Being Seen & Known
I was honored to be asked to be on the cover of Mindful Magazine even though my first instinct was, “Heeelll no.” “No way.” “Uh-uh.” The editors were interested in representing more diversity in the magazine and they wanted an actual meditator. As of then, they had not had any people of color on the cover (in the meantime Sandra Oh has been on one).
I knew if I did not say yes, it was very possible that they would find someone who is not black and/or someone who is much lighter skinned, partly out of unconscious bias and partly because there aren’t many dark skinned black sisters in the meditation/Buddhist world. There are even fewer dark skinned black women retreat teachers in my Buddhist tradition. One is my good friend DaRa Williams who is in a teacher training program to be a residential retreat teacher (an “advanced” category of teacher). I was on a retreat last year where she assisted. When she stepped on the stage at the retreat, I started to weep — very noticeably. It was completely unexpected. And so deep. I realized it was the first time I had seen a dark skinned black woman as a retreat teacher. And it was so powerful for me to see someone who looked like me represented as a leader in my spiritual community.
So here I am. On the cover and inside the magazine. There are also photos of some members from our center– a diverse photo because we are a diverse community and we aspire to reflect the beauty and power of many different people.
But that initial hesitation did not go away. Or rather, the feelings behind it which have a lot to do with a fear of being seen and known. I think many women have this fear. That’s why we play it small, blend into the background, quiet our voices. This Marianne Williamson quote comes to mind:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
As Thomas Moore describes in Care of the Soul, soul power comes from “living close to the heart and not at odds with it” but it can appear “distorted by our repressions and compromises, our fears and our narcissistic manipulations.” And I would add, distorted by this racist capitalist patriarchy. Like many women, I have been taught to equate power with aggression because that is how it is distorted in this society. Or as Audre Lorde says
In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change.
For me, some of the discomfort I have with this cover is a fear of being exposed and judged; especially for a recognition that’s more material than spiritual. Many friends have contacted me having seen the magazine and there is a pleasure and satisfaction in receiving that acknowledgement.
Recognition itself is seductive and I am afraid of being seduced.
I am trying to view this (over)exposure as service. But I also acknowledge that I sometimes use that idea of service to either deny that seduction or to shy away from my own power. To deflect that intense energy. Why do I have that discomfort with my own power? I think partly because it is incredibly intense and I tend to move away from extremely strong feelings (both happy and sad). But also because even among those of us with the best intentions, power often does distort and gets distorted and I do not want to become distorted by it.
And yes, as Moore goes on to point out, “virtue is never genuine when it sets itself apart from evil.” I am a product and part of that society and I will reflect it even if I practice to the best of my ability to move beyond its most unconscious, uncaring and unjust manifestations. I aspire to see and know those parts of myself too.
Being seen & known involves being vulnerable. Part of soul power is the strength to be vulnerable, humble, compassionate and kind (and funny).