Episode 4: In the Beginning a Big Bang Created the Heavens and the Earth feat. Jakada Imani
In the Beginning a Big Bang Created the Heavens and the Earth feat. Jakada Imani, Partner at the Management Center.
Episode 04: Show Notes
Today’s guest is Jakada Imani, a partner at The Management Center in Oakland, California, where he coaches nonprofit organizations all over the country to coach their leaders on best practices and management. Prior to that, he served as the Director of capacity building initiatives at the Center for Popular Democracy, was the director of Ignite Institute at the Pacific School of Religion and Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, where he launched an effort to reduce the US incarceration rate by 50 percent. He also serves on the Board of Compton Foundation and the OneLife Institute and is a member of Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples.
On today’s episode we talk to Jakada about the dynamics between the black church and its community during the civil rights movement, which shifted the zeitgeist away from organized religion and even spirituality, that this affected modern-day issues of violence and disconnection, and how practicing awe and free will can deepen our relationship to our bodies and the divine, essentially bringing us back to a grand, truly unifying spirituality.
Key Points From This Episode:
• The shift away from the spiritual component of activism.
• Why tradition has less place in younger, more mobile generations.
• Specific outcomes of institutionalized Christianity.
• Black history and the criminalization of young people for their inheritance.
• Is awe a spiritual experience, regardless of religion or not?
• Recognizing the importance of the transcendent nature; defining “holy ground”.
• How humans go about filling places with profound meaning.
• Approaching experiences mindfully, and with a beginners mindset.
• Why awe is a word that is nearly impossible to define.
• Experiencing transcendent moments and the solution to violence.
• The concept of humanizing both the experience and the act of violence.
• Mindful, embodied awareness; reanimating the dead and disconnected.
• Finding the balance of protecting yourself without completely shutting down.
• And much more!
“Life restarts itself always. It tends towards life, which is this beautiful and powerful thing.” — @jakada_imani [0:11:09.0]
“We now know that the majority of what the universe is made of we can't see or really measure.” — @jakada_imani [0:13:22.0]
“How could something that is finite describe something infinite?” — @jakada_imani [0:16:07.0]
“That is awe; that sense of wonder and grandeur.” — @jakada_imani [0:22:01.0]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Awe in the Raw – https://www.katherinelockhart.com/podcast/
Jakada Imani — https://www.linkedin.com/in/jakada/
Jakada on Twitter — https://twitter.com/jakada_imani
Jakada on Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/jakada
Center for Popular Democracy — https://populardemocracy.org/
Pacific School of Religion — www.psr.edu/about/centers-and-affiliates/ignite-institute
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights — http://ellabakercenter.org/
OneLife Institute — www.onelifeinstitute.org/
episode 04: transcript
[0:00:11.4] KL: You’re listening to Awe in the Raw, I’m your host, non-fiction author, Kate Lockhart. This show lifts the curtain on natures quiet dance with the human mind as I take you through the process of researching and planning my next book and what I reveal is pretty risqué. That is, if you’re a nerd like me, who gets off on interviews with scientists, authors, artists and trailblazers, all asking the burning question: ‘How can we live more happily connected to nature, ourselves and each other?’ Yeah, I know, it sounds pretty corny actually but it may just be the most revolutionary idea of our times.
Stick around and you’ll overhear wildly diverse conversations, positive psychology, neuroscience, integral ecology, animal rights, non-violence, addiction, thrill-seeking, enlightenment, oppression and futurism in abundance. Every season will explore a different angle for a new book with an episode released every Friday for you weekend pleasure. This season we tease out the power and promise of awe. I recommend you start at Episode 01.
And now away we go.
[0:01:24.4] KL: This show happens for you and because of you, so my warm thanks goes out to everyone who supports it through subscribes, views, shares and donations. If you also enjoy the content, consider hitting the subscribe button on Pod Catcher, It’s a free and easy way to say “Hey, keep up the good work.” And if you want to play a larger part in running the show, head to patriot.com/katelockhart. Where your pledge of a dollar an episode buys quality editing for the show and exclusive monthly Q&A’s for you. Win win, is good good.
[0:02:01.3] JI: I think that the thing is we don't know. Here’s what my experience and my belief is, is that no matter how you think about it, there're stories that tell, one story starts, "In the beginning, God," and that's the story of the Hebrew bible, the Jewish bible, the Hebrew bible, the Christian testament starts with, "In the beginning, God." Science starts with, “14 billion years ago there was bang.” A thing about both those things is there are stories that try to help humans describe and understand a thing that is indescribable, not understandable. In fact, awe-inspiring. It transcends human experience and words. It is the ineffable.
So if you take all of time and space, which we still don't understand, and you try to grasp that at a human scale, you have to come up with stories that are inadequate because there's no way to describe it. How could something that is finite describe something infinite? That experience for me is a spiritual one. That thing of touching the transcendent, the ineffable, is a spiritual experience. It's being in contact with the divine.
[0:03:13.4] KL: That's Jakada Imani, a partner at The Management Center in Oakland, California, where he coaches nonprofit organizations all over the country to coach their leaders on best practices and management. Prior to that, he served as the Director of capacity building initiatives at the Center for Popular Democracy, was the director of Ignite Institute at the Pacific School of Religion and Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, where he launched an effort to reduce the US incarceration rate by 50 percent. He also serves on the Board of Compton Foundation and the OneLife Institute and is a member of Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples.
Today we talk to Jakada about the dynamics between the black church and its community during the civil rights movement, which shifted the zeitgeist away from organized religion and even spirituality, that this affected modern-day issues of violence and disconnection, and how practicing awe and free will can deepen our relationship to our bodies and the divine, essentially bringing us back to a grand, truly unifying spirituality.
[0:04:42.9] JI: Yeah. I started off with my career doing social justice work. I started off as a youth PR educator doing public education and leadership development for young people. The mentors that got me into that work really came out at the black freedom struggle in the 50s and 60s in the south. People commonly refer to it as the Civil Rights Movements. Those folks were deeply rooted in spiritual tradition and practice and many of the songs that we sang at camp and as sort of like opening and closings, you know, “This Little Light of Mine", “Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”, those songs come directly out of the black church and beyond the black church, right? Or I supposed through the black church, right?
So there was always a spiritual component to my activism at organizing, but as I sort of grew and as my generation started to take the lead, we didn't have as many deep connections and relationships to that experience and so it became less and less that and that root and that clarity and more and more the hard sort of strategy and tactics of building winning coalitions, dividing your enemy, running really smart messaging.
[0:05:50.4] KL: Would you put the Black Power movement into that bucket? I think you mentioned in your talks sort of that distinction between the two movements, sort of the black freedom movement of your elders and then sort of more this, what you came up in and around in Oakland.
[0:06:06.9] JI: Yeah. I would say that the Black Power movement was an extension of the black freedom struggle and had many of the same connections and relationships like Huey and Bobby also came out of the black church and had deep experiences as many did the other young people who are involved in the Panthers and many of the other organizations. That was much more of a connection, but in that generation that sort of handed it on, there wasn't as much and some of that was practical in the sense that we've become as a society where those historical institutions just carry less weight, less connection, less resilient in part because we are so capital demands that we less tethered to place and tradition and to people and more mobile and able to reinvent ourselves and it's all about the new and the next.
Tradition has less place in some ways at that level. But then also, to be completely honest, the main line of black organized religion and most organized religion in the United States took the wrong side. It took the side of the oppressor. It took the side of exclusion. It took the side of what you may say as the center against the periphery. During the rise of the drug war where after the Panthers as opposed to saying we're criminalizing you for being black and wanting freedom, we're criminalizing you because you're associated with drugs.
Well, then, the black church and black spirituality, institutional spirituality goes, "Whoa! Drugs. We can't talk about that. We can’t be your center, we can't get down with you in that stuff." Then they actually ended up taking, I suppose taking the side of the people. They end up taking the side of the system and you have Jesse Jackson and others actually marching for a tougher drug sentencing, right?
[0:07:48.8] KL: Right. It's kind of the backlash.
[0:07:51.1] JI: It's completely a backlash and it's a blacklash disguised as the backlash that buys into sort of some of the worst sort of idea of that poor black people are actually in fact the other way, are in fact low class in every meaning of the word, and so then there is this riff that develops between my generation of activists and the institutional church, right? An institutionalized religion more broadly where we're sort of going it alone because they don't see us as valuable because — I remember talking to some of my elders about being picked up by the police for hanging out and they would say, "What were you doing on the corner?" Well, where else was I supposed to be? Is there a youth center? Is there a rec center? Where am I supposed to be?
It was this sort of bizarre thing that young people were criminalized. Particularly, if you're young and you're black, Latino, immigrant. There was this thing that we just sort of lost touch with that and lost touch with that legacy and that history and it was from me understanding that that was a part of my inheritance. That is a part of my legacy. It's a part of what made from folks being sort of loaded into the belly of those ships in West Africa through the Caribbean and the south, up north and out west. That has what helped some of my ancestors make it, was that sort of faith in a creator, a faith in a traditional trajectory.
[0:09:20.8] KL: I think about the history of the drug war and how it's inherently rooted in racism, Where white people had addiction problems, it meant they had medical and/or emotional issues to deal with. Where people of color had addiction problems, it meant they were inherently bad, criminal, and to be incarcerated. This painful betrayal seems to have played out within minority communities expressly because of the Church. The Church and its patriarchal structure seemed exceptionally well-organized to facilitate that kind of separation. It didn't fold in the ancestral legacy of faith to survive oppressive forces.
[0:08:34.3] JI: There's pieces of it, right? But it's messy and it's muddy in part because institutionalized religion often, and Christianity in particular, I feel I can say is a cultural Christian, has this — It's susceptible to wanting to collude with power and empire from fairly early on when Emperor Constantine says, "I have a vision under this sign I shall conquer," that the church doesn't go, "No! No! We're not about that at all." The church goes, "Oh! You want to ride with us? Okay! We're in. Yes! You're going to stop persecuting us and you're going to persecute others and you're going to allow us to persecute others."
It's susceptible to that. Yeah, it's not the main thing that comes out of institutionalized Christianity, but it is one of the things contained within institutionalized Christianity and there's hints of it throughout the bible, there's hints of it throughout every Christian tradition across the globe. There's hints of actually getting at both what Jesus was talking about in his resistance to occupation. His resistance to being dehumanized and being lied about into about who he was and his people, who his people were.
But then also, life reasserts itself always. It tends towards life, which is this beautiful and powerful thing. In every Christian tradition, you have the countervailing forces, the forces of life and life more brilliantly, right? It's there, but it's not the main thing. Being able to go and excavate that and be able to learn about it in many of its different strains and variants and then being able to try to bring that back into the work.
[0:11:38.2] KL: That's been really your work, that process, it sounds like.
[0:11:42.3] JI: Exactly. Now, I am by day, I am a coach and a trainer at the management center and then I'm still engaged in communities of practice and trying to design and figure out how do we hold this together, how do we take what we've learned, how do we mix this ancient wisdom with these new traditions?
[0:12:00.1] KL: Yeah, that's a big project.
[0:12:05.3] KL: I was thinking about awe, and actually something reminded me of this talk Oprah had with Diana Nyad. She's sort of the famous long-distance swimmer. She's also an outspoken atheist and Oprah had her on Super Soul Sunday and Diana was talking about how she experiences so much wonder and awe in the natural setting because she's doing open water swims and that kind of thing. Oprah said, "Well, then I don't consider you an atheist if you experience awe."
Of course, that upset a lot of non-religious people because awe in some people's minds is an emotion that we are all inherited into. We were born to feel it and experience it regardless of religion or not. I'm curious, what is your thought on that? In terms of is awe a spiritual experience, and I guess the bigger question there of course is really what is spirituality? But we'll start with the small piece.
[0:13:10.7] JI: We're starting slow. You want to just tip-toe into this conversation?
[0:13:16.5] KL: We only have so much time. Let's get to the good stuff.
[0:13:20.3] JI: Here is the thing, we now know that the majority of what the universe is made of we can't see or really measure. We can just sort of guess and see it by its sort of — Not even a reflection, but by its sort of bot gravitas and the measuring of the universe we can do as humans at this point suggests that there is less than 93% of what the universe is we can't see. There is something happening that we don't understand. So as we try to understand it we tell ourselves stories. One of my favorite conversations was listening to the scientists talks about how they didn't believe in the divine, or didn't believe in spirit.
There was this person who was in fact explaining dark energy and dark matter and said, "Of course, we can't see any of these things, and so we don't really understand, but there is no transcendent." I was like, "Wait! That's so arrogant. It's so bizarre. You just admitted that you don't and that it’s important for humans to admit that we don't know, but then you're so certain that there's nothing else." I think that the thing is we don't know. Here's what my experience and my belief is, is that no matter how you think about it, there're stories that tell, one story starts, "In the beginning, God," and that's the story of the Hebrew bible, the Jewish bible, the Hebrew bible, the Christian testament starts with, "In the beginning, God." Science starts with, "14 billion years ago there was bang.” A thing about both those things is they are stories that try to help humans describe and understand a thing that is indescribable, not understandable. In fact, awe-inspiring. It transcends human experience and words. It is the ineffable.
So 14 billion years ago is a construct to help humans grasp something that's not graspable. A year is how long it takes this earth to travel around the sun at the center of our solar system. "14 billion years ago," none of that existed. That sort of measure of time actually is a story to help humans understand something that's not understandable that we don't actually — To shrink the thing that is non — It's unfathomable to human scale so that we can begin to fathom it. Similar with our ancestor's spiritual traditions, stories and religions. They take this thing that is like beyond the scope and scale of what humans can grasp and put it in a way that humans can make sense of it.
The thing that I often try to — The metaphor is often helpful for me is it's like a Dixie cup being in the ocean. All the ocean you can hold is in the Dixie cup, but the ocean is so much more than a Dixie cup, but we can grasp of it is what fits in there. So if you take all of time and space, which we still don't understand, and you try to grasp that at a human scale, you have to come up with stories that are inadequate because there's no way to describe it. How could something that is finite describe something infinite? It's beyond — That experience for me is a spiritual one. That thing of touching the transcendent, the ineffable, is a spiritual experience. It's being in contact with the divine.
[0:16:28.5] KL: So basically, the unfathomable is that experience of lingering in the gap between the describable and the indescribable; the homeland of awe.
[0:16:40.3] JI: Again, as a cultural Christian, the stories of the Old Testament and the New Testament resonate deeply with me. I'm not sure any of the stories happened. That's not even the point, but they hold an insight into human experience for me. When I read about Moses coming in contact with a burning bush and it says that, "You're on a holy ground. Take your sandals off." Moses was a shepherd and he wandered through these mountains all the time. So why all of a sudden was he all of a sudden on holy ground? He’d probably passed that bush a thousand times when it wasn’t. But when you were in the presence of the transcendent and you're in presence of the divine and you know that you are, all of a sudden the space becomes holy.
So this plain in which our consciousness shifts, and it's like, "Oh, but where in all of creation our existence is not holy ground?” If all starts from this sort of — It all begins with God in the Christian metaphor or story, and in the scientific metaphor it all starts at this everything is compressed down, and then you get everything. Then, where is this part that's not holy? Where is the part that is the sort of the profane and the less than, right?
[0:17:45.4] KL: Yeah. It sounds like — Really, how important is the awareness of that experience. It sounds like that's part of the definition of making a place or holy or elevated is that you're recognizing the importance of the transcendent nature of it.
[0:18:04.5] JI: A thousand percent.
[0:18:07.4] KL: Bingo.
[0:18:09.5] JI: The Europeans came to this country and Native Americans told them that this ground was holy and folks didn't believe it, didn't' see it, didn't understand it. But then europeans had an experience on the land whether it's valley forge or a battleground, another battleground Well then people said, "That's holy land.” Well, wait a minute, m what turned this land that you displaced native Americans off of, indigenous folks off of because it was just, they didn't have a deed to all of a sudden, now, this is Gettysburg, you can't go there and build nothing. You can't. No. This is holy land”? Or ground zero, right? “We're going to have a memorial. We’re never going to forget.” Well, wait, consciousness shifted for Americans, for europeans that said all of a sudden now, “This is sacred land and this is a holy place and something magical and important that must be remembered happened here." When indigenous people tells you that 500 years ago and they were just silly. It's a thing of perception and acknowledging and awareness and opening up our field of perception to “what is?” When that starts to happen, for me, I think that's transformative, right? Yeah.
[0:19:1.3] KL: That in and of itself is what is defined as spiritual or experiencing the divine, that experience itself.
[0:19:20.9] JI: Yeah, because — A few months ago, I was in D.C. and I went to the Lincoln
Memorial. I went to the MLK Memorial. I went to visit all these sort of national monuments and
they're just places, right? Humans fill them up with such profound meaning. Then there are the
places that aren’t the places to, memorials to people we don't know or don't hold dear or don’t
remember, was just lay fallow. Everybody just walks by or rides by it and nobody pays
attention to it.
Then there's these places that we all know or we all believe and attribute meaning, and so
then they have meaning. There is this — It is about the awareness. It is about the attention that
we bring to it. It is that place where we look — We all, where the universe looks back at itself
and begins to think and see and feel. Or I shouldn't even say begins to — Continuous to. We
think we're the highest sort of form, but there's a lot of debate about that, I think, given that we're
living on and with a planet with other creatures. Yeah, to the extent that we're aware it is
transformative. To the extent that we are unaware, then it is you walk right by it, you walk right
through it. It means nothing. Has no value.
[0:20:36.0] KL: This reminds me of what Dr. Shiota said about awe in Episode 2. How it has to
be a novel experience, otherwise you're just walking along your daily path looking at the ocean
like, "Yep there's the ocean again. What's for lunch?” It doesn't have to be a brand new
experience, but the thing needs to be approached with a beginner's mind. It needs to be treated
mindfully and with a touch of reverence, much like a holy ground.
[0:21:01.0] KL: Yeah. How does that relate — I guess just to go back to what would your
definition of awe be given what we're just talking about?
[0:21:12.8] JI: It's a great question. I think, for me, it's a nearly impossible word to define because there is so many different definitions. I often thought about when people talk about awe-inspiring, that often times it's like a grand vista or this beautiful walking in a — I live in Northern California, so walking in the Red Woods and you enter, there’s this place where an old red wood tree grew up hundreds and hundreds of years and then saw small saplings fell around it and eventually that tree dies and the other ones grow up around it and it becomes this red wood cathedral. This giant ring of -- Hundreds and hundreds of year old giant red woods and there's clearing, a small red wood clearing. A clearing in the middle. You walk into it and it's just breathtaking, and that is awe. That sense of just like wonder and grandeur.
Again, standing on a cliff at the edge of the ocean and staring off into awe, right? That is one definition of awe. That sort of like the grandeur and the beauty, and then there is the awe of — When people talk about coming face-to-face with the divine. The awe of like, “That is terrifying.” That is not — If you read some of these mystiques of most faiths, their talk of the divine is not of just a loving, peaceful — It is this terrifying experience of coming into contact with true reality.
So I think — and there is that awe of — I think of people who've had near death experiences of nearly drowning in the undertow, but there is an awe and a power that is like not — It's not the same as standing on the beach looking into the ocean. It's that feeling of being dragged down and tumbled and tossed and that awe-inspiring power. Again, being from Northern California and having been here for the '89 quake as a boy, my mother sent me to the grocery store, me and my two younger brothers, to get something in preparation for dinner.
Something told me — We got to the grocery store and I told my brothers, “Just sit on this bench outside. I'm going to go in, I'm going to get this thing and then we'll go home. I don't want to be in here looking for you all. Y'all going are going to be running around. Just sit on this bench outside.” I went in the store and I was standing in the aisle looking at the kids, looking up shelves and then all of a sudden that shelf starts tipping and I back up and I think climbing on the other side and then I turned around and all the shelves were just swaying and rocking. I backed out of the aisle and jars and stuff started falling on them. It's just pandemonium.
I come back out of the store, my brothers are sitting there literally falling off the bench because the ground was moving so much. That experience was also awe. This, you know, I'm living my life at a human scale with all the things that we've built in this city and going on about my day and then all of a sudden it's like we are ants, right?
[0:24:24.4] KL: Yeah. It's just — I was there too. I grew up in the Bay Area. Spent the majority of my life living in Oakland and I've felt it. I was in the high school at the time and it was like, I was actually sitting on a flotation bed, just watching TV after school and I thought my dog had jumped on the bed and then I looked back and I'm like, "Oh my God! The dog is not there." Then you realize your world is kind of crumbling around you. It's just immediately, "Where is my brother and sister? Where is the cat?” You know?
[0:24:56.0] JI: Yeah, it's going down.
[0:25:21.1] KL: That's such a good example of that awe that also inspires terror. Like you said, when all these religious texts that talk about this encounter with the divine, it’s frightening, right? People are scared. What I really liked about what you were saying was this — That they're afraid. I don't remember exactly, but you said that they're afraid when they experience true reality.
[0:25:50.2] JI: That's right.
[0:25:51.3] KL: That just sends chills down me because I think, yeah, we're all so afraid of experiencing true reality. If we are to really connect, we're not just connecting with another person, we’re connecting with everything.
[0:26:08.9] JI: Everything that is.
[0:26:13.2] KL: Our whole game as humans with a physical form seems to be the exact opposite. “Let's survive. Let's protect. Let's not have that experience.”
[0:26:22.5] JI: Yeah. We are an aspect of the universe, or the divine, or both if you're me. But we are not it. We are not it. If you think about the majesty of a Bengal tiger, just beautiful animal and would just rip your throat out and not even be like — Have no feelings about it. No like, "Yeah! I got him." Or even like, "Oh, kind of sad." Just another day at the office. You know what I mean? Just matter-of-factly. So what does it mean for us to have choice and will and be able to make decisions and reflect on them and think that — What is that experience?
So then, what is — If we can have that reflection, what then does life require of us? What should that mean that we have to do if we can reflect on and have those complex set of emotions about the things that we engage in and be able to think things through to some extent. Obviously, when you think of this current moment of humanity, we don't have — We should not overplay our intellectual capacities, because clearly, we can't think certain things through.
[0:27:52.2] KL: I would argue here that we don't know the interiority of that tiger. Thinking on what Sean Esbjörn-Hargens said in Episode 3, there is so little we know about the cognition and emotion of animals, but what we do know is that there's a lot more going on than we had ever thought before. Ms. Tigress here could be feeling proud, or relieved, or satisfied. But I get the point. When you bring choice into the equation, you necessarily bring awareness. And then what? Like a choose-your-own-adventure, you have control over the 'then what'. You can choose to be in awe, to be in the divine.
[0:28:29.5] JI: I was listening to a podcast today talking about the melting of the polar ice caps and the fact that there are still humans among us who don't believe it or don't care speaks to us as the species that we still have work to do. That as connected as smart as sentient as we are, that there is still a bunch of stuff we just miss and can't hold onto, because -- That thing in particular is such an amazing thing because it is exactly the contradiction of humanity, that we can't believe that we could have that level of impact that's unfathomable. That we could have that level of impact and we can't be humble enough to realize that we've had that level of impact. It's the both ends, right?
[0:29:17.1] KL: Yeah.
[0:29:20.1] KL: Again, this points back to Episode 3, and Sean's description of climate change from multiple levels of thinking. Advanced linear thinking, that orange, rational, mental approach, can't even grasp these complexities in ways that lead to lasting solutions. Forget about the blue or red levels that come before that, the ones predominated by fundamentalism or egocentric power plays.
[0:29:44.5] JI: It is both the hubris and the insecurity simultaneously. It's like, "Oh boy!”
[0:29:50.2] KL: Yeah. It's a mess and it's not something that we're going to think our ways out of it seems.
[0:29:56.2] JI: No.
[0:30:15.2] KL: Yeah. That makes me think about violence, and I know a lot of your experience, work experience, has been addressing violence and addiction and all of the ails that hit especially urban environments. I'm curious, how does that even play in? How are you — Do you see this ability to have these spiritual moments, these transcendent moments as part of the solution to violence, to these issues that we're facing? What is your opinion on that?
[0:31:44.4] JI: Yeah. I think that for me, it really emanates from this place of understanding the interconnection of all existence, that there is that we start, "In the beginning, God." In the beginning we all work compresent to this [inaudible 0:32:11.5] smaller than an atom that produces what we have now. While there is the distinction, meaning I am me and you are you, there actually is not separation.
That what you do to one part of it, you end up doing to all of it. You can't decide that certain communities are throw-away and so, "You know what? We're not going to produce -- We're going to smelt steel in the Bay Area anymore. We're going to offshore that dirty work and we're going to do it in China." They did this study a few years ago and they went up to the top of Mt. Tam here in the Bay Area and they took some air samples and what they found was a third of the pollution accumulating at the top of Mt. Tam was from the rest of the globe, was from that dirty, pollute that we have offshored to India and China and Bangladesh and Mexico, right?
[0:32:09.6] KL: You're kidding. I had not heard that.
[0:32:12.6] KL: This is like thinking my foot is not a part of my body because it's so far away and doesn't look like the rest of my upper body. And then one day an anvil falls on it, cartoon style, and I'm screaming, “Oh the pain, why am I in pain? Oh the humanity! Considering ourselves separate from others, it’s absurdist theatre.
[0:32:53] JI: Yeah, it came back and collected at the top of Mt. Tam. It turns out — Black folks have been saying for a while that you can't just throw us away. That black lives matter. Then this white woman's killed, I think it was Minneapolis. I don't remember where the other day, by a police officer who was afraid for their life and now said folks are like, "Wait, this black police officer killed this white woman. Wait! Wait! Police officers shouldn't just shooting people, Willie Nillie! You said they could? You said they could. What I know from working with young people is that when we can have this conversation, that the more violence we do, we're just producing more violence. It doesn't actually end the cycle.
That somebody has to be the one who stops the cycle, and that what people are looking for is justice, but there's not going to be justice. If the only way to get justice is to do more violence, we invite more violence. It's like we — Those guys beat up your friend, then you go beat up five of his friends, then five of them, 10 of his friends come to beat up your friends and then y'all go over there with a gun and they come back with a bunch of guns. Now, we got a tank. Now, they got a rocket. There's no justice in it. What we've done is we've perpetuate it. I think the thing I've been saying for a long time is that this is not a problem of young people.
This is an adult problem. Young people just got here. The thing I just say all the time was like, When I was a young person. It was like, “People want to talk to me about violence." I look to the history books. This place was violent long before I got here. I didn't bring violence. In 1972, violence began in the United States of — No!
[0:34:24.4] KL: With a gang of teenagers.
[0:3527.7] JI: Right. No! No! This country was violent long before these young people showed up. There has to be a reckoning, and that reckoning has to say that there is a history and legacy of using violence and force to settle and solve disagreements in this country that goes back from before its founding to the extent that this country won't acknowledge that there's nothing we can do. Young people, they're just playing that out. Young people are just playing it out. People want to, including me, criticize the current administration. Yes. You also have to criticize the last one. The last one was bombing folks. It did it under the cover of darkness. It did it with drones. It did it more quietly. Didn't Trump it, but it sure didn't stop it.
Because there is a legacy and a tradition in this country of using violence to settle disagreements. What we have to do is we have to figure out a way beyond that. We have to say that I am not thrown away. You are not thrown away. The only way through this is together, which means that I have to find a way to forgive you or die with you. That's it. Commit everyone else I know to do the same, because that's the only way — Nobody is going to — Because it doesn't stop. We see it. It doesn't stop. Nobody just goes like, "Oh, okay. You won. Never mind.”
[0:35:57.8] KL: It doesn't. Come on! We've all watched a soap opera or two. We know how this goes.
[0:36:00.6] JI: We know how this plays out. Yeah, it's why I find it hard to watch TV. I have many friends who love watching television and it's so predictable.
[0:36:08.6] KL: Oh! Exactly.
[0:36:11.3] JI: It actually sets like, "Oh, I see it — Can we change this — I just can't do it, because it's so --" It's like I just see it. It's just like -- This person and that, and then they're just not going to talk and then now there's — Here we go. It's off the races, and we got to just stop winning this, because then it wouldn't be -- You couldn't get a half an hour or 40 minutes out of that.
[0:36:31.3] KL: Exactly, because we feed on that kind of energy.
[0:36:41.3] KL: So if justice by any means necessary isn't the goal or the answer, and violence begets violence, and we can't think our way out of these issues, where does that leave us? What are the solutions?
[0:36:43.3] KL: What do you see as some of the baby steps, at least, to move toward that? What have you used that you've seen has been effective? What do you see other people doing that works? I love Marshall Rosenberg's idea of nonviolent communication. That really shifts my thinking on humanizing the whole experience of the person that's doing the violence as well for the person who's receiving it, because it's about what are the needs that aren't being met in that person.
[0:37:31.9] JI: I think that there is -- For me, as I've done with my work, is it's been important to think about myself and others as full human beings. “To not do the thing that says that it's all in our head.” That it's all up here in our head and if we just get the ideas right, that that will move our emotions or it's all the emotional works. We just got to like do the sort of talk there, being get in the emotions and then, boom! That, for me, the thing that is often missing for us here in the United States and in the west more broadly is the body, that there is so much that we carry in our bodies.
I think what science is teaching us now is that our bodies are so much of what mediate our experience. We can have these ideas about nonviolence. We can have these ideas about connection. If we haven't done the work of feeling and noticing when my chest gets tight and when I feel threatened, and that actually shifts my thinking. I can't think my way through my test being tight. I have to start breathing.
[0:38:55.3] KL: Hey Sean Esjörn-Hargens, here we are again. Describing the realm of embodied awareness, the importance of bringing our interiorities into waking life. This completely aligns with the sentiment that we can't solve the world's problems, much less our own, if we ignore this crucial aspect of reality.
[0:39:14.9] JI: It's been hugely important as I've moved into this space of practice to do it in a way that actually integrates the whole human. That it integrates my entire experience and doesn't leave out my body. It doesn't sort of put my brain and my emotions in contrast -- Because my emotions are mediated by my body. It's like I'm upset about this not because I thought an upset thought. No, my chest got tight. A person walked in the room, my chest got tight. So how do I begin to breathe in and catch that earlier and earlier and earlier? How do I find ways to actually really settle my nervous system such that I'm not always in a fight or flight space? How do we give young people those set of skills? How do we do the somatic work to actually get people back into their bodies, feeling settled in present and give us tools so that we're able to do that so that then we can actually move through life and make different choices, right?
[0:40:18.8] KL: Yeah.
[0:40:22.8] KL: Or really? Hell yeah. This is it. This is the key--mindful, embodied awareness; it reanimates the dead and disconnected.
[0:40:31.6] JI: Yeah. How do we begin to do that for everyone so that people have those skills? Because here's one of the things about notice, there is this way that people notice the violence that takes place in my community because it's so externalized. People see — You can see the body count. There's a violence that's happening in this country that is just as — It's almost just as devastating, that is just as real where you don't see the body count. The people just keep walking. It's been amazing to me to think about — I’ve really been trying to process for a long time like, "What is this obsession with zombies?
This is a weird obsession for the last number of years zombies and vampires and the sort of the dead but not dead," and it is this thing that we are dead but not dead, this zombification, the vampires and the people who can't really live. Because there is so much violence done to them, they can't put into words. Particularly for women in our country. There's the violence that's done to woman — I have four daughters, and so I have learned through them more and more every day, the level of violence done to women in our country.
The level of just -- It shows up in the choice to date, and the abortion to date, but control of women's bodies, the messages that women receive about that they are not their own in subtle, and not so subtle ways. A young boy saying to my daughter like, "Oh, I think I blew my chance with you," in some conversation and she's like, "Wait. You don't have a chance. It's a weird construction, for you think that you — What is that? You don't — No!
[0:42:17.5] KL: Yeah, like you assume that you come in with the chance and then you lose it. It doesn't work that way.
[0:42:24.4] JI: Yeah. Urge, or there's something where you're like, "Wait, I'm a person. That's weird." She was like, "I don't even know how to talk this kid. I had to walk away, because I'm like --" We're not [inaudible 0:44:20.7]. No. I don't get it.
[0:42:39.3] KL: Good for her. Obviously, she's able to reflect on these things with someone like you who's very insightful and really wants to be supportive of the whole process of being in your body of yourself and fully there. The fact that she just is able to recognize "this doesn't feel right and I'm walking away” is pretty incredible, is really incredible. I wish I had that sense when I was her age.
[0:43:07.4] JI: Parenting has been a really powerful and transformative experience raising four black girls who — and I think parents of women and of people of color, of immigrants, we have this challenge of how do we instil in them a faith in themselves, a certainty in themselves and with an acknowledgement that the world is not always safe. That you have to sort of be constantly doing the calculus in your head, “Is this a safe place or not a safe place?” Then how do they carry themselves still fully possessed?
[0:43:53.9] KL: That is the work of a lifetime.
[0:43:56.8] JI: For sure.
[0:43:59.9] KL: How do you protect yourself without shutting down? How do you shut down unsolicited attention, unprovoked aggression, unsubstantiated assumptions about you without getting mean, violent, withdrawn, steely? This has been the work of my lifetime for me, for sure, and I've found that to react in these ways is inauthentic to my true self. If I choose to be mean, defensive, shut down, hard, I necessarily disconnect from myself, which is one of the most damaging and imperceptible acts of violence possible. And so I seek to balance the open, joyful, curious me with clear boundaries through mindful thought, speech, and action. All of it can be tough to juggle, especially when you're being poked at all the while.
[0:44:48.5] KL: That ability to hold a paradox like that, like it's this way but it's also like this way. It's not an either/or proposition. It's all and.
[0:49:59.1] JI: Yeah. For sure. I went to seminary and I worked at a multi-denominational Christian seminary for a few years and there is this question that often comes up — There's actually whole classes and a whole field of study of it which is why do bad things happen to good people and why do good things happen to bad people and is there a God-given? I think that the sort of the simple God of right and wrong, which is such a bizarre thing to try to measure, right? We can certainly measure in some ways, in ethical and non-ethical, but that's a human question, again. What's true about the universe in its expense and life and its expense is that all of it is there.
All of the absolutely horrific, horrific, horrific, horrific, horrific things. The story of young people from Central America coming to United States to join their family, fleeing persecution from people in their own country. Gangs who want to indoctrinate them, or turn them into sex slaves and their family taking every dime they can get to send them to the United States only to have some of these young women raped crossing the border. Some of those young men abandoned in the wilderness. Some folks just killed as opposed to taking anywhere. Then they get here battered and bruised and then be so unwanted.
Then define refuge in houses of worship with folks who made that journey before, who's families made those journeys before, who's families who were brought here in chains, who's families are pushed off their land as indigenous folks, to find those folks here waiting for them willing to mix space and community and welcome them. That's the face of the divine. That's the face of awe. That's the face of what transcends.
All of it is — There's no — The universe is so big and so complex that it makes space for all of it. The question isn't why does it do that. The question is what do we do given that? Who do we become in the face of that? Do we join in? Do we decide that might is indeed right and that's how we're going to governed and we're going to govern ourselves accordingly, or do we say that there is a deeper ethic. While we can't do much about an earthquake and we can weep and wail when that happens, we can do something about when we harm one another.
We can say that this ends with us. We can say that we will stand up and be counted. We can do something about that. I think that's what's interesting about the moral and ethical question. That's what's interesting to me about spiritual traditions. That's what's interesting to me about — That's what's awe inspiring about human family, is that we can find and make meaning of that and do something with that. That is what I'm dedicated to.
[0:48:56.5] KL: So when we exercise choice, our free will, we can bring awareness to all that is, the dynamics at play between people on the same sidewalk as we're on, and the dynamics at play between our perceptions, our emotions, and our bodies. This allows us to open up to the expanse of all that is, this unknowable, complex, vast reality we all share, and to experience that truth as awe. We essentially recognize the connection of all, and diffuse the violence and destruction that comes from denying or attempting to sever these connections. Whether we're talking about the special kind of truth that comes when one's interior self is fully connected, or the truth of our unfathomable, universal interconnectedness. This is nonviolence, this is mindfulness, this is the divine, this is awe.
[0:49:51.5] KL: If the religiously rooted among us can find awe in the creation of the universe — the one that happened 14 billion years ago — then I wonder what we can learn about awe from the cosmologists. Einstein was perfectly content sitting in the paradox of the spiritual and the scientific as if he didn't even see it as a paradox at all. It's time to talk to some people from NASA, who make a living translating the wonderful questions and discoveries of the universe into awe-inspiring visual installations. That's what we'll do next week on Awe in the Raw. Stay tuned.
[0:50:20.1] KL: I hope you got something from the show. For transcripts, click on the link in the show notes. That will take you to aweintheraw.com. There you can start a conversation or learn more about show guests, my books and up-coming events. And don’t forget, you can share the love by subscribing to the show or leaving a review. Have an awesome week!