WHY RADICAL DHARMA IS YOUR SUMMER “MUST READ”

Eradicating systemic racism is THE healing issue of our times. For anybody confused about your role in this, make Radical Dharma your must-read this summer …

radical dharma book quote angel kyodo williams The Numinous

 

Around this time of year, book stores and magazines are filled with suggested summer reads, the books the publishing industry has decided will best satisfy our yearning to escape into a good read. But you likely won’t find the book I am going to recommend as your “must-read” for summer 2018 among them. Because this year I am more interested in the notion of escape as it pertains to liberation.

Radical Dharma is a seminal work by Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a queer Black (her capitalization) Buddhist author and activist. The subtitle is “Race, Love and Liberation” and in it, Rev. angel, along with co-authors Lama Rod Owens and Jasmine Syedullah, PhD, (also both Black and queer) explain how genuine liberation means not needing to escape, because there is no longer anything to escape from. Means living free of the chains which seek to bind us, free to be unapologetically ourselves, unbeholden to any systems of oppression.

Published in 2016 in a rush ahead of the last U.S. election, in the intro Rev. angel writes: “We foresee an increasing collective anxiety about transitioning from the first Black U.S. president.” And in the 18 months since, this prediction has played out in every area of life. This time has been a period of awakening in which the notions of liberation and oppression have taken on extra weight for me—as they will have for anybody with so much as a toe in the healing, wellness, and self-help communities.

As a socially conscious person in a post-Trump era, I know I have not been alone in attempting to integrate the implications of my white privilege. A term that was barely on my radar two summers ago, and which, thanks to everything from Black Lives Matter to the voices of women like Layla Saad (among many others) has since become the lens through which I see the world. Meaning, through which I can no longer not see the world. 

Radical dharma book the numinous

To be more specific, in my case this also extends to my educated, mixed-class, hetero, married, cis-gender, thin, white privilege. Sort of like the opposite of rose-tinted-spectacles, through this lens I have been able to see how the circumstances of my birth and my upbringing have placed me within a system of oppression—in which my whiteness makes me the oppressor. Not that the ravages wrought on marginalized and indigenous people by “the system” is exactly news. What’s new is that my eyes are now open to exactly how insidious our acceptance of this has become.

During this time, I have struggled against my own conditioning (“but I’m not racist!”) to accept that alarming terms like “white supremacy” and “systemic racism” absolutely apply to me. As they apply to each and every one of us. I have felt my throat constrict as I have tried to swallow this jagged little pill, while simultaneously being made aware that taking time in silence to absorb and process this information is another function of my privilege.

I have also been slow to speak up on this issue because I am ashamed I didn’t get here sooner. Embarrassed. But I am also not surprised. After all, I was raised to consider the term “racist” to be on a par with “pedophile,” the knee-jerk reaction on hearing it applied to me to deny it, vehemently. And yet, on closer inspection, this does not reflect the world that I grew up in. A world where I can count the number of black and brown people in my school classrooms on two hands. Where I had not one teacher with darker skin than me. Where in 16 years working as a journalist in London, I encountered only one black colleague—who was subjected to subtle racial bullying.

Where every TV show, awards ceremony (besides those attached to sporting events), industry bash, and beach holiday has been predominantly white. A world, after moving to NYC, where nine out of 10 of the service jobs (as far as I can see) are performed by people of color. Where these discrepancies are routinely normalized to the point of invisibility.

Of course, as a white person, my life has been a procession of predominantly white spaces. We are a pack-oriented species, we move in groups, and we gravitate towards our own. Thing is, what makes a space “white” is not just the ethnicity of those occupying it—it is the entitlement, the education, the opportunities, and the affluence that are available. Confronting my own racist conditioning (the unconscious belief that I am somehow entitled to the privileges of my whiteness) has been like discovering I have been host carrier for a highly infectious disease, without displaying any symptoms. Having received my diagnosis, the work now is to eradicate it from my system.

Which has meant reading a lot of articles and watching a lot of TED talks (find a comprehensive list here). It has meant keeping following Instagram accounts which can trigger week-long bouts of internal gaslighting (“I am not racist … and yet my whiteness makes me racist”). Showing up for pot-luck discussions on the topic of “Race and Wellness” with others in my community committed to doing this work. It means that, behind the scenes, I have been engaged in a thorough inventory of my work on this platform, working with a diversity and inclusion coach to identify my blind spots and craft a content mission going forward that takes into account the implications of all of the above. Not to mention help me make sense of all that has been arising in me.

Angel kyodo williams radical dharma book The Numinous
Rev. angel Kyodo williams

You may well be further along this path than me, and I acknowledge all those who have been the torch-bearers in this movement. For this is the literal raising of consciousness in real time. The whole point of all the healing and the personal development and the “self-love” practices. Rather than disavow or shrink from it, it’s thanks to the spiritual resilience I’ve been able to develop over the years building this platform, that I am now able to lean in to the shadow of shame and guilt and fear that has accompanied this part of my awakening. To not take each and every post and op-ed on white privilege personally and to accept responsibility for my part in our collective healing around race.

The reason I am recommending Radical Dharma as your summer must-read is that it’s the egg that has helped everything come together.

Presented as a series of essays and conversations dissecting systemic racism from a Buddhist perspective, the wisdom contained within its pages has helped me to feel fully seen and understood within the problem of my whiteness. Has helped me understand that racism (particularly as it relates to hyper-capitalism) is, literally, the physical manifestation of our modern “disconnection epidemic.” The pain of our separation from each other, from self, and from Source. That I am as deeply implicated in this suffering as any person of any ethnic background. Above all, as a person invested in helping others heal, it has shown me that we will never escape our suffering, as individuals and collectively, will never be truly free, until we heal THIS.

In short, in a year where the conversation about race has had me questioning my sanity at times, this book has helped me feel more whole. And I am suggesting that you read it because I know you want to feel this way too. Below, I have shared a few of my favorite teachings from its pages—and before you go ahead and finish this post, you can order your copy HERE.

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ON THE CONSTRUCT OF RACE
“Race is the ultimate delusion in that it both does and does not exist in reality. Somebody went on around and decided to come up with something so that they could sell folks that they could be ‘better’ than other people, and yet, because of the paradigm, because of the system and the structures, the impact of that creation, that projection, this is felt and experienced as suffering—not only by the people who are on the shit end of the stick but also by the people who are, often unbeknownst to them, continuing to carry that stick.” – Rev. angel Kyodo williams.

ON DECONSTRUCTING WHITE PRIVILEGE
“The lens of awareness must be placed outside of the construct. As a direct result of privilege, white practitioners (and teachers) have mistakenly entitled themselves to place the lens of awareness inside of whiteness, hence they are unable to see it’s machinations.” – Rev. angel Kyodo williams.

ON GETTING MESSY
“The tiptoeing around race and other forms of difference as if in fear of waking a sleeping lion is one of the most subtly toxic attributes of whiteness in our culture right now. Everyone fears making mistakes. For white folks, though, the coexistence of being historically lauded as the creators of what is right, making mistakes must be hard. We are all waking up. It is going to get messy.” – Jasmine Syedullah, PhD

ON ALLOWING FOR IGNORANCE
“We also have to demystify this notion that somehow people of color have all the information and know it all and white folks don’t, and that it’s just like Black and White. Because it just isn’t. We have to really allow ourselves to create some space for people now knowing, not understanding, and just saying stupid things. I mean stupid as in ignorant … we have to figure out how to create room for that, rather than policing each other, so that people can actually get into the conversation.” – Rev. angel Kyodo williams.

ON THE LINK BETWEEN RACISM AND HYPER CAPITALISM
“I have this theory that racism is required in order to keep capitalism in place … I’m not mad at trade and exchange and barter and all of that … but cancerous capitalism, hyper-capitalism, parasitic capitalism … requires a division of people so that we have people that consume, people that are producing what is consumed, and frankly, people that are consumed.” ­– Rev. angel Kyodo williams.

ON DISRUPTING COMFORT
“We have to disrupt spaces that are not seeking truth, that are not upholding our potential for liberation, because they are invested in their comfort. Usually that comfort means they are invested in perpetuating white supremacy … And not disrupt them by trying to figure out how to be on their boards and their diversity communities; we have to disrupt them by saying ‘I am out.’ I am not going to participate in this and letting them know why.” – Rev. angel Kydodo williams.

ON DISCOMFORT AS THE PATH TO LIBERATION
“If you’re going to any place of spiritual enrichment in which you are not meaningfully experiencing discomfort, not all the time, but meaningfully uncomfortable frequently, you are not doing your work, and you are not walking the path of liberation.” – Rev. angel Kydodo williams.

ON HEALING BEGINNING ON THE INSIDE
“I’m working to end racism, but at the same time I want to be liberated. I want to thrive. I want to be happy … I think it’s an immature view that believes ‘I have to do all the external conditions and have them change before I can be happy.’ I’m not willing to have my happiness wait for what might happen out there.” – Lama Rod.

ON BEING THE CHANGE
“If you are a really well-positioned member of a sangha (spiritual community), make sure you’re reaching out. If you’re a person of color in a sangha, make sure you’re reaching out to other new people of color coming through the door. Be the one who extends your hand and welcomes them and just talks openly. Model that kind of inclusivity for people.” – Lama Rod

Get your copy of Radical Dharma HERE and visit Angelkyodowilliams.com for more on Rev. angel and to find her upcoming speaking dates. You can also follow @lamarodowens on Instagram 

A COSMIC PORTAL: THE NUMEROLOGY OF 999

The numerology of 999 is a powerful invitation to let go and move forward in our journey, says Felicia Bender. Artwork: Victor Moatti 

NUMEROLOGY OF 999 The Numinous artwork victor moatti

999

Ah, sweet surrender.

September 9, 2016 breaks down to 9-9-9 (since “2016” = 2+0+1+6 = 9, making this a Universal 9 Year). The code is a message and also an energetic reality.

This day opens us to surrender on the highest realm. It is the end of a concerted struggle and a transition into wisdom or even a sense of rebirth.

Think about what has constituted your biggest or most consistent struggle—either in the past year, or even throughout your life. This is the time to put this issue (or issues) to center stage and into the spotlight. Now is the time to make some deep changes.

In Numerology, the number 9 is sacred and offers all of the lessons related to all the numbers 1-8. It challenges us to take the lead and embrace independence (1), to love and serve the needs of everyone (2), to express emotions in a healthy way and to be creative (3), to work hard and create stability (4), to use freedom constructively and have fun (5), to nurture and create a home (6), to live with a spiritual base and also ask questions (7), and to empower ourselves and to manifest in the material world (8).

The numerology of 999, day where there is a TRIPLE serving of 9 energy, it opens us—whether we “like” it or not—to our truth, in ways that we have been both searching for and avoiding. While we can say we want enlightenment, we often romanticize it, when the actuality is that enlightenment a painful process. It is a constant stripping away and revealing of Truth and also shines a light on how we must participate in creating what we want in the world.

There is true beauty in the transition opening on this special day. And given we also have two eclipses in September—which themselves are known to accelerate change in a big way—the numerology of 999 in this particular year presents an opportune time to unveil your deepest desires and visualize what it would look and feel like to step into your new reality.

So how to maximize the numerology of 999?

TAKE THE LEAP. Have you been hovering around a decision for so long you can’t remember a time when it hasn’t been eating at you? For example, I know people who have been thinking about getting a divorce for years and just continue to hover in the relationship. A friend of mine said it so well: If you’re constantly thinking about whether or not you should be in your marriage, you shouldn’t be in your marriage! If you’re meant to be there, thinking about whether or not you should stay or go is simply not on the radar.

BE REAL about your actions and participation—while forgiving yourself fully and completely. Do you keep beating yourself up about something you did or didn’t do in the past? Do you replay it over and over again? I think it’s Byron Katie who observes that often we have one traumatic experience and yet our mind relives it so often, it is if we experience the trauma every time we replay it. This is the time to find a way to truly forgive yourself and move on. It’s up to you to find your way to do it—Therapy? Energy work? Hypnosis? A “Release” ritual? Whatever speaks to you, try it it.

EXPAND YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS. Oh, sure. Sounds so cliché. Yet the energy of the 9 is optimized when we can truly live the Buddhist tenant of being Present—when we can live in the moment, let go of the past without resentment, and be open and curious about the future. If there’s ever a time to clear our slate of negativity, this is it. And this is made more challenging by the current conditions we’re experiencing in the world. There is so much tumultuous change, it can be disconcerting. Yet if we can be the eye in the center of the hurricane—even in the most intense times—the rest of it will become so simple.

IS MEDITATION DANGEROUS FOR MANIC DEPRESSIVES?

Following an experience that took her to the edge, Lisa Luxx asks is meditation dangerous for the more sensitive minds among us?

Dangers of meditation by Lisa Luxx on The Numinous

Some of us are so highly connected to the rhythms of the Moon, that much like the tide we are dragged by some greater force into depth and darkness. One would have thought the way back toward the surface would be through meditation; the New Age answer to everything. I certainly thought so—surely it will balance me back out and return me to my moorings. Until one prolonged Samantha mediation class led me to the lip of suicide.

Silence is best taken in tiny sips when the mind has a tendency for self-destruction. I know this after I glugged on a big cup of the stuff and wound up choking. What happened was, the class leader was taking us through a guided meditation; only at a certain point, I was instructed to stop following their guidance and continue with my own practice for the remainder of the class.

So now there’s me, free-falling. Surrounded by all these people in woven clothes, with clear eyes and a softness about their jaw. And me, whimpering in pain, crying abundantly, unable to make eye contact or speak, playing out my own death forwards and backwards in my head until I now how to execute it perfectly.

I survived thanks to a very sensitive friend who was in the class too and saw it all happen. Once I’d come ’round I spoke to another friend, also bestowed the gift of ‘manic depression’—and she told me that her teacher at the East London Buddhist Centre advised she only take half hour classes because of the uncertainty that lay in opening up. My quasi-spiritual therapist wasn’t surprised either; “you have to be so careful with meditation,” she told me, explaining how dangerous it can be to create space for unwelcome thoughts to take hold.

My experience was overwhelming. Depression has been sucking on me ever since I remember, but I’ve never felt such a sudden rush of pain as I did that day. It was a tidal wave. A brute force. The most certain and determined I’ve ever felt about wanting to pass through to the other side of living. During the time it took for the episode to play out, I existed within the visions of death, rather than the visions of death existing within me.

Ever since the experience I’ve been wary about meditating again. I’ve got myself in a really good, balanced place now but I daren’t allow space for that darkness to re-enter and consume me again. My pal won’t always be on hand to pull me back in from the ledge. I see now that this resistance is my psyche trying to protect me. But when I speak to Sumaya Fenton, my friend who is a practitioner of Rinzai Zen, she tells me: “The psyche trying to protect you is based on fear and ego. Any emotion you had was only temporary.”

She goes on to explain that sometimes these knock backs happen before a great break through. But I haven’t felt safe blindly continuing with the same practices I felt had almost killed me. However, each person walks their own path to enlightenment (in as many life times as it takes), and perhaps my pathway is going to start to look a little different.

lisa luxx walking meditation by Olivia Sykes on The Numinous
A walking meditation. Photo by Olivia Sykes

“Wherever you’re at you’re still on a path. In Zen they talk about the ten stages of insight—the road map to enlightenment—and around stage four people have this experience of a big fear, or something that really knocks them back, but you carry on and focus less on the significance and meaning of that experience and more on the physicality of meditation,” says Sumaya.

For me, meditation right now cannot be about sitting in silence—but it can be about movement, like walking meditation, or other physical manifestations. Paying attention to each part of my foot in turn as it makes contact with the earth. Focusing on my breath and other practices that put the awareness in my body: “[in these practices] your mind is still opening up and expanding but you’re not watching your mind so consciously and fearfully.”

I also sit across from the Yorkshire moors, where my house is nestled, and interpret the patterns of the Sun/Moon-light across the hills mirroring my emotions. Finding synchronicity between my internal process and the greater external process. Which also works to remind me that my ups and downs are simply localized versions of the master rhythms of this universe.

Yoga helps. And I’ve also taken up life-drawing. You learn something about yourself from the way you depict another body. These have become my ways of getting mindful and finding peace within the almighty Oneness. Though I still often feel like I’m free-falling.

Sumaya says that the pressure in the West to do everything ourselves is what’s making for unsafe meditation practices. “Having a teacher is paramount. Pretty much as important as daily practice. The problem is systemic, Western capitalism only provides this culture of sticking plasters rather than giving the proper context of how and why to tread this path—which often comes from a long-term relationship with a teacher.”

It feels to me like in our society, this ‘one size fits all’ take on meditation is proving to sit a little baggy or tight on many of us. For the more sensitive minds among us, giving time to developing a relationship with a trusted teacher would also mean rooting ourselves in connectivity, by allowing our journey to be directed by the wisdom of another.

East London Buddhist Centre run Breathing Space, a course developed for people with depression, anxiety or other imbalances (‘gifts,’ as I like to call them). The course involves more personal attention from the teacher, more support. But even within their standard classes they aim to relate to people on a personal basis.

“Faith in humankind is what we need the most” says Sumaya. And if our practice begins with trusting another human being then we starting off in the arms of safety, which is ultimately what saved me. And why I’m ready to continue on my path.

If you’re concerned about whether meditation is right for you, then please consult with a medical professional.

MATERIAL GIRL, MYSTICAL WORLD: SHONA VERTUE

We spoke to Shona Vertue, poster girl for our Designer Yogis sweatshirt line, on seeking inner peace and harmony in our inner cities… Portraits: Cameron McNee Hair and make-up: Andjelka Madic

Shona Vertue white vinyasa sweatshirt on The Numinous
White Vinyasa shirt, $70

“Okay, I no longer have nature all around me. How can I still be healthy, and still be present?”

Meet Australia-born yogini and personal trainer Shona Vertue, who decamped to London’s urban jungle in January 2014. A move that’s propelled her career to new heights – but where she’s also had to seek new ways to find the sense of inner expansiveness she got from regularly being out in nature back home.

It’s a situation faced by so many city dwellers (whether we recognize it as a problem or not) – where days can become weeks can become months without so much as an open sky to help connect us back to an understanding of ourselves as all connected by and to the Cosmos.

Shona’s solution? “I spend all my money on crystals for starters, like crystal retail therapy,” she jokes, telling how she recently realized it wasn’t her laptop but a two-kilo rose quartz she likes to keep close that was making her bag too heavy to lug around.

But seriously: “finding the sense of connection to myself that I used to get from being in nature, means closing my eyes a lot. It takes daily meditation,” she says. Which currently means sitting cross-legged in bed for 15 minutes every morning on waking. “I keep my Native American flute alarm clock going while I meditate because it transports me to another place – the Grand Canyon or something!” she says.

Shona Vertue black chakra sweatshirt on The Numinous
Black Chakra shirt, $70

It’s a conversation that makes Shona the ideal poster girl for our new Chakra and Vinyasa sweatshirt collection, which we’re selling in aid of Urban Yogis. An initiative out of Queens, NY, the program helps empower young people who’ve been affected by violent street crime to share the tools of yoga and meditation in their local inner city communities, as a way of cultivating peace, acceptance, and awareness.

“Awareness” being the basis of the Buddhist teachings that Shona studied in-depth back home in Australia. In essence, Buddhism is about becoming aware of how and why you are suffering, and then treating the cause of your suffering rather than just the symptoms.

“This is based on the belief that once we strip away the layers of suffering, at the core of every human being is an innate state of bliss that we all have access to at any time – if we choose,” explains Shona. As many readers will have experienced through their own yoga and meditation practice, and spending time in nature. Practices and experiences which can be made to feel like luxuries, available only to a privileged few – but which are actually all our birth right.

Inner peace – isn’t this what anybody who identifies with the term “seeker” is really looking for? We salute the awakened souls, like Shona and the Urban Yogis, who are dedicated to lighting the way.

Shona Vertue black and gold Vinyasa sweatshirt on The Numinous
Black and gold Vinyasa shirt, $70

:: MATERIAL GIRL ::

My label
Dharmabums – they are ethical and sustainable!

Leggings, $90 AUD, Dharma Bums
Leggings, $90 AUD, Dharma Bums

 

My shoes
New Balance

New Balance on The Numinous
Paradise Awaits sneakers, $79.99, New Balance

My fragrance

Anything with Geranium and Sandalwood

radha.roll-on
Radha Fragrance Oil, $36, The Goddess Line

My jewels
Anything silver with Moonstone

Moonstone ring, $200, Pamela Love
Moonstone ring, $200, Pamela Love

My pampering
A bath with magnesium salts

My home
My pillow & my outrageous collection of crystals!

Raw Rose Quartz, from $6, The Hoodwitch
Raw Rose Quartz, from $6, The Hoodwitch

My food
Authentic Italian pizza & French Creme Bruleé

Pizza by Roberta’s, Brooklyn
Pizza by Roberta’s, Brooklyn

:: MYSTICAL WORLD ::

My awakening
Morning meditation with affirmations – an absolutely non-negotiable practice.

My sign
Cancerian

My mantra
“Every morning we are born again; it’s what we do today that matters most.”

My healer
I’ve most definitely had more than one in this lifetime. At the moment it’s Francesca Zampi.

My reading
Abraham Hicks, Paulo Coelho & Timber Hawkeye

My transformation
I’m still trying to break the cocoon open, but at least I can feel my wings.

My mission
This lifetime? To realize my secret powers and help others find theirs…

Shona Vertue white Chakra shirt on The Numinous
White Chakra shirt, $70