I continue to think about what has to be different if we are all going to write a new story in race relations. I often come back to realizing we need to tap something much deeper in ourselves if we are going to build sustainable and authentic relationships. I refer to that deeper self as our spirituality. In saying that, I realize spirituality has many different connotations so I thought I would share a perspective on how I view spirituality, particularly since it is central to the ReWrite project.
In a broad sense, spirituality is motivated by the core beliefs common to all of the world’s major religions. And while it is often practiced through religious teachings, spirituality is available to everyone, whether or not we are affiliated with a particular religion. We all have the capacity to draw on a transcendent quality of consciousness which, when tapped, allows us to sense and be guided by our highest and noblest self and to be conscious of the sacredness of what our life experience is intended to be – specifically how we are intended to act toward and react to others.
Spirituality represents that nobler self that directs us to live in integrity and to be motivated by a sense of justice, love and the higher virtues of humanity, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Spirituality comes from that place of deep and profound consciousness that understands the oneness and interconnectedness of humanity. It is concerned more with the quality of principled responses, first in thought and then in action, than it is with any material, emotional or physical outcome. Human beings have long drawn on it to move to “higher ground,” to deal with pain, raw emotions and anger and to root out undesirable qualities. A sense of spirituality is often sustained and developed through prayer and meditation. Ultimately spirituality is about the ability to conquer our lower nature with our higher nature and thus to sacrifice our baser egocentric needs and responses to a more evolved, profound and transcendent self. It is clear, from observing those who tap it, that spirituality is not weak, impractical or superfluous; it is a real force for change. And although we admire the ability of others to draw on it, we often fail to choose it for ourselves. (Adapted from Tod Ewing’s definition in Seeing Heaven in the Face of Black Men)
I spent many years reacting to issues in my life and in the lives of other people of color with anger and frustration and sometimes even resignation, feeling like this would never change. I wore myself out “reacting” emotionally. My emotional frustration led me to continually doubt whether White folks would ever change or even have a desire to do so. Over time I realized that for me to stop reacting and starting acting from the consciousness that I wanted to be about, I needed to tap my spirituality or higher self. If not I was going to drive myself crazy. From a spiritual vantage point I could operate from a position of strength not weakness. I could make choices that aligned with my true values and what I consider my true nature. In short I could respond to those exhibiting prejudice based on who I chose to be as a human being, not based on what they did or didn’t do. I also realized that for White folks to struggle with their own role in ending racism and move beyond defensiveness, guilt and shame, they too would have to tap their spirituality.
Addressing racial healing within a primarily spiritual framework rather than an emotional one can create in both Whites and Blacks a desire for change. Desire is a critical element as many people are exhausted from dealing with the intensity of race issues over time. A spiritual perspective can inspire both to operate on higher ground, manifesting their best virtues and qualities. (I am focusing on Black and White because this is the race challenge with which I am most familiar and that I have worked with for many years). The possibility then will exist to appeal to the best in each other’s nature. A spiritual approach can evoke a desire to genuinely connect with those we may have historically perceived as “other” or even as enemies. It can awaken faith in the premise that love can conquer hate, a premise that some of the foremost civil and human rights leaders have embraced. It can create the capacity for honest self-reflection about our own prejudices. It will sustain our commitment when we perceive suspicion about our motives or our behaviors are challenged. It can stimulate a willingness to sacrifice for the wellbeing of another and for the greater good. It can create the desire to forgive and reinforce our belief that the goodness of others can be touched. Tapping our spirituality does not cause us to deny our emotions but rather to transcend or transform them.
Making efforts to “ReWrite” a new future in race relations within a spiritual framework truly can result in one of the greatest revolutionary changes of our time.
(Portions of this article originally published by Science of Mind magazine, “From Otherness to Oneness: Writing a New Story in Race Relations” by Tod Ewing, Aug. 2012)