Unsettling fear. Lurking discomfort. Instinctual resistance. Anger. These were some of the feelings I experienced when someone suggested that maybe I had a problem with alcohol. I couldn’t see that my feelings gave me away and told the truth. At the time I didn’t see how much I was suffering, and making others suffer. Years later, I have none of those feelings because I came to accept the truth and was willing to live in a new way. They tell me that no matter how many sober years I have that I will always be an alcoholic. It’s in my genes, my brain, and my history. I’m not anxious about it. I simply don’t drink. And I try to help others.
Today I am suffering the feelings of fear, discomfort, resistance, and anger because I am being confronted with the truth of my racism. What shall I do with such feelings, such suffering? Thankfully I find help in some important teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh. Here is what he writes:
“If you want to understand your suffering, you first need to calm yourself down. You need to embrace your suffering with compassion. Then you have a chance to look deeply into it, in order to understand its roots and transform it. We know there’s suffering within us, but we don’t want to go home and listen to it. We’re afraid we’ll be overwhelmed by the pain, the sorrow, and the despair inside, so we try to run away from ourselves and suppress it. But as long as we run away, we’ll never have a chance to heal and transform. So the first step is to use the energy of mindfulness to be present for your suffering. You have to be calm and recognize your suffering clearly, just as it is, without exaggerating or amplifying it with other worries. When you embrace your suffering you discover within it the suffering of your father, your mother, and your ancestors, as well as the suffering of your people, your nation, and the world. You are able to see the deep roots that may be ancestral suffering passed down to you. As we start to change our habits of thinking, speaking, and behaving our suffering will steadily begin to die. As it dies it becomes new understanding and compassion in the garden of our heart.” (Adapted from The Art of Living)
It is not an easy journey to explore the darker parts of my heart, my behavior, and my country. It feels like suffering. I know that my suffering is very little compared to the suffering of those who experience personal indignity on a daily basis. So I join with you in being willing to put my faith to the test, and trust that God’s Spirit is at work, healing my eyes, and bringing new life.
Rev. Dr. David Kaiser-Cross
For The Blind: