The Proper Beginning

Rev. Meredith Garmon, Liberation, part 3

Does liberation come from yourself? From your situation? What are the chains that constrain you from a more full, joyful, peaceful, loving life? Did the chains come from you – habits of thought, attitude, or behavior? Or were the chains imposed? Do you have a role to play in other people’s liberation?

In this month's issue of On the Journey, there’s a wonderful quotation from Lilla Watson that brings these different questions together into one. She says,
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Lilla shows us how to get unstuck from the interminable politics of blame. Lilla Watson is an Indigenous Australian woman, a visual artist, activist and academic. This quote for which she is most known has served as a motto for many activist groups in Australia and elsewhere. She said it in an address to the UN Conference in Nairobi in 1985, but she said it is the product of a collective process and she’d prefer that the quote be attributed to “Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, Australia, 1970s.”

Your liberation is bound up with mine. Mine is bound up with yours. How can that be so?

For one thing, freedom is contagious. Imagine a child running across a meadow, arms in the air. Don’t you feel more free just witnessing, imaginatively, her freedom? Or think of support groups, where people struggling for liberation from substance dependency or debilitating grief can find that liberation through supporting others’ liberation.

Zen practitioners will notice, and sometimes say, that when you sit – that is, quietly and still – you sit for the whole world; you sit as the whole world. That path of liberation from identifying with our own thoughts represents the liberation of the world.

The Buddhist origin myth tells us that Siddhartha Gautama, after six years of arduous spiritual discipline and searching, on the evening before he became the Buddha, simply sat himself down beneath a pippala tree, resolving not to get up until he had seen his true nature.

All night he sat, unmoving. As dawn was beginning, he lifted his eyes and looked upon the morning star, Venus. In that moment, he experienced enlightenment, awakening, the falling away of body and mind, the one-ness and the inter-being of all things, liberation from the illusion of a separate self that our brains work so hard to maintain.

He saw his true nature, and what he saw was that it was everything and no thing. When that kind of experience comes to a person, the words that they find to express what has happened are as various as poems. According to legend, what the Buddha at that moment said was: “Behold, all beings are enlightened just as they are.”

Seeing others in the light of their liberation IS your liberation.

“Realize” has a double meaning – to become aware of, and to make real. These seem like very different meanings, but in fact, they are the same. Realizing liberation is realizing liberation – that is, becoming aware of your own and others inherent liberation is the same thing as making real the liberation of yourself and other. Then joy flows unhindered into compassion, and compassion into joy.

When liberation is realized, the question, “Whose fault is it?” elicits puzzled expressions – or laughter.

That’s what “your liberation is bound up with mine” looks like.

There is suffering. Yes. Your suffering is mine, and mine is yours. And there is the easing of suffering, which we do together.

I know that this does not answer all the political questions. There are important questions about what parts of our bound-together liberation are best realized through government, what parts through nonprofit organizations, what parts through the marketplace, and what parts through unplanned, uncalculated spontaneous expressions of love. Enlightenment does not impart the answers to those questions any more than it imparts the proof of a calculus theorem. But what it does do is shift us into a politics of interconnection, bringing us out of zero-sum politics.

In the politics of interconnection, there is no winning, no winners, no losing, and no losers. There’s just us, with our liberations bound together. White working class, black and brown working class, lower class, middle class, upper class, Mexicans, Chinese, Wall Street bankers, and main street shopkeepers, the overworked and the underemployed and unemployed – they’re all us, our liberations bound together.

In zero-sum politics, our gain necessarily comes only at the expense of someone else’s loss. In interconnected politics, our gain necessarily comes only with everyone’s gain.

If we start with the recognition that Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court actually was Meredith Garmon’s – and also actually was your nomination to the supreme court – and that so was Antonin Scalia’s nomination back in 1986, and all the others – and that Walter McMillian’s wrongful prosecution and sentencing to death row was your wrongful prosecution, and mine – and that Darren Wilson pulling the trigger to shoot Michael Brown is you pulling that trigger – and that Michael Brown’s body lying dead in the middle of Canfield Drive, Ferguson, Missouri is your body -- then, though we leave a lot of political questions still to answer, we have, at least, properly begun. If we start by calling one another by our true name – which is, “each other” – then, though we leave many strategic matters still to determine, we have, at last, truly started.

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This is part 3 of 3 of "Liberation"
See also
Part 1: Politics and Blame
Part 2: Fault Line

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