiritual work, the realization of the greater awareness that lies beyond the phenomenal world. What else could he have experienced that brought him to say:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

As I was writing this, a good friend, Sister Dorothy Maxwell, sent me a profound article, “The Ecology of Prayer” by Fred Bahnson in Orion Magazine. In it, Bahnson quotes the seventh century Saint Isaac of Syria, “An elder was once asked, ‘What is a compassionate heart?’ He replied: ‘It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and for all that exists.’”

Surely, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was actively engaged in transforming his heart towards that fuller compassion through his meditations, his prayers, and his activism. Surely, it is our task to carry on that work.

Alan Levin is cofounder of Sacred River Healing. A member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Alan is involved in a range of initiatives in New York’s lower Hudson Valley that engage the intersections of racial justice, peacemaking, ecological sustainability, mind-body healing, and spiritual awakening.

Photos: (1) Rev. King with Thich Nhat Hanh in June 1966, courtesy of FOR Archives & Plum Village Monastery; (2) Photo by Bob Fitch, used with permission, FOR Archives.

Through the Wall of White Supremacy

The United States was founded as a white nationalist country, and that legacy remains today. Things have improved from the radical promotion of white people at the expense of all others, which has persisted for most of our history, yet most of us have not accepted the extent to which white identity guides so much of what we still do. Sometimes it seems that the white nationalists are most honest about the very real foundation of white supremacy upon which our nation was built.”

                                               –R. Derek Black (godson of David Duke)

It is up to each of us to question the worldview of our parents and whatever sense of  tribal identification they pass on to us. We must find within ourselves what truths to hold and what to toss out. Some adopt without question their parents’ ideas or conversely reject them through unconscious rebellion. Others take a more balanced approach, and through a rational process of evaluation or through a process of spiritual discovery, discern for themselves what is valuable from what is destructive, sort the good from the bad, (which can sometimes be very bad).

I am always heartened by the courage of those who find themselves in a world in which they no longer want to live, and choose to step out, cross what often feels like a great psychological boundary. I tend to listen closely to their observations of the minds and hearts contained in the world they left. This is essentially the theme of this blog and my book Crossing the Boundary. A few days ago, I saw a piece in the New York Times that gave me that feeling of deep appreciation and drew my close attention. Among the many articles and opinion pieces on the White Supremacist/Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, and the remarks by our Madman in Chief, there was one by R. Derek Black, the son of one of the leaders of the White Nationalist movement and a godson of David Duke.

In his piece, “What White Nationalism Gets Right About American History,” he makes clear his rejection of his White Supremacist roots. But he also shares deep insights into the thinking of those in that group and the truth they do hold. The truth is that their core belief in white supremacy has indeed dominated the history of this country until very, very recent time and is still very present throughout our society.

The bold statement above, from a man immersed in White Supremacist culture since childhood, is to me a cautionary message for all of us who feel we are immune to the feelings and thinking of this truly disgusting ideology. It was the explicit and/or implicit view of the culture in which our own consciousness was nurtured and developed. This insidious infection of the mind has almost certainly entered into our hearts and we will only begin to be free of it through acknowledging its present existence.

I am curious to know the process that Mr. Black went through to liberate himself from his racist conditioning, insofar as he has. It would help shed light on how we can all question our most firmly held beliefs. Humanity appears to many observers, to be going through a major shift in consciousness. Certainly, we are liberating ourselves, albeit fitfully, from old notions of tribal, racial and gender superiority, I would suggest we also need to question the notion of human superiority over the rest of nature with whom we share this world. To do this, we need to cultivate awareness of our own mind and sense of identity and learn the methods of transformation that are the gifts of our spiritual ancestors.

I strongly recommend reading R. Derek Black’s piece here:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/19/opinion/sunday/white-nationalism-american-history-statues.html and which I’ve copied below.

                                                                 –Alan Levin


My dad often gave me the advice that white nationalists are not looking to recruit people on the fringes of American culture, but rather the people who start a sentence by saying, “I’m not racist, but …”

The most effective tactics for white nationalists are to associate American history with themselves and to suggest that the collective efforts to turn away from our white supremacist past are the same as abandoning American culture. My father, the founder of the white nationalist website Stormfront, knew this well. It’s a message that erases people of color and their essential role in American life, but one that also appeals to large numbers of white people who would agree with the statement, “I’m not racist, but I don’t want American history dishonored, and this statue of Robert E. Lee shouldn’t be removed.”

I was raised by the leaders of the white nationalist movement with a model of American history that described a vigorous white supremacist past and once again I find myself observing events in which I once might have participated before I rejected the white nationalist cause several years ago. After the dramatic, horrible and rightly unnerving events in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend, I had to make separate calls: one to make sure no one in my family who might have attended the rally got hurt, and a second to see if any friends at the University of Virginia had been injured in the crowd of counterprotesters.

On Tuesday afternoon the president defended the actions of those at the rally, stating, “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” His words marked possibly the most important moment in the history of the modern white nationalist movement. These statements described the marchers as they see themselves — nobly driven by a good cause, even if they are plagued by a few bad apples. He said: “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

But this protest, contrary to his defense, was advertised unambiguously as a white nationalist rally. The marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us”; in the days leading up to the event, its organizers called it “a pro-white demonstration”; my godfather, David Duke, attended and said it was meant to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump”; and many attendees flew swastika flags. Whatever else you might say about the rally, they were not trying to deceive anyone.

Almost by definition, the white nationalist movement over the past 40 years has worked against the political establishment. It was too easy for politicians to condemn the movement — even when there was overlap on policy issues — because it was a liability without enough political force to make the huge cost of associating with it worthwhile. Until Tuesday, I didn’t believe that had changed.

We have all observed the administration’s decisions over the past several months that aligned with the white nationalist agenda, such as limiting or completely cutting off legal and illegal immigration, especially of Hispanics and Muslims; denigrating black communities as criminal and poor, threatening to unleash an even greater police force on them; and going after affirmative action as antiwhite discrimination. But I had never believed Trump’s administration would have trouble distancing itself from the actual white nationalist movement.

Yet President Trump stepped in to salvage the message that the rally organizers had originally hoped to project: “George Washington was a slave owner,” he said, and asked, “So will George Washington now lose his status?” Then: “How about Thomas Jefferson?” he asked. “Because he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue?” He added: “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”

Until Trump’s comments, few critics seemed to identify the larger relationship the alt-right sees between its beliefs and the ideals of the American founders. Charlottesville is synonymous with Jefferson. The city lies at the foot of Monticello and is the home of the University of Virginia, the school he founded. Over the years I’ve made several pilgrimages to Charlottesville, both when I was a white nationalist and since I renounced the ideology. While we all know that Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, which declared that “all men are created equal,” his writings also offer room for explicitly white nationalist interpretation.

My father observed many times that the quotation from Jefferson’s autobiography embedded on the Jefferson Memorial is deceptive because it reads, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these [the Negro] people are to be free.” It does not include the second half of the sentence: “Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”

Jefferson’s writings partly inspired the American colonization movement, which encouraged the return of free black people to Africa — a goal that was pursued even by Abraham Lincoln during the first years of the Civil War.

The most fundamental legislative goal of the white nationalist movement is to limit nonwhite immigration. It is important to remember that such limits were in place during the lifetimes of many current white nationalists; it was the default status until the 1960s. In the 1790s, the first naturalization laws of the United States Congress limited citizenship to a “free white person.”

Legislation in the 1920s created quotas for immigration based on national origin, which placed severe restrictions on the total number of immigrants and favored northern and western European immigration. It was only with the civil rights movement of the 1960s that the national origin quota system was abolished and Congress fully removed the restriction favoring white immigrants.

I’m not offering these historical anecdotes to defame the history of the country. I’m not calling for Jefferson’s statue to be removed along with the Confederate memorials. I do, however, think it is essential that we recognize that the white nationalist history embedded in American culture lends itself to white nationalist rallies like the one in Charlottesville. If you want to preserve Confederate memorials, but you don’t work to build monuments to historical black leaders, you share the same cause as the marchers.

Until Tuesday I believed the organizers of the rally had failed in their goal to make their movement more appealing to average white Americans. The rally superimposed Jefferson’s image on that of a pseudo K.K.K. rally and brought the overlap between Jefferson and white nationalist ideas to mind for anyone looking to find them. But the horrific violence that followed seemed to hurt their cause.

And then President Trump intervened. His comments supporting the rally gave new purpose to the white nationalist movement, unlike any endorsement it has ever received. Among its followers, being at that rally will become something to brag about, and some people who didn’t want to be associated with extremism will now see the cause as more mainstream. When the president doesn’t provide condemnation that he has been pressed to give, what message does that send but encouragement?

The United States was founded as a white nationalist country, and that legacy remains today. Things have improved from the radical promotion of white people at the expense of all others, which has persisted for most of our history, yet most of us have not accepted the extent to which white identity guides so much of what we still do. Sometimes it seems that the white nationalists are most honest about the very real foundation of white supremacy upon which our nation was built.

The president’s words legitimized the worst of our country, and now the white nationalist movement could be poised to grow. To challenge these messages, we need to acknowledge the continuity of white nationalist thought in American history, and the appeal it still holds.

It is a fringe movement not because its ideas are completely alien to our culture, but because we work constantly to argue against it, expose its inconsistencies and persuade our citizens to counter it. We can no longer count on the country’s leader to do this, so it’s now incumbent upon all of us.

Compassion Behind Prison Bars – Human Kindness Foundation

 

Please watch this short (4 minute) video: https://youtu.be/kkn1dccbJtU.

At the political and societal level, I am very much aligned with those who seek to radically change the prison-industrial complex which involves the mass incarceration of Black, Latino and poor white people. It is an injustice wreaking havoc, especially in communities of color, but truly to our whole society. Yet, while this system is in place, there are those who seek to bring compassion and human contact to those behind bars. At the deepest level of this work, those doing the service experience their work as part of their own journey to be free. 

My good friend, Sita Lozoff, along with her late husband Bo, started the Prison Ashram Project in 1973 and then the Human Kindness Foundation in 1987. Bo’s first book, We’re All Doing Time, now in its 19th printing, is available in several languages. In this book, Bo makes the point that we are all, in or outside prison, “doing time” and ultimately have the freedom to choose our state of mind and how we relate to others. It was hailed by the Village Voice as “one of the ten books everyone in the world should read,” and has been lauded by prison staff and prisoners alike as one of the most helpful books ever written for true self-improvement and rehabilitation. When I worked in a drug treatment clinic and met many who had been in prison, they remembered seeing the book, some having read it, and knowing of it’s great power to change lives. 

A number of years ago, I went with Bo and Sita to several prisons in the Bay Area of California. It was a very moving experience for me, going behind the razor wire, massive concrete walls, gun towers and steel doors to meet with men and women with whom Bo shared the basic wisdom of the great spiritual masters and gave practical advice for applying these principles in extremely difficult situations.

Bo and Sita are two who fit the description of those in my book, Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths. Both were born into Jewish families and through their spiritual seeking met Ram Dass and became disciples of Ram Dass’s guru, Neem Karoli Baba. They chose for their path of service teaching meditation and yoga to prisoners and corresponding with them. Many of these letters make up the most fascinating parts of Bo’s books.

One of the most difficult challenges is when prisoners are released sometimes after many years of incarceration. Here again they receive support and encouragement from HKF. The Human Kindness Foundation does all of its work at no charge. Like all non-profits, it needs support. I’m hoping that some receiving this message will find it worthy of sending a contribution of any amount. It will be of great benefit.

(See short video at https://youtu.be/kkn1dccbJtU)

in peace,

Alan Levin

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 25:40)

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Review of Crossing the Boundary and Upcoming Book Signing

I’m happy to say that Crossing the Boundary has received a very positive review in the independent book review journal Forward Reviews. You can see the full review here.

I continue to receive messages from folks reading the book about how much they enjoyed it and also how thought-provoking it is for them on their own spiritual journey. I recently had a wonderful time discussing the book with Alex and Allyson Grey at their Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) center in Wappinger Falls, NY.  Allyson is featured in the book, and Buddhist teacher, Marty Lowenthal, who also has a chapter, was there for a very illuminating discussion.

My next talk and book signing will be at the Katonah Village Library in Westchester County, NY, for any of you who are in the area. Please see their listing here: http://www.katonahlibrary.org/author-alan-levin-presents-crossing-boundary/.

Blessings,

Alan

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Uncle Bernie Crosses the Israel Boundary

When I was a kid I learned to address my parents’ close friends as “Uncle” or “Aunt,” Uncle Lou,” “Aunt Gertrude,” etc. It was a term of respect. I’ve learned that Native Americans often address their elder teachers as “Uncle” giving them the kind of deference those in the East give their gurus. It’s with that understanding that I give Bernie Sanders the respect he deserves for crossing what is perhaps the toughest boundary of Jewish identity, especially for a politician. It’s not stepping away from organized religion, it’s publicly challenging Israel and its right-wing American supporters. Thank you, Uncle Bernie!

The news today is that he has turned down the invitation to speak at AIPAC, (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). See Salon and The Jewish Telegraphic Agency. For decades, all American politicians seeking high office in the U.S. have paid tribute to AIPAC to either receive their blessing or at least hope to not to be on their hit list. AIPAC’s lobbying power on behalf of everything Israel does is legendary. Their power is feared by all politicians, especially since having the full supportive weight of the Evangelical Christian Right (which sees the ascendancy of Israel in the “Holy Land” as essential to their agenda of Armageddon).

Unfortunately, in statements released to date, Sanders did not openly criticize the group, and it remains to be seen what he will say in the written statement he is submitting. He offered as a reason for declining the invitation, that he is involved in campaigning. But, as they say, actions speak louder than words, and his refusal to attend, in the world of politics, is about as strong a statement as anything he could say. It is difficult to even measure the political courage it takes to defy AIPAC while running for President of the United States.

While a growing number of Jewish-Americans have increasingly been critical of Israeli policies towards Palestinians and the continued building of settlements, Jewish leaders have continued to stand firm in their commitment to defend all Israeli dictates. The most flagrant example was AIPAC’s lobbying support of Netanyahu’s efforts to undermine President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. AIPAC and its allies continue to attempt to stifle criticisms of Israel in the media and on campuses, equating boycotting Israel with anti-Semitism and proposing legislation to make that a crime. Meanwhile, Jewish Voice for Peace, https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org, mostly made up of young Jews, has been growing exponentially and challenges the long standing narratives concerning the history and current realities of Israel and her neighbors.

In my book, Crossing the Boundary: Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths, I gave considerable focus to the sense of identification with Israel that many, if not most, Jewish people have formed. Israeli flags fly in synagogues. Children are taught to sing the Israeli national anthem. Money is raised for Israeli settlements and even for the Israel Defense Forces, the army of Israel. (The organizations doing this are tax-exempt, so that American taxpayers are currently supporting this funding in addition to the 4 or 5 billion that goes to support Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians). From early childhood, I and other Jewish children were taught to deeply feel our affiliation with Israel and associate that with our Jewishness. One can argue that all this is “understandable” given the abusive and genocidal treatment of Jews in Europe prior to the 1948 birth of Israel as a state. But being understandable doesn’t make it right.

Being Jewish does not make one an Israeli. Israel, despite what Netanyahu might say, is not the state of the Jewish people. It is the state of all the people living there, (75% Jews, 20% Palestinian Arabs and 5 % ‘Other.’)  It is a state that currently controls the lives by military occupation of another 4 million Palestinians. It is a state whose actions anyone, regardless of their religious or ethnic identity, has the right to evaluate critically. Non-Jewish Americans who are concerned about these issues, speak of Israel in whispers, as if they were speaking of their Jewish friends’ mothers. It’s time we broke the trance of the destructive identification of Jewishness with Israel. It’s time that public debate about Israel was not associated with how one feels about Jewish people. The cost is too great.

Jewish tradition teaches that the story of Moses leading the people from slavery should cause us to be involved in freeing ourselves from slavery to oppressive ideas and false identifications. Uncle Bernie crossed this boundary by refusing AIPAC’s invitation to speak at their gala conference. It is a step in leading not only Jews, but all Americans, from the enslavement to Israeli intransigence and chutzpah, across the sea to a sane and just foreign policy. It will be interesting to see the fallout from this move and also whether he will be pressured to backtrack as so many politicians who have dared challenge Israel in the past.

When I was a kid, my parents’ generation taught us to ask of of all politicians and policies, “Is it good for the Jews.” If Bernie holds firm, it will be good for the Jews, and all Americans. As he said when asked about his religion, “I believe we are all connected, when anyone is in pain, I feel that pain.” Anyone!

Bernie Sanders speaks about his religion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWnvBFwojNM