White Awake is designed to be accessible to a broad range of white people whose interests and activities position them near the nexus of spiritual community and social engagement. We want people on different spiritual paths to feel comfortable using this work, while acknowledging that the work itself has grown from the mindfulness practice of Buddhism, and incorporates the work of a diverse array of individuals and groups in the application of community ritual to group practice.
White Awake itself is rooted in the spiritual practice of mindful awareness. In the simplest of terms, White Awake is about white people making an honest inquiry into how things really are: our personal experience, our social conditioning, the history we share with people of color, the deep history of our European ancestors, and the modern day challenges of cultural and institutional racism.
Taking an honest look at racism is not easy. It can be easy to fall into denial, shame, or apathy and leave the path of mindful inquiry. This is why White Awake draws on its roots in Buddhism (see About) to guide white people through a mindful approach to racial awareness. Hinging on the “two wings” of curiosity and compassion, there are several aspects of mindfulness that White Awake employs: a nonjudgmental attitude; an awareness of one’s own thoughts, body, and emotions while doing this work; an acceptance of truth, regardless of the complexity or difficulty this truth contains; and compassion towards ourselves and others for our limitations and our mistakes.
The pain of racism, and all the other social and environmental exploitations within which racism is intertwined, necessitates a practice that will honor and make room for difficult emotions. In order to honor the emotional journey that racial awareness entails, White Awake draws upon the Work that Reconnects (see About) and other group work processes that incorporate community rituals to channel and express emotions such as grief, anger, sadness, and despair. By creating a safe container for difficult emotions, participants can connect to the internal qualities from which these emotions arise: a tenderness towards ourselves and others, a desire to live life fully, a passion for justice, and a deep love for our world.
Race Awareness as a Spiritual Practice
The development of our social identity is enmeshed with our spiritual life. As more and more white people begin to talk about their experience as members of an oppressive class, the language that arises is one of fragmentation and loss. White people frequently experience things such as: a loss of moral and spiritual integrity; a numbing of authentic emotion; guilt about our unearned privilege; shame about the history of slavery, genocide, and violence associated with white privilege; feelings of helplessness and hopelessness; misplaced anger and frustration; emptiness and/or grief.
There is a way out of this experience. Spiritual growth and evolution necessitates the acceptance and understanding of all of our experience, even the pieces that a racialized society would have us deny or reject. An open exchange between ourselves and our world not only helps us become more racially sensitive and aware, it helps us reclaim lost pieces of our humanity. When we turn away from the conditioning that would have us maintain an unjust and unsustainable society, we begin to experience a greater connection to all people and all life. In this way, the development of racial awareness is not only an important piece of our spiritual practice, it is a spiritual practice in and of itself.
“In its beauty and its tragedy, its burden of grief and its full measure of joy, life is loved through presence, not absence; through connection, not alienation.”
– Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker