Updated: Aug 21, 2018
Life is simple. It’s the nature of the mind that when faced with the purity of Truth, creates complexities in order to feel belonged and useful. Not connected to and guided by the higher consciousness, the mind does unnecessary work in trying to translate what it encounters. Since my teenage years, I have always been fascinated by turning complexities into simple and tangible matters.
Privilege is one of the many examples of this phenomena. When I contemplate on why a word can carry so much charged energy and misunderstanding, I observe that it is mainly based on at least two reasons: The first is related to the ways this subject is introduced and taught, which is mostly accompanied by unowned and misplaced shame, blame, and guilt. The other reason is the sheer lack of inquiry into realizing what it means to ourselves and in our lives beyond inheriting the experiences and definitions of others.
I remember standing in the middle of a huge circle of white students sitting on the ground on the first day of class who were ready, but nervous to learn about subjects like privilege, power, cultural appropriation, diversity, inclusion, etc. Having had experienced the shaming and blaming introductions to such subjects in the past from teachers whose biases would bleed into their teachings, I would always choose to start in a very different way.
I would start by asking the class to name my privileges as I stood in the middle of the class.
This was always followed by a deafening silence. The majority of the students had never heard of privilege and the handful of them that knew were too afraid to name anything, for there was a non-white teacher standing in the middle of the circle. What privileges could he have? The collective and unowned projections, insecurities, fear, and shame would start to surface and thicken the air that permeated the room.
To soften this manufactured thickness in the air through a loving and kind invitation, I would start naming my own privileges one by one giving enough time between each for understanding to take place inside of the students. I was also, for that moment, taking the pressure off of their shoulders, so the proper energies that are usually spent on creating resistance, would be available for experiential learning to happen.
I would say, “I am a man….. I am heterosexual… I am abled body…. I am educated… I am standing as opposed to sitting in this room… I have power in this room… I have a roof over my head… I had opportunities that helped me arrive to this moment…” and so forth.
I could see the minds of the students surrender in relief. Yes, we usually start with the negative. They could have assumed I was going to name all the ways I have been discriminated in my life in this society due to my culture, ethnicity, and religion, which I have many times, but instead they were seeing a non-white person owning his own privileges without any indication of shame, blame, or guilt. They were not hearing from a person who felt as a victim nor practiced victimhood. So, they also didn't have to abandon their authenticities to care-take me.
They would always begin to see how simple it was. These privileges are not wrong in themselves. I am aware of my privileges as a man in this patriotic society we have collectively created over the past centuries. I don’t feel guilty or shame about it. But my simple awareness of it and how it has shaped my life and at the same time could have taken away from another, is all that we are asked to be aware of here. There is nothing wrong with privilege and power. They are the creation of this dualistic world and more specifically the way we have created our societies. It is rather the ways we use them based on our awareness that matters most here.
Then I would ask students to jot down their own privileges. Something that usually takes a lot of resistance, time, and pain to arrive to, was received and invited gently into their hearts and became the ground which we built the rest of the semester with. For here, they were not functioning from a closed system of fear, shame, and resistance. Their hearts were invited to contemplate in a holistic way.
Now, you might wonder why I am writing about privilege on a Rumi page and how it could be related in today’s world. As you will see through the teachings and resources of this course, privilege has been and continues to be misused a lot in mistranslating and misrepresenting Rumi in the West. Privilege is the root of what later can become cultural appropriation which I have written about in a separate blog entry. Cultural appropriation has watered down deep and sacred teachings from around the world as a sacrifice for the billion-dollar materialistic spiritual infrastructure in our capitalistic society.
Here again, shame and blame won’t work. Gentle reminders and awareness of what we are doing and reading is all we are being asked for. No particular group of people, culture, or religion has monopoly over Truth. But we have to be guardians of pure teachings that have been passed to us freely over the centuries for they are embedded with secrets for the wayfarer.