June 16, 2020
Healing Racism in America (and Abroad)
Following the unprecedented crisis of the coronavirus, the nation was upended when a white police officer brutally kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds leading to his death.
All captured graphically on video, this act spurred nationwide riots and protests calling for the end of police brutality and systemic racism in the United States and abroad.
In Travis’ most challenging and difficult podcast talk, he addresses the need to bring a loving awareness to the painful issues of racism and oppression of minorities.
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]
Welcome to “Healing Racism in America.”
I just want to say that this has been a really, really difficult and challenging couple of weeks for really the whole entire country and the whole entire planet, the whole entire world. On some level, this is maybe the most important talk or podcast episode that I’ve ever done because in many ways it’s also the most difficult and the most challenging.
Recently, George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white police officer when he kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s out there, and it’s incredibly disturbing. George Floyd declares he can’t breathe, continues to be suffocated, eventually cries out for his mom. It’s so disturbing that it’s brought to the surface some issues that this country has had for a long, long time.
I want to acknowledge that being a white male I speak and live with white privilege, which means that I swim in this ocean, this water of what it means to be privileged in this society and to not have to deal with racism in a way that black, and brown, and indigenous cultures have to. And so if I get something wrong in this video, or if I say something that’s incorrect, I apologize in advance. I’m a beginner. I’m a student within all this.
At the same time, I have a platform, and many of you have asked my thoughts about this situation. It’s in the air. It’s in the consciousness, and honestly enough is enough, and we can no longer turn our backs to the reality of what’s happening. So I will do my best in this difficult talk to hopefully share some thoughts, and some wisdom, and some of the teachings from yoga that can help us unite and to ultimately heal a wound with the medicine of loving awareness.
I’ll start off with a story.
A Zen teacher instructs his students to go and do their spiritual practices the following morning at the first sign of light. The students wake up the next day, and they’re about to begin their spiritual practices when they realize that they’re a little bit unclear as to what their teacher meant when he said the first sign of light. So the students go back to see the teacher, and they ask, “What did you mean when you said the first sign of light? Is it when we look out over the valley, and we can tell the difference between an oak tree and an olive tree? Is this how we’ve known that we’ve seen the light?” The teacher shakes his head no. And they said, “Well is it when we can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep? Is this how we’ve known that we’ve seen the light?” Again the teacher shakes his head no. And then they asked, “Well, is it that first moment when that first ray of sunlight begins to rise above the horizon and that golden shaft of light begins to pervade across the valley? Is this how we’ve known that we’ve seen the light?” And again the teacher shakes his head no, and goes on to explain, “You’ll know that you’ve seen the light when a stranger walks up to you, you look into their eyes, and you realize that the spirit that exists inside of them is the same exact spirit that exists inside of you. This is how you’ve known that you’ve seen the light. And until then, you’re living in darkness.”
So we know on one level, one dimension, that we’re all connected.
“We are here to awaken our illusion of separateness.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh
We are here to awaken our illusion of separateness. It’s separation that really creates suffering when we ‘other’ another group. When we feel superior to another group, ultimately we’re creating a bigger gap and a bigger divide between us and other human beings. And the bigger that that gap gets, the more suffering that is created.
Now, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn has done a lot of research and studies around telomeres, and telomeres or those little caps at the end of our DNA strands, and what they found is that in societies where there is a big gap between the wealthy and the impoverished, that the telomeres that are short and within the impoverished demographic also affects the ones that are well-off. So this is the science that’s proving that when one group suffers, another group suffers and pointing to more evidence that we have to come to this recognition that we are all one, that we are part of a shared humanity, and we have to work together instead of against each other.
Now on one level we’re all connected. We’re all one. But that’s not always the best thing for somebody who has been violated, or oppressed, or has suffered from racial injustice to hear because they don’t feel this. And they might feel infuriated to even begin to hear that because the reality is we do have different social security numbers. We do have different nationalities. We do have different skin colors. We are separate on another level. And because of these different skin colors, we are now facing these issues in a visceral, graphic, unprecedented way right now.
In nature, nature celebrates diversity. But in our country, in the United States of America, in many other countries across the world, we don’t always celebrate diversity, and we do ‘other’ people.
There’s the dominant culture. In our country, that’s the white culture, and they dominate, and they have oppressed black people, brown people, indigenous people have suffered at the hands of white supremacy, and we see that within the school system, the education system. We see that within neighborhoods, neighborhoods that have what’s called food deserts where there’s little to no access to good quality food and nutrition. We see that in the health care system. COVID-19, coronavirus, we know affects African-American people way more than it does white people. We see that also within something called ‘redlining’ where banks who issue mortgages will literally red line areas on a map, and they’ll either deny mortgages in those areas that are red lined, or they’ll offer only at a higher interest rate than white neighborhoods. We see it also within the prison pipeline. Working in the prison system, I’ve seen this with my own eyes where somebody is born black, they’re born in a black neighborhood, and the system is against them. That systemic racism is there from day one. They’re born into this culture, and it’s a pipeline that inevitably leads straight to prison, and our prisons in this country are profiting off of that prison pipeline. So we have multiple, multiple issues just demonstrating that this is a reality and a reality that needs to be faced.
One definition of meditation means ‘to see things as they really are.’ To see things as they really are takes courage because you have to strip away the filters of maybe what you’ve been told through certain news outlets, through certain media outlets, through your community. When you begin to really see things as they are, you begin to see these issues. You begin to see that there is racial injustice. And unfortunately for 400 plus years, people of color have been facing this oppression. They have been facing discrimination. Not only have we seen the recent tragic events of George Floyd but also Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. It’s horrific.
This trauma is passed down from generation to generation. Science now shows that trauma is passed down through DNA. So this issue that traces back generation after generation is another reason why we have to be the generation, we have to be the society now to end this negative, horrible, destructive evil chain of events. We are the ones right now that have this opportunity to effect change, to stop the negative change.
“A child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel the warmth.”
Any culture, any group of people, any person that is oppressed, that is bullied, is going to have their back up against the wall, and when you have your back up against the wall, and you’re getting beaten, and you’re getting knocked down, and you’re getting violated, what do you do? You act out. You have to act out.
You see this within many of the mass school shootings that have taken place in the United States. Who is it? It’s angry white teenage boys that had been bullied, and then they go and they shoot up their teachers and their classmates because they’ve been bullied. They’ve been oppressed. “A child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel the warmth.”
So what do we need?
We need that loving awareness. We need to hold all of each other, all colors black, brown, indigenous, Asian, Caucasian, and we need to stop separating from each other, and we need to have equality and justice for all.
You think about moments in your life, and whatever race you are, and there’s a strong likelihood that at some point in some way, you have been bullied, or you have been oppressed, or you faced some sort of injustice, or you’ve been discriminated against. It’s not a good feeling. It’s a horrible feeling. You feel like your heart is being ripped apart. You feel like you’re being violated.
As a white male, what I faced, you can’t even compare to what people of color face. But, I remember years ago before I was teaching yoga and meditation, I was working at this hotel, and I did various jobs there. And at one point, one of the jobs I did was, I was a banquet server. I would serve in these banquets for weddings and special events anywhere from 50 to sometimes 300 people, and I remember one time I served a group of people, and it was the first time I ever felt like this group of people treated me as inferior to them.
It was a big wakeup call because I was like, “Oh, man. This is what people of color are going through not just one time in their life but every single day.” They go to the department store, and people are looking at them as if, “Are they going to shoplift?” They walk into the bank. They’re not treated the same way, and they’re dealing with this day in and day out, day in day out.
I remember one of my black friends was talking about they’ve been shoving this into the back of their head for so long, and now this is all coming out. Now, the anxiety and trauma of racial injustice has been fully unleashed.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we all belong to each other.”
This is the message. When we recognize, when we remember, and when we act, and when we have a society where we truly all feel equal, and seen, and heard, and listened to, then ultimately we begin to transcend suffering.
Now despite the tremendous suffering that’s come from the George Floyd incident, the riots and the protests, there have also been incredible moments and acts of both beauty and courage.
It reminds me of a platoon leader who was leading a small group through a remote village in Iraq. As they’re walking down the street, eventually they got surrounded by a group of angry people. These locals were very upset because the United States military had innocently killed their friends, their family, their children, and even their places of worship. The platoon leader feeling the situation escalating and reaching a boiling point where they were on the verge of more bloodshed happening, took the courageous act of dropping his knee to the ground, setting his gun to the ground, and surrendering in a courageous act of humility. He commanded his other soldiers to do the same. They all did as they were told, and it did de-escalate the situation because these locals, these Iraqis, they just wanted to be heard, seen, listened to, honored, and this is all that people of color are asking for right now.
You see some of the military and some of the police chiefs, they too are dropping a knee in these beautiful acts of solidarity because we all recognize the importance of this moment in history right here right now.
This is what’s possible when we have humility. But the moment your guard goes up, the moment that you shut down, the moment that you slip into your own ego consciousness, you’re not going to be able to listen to what the other side has to say to you.
So we have to be humble especially those of us with white privilege to deeply listen.
I’ve gotten a couple messages as well lately about a yoga class that I had filmed years ago, and it was up on YouTube. In the yoga class, I put people into this yoga posture called ‘horse stance,’ and then I have them bring the hands behind the head and the neck and interlace the fingers. The elbows are out, and I say, “Imagine that you’re about to get frisked by the LAPD.”
My intention behind this was that it was funny, and this is another example of white privilege because some of the messages that I’ve got were from people of color that said, “Travis, this really triggered me. This really took me out of my practice. You’ve did it on the first side, and then you did again on the second side. I had to get off my yoga mat and take a few deep breaths. I was so triggered because of the trauma I’m carrying, and I’m not even the type of person that is reactive. I’m not the type of person that’s easily offended.”
It’s comments like that coming from white privilege and a white man like myself that I too have to accept responsibility for. I have to take those messages and those comments in with humility, and then I have to take action right now because it’s one thing to just listen. It’s one thing to take in. But now we have to take action. So I learned from this situation. We were able to edit out those comments, and this is just an example of me being who I am and discerning the difference between intention and impact. Intention of the comment is that it’s funny, that I’m making a joke. Impact is, is that it’s actually harmful to people. It’s actually triggering to people.
Like many of you that are listening, I too am learning within this process, and I too am trying to do the work that I need to do to eradicate the unseen bias that exists within me.
This is a time of enlightenment, and people think that when you become enlightened, everything is rosy. Everything is beautiful. Everything is love, love, love. We’re all one, right? Everything is rainbows and butterflies, but that’s not the truth of enlightenment. Enlightenment is bringing the light of awareness to what has been shrouded in darkness. As the actor Will Smith says, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” We have cell phones. We have cameras everywhere. So now we’re starting to see it. We’re becoming more enlightened to the reality of what we’ve been turning away from all these years.
We turn the light on, and we don’t always like what we see. When you turn the light on, you see the monsters. You see the demons. You see the monsters of white supremacy, and racial injustice, and systemic racism and, oppression. In a way, this is a very, very necessary step to evolving as a society.
Now that we’ve turned the light on, now that we’re able to see clearly things as they are, it’s time to take a stand in our own way. It’s time to take a stand for equality and justice for all.
A lot of celebrities, a lot of spiritual teachers Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Joe Dispenza, the Rock, a lot of people have been taking a stand. People that usually stay quiet when this stuff comes up, and they’re taking a stand for Black Lives Matter.
Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of blowback from them saying that black lives matter. I saw a cartoon recently, and in the cartoon there’s four different squares, and in one square there’s an African-American holding up a sign that says, “Black lives matter.” And then there’s a white man holding up a sign that says, “All lives matter.” And then in another square there’s a woman that has a shirt on that says, “Breast cancer awareness,” and then that same white man is holding up a sign that says, “All cancers matter.” And then in the Third Square, there’s a woman that has a shirt that says, “No means no to rape.” And then same man holding up, “All words matter.” And then in the last forth square, there’s a person holding up a sign that says, “Save the whales.” And then that same man is holding up a sign that says, “All mammals matter.”
There was also a picture I saw recently on social media of this beautiful young black girl, and she had a big sign she had made for the protests. It said, “We said black lives matter. Never said only black lives matter. We know all lives matter. We just need your help with Black Lives Matter, for black lives are in danger.”
When we see things as they are, when we see the injustices against the George Floyd’s, and the Ahmaud Arbery’s, and the Breonna Taylor’s, and many more, black lives are indeed in danger. This is why we have to take a stand for Black Lives Matter because all lives can’t matter until black lives matter. The whole cannot matter when there is a broken part of the whole. We need to heal this wound. We need to heal the part that is broken. We do that by acting from a place of love, of loving awareness, of unconditional love.
It takes courage. It takes love to take a stand, especially when you’re going up against hundreds of years of oppression.
Thousands of years ago, the Buddha was asked about how do we create a wise society, and he had a few profound replies, but one of them was, “As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, can they be expected to prosper and not decline.” When people of color, the vulnerable populations, are suffering, are in danger, we as a society can never prosper. We are going down the rabbit hole of greater suffering and destruction. So if we want to prosper, we have to heal these wounds. We have to look after the vulnerable among us.
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When you plant seeds of hate, you grow a garden of hate. When you plant seeds of love, you grow a garden of love.
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Racism is the opposite of love. Inequality is the opposite of love. To hold each other, to know that we belong to each other, to listen to each other, to work with each other, this is a true act of love.
Now, I want to share a powerful moving story that I heard from one of my teachers Tara Brach, who heard it from social injustice leader Bryan Stevenson. Bryan Stevenson has a group that gets together, and they go to former areas where lynchings of African-Americans have taken place. They go with a jar, and collect soil from the place. They put it in the jar, and then they bring it back to a museum to add to the collection of other jars.
There was a middle age African-American woman who decided to do this, and she was very nervous because she was going to go to one of these lynching sites and a place that was very remote, and she went. She had her jar, and a piece of paper that told the story about this man, this African-American man in 1931, who was brutally lynched. So courageously she went to this former lynching site. As she begins to dig the soil out of the ground, a pickup truck starts to cruise towards her direction. And she starts to get nervous. All of a sudden the pickup truck stops and inside of the truck is an older white man staring at her. She starts to get even more nervous. She can feel her heart fluttering. She can feel her skin glistening with sweat, and then the truck turns around and comes even closer. She continues to get more and more nervous. This big white man steps out of his truck and begins to walk towards her. He asks her, “What are you doing?” Now, when Bryan Stevenson invites people to go out and collect soil, he says you never have to tell people what you’re doing. It’s totally optional. You can just say you’re digging some soil for your garden if you want to, but something inside this woman inspired her to tell the truth of the story. She explained to the man that this was a place where somebody had been brutally lynched in 1931. And the man said, “I see. Can I help you? Can I help you dig the soil out of the ground and put it in the jar?” The woman was stunned. She said, “Yeah. Of course, you can help me.” So he kneeled down to the ground, and together they began to dig the soil and put it into the jar. The woman was floored and tears began to stream down her face. The man said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Have I done something to hurt you?” And the woman said, “No. No. Thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you so much.” They continued to dig and dig. All of a sudden, the man’s arms began to shake, and they shaked harder, and harder, and the black woman said, “Are you okay?” And the white man began to cry, and he said, “No. I’m not.” And she said, “Why not?” And he shared, “I’m worried that it was my grandparents that lynched this man.” And they both cried together. When they were done filling up the jar, they asked if they could take a picture of each other holding the jar and they did. And they both got to go back to the museum and put the jar on the shelf.
It’s a beautiful story of what the moment requires right now; us coming together, listening to each other, working with each other, taking action to heal this wound, to bring the medicine of loving awareness, and compassion to the situation at hand.
Our job now is to take action. Some of us may do this by posting on social media. Some of us may do this by having difficult discussions with friends, with family members. Some of us may go protest out on the streets. Some of us may donate money to organizations and charities that serve people of color. Some of us may go and read a book by a great author like Ruth King. We can all do this certainly by choosing leaders on a city, state and national level, leaders that promote unity and not division. It’s beyond republican and democrat. It’s about choosing not parties but leaders, leaders that have these morals because if we choose leaders that create division, then the suffering will continue. If we create and choose leaders that are humble, and compassionate, and loving, then we have a chance for real transformation. We have a chance to move into a new paradigm where there truly is equality and justice for all.
Some of us may do this by doing the work within. It all starts within you. Be the change that you want to see. Go inside yourself. Begin to switch the light on to your unseen bias, what are the parts of you that maybe unconsciously are racist and beginning to eradicate. Eradicate anger. Eradicate hatred, and reinforcing that powerful benevolent quality of unconditional love because as Jimi Hendrix say, “When the power of love becomes greater than the love of power, the world will know peace.”
Please join me with the finishing closing prayer.
“May we bring strength where there is weakness.
May we bring courage where there is fear.
May we bring compassion where there is suffering.
And may we bring light where there is darkness.
May we be ultimate.”