our Journey. . .
& What we Have learned About shame and self-compassion
Our journey to understand the way systems of oppression function has been a defining aspect of both of our lives. Waking up to the ways we have [all] been de-humanized by these systems and moving towards healing and liberation is what drives our sense of hope and possibility. As two white women, born in the U.S., becoming sensitized to the prevalence of settler colonialism and white supremacy culture has been a long journey— and is one we are both committed to for life.
In the process of hosting seven of these multi-week circles, we began to notice a predictable pattern: crippling shame would arise for white folx doing this work, and while this is understandable, we could also see that shame was one of the primary factors that prevented meaningful reflection and growth on the path of dismantling white supremacy’s grip on us. We find Brené Brown’s definition of shame to be very resonant and useful in this work:
“I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive.” -Brené Brown
In an effort to counter this tendency towards shame, we realized we needed to support others and ourselves with a stronger inner foundation that would build our resilience and fortitude for digging deep, as we investigate our participation within white supremacy culture.
As a collective, we white folx are in serious need of an antidote to shame.
Expanding our capacity for self-acceptance and self-compassion in the midst of this fierce self-inquiry of unraveling our conditioning under white supremacy is absolutely crucial in getting to the root of these constructs and beliefs that govern our behavior unconsciously.
Self-acceptance is not the same as absolving ourselves of responsibility, in fact we see it as a doorway to increasing our capacity to take responsibility. Practicing self-compassion is not self-pity, being selfish, nor letting ourselves “off the hook.” Instead, compassion is what allows us to see more clearly the beliefs that are operating inside of us. When we are ruled by our inner critic, our capacity to see what’s true is severely limited. While shame collapses our sense of self, compassion increases our inner security, creating a foundation that expands our hearts and our spirits, and allows us to align our behavior more deeply with our values.
It starts with connecting to and sensitizing our own hearts, becoming willing to see the ways white supremacy culture has taught us to contract, harden and numb our hearts. Ultimately, beginning to practice self-compassion is a huge part of what shifts, heals, and releases the grip that white supremacy has on our bodies.
Being with Paradox
Sometimes, as white-bodied people engaged in anti-racism, we think we need to deprive ourselves of joy, and that we do not deserve to laugh or smile when we are in the midst of dismantling white supremacy and its hold on us. But with time, we begin to see that this too is a destructive aspect of the either/or binary thinking that we have learned under white supremacy.
This path will often not feel clear or balanced, but as we wrestle and really search for the truth, more than we succumb to placating ourselves with distancing patterns of avoidance or dissociated comfort, we can begin to come home to ourselves. We begin to recover our own humanity, and see that our own self-care, self-love, and actual liberation is inextricably linked to that of every other living being on the planet.
“If you’re on the path to liberation, you have to be motivated by this fierce sense of undoing, this willingness to come completely apart, to know that everything you think you know about yourself, you inherited from someplace else. You need to take account. Be willing to face and acknowledge that much of what has come to you has been unearned and has come at great cost to others. Start balancing the books. And then: relax. Relax. Enjoy your life. Let it unfold. This is the tension of the path: the fierce, fierce undoing and the perfected ability to just be with what is.” –Rev angel Kyodo williams
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