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Staying In Relationship When Conflict Rises

As a spiritual activist and an ally to marginalized peoples, I have struggled this week with how to stay engaged in the heated online exchanges and media coverage regarding the #takeaknee demonstrations and the reaction to them.

I estimate my ability to stay open and to keep from lapsing into “othering” to be reasonably resilient and flexible. I can see and acknowledge the distress of those that oppose the demonstrators, their message and their methods. I can see that the story they believe in and tell seems to block them from understanding or honouring the story the demonstrators are telling. I can see how both stories seem to occupy the same space and time.

What I struggle with is the concept of possibly validating the story of those that oppose the demonstration. Particularly since it feels to me, in doing so, I necessarily discredit the story of the demonstrators. I struggle with how to how to stay in relationship with the entire situation and speak with empathy to those that oppose and reject the demonstrations.

Being a spiritual practitioner and activist, my first instinct in a struggle like this is to meditate, pray and reflect. In my practice of peace, grief seems particularly appropriate at times like these.

Grief: Honouring the limitation and finite nature of all experience as legitimate, meaningful and needed.

For me, in this situation, it means recognizing that we (the human family of the dominate culture) have stumbled into many limitations.

  • I have reached the current limits of my own understanding of how to proceed
  • limitations of empathy, understanding, creativity, imagination and wisdom
  • limitations in the capacity of (some of) those involved to honour a story that is different than their own experience
  • limitations of the ability to experience distress and discomfort without pushing back aggressively at, what is perceived of as, its cause
  • limitations of the ability to relate – to stay in relationship, and work together to find meaning in pain, vulnerability and trauma

There is a great fracture in the relationship of the human family. This is that fracture out-picturing. A practice of grief commands me to witness that and work to find a language that does it justice. I work, therefore, to see this fracture as real and present in our experience (legitimate), as having the capacity to teach us about our humanity and our role in this world (meaningful), and as fundamentally necessary in the full experience of humanity (needed).

As I reflected on this, I was guided to do a Four Practices Reading for myself. For me, the path of peace is a dynamic interplay of four practices that intertwine and support each other. I created an intuitive system for reflecting and gaining insight when my intellectual side had run dry. In this system, each of the four practices is represented, as well as the energy of integration. Using these keys, five points of exploration and understanding are highlighted.

This is what I asked: How do I interact with and stay in relationship with people engaged in these conversations? What is the nature of my service to this story?

Here is what came:

The Key to Nurturing the Spiritual Essence of This Situation: Patience
Meet all experience gently, so as to nurture an honest awareness. Do not push back or oppose. Stay flexible and yielding. This is how you will stay open to what life really is. There is pain and imbalance here. That is real. There is also blindness and self-protection from knowing this. This is also real. Take off your shoes and know that you are walking on sacred ground. This is a fundamentally vulnerable situation. It needs tender care and asks you to stretch beyond your current understanding. Be patient with yourself as well. See your own blocks and resistance. Be gentle with it all and hold a big, open, safe space for it.

The Key to Taking Action in This Situation: Integration
It is not enough to pray, mediate and reflect. You are being called to take this into integrated outward action. Of course, maintain your own practice, but stoke the fire of your commitment to learn and grow with others. The only failure here is turning your back or withdrawing from the struggle. If you cannot yet find the path of speaking directly to those who participate, then stay in relationship with the struggle itself. You know what that means to you: you are wondering about a practice wherein you exist only by way of what/who you are in relationship with. Give yourself over to the understanding that you exist because you are in relationship with this struggle, because you stay in relationship with this pain and this fracture. Let it conjure you into existence. That is the path to peaceful conversation and confrontation. That is the only path.

Key to Finding Meaning in This Situation: Grief
This you have already found your way to today. There is not much more to add. Remember that the practice of grief is the way you serve as an authentic witness to what life really is. Do not be afraid of your capacity for this skill. What you lack, primarily, is a language that will not claim ownership of the story. Unfortunately your culture excels at using the language of ownership and heroism. Seek instead a language of vulnerability, limitation and honour. Honour the story, do not own it.

The Key to Nurturing Wisdom & Understanding in This Situation: Gratitude
Affirm, affirm, affirm. Affirm the goodness of life in and through all of these experiences. Trust that this is life, being itself. Meet life with praise and appreciate the beauty of being alive to experience this situation and capable of engaging it. This is the key to staying creative and fuelled in this situation. Do not weigh the good or bad of the ideas – do not get caught in the fight, the opposition, of perspectives. Be grateful in the situation. Do not search for things to be grateful for, because if you do that, there will necessarily be things unworthy of affirmation. That is the essence of the fracture, is it not? This human is worthy of affirmation, this one is not. It is necessary to affirm this symbol and I feel threatened if it looks as if you do not. Be the presence of gratitude – not the vocal advocate for it. At this time, language of gratitude is too provocative. Know it and practice it. That is enough. That is more than you can imagine.

The Key to Harmony & Virtue in This Situation: Love
Oh dearest, stay friendly, kind and caring. Stay present with the understanding that everyone involved is hurting and suffering. This may sound strange, but practice friendliness with the ideas, before you try to embrace the people who espouse them. You do not have to agree or even validate them. But welcome them with friendliness and give them a place around the fire to rest and warm themselves, for they feel as if they are alone in a cold and angry world. Offer them (the ideas, remember) empathy and let them share. In a society built on power, the pressure to keep it and protect it is real and visceral. The ideas that seek to bolster and reinforce that power (even when in ignorance of it) are like animals that snap and lash out because they are denied the nurturance of true humanity. It is the suffering itself that calls you to practice love. In doing so, your devotion to life will not waver.

In Gratitude:
photo credit: Rantz Eight for @VikkSin via photopin (license)

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