Looking Deeply into White Conditioning

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Meeting the Origins of Our White Conditioning in Our Store Consciousness

By Jula Pethes and Mareike Jautschus

How have the seeds in my store consciousness influenced my view of the world? And what impact has racism had on me as a white person? From May 29 to June 2, 2021, we had the opportunity to get in touch with these questions in what the retreat organizers from the White Awareness Sangha called an “experiment“: the combination of a Plum Village retreat with an anti-racism training by the Phoenix e.V. collective. From our perspective as two participants in the retreat, this experiment was very successful. Not only did the familiar elements of our practice provide a mindful and loving space to engage with this challenging topic, we also experienced meaningful connections between the teachings of Plum Village and Phoenix.

Cultivating Awareness of Racist Conditioning
“A child that encounters a buffalo will want to tame and ride it, but the buffalo will throw it off. It is only when the child walks alongside the buffalo that they can become friends.” This story from the Dharma talk offered by Sister Bi Nghiem at the beginning of the retreat teaches us how to wake up to the conditioning of white culture that many of us have been exposed to. The buffalo signifies how the store consciousness is stronger than the mind consciousness, which is represented by the child. 

In the Phoenix training, we subsequently had the opportunity to get in touch with the seeds that have been watered by the racist culture in our societies, rather than trying to become a master over them. This led to a range of emotions coming up,  for instance the (peculiar) sense of warmth and security when recollecting formative stories and events from our childhood that were framed through racism; anger toward the seeds of separation and prejudice that were watered in this way; and relief about realizing that it is not our fault that we have these seeds. We became aware that we need to engage with our inner child lovingly and understandingly, finding a language that does not remain on a rational level but goes deeper.

Finding Lightness Amidst Shame 
On the first day of the training, we were asked to share our expectations. Many different things were shared, such as guilt or shame related to our racist conditioning. But, as our trainer noted with concern and a wink, nobody had shared that they expected to have fun! Though surprised by the idea of having fun together when engaging with racism and our whiteness, and despite the heaviness and grief that arose repeatedly, we experienced many moments of lightness and laughter—while finding opportunities to relax and enjoy connection. We especially appreciated watching the images of other participants we knew or had just met. In the introduction round every single participant brought their unique character to the screen while sharing five sentences about themselves. We had a good laugh together as we collected creative guesses on how one of our trainers might have made it back into their room after accidentally being locked out in the beginning of our session.

Remaining Grounded While Facing White Supremacy
On all days of the retreat, a deep relaxation was offered in order for us to come back to our bodies and ground in our breath. We were invited to let our bodies fall down and let gravity catch us. In the words of one retreat organizer, “Our body takes notice of everything that we hear, feels everything that we feel, and remembers and stores encounters that are too difficult to digest.” Along with the morning and evening meditations, this practice helped to create a framework in which we were able to engage with the topic of racism and white conditioning from a grounded place.

Steps are currently being made toward the emergence of more White Awareness Sanghas, as we seek to flow as a river, not as drops of water. By deepening this path, we aspire to get to know our whiteness better and look for loving ways to reduce the suffering caused by white supremacy. This way, we can learn to walk with our whiteness like the child walks alongside the buffalo.

This poem was written by a retreat participant inspired by teachings and practices during the retreat:

First Steps to Healing
Seeing that I am a white drop of water
In a big forceful stream
On its way through the landscape
Damaging all within reach   —   just by default.

I wake up facing my whiteness
Feeling numbed by the poison    —   we just eat
Effortly raising emotions
Confronted with these destructioness seeds.

Wanting to rush to salvation
Tripping and slipping right off my feet
Landing flat on my belly    —  that’s hard to seize
But grounding right in this moment    —  trying to breathe.

I don’t know how I will go on
But I will train my compassion
Knowing I might not have the right bells yet
But I can use the tones of wine-glasses available.

———————–

Jula Pethes practices with the Wake Up Sangha Freiburg and International LGBTQIA+ Sangha

Mareike Jautschus’ sangha base is the international LGBTQIA+ Sangha

Edited by Erica Fugger

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