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  • Writer's pictureJ Felix

Compassion Practice

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

I came across 2 troubling reports Tuesday morning.

Video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinning his knee against the neck of George Floyd went viral. Floyd was stopped for attempting to use a forged check at a deli. He was detained. Officers say he resisted. Video showed otherwise. Darnella Frazier, a by-stander, filmed his arrest. Floyd was handcuffed and lying on his stomach. Officer Chauvin had his knee pressed against his neck. "I can't breathe," Floyd gasped. After several minutes, he lost consciousness. He was non responsive. Chauvin kept his knee on the man's neck until an ambulance arrived. His partner, Tou Thao, stood by keeping a small crowd at bay. When EMT arrived, Floyd's limp body was rolled onto a stretcher. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

In New York City, Christian Cooper, a black man bird-watching in Central Park, asked a white woman, Amy Cooper, to leash her dog as required by park rules. An argument ensued. He pulled out his phone and began recording as the conflict escalated. She threatened to call 911 saying, “I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”

"Please tell them whatever you'd like," he says.

She called. "There is an African American man. He is recording me, and threatening myself and my dog," she says. When the operator requests clarification, she raises her voice in desperation, "I'm being threatened by a man in the Ramble. Please send the cops immediately!" Her voice was hysterical and she sounded credible.

As a man of color, I've had this happen to me; I can empathize with Christian... and I can empathize with Amy, George, Derek, Tou, Darnella and the by-standers who witnessed the murder of another black man by police officers. Compassion extends beyond those who are like me to those who despise me. I do not imagine myself so different from any of them.

I see what you see. I see the stage and the actors. I hear the same words and see the same tragedy unfolding. But I do not see as you see, nor can you see as I see. What the mind renders as "reality" is informed by experience, colored by emotions, distorted by concepts, and filtered by beliefs. Most do not examine their biases, question their beliefs, or sit with their discomfort. We react to our projections and create suffering. The world as we perceive it is not what it seems. And we are not yet willing, collectively, to accept responsibility for the hellish realms we've co-created.

We imagine ourselves as separate. Our little selves cling to smallness. We are attached to our identities- race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, education, accomplishments, roles, possessions. We think we see "white," "black," "man," "woman," "cop," "suspect," "good," "bad" and act as we were taught to express at that level. Our implicit biases go unexamined and unchallenged- which is why Amy Cooper's apology that she is not racist rang flat.

The labels we express are constructs. Was the power which formed Amy and George and Derek in their mother's wombs black or white? Was the power that knew to replicate and divide into specialized cells to form spinal columns and brainstems and lungs European or African? Was that which organized the sub-atomic particles to form the 7 octillion atoms that make up the forms we recognize as an Amy or George a Muslim power, a Hindu power, a Christian power? Are the molecules of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, calcium, and phosphorous that formed George's biomass fundamentally different from the stuff that made up Derek or you or me? Commonality is the starting place for compassionate seeing.

The Mystery I invite you to investigate abides in each one- whether we accept this or not. When the illusion of separateness dissolves, you die to ego and surrender to the Mystery that abides in all things. The self-same power dancing in you expresses itself through them- whether you acknowledge this or not. The spirit that animated George Floyd returned to Mystery. It no longer pulses in a body that affirmed God's handiwork- yet was so despised by other men. Their souls were consumed by darkness. "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness."

Derek Chauvin was a boy once. He was taught to hate. To dismiss him as a bad apple is to absolve ourselves of our collective responsibility. Where did he learn to hate? Where did he learn to fear? Where did he learn intolerance? Where did he learn bigotry? The hatred and fear, the bigotry and intolerance for people who are not like us festers in the hearts of men and women. I do not stand with the self-righteous, nor do do I judge. For we are quick to punish and condemn- playing god- yet slow to extend compassion or forgive as sons of God.

Assuming the roles assigned to us, we acquiesce at the cost of denying who we truly are. The mind attempts to know itself as best it may in this vibration of fear, expressing as it imagines itself to be. When we deny our inner light and attach to littleness, we suffer. This is the human tragedy. The protagonists change (Catholic vs Protestant, Shiite vs Sunni, Hutu vs Tutsi, north vs south, Bosnian vs Serbian, conservative vs liberal, Palestinian vs Jew, east vs west, settlers vs indigenous, and on and on), but the plot lines remain unchanged.

The settings change, but the suffering continues. The props are different, but all weapons of war were first forged in fear. The uniforms and badges, the cars with stickers and flashing lights, and the guns that go bang bang began first in thought. The conflicts seem different, but they are always called by mankind in fear, which, I believe, will be transformed in the end for the good of all. We stumble, we grope along finding our way. But there is pathos in it.

Practical Next Steps:

1. I invite you to take Harvard's Implicit Bias Test. By recognizing our biases, we can examine them more consciously without being blindsided by them.

2. Consider adding compassion centered meditations to your practice (e.g. tonglen, giving and receiving, commonalities practice, metta, loving kindness meditation).

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