We have heartbreaking video of Mr. Garner (unarmed and surrounded by six police officers) being held in a choke hold while pleading, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Hours later, he died. Where do you even start to address this? To create a world where this kind of thing simply doesn’t happen? We will all do whatever we do about it—march in protest, write, post, bitch and moan to like-minded friends. I’ll do some or all of the above, but hopefully I’ll do this first: I will turn it inward and learn something about myself from it.
The “choke hold” event is a perfect opportunity to practice. Big emotion is my first cue. As soon as I felt the rage, I took the most obvious pieces of that event (in this case, the choke hold, and the words “I can’t breathe”) and turned them inward. What have I got a “choke hold” on? What am I holding onto so tight that it “can’t breathe”? Sitting with these questions rendered an answer that blew my mind.
Last April, a friend I’ve known and loved for decades called me with a financial 911. Reliability has never been his strong point, but the details of this situation were such that I helped, fairly certain that he’d start paying me back within a week or so. When nothing happened after a couple weeks, I was hurt and angry with him, and ashamed of myself for having been such an easy mark. I stopped communicating altogether. Months went by.
Because this friendship is old and rich and strong, we eventually found our way back to each other and began addressing The Issue. I asked him, “What happened? You said you’d start paying me back within days.” He said, “I did. I texted you when I deposited half of what I owe.” Well, I never got that text. I opened my phone, trying to mask my self-righteousness with a “Maybe I missed it, let’s check” attitude. I scrolled down our conversation thread…
And then my jaw dropped.
It was there! His text—dated early May. It said “Just deposited the cash in your account.” I literally never saw the text. It definitely came in, but my eyes didn’t register it. And even more alarming, upon checking my bank account, I saw not one, but two deposits from him around that same date. I never noticed/registered them. How did this happen? How could this possibly happen?
The sobering answer is: my idea of who my friend was (“he’s unreliable”) had a choke hold on the actual reality of who he was (he’d repaid me more than half of what was owed, almost immediately). Naturally, the reality couldn’t breathe. My beliefs, my *certainty* had completely blinded me to the truth. Clearly, it was time to launch a more wide ranging investigation. Where else have I strangled the truth right out of a situation? Can I step back from my hardened certainties long enough to let new information in? Can I summon the courage to let reality show its true face? These are the questions I am committed to living with, as my best friends, as guides to a more conscious awareness.
Certainly we still need to show our support for all who have fallen to injustice. But we must also become aware of the injustices we perpetrate from within. If we engage in this kind of self–inquiry, developing some mindfulness about our unconscious internal systems, we become the very root system for change. The sun and rain for growth. The presence of a world we want for ourselves and the coming generations.
May the awakened mind arise in everyone, everywhere.