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A Time to Be With

Posted on July 6, 2020
Be With

I’ll start this blog by acknowledging that I am a white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, affluent male who also holds the highest position in the hierarchy of a global organization — that being the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI). I’m a husband, father of two, son and sibling.  I’m learning more each day about how this world, particularly life in Canada and North America more widely, is designed for me. In other words, I haven’t spent meaningful time until recently thinking daily about my race, gender, sexuality, and economic means, as well as the opportunities available to me. Not in the way I’m learning so many must. Every day.  

This article isn’t about me professing to know or have anything resembling answers to what’s happening right now in the conversation and actions tied to the global movement insisting that systemic racism be seen and acknowledged for what it is and the impact. For some brilliant insights and suggestions on that topic, one place I’d recommend you look is my colleague Charles Sue-Wah-Sing’s article called Be Patient in a Time of Racial Crisis. Thank you, Charles, for this wisdom and for serving as an advisor to CTI in these times.

As a Co-President of CTI, what I do invite all of you into right now is what CTI calls Be with.  

Deliberately.  Consistently.  Courageously.   Be with.  Before you take (more) action and after you’ve taken action.  Be with what’s happening in a personal way.  It will make a difference to what we create together from this point forward.

Here’s what I mean.

At the end of Charles’ article, he shares an essential recommendation that we be persistent and patient with this process and moment we all face together in regards to oppression and race relations. Part of what patience includes is staying in the moment and paying exquisite attention to our experience.  This means being with the truth of racial inequity and oppression as well as the profound waking up that is happening in ourselves, each other and our world is imperative.  Why?, you ask.  Read on.

At CTI, we’ve been training “be with” for over 25 years in our Coach Training curriculum. “Be with” means putting exquisite attention on our moment-to-moment experience and exploring it through word, metaphor, sound, even movement. The point of it is to become intimate with all aspects of our life so that we don’t avoid situations that may result in pain, discomfort, or experiences we don’t want to face. If we do seek to avoid, we begin to limit the fullest expression that life has to offer us and don’t get a felt experience of the depth of work that is happening and needed.  It’s often not easy, however if we don’t do this work of being with, we continue to work at the margins of our life and relationships. 

I want to acknowledge that our backgrounds and personal experiences matter a lot as we start being with life in this way.  It can be deep work.  From our experience training thousands of coaches and leaders, there is a full range of experiences that people can find very difficult to be with. Any of the following are included: rage, joy, anxiety, grief, frustration, boredom, overwhelm, fear, vulnerability, relief.  For me, rage is one at the top of the list. I have more to say about that below.

So what does “be with” have to do with this period of time? In a recent conversation with Charles, he shared the following idea: What has so many people running to solutions and actions quickly in times of great turmoil is the desire to seek comfort, check a box and move on so that we don’t have to look at, or be with, the pain of the situation. When he said this to me, I had to really look at whether it felt true or not. It did, and I could see how this is a part of my conditioning.

While the impulse to act is noble, to tackle a centuries-old problem like systemic racism with primarily action is insufficient. If we do, we’ll simply keep trying to solve old problems from the same paradigm and in doing so, create more frustration and pain. I’m being reminded of this daily by mentors and educators in the field of race relations.  Along with thoughtful action, we must include simply being with the impact of our white-dominant systems on millions of Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and other marginalized communities.  

Where do we start practicing being with today? There are lots of places to look.

In this edition of the podcast The Big Story, guest Andray Domise sets a powerful context and shares ideas for the unprecedented time we’re in now. We have the global pandemic crisis, political corruption and divisiveness, trade disputes, land claims, human rights violations, and climate change. Add to this police violence, killings, and insistent uprisings, and it’s reasonable to want to turn away, if you can. I recognize not everyone can.  It is a complex story we’re in now, with a lot of truth being exposed to the world we’ve co-created.  

While the nature of these circumstances will evolve, they will not just pass. We’re in a new reality that will, for this and future generations, include a growing acknowledgment and intolerance of systemic racism, a planet in the process of profound change, global health vulnerabilities, and financial uncertainty as established systems continue to be challenged.

So, instead, how do we build our capacity to be with the fact that life as we’ve known it, particularly for the dominant cultures, is coming to an end? The toll we’re taking on each other and our planet — life if you will — is too great.

We start by acknowledging we, all people, can’t do it alone. We are not independent in this shared life experience, and while self-reflection, learning and unlearning are important, we are in relationship with ourselves, others, and our greater world. We are in connection, all the time, impacting each other and the planet with our thoughts, words and deeds. At CTI, we assert that we need each other — and learning to be with, in our experience, is best done with another. We must turn toward each other in solidarity and practice.  Ideally, others unlike ourselves.

Next, we need to tell the truth about what we find hard to be with. This is often less about the circumstances of our lives and more about the emotional experiences those circumstances cultivate in us. For example, I avoid watching boxing or UFC because I dislike physical violence. What that kind of violence brings up in me is my own rage and acknowledgment that I can turn on people quickly and with a vengeance. My expression isn’t physical, but physical violence triggers the truth in me that I can be harmful to others. So, rage and brutality are things I can’t be with.  I need to tell the truth about this. Otherwise, I avoid situations that might result in rage showing up (through me or others).

I’ll bet some of you would call me out on how this avoidance could have me turn a blind eye to rage and violence committed against marginalized and oppressed people.  You’re right.  This is why my work in this area is so important.  Further, by not being with rage,  I limit my exposure to all the aspects of life that emerge from the generative qualities of fiery energy  — creative conflict, innovation, passionate disagreement and more. So, we must be able to  tell the truth of what we find hard to be with right now, and start to see beyond the difficult emotion that keeps us  stuck.

Finally, talk about the experience of what it’s like to be with that which you can’t, and keep asking “what’s here now” and “what’s it like?” As we go into our experiences, 25 years of our work at CTI has shown that as we get intimate with our lives in this way, the experience and energy tied up in the emotion begins to shift and change. As a result, new awareness emerges, and a greater capacity to be with this aspect of life becomes available.  

This is what it means to live a life of wholeness.  To be in an open-hearted relationship to ourselves, each other in the world.   We include and be with all things. We don’t have to like them or use them as a primary lens for how we move and contribute to our world. However, as we open our hearts even just a bit more to the current experience of life in 2020, and to each other, I know we’ll surprise ourselves with our capacity to create from the truth of what’s here as we be with it all.

I want to add a final note. I don’t want to underestimate the degree of angst, upset, and trauma this period of time is creating for some people. “Be with” conversations can occur with a willing friend, partner, coach, or mentor. Therapists, counselors, and medical professionals are also essential resources as we continue to wake up to the depth and breadth of our experiences, particularly in this time. It is a complex, highly charged word.  Build your support network as you go, and remember that there is no end game to being with — only a deeper sense of presence and intimacy in our own lives and sense of connectedness.  I am personally humbled by this truth every day.

In Charles’ article, he points out that one of the things that is missing in our current dialogue on systemic racism is a vision for the future we want to share together.  My sense is that being with is one of the catalysts to creating this vision.  Who knows what we’ll discover. Time and being together, as well as the action that follows will tell.  I wish us all patience, courage and persistence as we go on being with together

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