Ep.30 Rhonda V Magee – Compassion in Race and Equity Conversations

Can we use compassion to have difficult conversations about race? Can compassion help us lean into one another and witness each other's stories, without judgement? Join us for this inspiring conversation with the wonderful Dr. Rhonda V Magee on how to use compassion and mindfulness to discuss race and equity issues so that we may come together to co-create a more loving, inclusive and compassionate world.

Gissele: Hello everyone. And welcome to the loving compassion podcast with Gissele. We believe the love and compassion have the power to heal our lives in our world. On today’s podcast, we’ll be discussing how mindfulness and compassion can assist us in creating a more compassionate and loving world around race.

Rhonda V McGee is a professor of law at the university of San Francisco and an internationally recognized thought and practice leader focused on integrating mindfulness into higher education law and social change work, a prolific author.

Rhonda’s teachings in writing support, compassionate conflict management and engagement, holistic problem solving presence based leadership in a diverse world and humanizing approaches to education. She sees embodied mindfulness meditation and the allied principles of study and community engagement as keys to personal interpersonal and collective transformation in the face of the challenges and opportunities of our time.

Her first book, [00:01:00] the inner work of racial justice healing ourselves in transforming our communities through mindfulness is a powerful Testament of how mindfulness and compassion can help us have better conversations around race. Please join me in welcoming Rhonda V McGee. Hi, Rhonda. .

Rhonda: Hello. It’s wonderful to be with you and thank you so much for that really, generous and, kind introduction.

I appreciate it.

Gissele: Well, it’s well deserved. I’m so, so thankful that you are on the show. a friend of mine had actually sent me your book. because my friend knows that one of the things that I have been grappling with in doing my own work is, how we can integrate greater compassion into those kinds of conversations.

as a white passing Latina, I have friends on both sides who are interested in this topic, but don’t know how to come together because of all of the emotions that rise when we’re having conversations on race. I was wondering if you could tell the audience [00:02:00] how you became interested in mindfulness and compassion as the path to, racial justice.

Rhonda: Hmm. Thank you for that question. You know, I had been teaching classes, at the law school around race and American legal history. And, you know, in the course of that kind of work, you are. on the one hand, having this wonderful opportunity to bring together people from very different backgrounds and, you know, they’re already committed to learning.

They’re already committed to their own, growth. and, and we have this particular structure, you know, we’ve got the 14 weeks of coming together on a regular basis. And so it’s a really, you know, powerful opportunity for, for sharing, for learning from each other’s different experiences. And then having a shared text to ground us, the, the books and the cases that we’re reading and the histories that we’re reading.

But what I found was that, you know, doing that work [00:03:00] year after year was, was always hard because we were confronting again, these painful histories. and, often the way that we teach about these things, it’s very cognitively focused, intellectually focused. Like let’s remember, let’s learn these dates and, you know, analyze what’s going on and think about arguments on various sides.

Of course, there’s a particular way we study through the lens of law. But what I saw was that we were often struggling with, of, you know, unacknowledged emotions, unacknowledged links between these materials and the lived experiences of our families or our ancestors. And frankly, I was also struggling, you know, coming into these conversations year after year.

but coming in from the place of my own lived [00:04:00] experience as a black. Woman black. I say black racialized to check underscore that these are these notions of race are things that we’ve created in our cultures. And they kind of look differently in different places and we could recreate them, but we’re pretty committed to them.

so, but I, you know, coming all of that is to say that I certainly, have experienced over my own lifetime much around, you know, how make race and, you know, have witnessed the ways that our, my own family, my own ancestors, experiences in the United States were shaped by all of these hierarchies, around race and who matters and who doesn’t and who’s included and who.

and, and I’ll mention race as well as gender. And, you know, we know that race intersects with so many different things to impact how things are for us. So that is all to say that in these conversations, I was a present. I was present as a human being too, not just a professor and, you know, reading these things is hard.

reading again and [00:05:00] again, all the ways that in American legal history, we sort of justified everything from taking the land originally from native indigenous Americans, American Indians, as they themselves often like to be called. and as well as, you know, Mexico, Mexican Americans, all of the, from that to, you know, the justifications for enslavement, for privileging white immigrants in the United States over time, not withstanding the history of.

indentured servitude, but the various ways that there were distinctions made between indentured servitude, which was a limited status. And, after the extinction of which people were given land and bushels of weed and, you know, opportunities to homestead in different parts of the country with huge, you know, potential to amass a certain kind of concrete material wealth.

Rhonda: And by contrast [00:06:00] again, lifelong enslavement without any of those benefits. And then of course, Asian American history, the history of Asian people to this part of the country, where I live in California rife with all sorts of battles around, you know, limited opportunity and, you know, threat of violence, tied to narratives again of who belongs and who doesn’t.

And at what level of inclusion. We might count in it. So, you know, that’s the kind of work we’re doing. We’re looking at the law, we’re looking at policy and of course that has resonance for what we’re dealing with now in immigration with hate crimes, with the, the intersection, with all of that, between those things and, and criminal law and policy.

And so, and on and on and on. And so it was not easy. And I just started to realize how much I was leaning into my own mindfulness and compassion practices for my own healing and self care. for my own ability to sustain in those conversations. And [00:07:00] I just came to realize that if I couldn’t offer more of those to my students, then I was really missing an opportunity.

And that’s really, it was the kind of clear seeing of that. And I write about it a bit in my book, the inner work of racial justice, one particular incident in which a student raised something, that immediately, I tell the story about a student Dan, who talked about wanting to argue that police brutality in the Rodney king case was justified and that happened in a classroom.

And in that moment, the only thing that saved me was a re remembering of mindfulness meditation ability to kind of pause ground myself, recognize I had a range of different options for responding rather than reacting, even though I was feeling like personally triggered and vulnerable. and it was in that moment and seeing what was happening, how I was relying on these practices, that really solidified the sense for me that I really needed to [00:08:00] make more explicit.

These implicit ways that I was relying on mindfulness to support the work. Wow. A

Gissele: truly powerful story. and you said so many important things. I think one of the things I really appreciated about your book is how, you embed practices within to help us through the process as we, have many different emotions and that we make our emotions welcome.

Yes. Um, yeah.you raised something that I was gonna ask later, but I’m gonna ask now, you mentioned the concept of, rationalizing how we can rationalize ourselves into pretty much anything and, and really how we, we kind have to dehumanize other human beings in order to justify some of the things that we have done.

and I actually have, seen this in the work of incarcerating children. So I actually had read a, an article that talked about how they were trying to understand how the rhetoric of compassion in the incarceration of children. And what happened was that the [00:09:00] politicians would, you know, not to judge, but politicians would use a rhetoric of compassion to actually justify the incarceration of children to protect the citizens.

Gissele: And so I was wondering what your thoughts are in terms of how we can avoid that kind of, you know, hosting of, of something like creating hierarchies of compassion and how we can actually use our mindfulness to really bring that kind of awareness.

Rhonda: Wow. Whew. Just to hear you describe that, I’m just gonna say that, like, it, it just I’m placing a hand to the heart because it it’s just pointing toward some dynamics that are just playing painful.

and really pointing toward how, you know, language games, discourse, I’m calling them games intentionally, because, because what we’re talking about is how, you know, the words that we use, can be [00:10:00] offered in a genuine way. Yeah. But may on the other hand be offered in ways that, are really targeted more toward manipulation, right?

Rhonda: More toward, you know, sort of obscuring the dynamics of power. So having a certain kind of Hmm, ability to discern what’s going on with language, you know, first and foremost, that’s part of what we do as lawyers. We sort of train a little bit in, in, and. , you know, having a, kind of a critical lens on how words are being used, but that also in a certain sense, there’s a, there’s a way that I enter into this, you know, this, what I’m describing here, this sort of how we think about the impact of our words, right?

There’s a training that I’ve embody as a lawyer that kind of takes [00:11:00] me down one path of thinking about how people are using words, but then there’s a training that I’ve envied as a meditator, as a, a student of Buddhism. Buddhism and, and as the foundation of what we call mindfulness as tied to in some way, teachings, that are associated with Buddhist traditions.

Again, mindfulness comes from many. Traditions. I’ll just say, but one of those certainly foundational traditions in Buddhism and within Buddhism, mine is mindfulness is one of eight different path factors for living well, right? There’s this eightfold path. And one of those factors is right speech. So there’s like a a prior path factor before you get to mindfulness.

Like, you know, again, these things are not necessarily linear, but there is this emphasis on the power of language. And so part of what comes up for me, when I think about what you’re describing is not only the kind of critical mind that I developed as a law student and [00:12:00] lawyer and law professor, but also kind of ability to sort of perceive more fully.

That my practices of mindfulness and the compassion practices have invited me into. And so all of this is to say that, you know, as human beings we are, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, we have, you know, really broad ranges of abilities and capacities to communicate with each other, to understand each other, to sort of, discern what’s going on, but it’s not easy.

And, you know, for me, definitely leaning into practices of mindfulness and compassion that, that really invite looking beyond the mirror words. So even when, when I use the word compassion, it’s pointing towards something that, you know, I know in my body and my bones, what I’m seeking to convey.

And when I communicate with other [00:13:00] people, I’m really seeking to invite us into a kind of communication that is embodied and through which we can discern, some sort of resonating, genuine, you know, reality there, but there are ways that, you know, we know we can just use words, to, you know, to put people in a kind of a spell when we don’t actually mean, you know, to be seeking to heal.

I use the word compassion intentionally to point toward the ethical commitment to minimizing suffering and, and to invite a conversation about what, you know, what, what that might ideally look like in a particular time and place. And really, you know, when I am sort of think about compassion, I think about it also through the lens of justice and, and, and, you know, so the ethics that I’m [00:14:00] speaking to invites a consideration of, you know, context and who’s vulnerable.

And so of course, if we’re talking about children, for the example you gave children being placed in cages to, you know, to talk about compassion and, and then, but not be speaking directly about the most vulnerable, the children and the families who have been impacted by those policies to not let that be first and foremost, then it seems to me, we’re, we’re again, we’re kind of abusing almost the, the beautiful language that we’re, you know, we’ve inherited to try.

do the best we can to, to kind of find common ground in these difficult circumstances. So yeah, I think always language is an invitation, right? It’s inviting us. Like what do we really really mean? And for me, you know, the teachings of mindfulness [00:15:00] and, the underlying traditions of Buddhism are fundamentally about, you know, commitments that are ethical in nature to truly doing the best we can to minimize harm, especially to the most vulnerable.

So from that place, you know, that’s the touch. Those are the touchstones I’ve used when I’m trying to listen, with a, with a view toward living these commitments of justice.

Gissele: Thank you for that. and that was one of the things I had gotten from your book, because I had seen your comment: compassion with an ethical intent to do no harm.

And that’s, and that’s what sort of arose for me in terms of like, oh, okay. Cuz when we talk about kind of this hierarchy of compassion, there seems to be sometimes people it as non deserving of compassion, right? Our stance really is everyone deserves compassion. Yes. And even the most hurtful. And it really is.

And that’s why I love your work because it’s about like leaning in it’s about [00:16:00] pausing. It’s about trying to understand with the stance of curiosity and nonjudgment so that we can come closer together.

Rhonda: Yeah, it’s right. I love that. You’re amplifying this piece about really everyone does deserve compassion and, and yet it’s really challenging because then everybody can say, well.

My compassion should somehow Trump, yours, or if we all deserve compassion, then, then who’s to say that I shouldn’t privilege, you know, the communities who are being impacted by immigrants, as opposed to the immigrant children themselves. And so, you know, again, I guess for me then it, it underscores that, you know, at the end of the day we are, we’re doing the best we can as soft belly, carbon based beings on a planet where absolutely everything is connected and we’re, we are going to have conflicting views about the vision of, you know, the good or the just, or the right they’re gonna, we’re gonna be in conflict.

So then how do we, you know, [00:17:00] do the best we can to try and build consensus? You know, a broader and broader, broader, common ground around the good, the just, and the right in this part in particular context that we’re dealing with, whether issues at the board or issues around, you know, women’s, reproductive choice, whatever the issues are, how can we find ways to communicate and to address these issues, recognizing our own vulnerability as human beings, our lived experience, the variations of that, that we are going to have conflicts by definition, cuz that’s what humans do.

And as best we can, we’re seeking to find the common ground that we can to find a, nonviolent way of resolving the conflicts that we will have. Mm-hmm mm-hmm and a way to sort of, you know, kind of recognize that it’s about kind of, you know, having a way of resolving as best we can [00:18:00] provisionally for now.

You know, so that we minimize violence and maybe can find a way for cooling off and to come back into the conversation the next time. That’s really what, you know, it’s like the best way as human. I haven’t seen anything much better than that. If I find a better way, right. It’s just like human beings trying.

That’s really all it is and bringing love and compassion seems so critical to that. Oh,

Gissele: absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. in your book, you talk about the power of the pause and you had mentioned it earlier as well, when you are triggered, how does stopping create a space so that we can do the work of racial justice?

Rhonda: Yeah, well, again, you know, I think we know so much about this from our own lived experience. We can probably all of us remember a. Where something happened, somebody made a comment or said something, or we witnessed something and we just immediately got seized with a sense of like how we should respond or what needs to be said or who’s wrong and what needs to be done.[00:19:00]

And, you know, my work is not, you know, to necessarily say that all of those, you know, quick responses are, you know, in some measure unworthy, but it is about kind of expanding the aperture on choice that is to, you know, deepen our ability to recognize the range of choices that we always have in, you know, response to something that, that triggers us.

and, you know, the neurobiologists help us recognize yeah. Between stimulus  and response. There is that space within which to choose. But then the question then come becomes like, well, who, what is this being this organism that’s choosing? [00:20:00] And what is the state that this organism is in?

And if so, that’s why, you know, mindfulness practices that ground us in a daily, and then moment to moment, really commitment to accessing our resources for thriving. You know, that is that foundation for helping us occupy the space that we are so that when we receive triggers and we get stimulated and provoked by things that happen because we will , we, we are working from a place of as best we can, some resourced ness, like we’re not running on empty so that whatever comes in, we’re just immediately reacting, right.

With almost nothing right. With nothing in the tank, so to speak. Yeah. But yeah, that’s what mindfulness is about. It’s like helping us [00:21:00] restore be is, you know, is well taken care of with water. If we need it with rest, if we need like the basic biological things, but then also with like noticing our own habits and patterns around, let’s say fear, how do we normally respond when we are afraid or anger?

what are some of the inputs to how we tend to respond when we are sensing anger were we, did we get, did we receive a training that anger always needs to have a violent response? Some of us have a lot of difficulty with the emotion of anger in part, because we didn’t, we never really learned ways of experiencing and, you know, feeling the energy of anger without there also being violence.

Rhonda: Because for so many people they’re fused mm-hmm , you know, some of us grew up in families where, when somebody was angry, we were vulnerable to be hit. So therefore we may, for example, have all kinds of hidden patterns and [00:22:00] conditionings around, oh, I can’t deal with people who are ever angry. And yet anger itself is an emotion.

You know what we do with anger? These are behaviors. If we take anger and spin it up into some story about grievance, about history, about my people for that can be. A driver of hate, right? So anger with a story and with some, you know, ginning up and some stoking can lead to hate, but the basic raw emotion of anger is just sort of an energy and flow.

It’s a, it’s a feeling and what we do with it, including perhaps allowing it to kind of help clarify for us some, you know, more wise action, right? That’s, that’s the possibility in every moment we can, you know, move from these feelings [00:23:00] into a sense of, oh, I could respond with violence. I could respond quickly with, you know, this verbal barrage.

I could take a moment and see, you know, and see if I have something that I’m curious about in response to, to, to this thing that’s triggering me. Do I need a little bit more information before I respond? Right. Or do I need to just take time to process, take time to, explore options for more wise action here.

So yeah, there’s so many ways. These are just examples of how pausing can, pausing in different ways, pausing in the ways that we do our regular cultivation of the resources that I talked about before. Right? So our regular meditation practice is a way of pausing in advance of a provocation. We’ve been meditating, we’ve been cultivating compassion.

So that then when we’re triggered, it’s like, oh, we have that in us. But then also [00:24:00] pausing in the moments sometimes. So taking a break and saying, you know, I need a few minutes to really think about this noticing we were trying to fire off. That you know, response by text or, Instagram message or, you know, right.

Each generation is using some different response yeah, for sure. Still the text generation, but I know the younger writer, like they’re longer, the angry

characters are less. So like whatever, whatever the method of like firing back, cuz it differs for all of us now, recognizing that we might pause and really discern, right. I could send this or I could do this. I could actually pick up the phone and maybe have a conversation I could, invite a person to meet in person.

And so much can change just by that difference in terms of how we, you know, whether or not we’re able to physically be together. So there’s just, I guess, basic ideas that pausing can create that space [00:25:00] through which we can discern. What are our options. Yes, and then we can choose, and then it can help us to pay attention to the, impact of our choice.

We pause and we see, all right, I did this, what happened as a response in response or as a result, and that iterative process, that willingness to learn from our actions and to, you know, not beat ourselves up incessantly, but to say, oh, I did that. What if I try this and to open to beginning again, right.

That’s a really important part, I think as well. Oh yeah,

Gissele: absolutely. And, and it also helps us lean in into those difficult conversations, because I know again, having had have friends on both sides as, as a white passing Latina, I hear from both sides, like the, the, the, my white male friends, like they, they don’t know what to do with the shame and the guilt and the privilege and the right.

And, and they [00:26:00] really. they really don’t know what to do. And their instinct is to see themselves as victims at times. Right. Because they feel like they’re being canceled or, or ostracized. And then I’ve got friends on the other spectrum, which are looking for validation for their experiences looking for an acknowledgement.

Yeah. and so I have found that compassion practice really helps us lean in, and that mindfulness, as you were mentioning so that we can hold space for our emotions so that then we can get curious cuz otherwise what happens is people just eject out of the conversation right,

Rhonda: right. Just can’t yeah.

Haven’t we all seen a lot of people just ejecting out of the conversation or avoiding the conversation altogether in advance, just like forecasting. Yeah, based on background. Sure. Like they’re in the room. I’m not going into that.

Gissele: Yeah. Like, yeah. It’s like, it’s like, I, I don’t like can’t touch that topic.

And that’s why I loved in your book as well. You talk about how these zero tolerance, [00:27:00] tolerance policies have not worked because people don’t change from feeling like, you know, punished and that’s something I had observed. I used to be a director of HR and that’s what I observed is that people who get punished for these racist behaviors feel like the victims.

So they victimize it’s, it’s all, what you have done is further away. That kind of dialogue, right. It like, I don’t find that that really, really works.

Rhonda: No again. And thank you so much for naming that, that, you know, we all know so much about, you know, about the fact that these are issues that show up in our workplaces, in our schools, in our family, And, you know, the efforts to simply respond with punitive measures.

I mean, we we’ve seen how this doesn’t work the war

Gissele: on drugs, the war on [00:28:00] crime, the war, all we resist

Rhonda: persist. We’re just a war. Like we’re just taking that war metaphor everywhere. I know.

Gissele: We’re just

like we’re fighting everything.

Rhonda: Yeah. And, and, and shocker, we’re all feeling then more targeted, more vulnerable, less, capable of resolving things because we feel like all we can do is just defend ourselves from the next attack.

And, and yeah. So, you know, my work has been about trying to create the space and to cultivate a sense of trustworthiness within ourselves and with  each other. But again, I think a lot of, so much of it starts with ourselves. How do we, you know, become more capable of staying in these difficult conversations?

how do we become more capable of really doing our own work? Cuz when I hear you talk about again, the different ways that people can feel [00:29:00] vulnerable in these conversations, you know, it, it, there is a need for, for each of us to find more support for doing the work that we all need to do to heal whatever wounds that we are bringing into these conversations.

Rhonda: And this is not to ever blame victims, but it’s just to say that the harm is multidimensional, right? So, You know, part of what the effort of my work has been. It’s been about saying, wow, if we’re really gonna be serious about amping up the commitment to really healing and, and reconciling or de deepening our ability and capacity to resolve these harms when they arise or to turn toward historical difficulty in our community or organizations, we’ve gotta be committed to a much more multidimensional, set of, you know, [00:30:00] tools for this work.

And, you know, big part I think is actually the personal healing part. So, and that means, you know, for those of us, who’ve been victimized, our communities of color who feel, yes, there are all these things that are happening and look we’re vulnerable again, and look at what you ha just I’m with another shooting and right.

There’s a lot that. That genuinely we might bring into a space that’s kind of perhaps curated, maybe for affinity groups. I talk about this in the book as well. Sometimes we need these safer spaces where it’s like for now. I just really need to know that I don’t need to worry about, you know, taking care of the feelings of people who kind of don’t understand what I’m talking about.

I kind of need to be in a space where people understand and, and, and from this place of working to heal, perhaps I can be a little bit more, again, resourced for that cross group conversation, but the same is true as well. For those who’ve been traditionally [00:31:00] more privileged, you know, needing a white affinity space or needing a space where, where white experience can be, unpacked can be explored where lineage and heritage from.

You know, the white racialized,kind of set of experiences can be unpacked. Like people’s immigration experiences from Europe and different parts of Europe and what pressured people to come and what, what was lost in the bargain to become, you know, a member of the new country or nation state, whether the United States or otherwise that you joined, what were those tra you know, what were the things that were given up in the bargain to become white?

I mean, there, there’s just a lot that each of us might more fully take time to explore, but failing, first of all, it’s doing that is hard. Yeah. And there’s almost no real, like, there’re [00:32:00] not enough good spaces for that. I mean, you know, you can look wherever, turn, look, look at, say the discipline of psych. . I mean, it wasn’t trained that you can see, we can I, no, no disrespect to the psychologist out there for sure.

But just looking at it, it there’s like a dearth, a dearth of expertise around helping people of any background address, internalized racism, internalized bias, internalized loss, and longing for, you know, some ethnic or some, you know, experience in another country that has been left behind. There’s just a lot of, in other words, like deep, some personal, and then sometimes intergenerational wounding that is often unskillfully just sort of festering.

Right. And so I think one dimension of the work that I try [00:33:00] and offer is support for us to like, you know, really take a look at what is it. That is in our makeup that we’ve inherited from our, you know, our ancestors, and to find ways of healing, find ways of making some greater peace with that because, the failure to do that is part of what can make it so hard to come together.

It’s like, I haven’t even done my own work. I don’t even really realize how my own people became white. So to speak in this context, what that has meant really and what I might want it to mean in this new country, in this quote, unquote new con in this, you know, contemporary arena, like that’s a lot to unpack, but it’s also a lot to expect to be able to unpack with people who are having a very different experience of vulnerability, people of color, people who have been targeted.

So that’s another reason why we do sometimes need these affinity, safe spaces, whatever our background, but then the temptation is not to get stuck there. [00:34:00] like, you know, how do we, that was gonna

Gissele: be my question because exactly. I think, I think it’s, I think we raise a really important question, which is we begin with safe spaces so that we can move to brave spaces, right?

Yes. It’s always been the argument against like one versus the other, because I think that’s one of the, the, the, the, the, the things we have to be aware of and awareness is really key to not, to get stuck there, not to get stuck in the story of victimhood, because when you look at the history of, you know, black people and indigenous people, there’s a lot of power there.

There’s a lot of like resiliency. And so how to acknowledge and, and, you know, rage safe of containers and acknowledge the reality that is happening, and which is what you wrote in your book. And, and understand that, that the power that exists there, that we have that. Exist in, you know, beyond these realities of oppression, [00:35:00]

Rhonda: right?

Yes, exactly. So, and there’s so much there and, and, you know, just touching on touching into a little bit, right. Of like, yes, the beauty and power of these affinity spaces to help us access, you know, safer space. I often say safer rather than safe because yeah. You know, yes. Not safe. Right. And we want more brave bravery at all these spaces and more safe, right.

We’re working it’s, these are, these are moving targets, but to, to really sort of bring those goals in and to kind of access that ability to, you know, say what we need to say and process what we need to process or work with what we need. without getting stuck. And, and that, without getting stuck piece for me is one of the, again, a, a beautiful legacy for me of, of, mindfulness and, you know, the underlying teachings of Buddhism, which are very, very [00:36:00] strong and clear about, supporting us and finding a middle way, whatever it is that we’re working with.

It’s like, and it’s not to say that we’re, ne it doesn’t come 100% dovetail with like, what we mean when we talk about moderation in politics, cuz you know, we can have a middle way that’s very maybe progressive or middle way. That’s concern, whatever. It’s a it by middle way. It means how is it that we’re holding, you know, all of these complex and dynamic experiences.

So how can we talk about. You know, some of the painful aspects of our history while at the same time, accessing the beauty and power of, you know, what, what those cultural experiences have given rise to while at the same time, not, letting any of that be a wall that makes it hard, right. Instead allowing that to be a bridge [00:37:00] so that I can open up to what your culture or someone else’s culture has also, you know, given rise to so that we can see the beauty of these multi multi-facets, like these multiple facets of what it means to be alive together.

everything we’re talking about is held within this really large envelope of the absolute miracle of what it means to be alive, so for me, there is a direct threat between what is we’re talking about and how we try to navigate these difficult conversations. I personally, you know, my practice is about the ground of resources that I mentioned that is fully infused with that awareness of the miracle.

Rhonda: Mm. And that is actually what keeps me joyful and keeps me resilient. It’s like, we are all just blessed to have this moment. Of being alive. We don’t know how long it is. We can hope to have many years. We know we have now. And we know we have this gift of [00:38:00] being alive on this planet where, you know, which is just, you know, a heavenly body, right.

Right now in the heavens. And if we forget that, that is how sometimes we can get lost. But if you remember all of it is a mystery, really? Yeah. And we’re just trying to navigate as best we can, but we don’t wanna fall for this idea that these illusions about all these different things are the whole story because they are not.

And that is the thing that can keep us, like, I think really, you know, super resilient.

Gissele: and, and that interesting that you mentioned that because, that was one of the questions I had written down, which is, you know, in, in you, in your book, you talk about who am I really outside of all these labels outside of all of this, beyond this, who am I?

And, and I think this is kind of where people get stuck on the whole, I don’t see color, which I’m gonna ask you about cuz we should talk about, cause I know somebody’s gonna ask me this well to that. So, but we are these incredible, amazing beings. And from my perspective, we’re all interconnected part of a [00:39:00] larger source.

Yes. how can we. Just flourish in this beautiful diversity that exists in this world, by all these different being, but not get stuck in the reality of division,

Rhonda: right? Oh, let’s add a little bit more energy to this question. Like yeah. How do we do all of that at the same time without falling victim to the temptation of what many call bypassing? Yes. Right. It’s like, right. It’s like, in other words, it’s like we can get stuck in so many different places.

 We are recognizing, you know, all of these as facets of experience, disrupting binaries, right? Disrupting the idea that we’re either totally racialized. I come from this place. This is my people that, or we are just one big happy family. Actually. We’re both in many different other things.

Rhonda: Yes. Right? So that we can pause and hear each other’s [00:40:00] stories and the particular lessons we’ve learned along the way. We envive from our people or our experience on this planet, in this place, context matters like, you know, the stories we need to tell in California right now, maybe different from the stories we need to tell in some other part of the world.

So we can create space for that kind of, more concrete, specific engagement with the. realities that we’ve lived and that we’ve learned from, without being, you know, falling victim to the idea that, and this is the whole story , but I think we need to have these types of practices and conversations. And I thank you for this podcast conversation to help support us in how we do that, because it is a practice and it’s, and I’ve been alluding to how we do it.

It is for me. And I think there’s no one way, but for me, it is about always [00:41:00] remembering that reality is multifaceted. And it, you know, although we’ve been trained to think of things in binary terms, right, we’ve been trained to think of, I am this background and race and gender and you’re that, or am I am in this group or this, and you’re in that.

And there’s only one right way or one right answer . But actually really there are many different things happening, always in once and many different ways of perceiving and ways of being together . And so again, such a profound teaching, simple but profound teaching about, not getting stuck. The there’s a quick Buddhist story, if I can share it.

Yeah, please.the historical Buddha was reportedly met by one of his disciples who was, who was asking him, you know, how is it that you crossed the flood? And the flood is kind of a metaphor for, you know, tur all the ways that we can get pulled along into.

Right? No, you need to be focused on [00:42:00] your identity and you need to be doing this work or no, you need to be thinking about how we’re all one human being and one be on a planet that’s connected. How do, and right. We can feel like jarred along mm-hmm . How did you navigate that flood? And, the Budda replied by not straining.

On the one hand and not stopping. I, I found that middle way. So then the question becomes like, yeah, what is, what does straining look like? And what does stopping look like and strain, and it can, and again, there’s no for each of us. And in any moment, that is a question. I bring that question to bear, you know, on a regular basis, because for each of us, it can look different.

So straining can look like, I know that this community is reeling from a recent racist incident, but I really wanna talk about how we’re all one and the people are like no hard pass,

but at the same [00:43:00] time too soon as we’ve done that and processed that at a certain point, it’s like, are we getting stuck? Do we now need to open up the average or on there is look, you know, the sun is also rising. and we are also thriving together. Look, we are finding a way to, to connect and share food and, safely navigate, you know, driving our cars without running each other down on the road.

Like there’s so many hidden ways that we’re all we’re collaborating for safety and caring for each other quietly, just by simply following traffic rules is just one subtle example. Yeah. I’ve by the way, been to countries where people don’t follow those rules and there’s cars up on the sidewalk. No. Yeah.

So it, these subtle things matter. And so amplifying possibility at the same time being sensitive to what’s called for now, you know, one of the key teachings of mindfulness is we try and train in that [00:44:00] subtle wisdom of discerning what’s called for now. And if what’s called for now is like holding hands and.

Hearing how that racist incident or that sexist incident or whatever it was that homophobic or whatever it was, how that really put up, you know, a toxic energy in this community. And we need to heal that. That’s what we need to do. And at the same time, if we start to see people clinging to that story, you know, well past the moment, but we’re still clinging to it and we just can’t let it go.

We can feel compassion for what, you know, cause there are many reasons why we, we, as humans can do that. But it’s really a sort of a very subtle question to discern. Like, are we, you know, and there’s another teaching in the Buddhist is teaching of the second arrow, the two arrows teaching, right? Mm-hmm and Buddhism like the incident, the racist incident, the sexist, whatever it is first arrow.

It [00:45:00] causes all this pain. It’s like, Ugh, did that happen? Was this person injured in this way? Was there a hate crime that happened here? Mm-hmm, , that’s horrible. We need to address that. But the second arrow is that arrow that comes when we, we keep reminding, we keep, we keep talking about how that the other people will right.

Projecting what could happen constantly. So, you know, being wise about how we respond to the arrows. Yeah. And again, no one right thing, but like that’s what these practices are about. Oh,

Gissele: you mentioned so many key things. it’s so funny in my experience with anxiety, you know, I’ve had my share of adversities in life and, and that was one of the things I realized I’m retraumatizing myself every single time that I think that this

So, so it was really about changing my thoughts. the other thing, key things you had mentioned was, non-resistance, which is allowing right. Understanding that this is what we’ve created. We’ve all contributed to a [00:46:00] world or racism exists. Right? We have allowed that, but fighting or resisting only keeps it and manifest, whereas really understanding okay.

From, from here where, and in a way that doesn’t drown us, because for me, that’s the difference between empathy and compassion, that when people feel empathetic, they can really drown in other people’s stories and they can’t see past, whereas compassion is kind of staying on the boat and helping people from their, you know, from their drowning.

What are your thoughts?

Rhonda: Yeah, right. Well, there, there was just, again, there’s so much that that was kind of coming up for me there. you know, on the one hand first, just to amplify what you’re saying about how that awareness, that insight. that you were in the way that you were caught in the trap of the things provoking anxiety in a way retraumatizing mm-hmm

And that is, again, an insight that can [00:47:00] come from mindfulness awareness practices, pausing, really seeing what’s going on and it can apply it to so many things. so yeah, finding a way then to, yeah, not be flooded or overwhelmed by the thing that we want to attend to with care. Mm-hmm you know, these, these more skillful ways of dealing with the challenges we face, whether it’s patterns around.

Society or, you know, how it is that we seek to offer support to someone who’s suffered and, you know, managing the temptation to, you know, jump in the hole with the person as opposed to kind of being able to uplift, right. Caring in a way that can uplift, not just leaving the person down there with pity, but actually helping, you know, it, it, it can, we can shift almost in an instant when we start to have some, you know, some [00:48:00] insight about what we’re doing, but sometimes it takes a little bit more time and support and, you know, relationships that can help us learn how to shift our habits and patterns by helping remind us what we’re doing.

Yeah. yeah, so I, I do think that what you’re saying is, is so important and there are so many different ways, actually. I think that we can. Cultivate these different ways of being in and in ourselves and, and of course, as well, support, others in, in doing that. But it’s, you know, I, I guess the other thing that it was coming up for me that hasn’t been put into the conversation and that’s probably why some part of me is like, we gotta make sure we say it.

you know, we are often given to think about how to, how to deal with all of this in a very hyper individualized almost moralizing way. Like if we’re good people, we’re gonna do all these things that Rhonda and [00:49:00] Gissele have been talking about. We’re just gonna take out the second arrow. We’re gonna, you know, all by ourselves deal with finding ways to navigate and discern what’s called for.

Rhonda: And I guess I want to, you know, part of my work as a law professor, a person who trained in sociology, you know, a kind of a. , you know, I’m one of those people, I think that sees how things are connected beyond the individual kind of a system thinker. So I think it’s very, very important that we not only think about what we can do in our own power, because that is important.

That is what we’ve been talking about a lot here, but also not to, you know, kind of ignore or, avoid, acknowledging that we are embedded in, in, in a world and systems in a context. And, you know, there are these dynamics that we are up against right now that [00:50:00] that are very, very difficult for any individual to navigate.

alone. And what I mean to say is, you know, there are organized power dynamics, you know, in fact, oppression is partly about, you know, creating systems that, you know, once power has been amassed and you unevenly distributed, the, those who have been in power can kinda remain in power, even absent their intentional hateful acts, right.

Rhonda: These systems start to kind of perform the hierarchy. Right. and so I, I guess that’s my way of just helping bring grounding us a little bit with the certain  humility of recognizing that each of us will do can do the best we can. And I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think there was there’s great value, certainly in.

Each of us [00:51:00] supporting ourselves and each other and doing all that we can to maximize our ability to work across these lines of difference and create space for growing together, caring for each other, understanding each other the better and at the same time, woo. The systems are powerful right now. So we are all being manipulated by these guys, for example, much as I love the technology you know, there’s a whole effort out there to, kind of hijack and, and reinforce, you know, extreme views and, manipulate our emotions that we’re, you know, at pains to really effectively address it’s much harder than simply putting down the phone sometimes because we are, you know, technology has created almost a new colonies of like where power resides and to communicate at all.

You kind of have to get in the conversation online. and to put yourself in conversations online is to make ourselves vulnerable to this kind of [00:52:00] emotional and other hijacking mm-hmm . And so I’m just naming that. And of course, you know, we know there’s a rising appeal of authoritarian kind of abusive politics at different points around the globe right now mm-hmm

And that also is, you know, kind of part of what we’re up against. So that’s the part that, where my, my own heartbreak is real because I see rising terroristic violence happening in the us. Right. You know, these mass shootings, they on the one hand seem to be lone individuals who have mental health disorders, but there’s a pattern here.

There’s domestic terrorism as a threat. And how are we dealing with that or not? That’s just one example of the kinds of external social dynamics that, that are really making it hard. For us to every day, get up and figure out how to make the best and how to meet another person across the line of difference and really listen and be curious.[00:53:00]

It’s like, oh, but there’s also a thread of AR being brought into our public spaces. So we have to really be able to deal with all of that. And it’s hard. It’s hard right now.

Gissele: I, I really appreciate you mentioning that because I think one of the things that I believe is really the inter the interconnectedness between the individual and the larger community, right?

Like we are all interdependent. And so you mentioned kind of these lone, you know, killers, but the truth of matter is those individuals are created by the systems we have created, which don’t reinforce appropriate mental health support, that where belongingness is an issue where there’s how we treat, you know, When you look at our systems, our systems are about isolate, separate and punish.

They’re not about love and compassion bringing in inclusivity. So we can’t say that these individuals are just working alone when they are symptoms of a larger issue within our society. Right.

Rhonda: And at the same time, they’re not often, I mean, they are being applauded [00:54:00] again, technology. They are finding their sub communities and often finding reinforcement there.

So there is yeah, in so many different ways, the, what appear to be loan incidents are being in a certain sense, cultivated by our systems and communities that we’re in.

Gissele: Right. and so one of the questions I, I did have, was around, you know, in your book, you talk about, Martin Luther king Jr’s vision of the beloved community, which is us coming together, seeing each other’s brothers and sisters and caring for.

Extending our, our care beyond our family, seeing everyone as human as a human family and caring about other people. and so I am not sure, like I do believe this is possible and I was gonna ask whether or not you see that, however, the fear, the survival instincts, the, the, the role of fear is so prominent that I don’t think people can see beyond their own needs and their own beyond [00:55:00] the O their own, lack that they’re worried about lack.

They, they believe this story that, you know, life is a zero sum game, which is not. And you mentioned that in your book. And so I think until they’re able to shift that, I’m not sure if they, we can really see each other as a, a non threat or a non competition. so what are your thoughts?

Rhonda: Yeah. Well, I agree with everything you’re saying, with, with maybe this, slight, this is, this is a way that I hold all of that.

you know, again, first and foremost, it begins with ourselves. So even to say, they think that it’s a zero seventh game where that, that, you know, they are feeling like, what do you think? Right. And it’s also like, really, how do we, what do we know about what that feels like in our own bodies? Like what do we really know about the fears that you’re talk that you’re speaking to?

I mean, I think I know something about these fears and yet [00:56:00] I’m here, right? Because part of what I do think is possible is to really deepen our ability to acknowledge these fears that any one of us might have on any given day given. Any provocation coronavirus was just like one huge international teach in about how we’re all vulnerable physically from each.

And we can all like respond to that threat in many different ways. We can, you know, close off immigration and we can live in our own kind of strict, right? Yeah, yeah. Or we can, or we can like, do you know, the, the, this, the do, do take some wise action in response to actual threat, but also, you know, figure out how to keep connecting, because we realize that shared information across nation nation boundaries across communities is how we’ll survive really.

Right. We’re you [00:57:00] know, mm-hmm so I think that. while everything you’re saying is 100%. I think, you know, we all know of this. We know that there is this great temptation towards zero, sum thinking towards fear of the other existential threat . Like in fact, sometimes in this mindfulness and spiritual community, there can be a temptation to think that once you recognize that all are connected, then from there compassion necessarily naturally flows.

Well again, if we look close within ourselves and certainly look around, we can see that for some people, it is not that they don’t recognize that everything is connected is that they do. And it terrifies them because for some people to see that, oh yes, we are all one part of one. It’s like, but then I have to just sort of protect myself as much as possible from all of the ways that I might be impacted by your vulnerability.

So, you know, not [00:58:00] understanding. the way that our, we know our threat sensors, our, our, you know, our neurobiology of fear, the kind of almost primitive ways our brains react to, to fear that, you know, science neurobiology tells us is very, very real. We have to really recognize that that’s possible for any one of us.

And, and that’s why we do these practices. It’s why we do what we do. It’s not to get to a place where you never feel these fears and are never tempted to separate and to kind of it’s to have some kind of humble awareness that all of us maybe tempted to feel these things. And, and therefore, when we see it in another person, we’re not trying to demonize that person.

We, we understand how you can be tempted to feel that. But what we wanna do is first within ourselves and from that place with others deep. [00:59:00] The ability to kind of manage the waves of those fears and to, you know, kind of acknowledge the temptation toward, isolation and separation and building up walls.

We know what that’s like. you know, it happens in our communities. It happens in our families. It can happen in our hearts. We can acknowledge that, I think, but also from the place of how are we working with it in ourselves? I think from that humble place, we can say, I hear you. And , I mean, I think it’s just that I hear you and you know, how do we, you know, make the most of this opportunity presented by this one life?

That as far as I know, I mean, maybe we’ll be lucky to find their old many different lives after this, but right now there are opportunities for us to make of this. Moment of these lives of our communities, of our workplaces, [01:00:00] more effective, opportunities for thriving together. And that’s what we’re trying to do on a moment by moment or week by week or quarter by quarter basis.

We’re just, that’s all we’re trying to do. And I do think the good news is there is a good amount of research, and a lot of us know from our own experience that that it’s possible, but it really is about kind of continuing to show up every day. And, you know, knowing that we’re this time, I mean, let’s just acknowledge.

 to me, that’s the vision I have of beloved community is one where we can both recognize the harm and the pain and the reality, and even the love and joy, right?

Rhonda: The kind of, we love the culture because right of these identities again, but continue opening up to the kind of unreality of [01:01:00] all of that on a certain level at the same time, without bypassing right. The harm, we can also not bypass the. I don’t know. We know I don’t even have words, but there’s something that wants to be born.

I think when we are talking, when I think about beloved community, cuz I don’t really think we’ve made it manifest yet in the world. I think Dr. King was trying. Right. And so many of us are trying,

Gissele: we couldn’t keep them. Thich Nhat Hanh said that we had manifested him into reality, but we couldn’t keep him.

Yeah. Because of the, the, the level of love and inclusivity that he was picturing. Yes. We just, we just couldn’t hold it because we of where we are currently. And I think where’re, I don’t even know. I, I, there’s an element of me that feels that we’re closer and closer every day. But at the same time you see this rising of these things that seem to negate that.

But I think it’s coming to the surface that were always there. it’s more of like about [01:02:00] raising awareness of who we really have been. And now who are we gonna choose to be?

I think

Rhonda: you’re right.

Gissele: I have to ask you this question from my listeners, which is I, I have a number of listeners who would say, like they have been raised not to see color.

And so they really struggle with understanding that saying that is, is hurtful. So can you kind of give me an answer for them in terms of like, how can they, how can they understand something that they were taught as children and in their families and at the same cuz from their perspective and if I got it right, I apologize to mainly I didn’t get it right.

Which was really about seeing people and loving people and, and, and really, so that, that more idealized perspective about

Rhonda: this. Yeah. So I get it. I totally get it. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think the invitation is to really inquire into what it really means to see people. [01:03:00] because if a person is saying, if you are not able to hear me, describe my racial experience in a way you’re actually not seeing this person.

You have like an abstract notion of the people and I’m here to say that race has mattered in my life. And I need you to understand that if you really wanna see this person, and I think I’ve heard, I’ve seen this actually in a, in a group I was facilitating once this, everything you’re just describing literally happened where, you know, a white racialized man actually, in this case, were in the Southwestern part of the United States was saying, you know, I don’t see color.

And a Latina sitting beside him was just like enough. Every time you say that, I feel like you’re just erasing me. I’m here to tell you color matters in this space. The fact that I’m one of the few Latinx people here in [01:04:00] this space, and I come to this workplace every day, I’m having a different experience given the way we are around race, because it still matter.

Right. So she basically was like, ah, I gotta deal with it. This, I understand what you’re trying to say, but you are not seeing me when you say that. And I will say that, I know from the conversation I had with the white gentleman, after that, he still was struggling. He was still, he, he really was still like, you know, struggling.

And I, and all I can say is, that’s why I was saying before that we each are called to really do our own work, to see where we are getting stuck. Because, I mean, you can, we can get stuck in this, but I’m just seeing the human and I’m or this other way that it shows up in our spiritual communities I’m spiritually evolved.

And I will come down from my evolved place to listen to your conversation about race, but actually I’m waiting for you to evolve beyond that. That is, is a [01:05:00] very common feeling and expression in these spiritual and mindfulness communities in here. Especially I see it in, I see it all over the United States, but mm-hmm, certain certainly seeing them Northern California and some of my friends who’ve been doing this work around mindfulness and social justice have, you know, we’ve had these painful conversations where they’ve been like, I have worked to try and raise awareness of these issues for more than 30 years or 20 years or some long number of time, period of time.

And I still have people. aren’t we done yet with this social justice race piece. Can’t we just get to the evolution of where we are trying to get, where we never have to talk about .

Let me just loosen my attachment to this idea of this is what makes me a good evolved person. Open up to the possibility that there’s another way to show your evolution today.

Gissele: Yeah. Oh, thank you. That, that was such a great answer. You know, I’ve heard people say, well, you, you don’t see race, cuz it’s not an issue for you.

Rhonda: And actually isn’t this issue for all of [01:06:00] us. It’s just, they’re holding that issue differently. Exactly.

Gissele: And I think that’s the piece. I think that’s where, you know, like the world that we have created with racism, child abuse, all of these things reflect our level of consciousness. We have all contributed either acts for omission or commission to where we are, and it’s gonna take all of us to really, I think, shift. My husband and I have lots of conversations.

So I love what you said because you know, he talks about cuz you know, I have, I, I, at one point in my journey did get to the spiritual bypassing, just wait, like, and he talks about how he talks about how you can’t negate the human experience. We’re still here. So this is the human experience and you’re also a spiritual being so how to bring them together and not negate the story like you know, of, of our fellow human beings.

How do we actually. Work together spiritually and through the physical being, knowing that we’re gonna have all these emotions and see, [01:07:00] and, and show up in the world as a combined or embodied being rather than trying to okay. The physical doesn’t exist. Yes. Yeah. Or the other way around, which is we completely ignore

Rhonda: our spirituality.

So, absolutely. Yeah. It’s all one taste really. I like that really. It is. That’s a challenge. That’s a challenge to understand that however it’s showing up, that’s all, that’s the spiritual, the human is by definition. It’s all there really.

so just final question. Where can people, what can my audience find you?

Gissele: Where can they find your book? Like what are you working on? What do you wanna see? Oh, that’s a

Rhonda: great, thank you. Thank you. So. I do have this little website that I’m actually going to be relaunching in the next couple of months, because it’s sort of the little engine that could and needs a real upgrade.

So, but it’s at RhondaVmcgee.com. So follow me there, kind of check in there. And if you get on my, my list, as I upgrade and get things a little bit [01:08:00] more with it, you’ll be able to, to follow me a bit better. I am also on the socials. Right. So please, in the meantime, I I’m regularly kind of, dropping con you know, here content and information about where I’m presenting, on Facebook or on Twitter, on Instagram a little bit.

yeah, I am, you know, I, I, right now I am working on a couple of different, book products, one that’s really gonna, elaborate a little bit more on. Buddhist in particular, not just mindfulness, but, but, you know, for those who are deepening their mindfulness with an exploration of Buddhism, a bit of a conversation for, those who are looking for, you know, deeper ground than Buddhism for supporting, exploring identity, upending, racism, being more engaged in the social realm, through our Buddhist practices.

Rhonda: So I’m working with a, a monk actually on a book project where we’re like [01:09:00] reflecting on mm-hmm on, on a deep, you know, deep path for, for awareness around all of this. and then I have, yeah, just a new project that I’m, I’ve been, so one of the ways that I surface some of my next writing projects is with my offerings.

And so I’ve been really offering, you know, sessions and workshops and trainings around, thriving together. Right. So how we can, right. Do both the affinity group work and then the coming together across lines of real and perceived difference. So, certainly I’m available presenting to universities and, and corporations and nonprofits and community spaces around how we can create these bridges between our affinity groups and thrive together.

and then, yeah, just feeling more the soulfulness of mindfulness, you know, allowing us to drop into our affinities and see that as that perfect path for the blossoming of our, whatever our beyond the [01:10:00] affinity group identity is that place where I fall, where words fall down. Right. I mean, so I think there’s a, but I do think there’s something very soulful in a way about like, recognizing that we come through literally one man and one woman or else we wouldn’t be here.

Rhonda: and we come through, you know, places on the earth where the earth that walks each of us. So, my, you know, my projects are about both, always about the both, and always about the beautiful,

Gissele: and don’t forget to get the inner work or racial justice.

Rhonda: Yeah. My canvas

Gissele: is really hard time picking it up, but yes, a beautiful book on how to do the inner work in order for us to be able to kind of really lean into

Rhonda: one another and have yes.

And you can find that online, everywhere you can buy books, and in your local. Independent book sellers. And I also read the audio book myself and offered meditation. Oh, nice. Yeah. I offered the meditations. Right. So in a lot of people I’ve enjoyed just not having to worry about putting the [01:11:00] book down and having to try and do the meditations that I describe in the book, but just allowing me to guide and listen along and practice.

so you can find that@audible.com. Oh, that’s

Gissele: beautiful. Oh, thank you so much, Rhonda, for being here. This was an amazing conversation. You and thank you to all of our listeners, enjoying us again for another episode of the love and compassion podcast with me Gissele. Thank

Rhonda: bye-bye.

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