Here you’ll find musings on the necessity of solitude, re-thinking perspectives, new paradigms for relationship and intimacy, living creatively, guidance for hard times, questions about what’s essential and some of my own poetry. May you pause long enough to listen and so recognize your own heart-wisdom and beauty in these reflections. Enjoy!
Image: Marc Chagall
What if you tell the truth of your own experience?
And what if in so doing, the wound you sustained is not denied, but liberated?
In their 1999-2000 report, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) categorized and/or redefined “truth.” Their purpose was to heal trauma and horrifying violence that victims experienced during apartheid, as the country forged ahead with a new, democratic government. I found their process incredibly instructive and see applications to not only for countries, but for communities, families, couples and individuals. In this time of painful truth-telling, this can be a roadmap, a lamp, a way forward. Here are the four types of truth they illuminated:
1. Forensic Truth – What happened to whom, where, when, how, who was involved. This can include verbatim reports, addresses, graffiti, photos, facts surveying the human condition. This can also material taken from medical charts, war and peace reports, statistics. Facts describe, they don’t interpret.
2. Personal Truth – This is truth of one’s personal experience, of recollection and memory. In the words of the TRC, “Memories of pain, however flawed with forgetting…” are witnessed and honored. Not debated. Personal stories are not the whole or full truth, “but they are integral to the truth that leads to new justice.”
3. Community Truth – “I” becomes “we,” “us,” “ours.” Multiple forensic and personal truths are woven into the community’s story, as in: This is how we – our culture, our land, our memories, our language, our children, our community – were affected. According to the TCR: “The truth of experience…is established through interaction, discussion and debate…the process of dialogue…includes transparency, democracy and participation,” all of which make ground for reaffirming dignity and integrity.
4. Healing Truth or Public Truth – This truth exposes past events to bring about public awareness of wrong-doing and harm done, such that we collectively agree: “no more” or “never again.” Out of the matrix of the three proceeding truths, we begin finding the way beyond what was. This is a perspective changer. We see ourselves and our pain in a new light. We endeavor to work it out together. Forming a new unity, we talk back to darkness.
Should you decide to share the truth of your experience, make sure it’s to someone who can listen. Without interfering. As in giving advice, telling you it wasn’t so bad, offering opinions and the like. There is no one truth any of us can claim, but we can speak to our own experience, and in so doing, walk into a new possibility. Bless you.
(My thanks to Kim Stafford for reminding me of the work of the TRC.)
Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu (399 – 295 B.C.) illuminates the hazards of fixation on outcome. His words are as relevant now as they were centuries ago. Notice how you relate to this.
When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle, he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold, he goes blind or sees two targets —
He is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him.
He thinks more of winning than of shooting –
And the need to win drains him of power.
Reflection: What happens when you’re attached to outcomes in your plans, activities or relationships? This includes the need to win, be right or possess. What happens when the need to control outcomes is relaxed?
Dedicated James Baldwin on the 94th anniversary of his birth,
with gratitude for the way he challenged and changed the perspective of so many of us.
Someone asked me recently, “Who’s one person, living or dead, you’d love to share a meal with?” I immediately replied, “James Baldwin.” Baldwin opened my mind to dimensions of experience I was ignorant of, which is why I’m sharing this with you. This renowned author and unsparing social critic woke me years ago when I read his semi-autobiographical book, Go Tell It on the Mountain. I’ve been grateful ever since.
Baldwin became an expatriate in 1948, moving to Paris to distance himself from American racial prejudice. He also sought to reckon with the ambivalence he felt as a young gay man. His second book, Giovanni’s Room, is a gay-themed novel written in 1956, well before the gay rights movement was in full sway.
Baldwin spoke directly, with brilliant, razor-sharp intelligence about explosive issues. In a word, he had gravitas. He was unrelenting in his message about the realities of racism, homosexuality and power dynamics in America. Baldwin looked racism dead in the eye and boldly laid out the bloody truth; his relevance remains painfully clear. To read him as a white person is to reckon with individual and collective conscience.
Baldwin also embodied beauty and kindness. Forces of love, tenderness and strength were woven through various speeches, interviews, novels and essays. Baldwin is poignant about the light and dark dimensions of human experience, which he never placed himself above or outside of.
In a moving letter to his nephew, he wrote, “Take no one’s word for anything, including mine – but trust your own experience. (from Letter to My Nephew, January 1, 1962) It seems he didn’t stray from this advice, nor the integrity of his convictions, even when he came under fire. Baldwin’s writings were as much an open conversation with himself as with the rest of us. As such, we’re invited into the conversation.
His passionate dedication to freedom and truth-telling equaled his passionate explorations as a writer and visual artist. Baldwin wrote: “The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through vast forests, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
This is my testament to a great artist. I bow to you, Mr. Baldwin, to your artistic sensibility, creative vision, clarity of though and moral audacity. You were, then and now, a voice for love, conscience, freedom, strength and vulnerability.
To get a direct feeling for Baldwin, check out the extraordinary documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro.”
Reflection: Baldwin said, “From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed no religion is more important than the human being.” Do you agree or disagree with this? Why? What are the implications of your response either way?
The remarkable art image is the work of photographer and collage artist, Ruben Guadalupe Marquez.