Years ago, my dear friend Cleo, a young dark-skinned man of African descent, leaned towards me, a middle-aged White woman. Near tears, Cleo talked of the emotional and psychic stress he felt, as a Black man in this society. Quietly, he asked: “What does the term White supremacy mean to you? What is your relationship to it?” My heart leapt into my throat. I gasped for air. In that moment of reckoning, my Whiteness became visible to me. My body tensed. My thoughts fragmented. I took a deep breath, seeking courage. His questions challenged the world as I then knew it. My self-identity, moral character, and personal capacity for engaging in dialogue felt called into question.
We who grieve the great injustices on Earth are called not only to change our views – but to transform at the deepest levels of our being. We are challenged to awake to the plurality of Reality. Only a metanoia – a radical change of heart, mind, and spirit – will enable us to co-create a world where all human beings flourish.
Sitting in the Fire
Reality challenges us to make a strong commitment to support diversity. To co-create a more just, more sustainable world, let us form alliances with people from diverse races, cultures, and religions. Let us engage in dialogues that catalyze mutual understanding, shared meaning, and the discovery of new ways to live and work together.
Based on my own experience, however, I offer a cautionary note. Entering into dialogue with those whose belief systems and values clash with our own can be akin to sitting in a fire. Even when we listen with the ears of the heart, fear arises. When we encounter conflicting perspectives and grievous suffering, discomforting thoughts and chaotic emotions abound. Our perceptions of the world no longer make sense.
What if everything you were taught was false?
When our unconscious beliefs about diverse races, cultures, and religions become visible, our psyches become disoriented. We resist. We equivocate. We deny, bargain, and despair. Core issues, our deepest stuck places, are activated. Unknown forces erupt from the depths of our unconscious. Our sense of self is at risk.
Only later do we realize that the dimensions through which we apprehend Reality are being transformed. With humility and gratitude, we appreciate the other as a source of self-understanding that dis-entangles us from our own distorted and limited perspectives.
Awakening Our Whole Being
Great courage, clarity, and compassion are needed on this path. Faced with my own lack of capacity, I deepened my commitment to Qigong and Realization Process, both subtle, non-dual body-centered meditation practices. Our body is our instrument of experience, perception, thought, emotion, and physical sensation. As we make deep contact with the internal space of our body, the body’s subtle energy channels open. The body, mind, breath, and energy systems integrate. The senses become refined – and we see, hear, and touch on a more subtle level.
When belief systems collapse, gentle, precise practices such as these awaken our whole being, heal us psychologically, and help us relate authentically to others – without losing attunement to ourselves. As we disentangle from habituated thoughts, reactive feelings, and overwhelming sensations, we open to a deeper reality – differentiation is not separation.
Being flourishes in this sacred space. Liberating our self from distorted perceptions and unconscious beliefs becomes a perceptual, cognitive, and embodied act of self-transfiguration.
Warm tender vibrations resonated between Cleo’s and my pulsing hearts – compelling me to become a social activist, organizing inter-racial/cultural/religious dialogues in diverse communities. Dissolving barriers to living in harmony with people from different races, cultures, and religions is a radical spiritual journey – we willingly commit to unveiling our core issues and our personal habits of twisting away from Reality. Chronic fragmentations in our psyche can be healed. Bound emotional pain from the body, energy system, and the causal level of consciousness can be released. We realize the essence of our Being is luminous – and has never been injured.
This journey is a path to self-re-creation. As we open to the body’s tremendous healing and nurturing wisdom, our experience of Reality changes. We experience wholeness rather than fragmentation, unity rather than separateness, and inner peace rather than discontent. We realize: Love is who we are. Love at this depth is the vast, unchanging, radiant consciousness to which we attune at the innermost core of our being.
Committed to realizing the true nature of Reality, let us share stories, rituals, food, music, and art with people from different races, cultures, and religion. Alive to the movement of feelings, sensations, thoughts, and emotions, let our hearts dissolve barriers and shift perspectives. In the end, the call to action is not only to co-create a more just and sustainable world. The call to action is to enter into a direct experience of Reality—unmediated by thought.
When we experience Reality directly,
our life unfolds
as our greatest offering.
Roma Hammel, PhD
Published in Kosmos Journal, August 13, 2014
The Praxis of Transparadigmatic Inquiry: A Transformative Research Paradigm
Roma Hammel, PhD
Researcher, Anti-Racist Activist, Teacher
Presented at the Sixth International Transformative Learning Conference, Michigan State University, Oct. 6-9, 2005.
Abstract: This paper presents a praxis—an intentional way of living daily—whereby well-intentioned White people can deconstruct the White psyche and evolve a multi-dimensional, process-oriented, activist consciousness. Grounded in the author’s ten-year heuristic inquiry, this paper briefly describes White moral fog, schisms in the White psyche, and theories on radically transforming social conditioning.
When liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody white-supremacist values and beliefs even though they may not embrace racism as prejudice or domination . . . they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they profess to wish to see eradicated. bell hooks (1989)
Ignorance, Denial, and White Moral Fog
A well-intentioned White hetereosexual female, I was faced with incontrovertible evidence of my ignorance, denial, and moral fog regarding how I embodied white-supremacist values and beliefs in my first year in a Ph.D. cohort at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Late one April afternoon midway through the year, a fellow student Cleo Manago, the director and founder of AMASSI, a Black cultural affirmation center in Los Angeles, asked to facilitate a discussion on White supremacy. I agreed to participate, as did each of the 17 of us present. Together, we formed a tight, tense circle. Cleo, a dark-skinned man of African descent, leaned towards me. Quietly, he asked: “What does the term White supremacy mean to you? What is your relationship to it?” My heart leapt wildly into my throat. I gasped for air. In that moment of reckoning, my Whiteness became visible to me. My body tensed. My thoughts fragmented. I took a deep breath, seeking courage to enter into the heartfelt nature of his inquiry. His questions challenged the world as I then knew it. My self-identity, moral character, and personal capacity for engaging in dialogue felt called into question. At the time, I wasn’t aware that there existed an unspoken norm of silence among White people in our group in response to questions about race. I had no clue that our six-month history of refusing to engage in any substantive discussion regarding White supremacy reflected White power and privilege. Cleo had been direct about his perspective: White group members’ failure to examine assumptions about the world perpetuated systems of power that were not only oppressive to people of Color in the cohort but also life-threatening to people of Color in society. Soft sunlight spilled onto the brown carpeting through the open second-story window that warm spring Saturday. In the schism created by my colliding thoughts and flooding emotions, Cleo patiently repeated his questions. I sat on the floor to his right, on a purple cushion. He wore a handsome brown and white print Dashiki. Intently, he looked at me. He waited. At last, words stumbled forth from my scattered mind. I couldn’t hear them. I still wonder: “Did I make excuses—avoid the issue? Did I even say the words White supremacy?” Whiteness fogs my memory.
Schisms in the White Psyche
Challenged to live my life in congruence with my deepest beliefs, I searched for ways to research how White consciousness manifested in the domains of my body, mind, and spirit (Hammel, 2000). But transformative learning theories didn’t offer instrumental guidance through the emotional reactivity–shame, guilt, fear, anger—triggered by the dissonance between my White worldviews and my cross-cultural experiences at CIIS, at home, and as a public high school teacher. In frustration, I turned to my dog-eared copy of Alan Watts’ (1961) book, Psychotherapy East and West. He described a practice for people seeking liberation from “confused thinking and feeling” (p. 57). He suggested that a person follow the false premise that the self is something that can be known, that the self is the body, the sensations, the thoughts, the consciousness (p. 61). I committed to enter into the liberation of my White psyche. I decided to operate under the supposition that my inner experience—all sensations, thoughts, and consciousness—although they felt real—were not manifestations of me but of the social conditioning also known as White supremacist norms and consciousness. African-Centrist Dr. Marimba Ani (1994) describes the White psyche:
The human being is split into rational and irrational (emotional) tendencies. These are thought to represent warring factions of her/his being. The rational self offers the possibility of knowledge (control), while the emotional self is a constant threat to the loss of control. (p. 557).
I recognized this schism in myself. Judith Katz (1978) also notes schisms in the White psyche: “Racism has been diagnosed as a form of schizophrenia in that there is a large gap between what Whites believe and what they actually practice, which causes them to live in a state of psychological stress” (p. 11). Janet Helms (1990) notes that the White person developing a healthy White racial identity searches for answers to questions such as “Who am I racially?” and “Who do I want to be?” and “Who are you really?” (p. 62) Actually, however, I sought more than perhaps Helms’ questions imply: I wanted to experience life as more than meaning. Inspired by integral philosopher Raimon Pannikar, I wanted to discover not only “the eyes of intelligence to see, but also the ears of the heart to feel, to hear the unthinkable” (as cited by Vachon, 1995, III, p. 7). I wanted to change the way I experienced the world. Now I am viscerally aware that the psychic structures dominating European-American consciousness often disconnect awareness from experience (Ani, 1994; Duran and Duran, 1995; Frankenberg, 1993; McLaren, 1997; Walker 1983). The subject-object structure of the English language constricts dialogue. Words aren’t the only medium for communication. Their tonality, rhythm, and symbolism interlace with silence, images, breath, movement, and body resonance. Hazrat Inayat Khan (1982) explains:
The body’s awakening means to feel sensation; the mind’s awakening means to think and feel. The soul’s awakening means that the soul becomes conscious of itself. . . . The evolved soul will feel the vibrations of every other soul. (p. 129, p. 131)
Theories on Profoundly Reorganizing the Psyche
Morris Berman (1981) summarizes Gregory Bateson’s (1972) theory that processes of enculturation are primarily tacit processes taught nonverbally rather than taught explicitly with clearly stated rules (p. 223). Bateson calls cultural learning deutero-learning, referring to the nonverbal process whereby what is learned is tacitly communicated (p. 218). Because of its tacit nature, this communication is invisible to the learner. The only escape from the deutero-patterns of one’s life—which Bateson calls Learning II—is understanding the nature of the paradigm, Learning III (p. 231). Bateson explains that it is in Learning III that one recognizes all meaningful communication is meta-communicative. One is aware that the frame is part of the premise rather than at odds with it as is the case in deutero-learning (p. 232). Thus, understanding in Learning III is meta-cognitive—including but not limited to cognitive domains of consciousness. Jack Mezirow (1991) explains that learning to see the metacommunicative dimension of meaningful communication involves perspective transformations from those tacitly taught:
[Bateson’s] Learning III involves transformations of the sort that occur in religious conversion, Zen experience, and psychotherapy. These are perspective transformations, through which we can become aware that our whole way of perceiving the world has been based on questionable premises. (p. 91)
Gregory Bateson (1972) states that such change brings about a profound reorganization of character—a change in form, not just content (p. 304). The re-formation of a person’s character, according to Bateson, is psychically challenging. He describes what can happen to people who seek to see the cultural framing determining their perception and comprehension:
Some fall by the wayside. These are often labeled by psychiatry as psychotic, and many of them find themselves inhibited from using the first person pronoun.
For others, more successful, the resolution of the contraries may be a collapsing of much that was learned at Level II, revealing a simplicity in which hunger leads directly to eating, and the identified self is no longer in charge of organizing the behavior.
For others, more creative, the resolution of contraries reveals a world in which personal identity merges into all the processes of relationship in some vast ecology or aesthetics of cosmic interaction. That any of these can survive seem almost miraculous, but some are perhaps saved from being swept away on oceanic feeling by their ability to focus in on the minutiae of life. Every detail of the universe is seen as proposing a view of the whole. (pp. 305-306)
A Framework for Radically Transforming Social Conditioning
As a graduate student at CIIS, I searched for a transformative research framework that simultaneously supported the personal deconstruction of the White psyche and the evolution of a multi-dimensional, process-oriented, activist consciousness. I examined different research paradigms, analyzing ontological, epistemological, axiological, and methodological assumptions. Neither Constructivism nor Critical Theory (Guba and Lincoln, 1994) aligned with an inquiry into the experiences of divesting from internalized White supremacist norms and consciousness, perhaps because of the challenge of rationally conceptualizing research into the deep structures of the White psyche. The Participatory Worldview (Heron & Reason, 1997; Heron, 1996; Reason, 1993; Reason, 1994), the Synergic Inquiry Paradigm (Tang, 1997; Tang & Joiner, 1998), Feminist methods (Lather, 1991; Hurtado & Stewart, 1997), and transpersonal research methodologies (Braud & Anderson, 1998) inspired me, but again none of these frameworks offered specific instrumental knowledge about how to divest from White consciousness. I developed my own research paradigm, the Praxis of Transparadigmatic Inquiry, to help me develop the capacity to see, pierce through, and transform internalized social conditioning. In this framework, the distinctions among ontology, epistemology, axiology, and methodology disappear. The Praxis of Transparadigmatic Inquiry is by nature dynamic and emergent rather than fixed, reflecting my underlying assumption that only in the translogical realms of the heart is the anguished bodymindspirit so sufficiently soothed and nourished that deep psychic structures can be transformed. Body, spirit, and mind do not function independently (Panikkar, as cited by Prabhu, 1996, and by Vachon, 1995; Ani, 1994; Tang, 1997; Tang & Joiner, 1998; Chaudhuri, 1977; Gebser, 1949/1984; Wilbur, 1983, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999; Skolimowski, 1994).
Ontological Assumptions: The Nature of Reality
A primordial reality exists. Reality manifests and evolves. Reality is dynamic and multilayered. Perceivable dimensions of reality include but are not limited to subjective, objective, collective, historical-economic-socio-political, and transhistorical fields. Reality is only partially comprehensible. Human beings participate with and without awareness. Epistemological shifts in experiencing reality lead to new ontological awarenesses. Structures of consciousness can be transformed. Self-transfiguration is a human capacity.
Epistemological Assumptions: The Relationship of Researcher to Research
The inquirer, in relationship, can develop the capacity to see and unlearn the cultural conditioning determining perception and comprehension. The inquirer, in relationship, can experience profound shifts in perception, thus leading to a more process-oriented consciousness. The inquirer, in relationship, can learn to communicate with more awareness meta-cognitively. The inquirer, in relationship, can apprehend the whole and the partial nature of the self as well as the participatory nature of our dynamic, evolving universe.
Axiological Assumption: The Role of Values
What is valued is a reflective activist-oriented daily inquiry practice, challenging—at the systems level—dominating paradigms internalized by the researcher. What is valued is explicitly taking a stand according to one’s values while simultaneously living those values as an inquiry. What is valued is embodied congruence of thought, speech, and action— without attachment.
Methodological Assumptions: The Process of Research
People manifest consciousnesses reflecting internalized schisms in self, others, and society. Dialogic processes support ontological differentiation and integration. Multiple layers of bodymindspirit can be explored—personal, collective, and transhistorical. In transpersonal states of consciousness, the inquirer and voluntary co-researchers can experience shifts in perception that help them glimpse hither-to-invisible manifestations of dominating consciousnesses. Participants can expand their capacities to hold these data points in awareness, to intentionally shift frames of references, and to intensify and discharge embodied, emotional, and psychic charges and resistance, manifestations of cultural conditioning.
Living The Praxis of Transparadigmatic Inquiry
The Praxis of Transparadigmatic Inquiry offers instrumental guidance for inquiring into how White supremacist norms and consciousness manifest, in the domains of body, mind, and spirit. It offers strategies fostering perspective transformations that profoundly reorganize the inquirer’s character. As inquirers surrender to the dialogical nature of the inquiry process, they become more critically conscious and transform the deep structures of social conditioning. The following suggestions are guidelines to White people interested in evolving a multi-dimensional, processoriented, activist consciousness:
- Find allies. For example, form an inquiry group with others who are also committed to research these questions: “What does the term White supremacist norms and consciousness mean? What is your relationship to it?”
- Make friends with people from different cultures, races, religions, socio-economic classes, genders, and sexual orientations. Care about their experiences. Empathically imagine yourself into the situations they face. Notice when you are comfortable and when you are dis-comforted.
- Be mindful of whatever manifests in the domains of your body, mind, and spirit—all sensations, thoughts, dreams, and consciousness, including judgment, emotion, confusion, forgetfulness, etc. Pay attention to even miniscule visceral reactions, fleeting inner thoughts, unexamined assumptions, and unspoken expectations. For the purpose of this inquiry, assume that whatever manifests is evidence of White consciousness, i.e., social conditioning.
- Take action daily—within the spheres of your personal influence—challenging White supremacist norms and consciousness. If you see no evidence of White supremacist norms and consciousness all day, or if you see evidence but take no action, contemplate what that means about White consciousness.
- Engage in dialogical processes such as mindfulness practice, dialogical dialogue, and Synergic Inquiry.Dialogical processes can be helpful in transforming differences from sources of tension and conflict into sources of learning and wisdom. Dialogical processes pierce the logos—the logical domain of consciousness—in order to reach the translogical realm of the heart (Panikkar, as quoted by Vachon, 1995, III, p. 2). “The dialogical dialogue sees the other as a knowing source, i.e., as another source of self-understanding. I experience the Thou as the counterpart of the I as belonging to the I, and not as not-I. I discover the Thou as another self, as part of a Self that is as much mine as his–or to be more precise, that is as little my property as his” (p. 4, emphasis in original). Panikkar further explains: “Being is more than consciousness, although the latter is the manifestation of the former. . . . We have an essential need of the other to deepen reality” (p. 2, p. 70).
- Pay attention to reactions and resistance as important guides in this process of unlearning White consciousness. Reactions such as anger, tears, fears, guilt, shame, boredom, withdrawal, denial, and/or disconnection may signal cognitive dissonance and emotional overload. Resistance can be an important indicator of the psyche’s self-definition. Visibilizing—giving voice, form, and space to these multiple dimensions of self—creates space for ontological differentiation. Note charged or conflictual moments. These are focal points through which the inquirer can tap into deep structures of the White psyche.
- Differentiate and heal the bodymindspirit in sacred space. Sacred space mitigates the chaos of transformation and allows an integrated, embodied awareness to arise.
- Recognize and accept that much of the White psyche will perhaps forever remain unexplored. Yet to the extent that charged experiences manifest with awareness in participatory dialogical processes, perspective transformations will occur personally, collectively, and transhistorically. Live this inquiry each day.
- Listen to the wisdom of your bodymindspirit.
- Surrender. Surrender. Surrender.
This instrumental knowledge of how to see, pierce through, and transform internalized social conditioning such as White supremacist norms and consciousness is missing from transformative learning theory. Yet Edmund V. O’Sullivan, Amish Morrell, and Mary Ann O’Connor, editors of Expanding the Boundaries of Transformative Learning (2002) lay a foundation for this work:
Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feeling, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and permanently alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations, our relationships with other humans and with the natural world, our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race, and gender; our body awareness, our visions of alternative approaches of living, and our sense of the possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy. (p. 11)
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