Somewhere this very moment, babies are born, fathers are dying, mothers are grieving. Yet, pervading all is a groundless awareness, delicate and strong at the same time. Everything becomes we, a beating heart with a transparent, radiant smile. And we are awake.
Judith Simmer-Brown, “Insomnia
Every single person that I have known who is involved in social justice work has this awareness. Judith Simmer-Brown writes about it from a Buddhist perspective, but I am clear that human beings who have this awareness can arrive at it in any number of ways.
What am I talking about? This is the awareness that in the other human being is something that I recognize when I look at myself in the mirror, some feeling that I know when I see tears on the face of the other, some instant recognition of the pain when the other fumbles in the line in front of me at the grocery story–not enough money for the items on the counter. It is the awareness “delicate and strong at the same time” that the other is me. That I am the other. That we share not only a common experience but somehow, mysteriously, on a much deeper level, a common existence. The compassion that rises up in me is not a feeling for the other or a thought about the other–though I may have both of those. It is a feeling with the other. When that feeling is something like joy and satisfaction, then we, together, celebrate even if it is only a shared smile as we both, the other and I, recognize a gift and a blessing together. When that feeling is something like suffering there seems to me to be a door, or a window or some other portal however large or small that opens through which we may reach together and touch.
The touch that we share in social justice work may be a standing with–so that the other who is suffering now knows that they are not alone. The touch may be the bringing of immediate aid or advocating for legal and other remedies. Because the other is me. Because I am the other. And we suffer.
This is not only social justice, but another spiritual practice that makes social justice work possible. Look around today and notice the faces of the other in so many shapes, shades and circumstances. The oppressor is the other, too, and she suffers too, though it may be harder to see. How can we see? The groundless awareness is there, delicate and strong. We can choose to be open to the portal that allows us this touch.